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I read for fun this week.  Only Dull People Are Brilliant at Breakfast is a collection of Oscar Wilde quotes, one of Penguin’s Little Black Classics series.

It’s more like reading poetry than reading a novel because you can skip about, read out of order, pick and choose the lines that interest you. In this particular case there’s about 50 pages of quotes covering life, art, Englishness and intelligence, amongst other things.

When you read quotes in a block, you start to notice patterns, repetition, typical language.  You start to notice why one phrase is amusing and one is not, and why some ideas resonate. I enjoy the chance to analyse and reflect; I don’t really stop and think about what I am reading in the same way when I am reading a novel.

I personally prefer the more comedic comments.  They take the words away from lecturing and towards the feeling of a shared joke.  That’s one thing I have noticed over and over: these quotes feel like a friend talking to me.

This isn’t the most standard read, and I fully appreciate that not everyone enjoys reading books of quotations, but from a writing point of view it’s great.  There’s wonderful use of language, witticism that can be reviewed and analysed, and clever ideas worth exploring.

And it’s fun to read. Which is my primary focus when choosing a book for a Tuesday!

Happy reading

EJ

🙂

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The book is Rachel Cusk’s Arlington Park and I did indeed give up.

I cajoled myself to read a bit more after last week, but this one isn’t for me.  It may well suit me at another time, but I have too many books I am excited to start reading to keep going with one I am not really enjoying at the moment.

I don’t really relish the writing style, which is the biggest issue for me: metaphors, word repitition and prolonged descriptions abound.  All have their value of course, but all at once it can be a little overwhelming and I found myself wanting to skip through it. Also, the first four characters I met all showed fairly unedifying personality traits.  Put these together and there’s no hook for me, as a reader.

It’s a shame because I was really hoping to see something more from this.  From other reviews I’ve seen it’s quite deeply feminist and I wonder if that also has an impact: if something is overtly political it can seem more focussed on the message than the plot. Interestingly (to me!), the last book I gave up on was also overtly political.

Mind you, I have been put off by what I consider overuse of metaphorical devices before too.  Some examples can be beautiful but for me as a reader it is much more enjoyable and much more effective when it is deftly controlled.  In this book it felt out of control.

If you look on goodreads you’ll see it’s definitely one that divides opinion.  I know that some people adore it – and some of the descriptions really are brilliant.  It’s just that I prefer not to notice every description because when you notice the writing too much, you stop living in the world the writer has created.

If I am going to take a learning point from this book it’s that intelligent and unexpected word choices can improve a story, but there has to be a balance between action and description.  It is of course up to the writer to define what that is, because you’ll never please every reader!

Perhaps one day I’ll return to it, but now I am going on to something a little different…

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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I have just started a new book, which I chose because I thought it would give me a standard to aim for in my writing.  The blurb calls the writer ‘strikingly elegant’ (I assume in her prose not her person!) and the subject matter is domestic reality, which is really where all my stories are centred.

These made it seem like a good read for learning and improving my own work.

However, I am a little concerned by the start.  It is not to my taste, I kept losing focus and having to re-read lines, and after only a short space of time I am left with limited memory of the section except it being vaguely irritating.  I will carry on but I wasn’t really engaged.

Saying that, I do remember noticing some interesting descriptions and an unusual choice of words here and there which I did appreciate. Maybe it will all make more sense when I get a bit further…

It’s not a huge book so I hope to finish by next week – if I haven’t, I have probably given up!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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I finished!

Over the last couple of weeks I have been reading Gillespie and I, by Jane Harris.  Now I have got to the end of it, I am confused…

The story is narrated by Harriet Baxter, a woman in her 70’s, and is split between her current life in 1930’s London, and her life in Glasgow in the 1880’s.  We learn about her relationship with Ned Gillespie and his family, his struggle to get the recognition deserved for his art, and her role as friend and confidante to all, until tragedy hits the family. We also, in her current life, learn about her vague, but growing, fears for her safety.  I won’t say more here because anything else is likely to be a massive spoiler!

I started the book thinking it was some sort of mystery, which it is, but it’s also a story about mental health issues, murder, loneliness, loss and betrayal, and I still don’t know exactly what role the protagonist played in the deeply painful events described.  Harriet’s story is very much her own.

As a writer, I have often come across examples of the unreliable narrator in exercises, but this particular one has worked very well for multiple reasons.

Firstly, it’s not explicit that she really is an unreliable narrator: it could just be my imagination.  That ambivalence about her honesty or otherwise is really powerful and such a great way of muddying the waters.

Secondly, it is not clear how much of what she says is factually true.  Many points are debated and obviously we see her point of view, but there is no gauge to show whether she is lying or just putting her perception of events forward. There is always an explanation because she only tells the story she can explain.

Thirdly, the story she tells is allegedly about her time with the Gillespie family, and yet much of what she reports is through the prism of how Ned Gillespie might have viewed it (albeit from her point of view).  That makes Ned unreliable too.  His characteristics are a contradictory mishmash of blunt politeness, of honest self-censorship, that leave me questioning their interactions.

I started the book expecting a more genre-specific mystery and it took quite a while for me to realise I didn’t feel certain about Harriet, either in her behaviour or her reports of her behaviour.  I can’t say more than that here, except it does explain why I thought it was so slow to get going!

From a writing point of view this was fascinating to unpick.  The imagery, the style, the narrative technique, the characterisation and the setting were all very cleverly interwoven and this was a very tightly packed book, stylistically speaking.

From a reading point of view I was hoping for more of a payoff at the end, although the foreshadowing of what comes after the book is shut was another technique I have to consider further in my own work.

I can see this being a great reading group book or intensive study book, because it has so many facets to it that I probably missed quite a few, but for me personally, it is a real education in the power of the right narrative decision, and the right narrator.

It’s not a book I would naturally choose for a second read, but I wonder how I would view the story, knowing what I know now.  It has definitely piqued my interest, that’s for sure!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

 

 

 

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If you imagined that being sung by Dory, you are not alone 🙂

I am still reading Gillespie and I, although I have to be honest and say I gave it up for a few days.  I found it a little stodgy early on, and there was something else I didn’t quite connect with which I will try to decipher for next week!

But I am a reader, and a reader doesn’t give up that easily, so I picked it up and started again, and I am getting quite into the story.  This is why I don’t like giving up too early, even if I have learnt that some books are just not right for me!

I am now on page 151 of 605 so I better get a move on if I am going to report back on this one next week.  If I don’t, as long as I am reading, enjoying and learning something for my writing self, it’s all good.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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This week has been all about getting inspiration for the new project I spoke about last week.  There’s a school of thought that says writing is habit, rather than waiting for the one or two magic moments that form a scene or send a character in to fight whatever enemies you think up.

I’ve always felt this was true for prose and less so for poetry, but when time is limited, you have to give your inspiration a bit of a kick start!

This is where a notebook comes into its own : by collecting ideas like scattered seeds – stories I’ve heard, words I like, song lyrics that create strong emotional responses, political angst, the colour of leaves on a September day – I can look back and see what I think can be nurtured into poetic life.

Today’s idea was for a poem inspired by a post it note that had got lost between the sofa cushions. The poem reflects on the way our lives change over time and how something that was important can be so easily forgotten. Maybe I will post it here when it’s done.

This is good timing, because I am just about to start a course on writing poetry, with a view to engaging more with my own.

I am a more natural writer of poetry than prose and I find the process more fun, so getting into a project demanding new work is a real positive for me, and I am excited to see which of my little seed ideas blossoms and creates fruit of its own!

Happy writing,

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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