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Well, I’m back on a Thursday, for this week at least! ¬†Hopefully I’ll be able to do at least one of these posts a month going forward, now I’m getting to grips with my new life timetable ūüôā

This one really is a thought, and one I wonder if anyone shares or if I’m just an old-fashioned girl… ¬†At my last writing group, one of the other writers was talking about tools they use. One of these is a website for rhyming words, which they use for poems, and they advised us all to use the site when working on our own pieces.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this advice and I am not entirely sure I am comfortable with it.

For me, part of writing is about seeking out a word that says something to me. ¬†Every word in my poems is fought over, and wrestled with, until I get a line or stanza that has the emotion, rhythm, and physical feel in the mouth that I am after. The work has to look right on paper as well – spiky letters or round, long words or short, repeated letters. All of it is part of the work, and I can’t imagine just picking a word that rhymes is nearly as effective. ¬†In fact, only about 30% of my work has a formal rhyme scheme because often I can’t have the poem I want within the confines of a set scheme.

Don’t get me wrong; if I was massively stuck with something I might use it to prise some ideas loose, but it wouldn’t be a shortcut, it would be a jump-start.

Writers of the past – Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Auden, Owen to name but a few – didn’t have these tools, and they managed to produce poetry that has long outlived them and still has power and resonance today.

So what do you think? Should we writers use every opportunity to make life a little easier? After all, a writing life can be pretty draining.

Or should we delve into ourselves to find words, sweat over them when needed, to make sure they fit the poem in every possible way?

I’d love to know what you think – post a comment below and let me know if you are like me or if I should get myself into the 21st Century already!!

Happy writing,
EJ
ūüôā

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Sorry,¬†panto rehearsals ran massively over yesterday and I was practically asleep by the time I got home – and it’s 11pm and I just got home from today’s run through so I was nearly another day late!

Book 9 – Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. This book flicks back and forth between the modern day and Depression-Era USA, telling the story of Jacob Jankowski as flashbacks from the man now in his 90’s.

In his last weeks at Cornell University, Jacob’s parents are killed in an accident. It becomes clear that they have left nothing for Jacob; their house is owned by the bank, and Jacob is left penniless and without access to the family veterinary practise he has trained to join.

Jacob’s loss is too much for him to process and he walks out of the university and jumps a train. This happens to be a circus train and his life changes¬†irrevocably as a result.

Jacob falls in love – with a married woman, a menagerie and an elephant called Rosie. As times get hard for the circus, the difference in experience of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ becomes ever clearer. Jacob brings a sense of right and wrong into a world that doesn’t follow the rules he knows, and he grows to loathe the very people he relies on to stay on the train. Meanwhile loyalties and friendships are tested and it becomes dangerous to be known as Jacob’s friend.

As Jacob struggles to accept the fate of his friends, it is others who take out their revenge on the circus and release him from his chains.

Reading that, the book was quite exciting – it certainly covered a lot of intrigue and action. But I can’t say I enjoyed it. It was well-written, full of rich detail and very well researched, but the tone of it was unpleasant. The constancy of the violence and threat which underpinned the story was oppressive. The life-long love story wasn’t romantic (for me); it was obsessive and dangerous on his part, and on hers it seemed very submissive. ¬†Sadly, I don’t know what about her made him so ready to risk everything.

There were also¬†elements where you thought something else awful had happened, only for it to be a red herring; with all the awfulness I’d already waded through I didn’t really want any more.

I guess the key¬†point is that I didn’t like the nature of the story being told. ¬†That is very personal and not a reflection on the writing¬†– there are books I’ve hated written by people who also wrote books I love, so it wouldn’t put me off reading more of Gruen’s work. ¬†This one just wasn’t for me.

I have to say though, that the style of writing must have been very engaging as I got through it, and quite quickly at that!

One final thought on this book РI liked the ending, and it did put a little spin on the tale that Jacob told.

I’d be really interested to know whether any of you¬†felt similarly, as I know this book had a huge success at least partly as a result of word-of-mouth praise.

Onward and upward, as they say – I’ll look for another cheery one next!

Happy reading,

EJ

ūüôā

 

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This week I continued with the whodunnit, caught up on some of the coursework I should have done, and got back into the swing of writing group.

I’ve pressed on with the whodunnit despite still feeling a little conflicted about the detective. ¬†I have gone for a police detective for realism but the more I think about it the more I think the likes of Marple or Holmes work precisely because they are not official – they are not constrained by the rules of the law and can do things that wouldn’t make good policy! ¬†I also feel that it’s made the story become a bit sludgy as I try to get the jargon and legal process right.

In a last-ditch attempt to get a balance between professional detective and civilian sleuth, I have had a Miss Marple marathon running over the weekend in the background. ¬†This week my writing time will be very limited as I have things on every evening after work – predominantly rehearsals, sadly! – but I will revisit the story and see which direction I want to go. ¬†I am trying not to get too bogged down in the minutiae, bearing in mind my reason for trying this was purely to practise the written art of misdirection, and think if I continue down my current path I’ll lose focus again which I don’t want to do!

In the meantime, I have started work on a new poem for performances, called ‘The Ties That Bind’. ¬†I like it and I feel it has legs so will be working on that in the next few weeks as well.

Alongside the writing, I am getting back into my studies, on a fairly basic level – I am doing the bare minimum work and no interactive elements such as forums, because I don’t have time, but I wanted to get back to learning which I find so inspirational. ¬†I still have ideas to explore about history and society that may become poems rather than novels or short stories just because I want to get them onto paper!

And finally, this week also saw the return of writing group. ¬†We have a new venue which is a local pub, and I’m not sure it’ll be entirely successful but we’ll give it a while to try it out. ¬†As we arrived it was snowing, and a great big log fire was a very welcome sight! ¬†I am pushing us all to have writing targets¬†this year, and we are going to run a children’s writing competition locally, so I hope everyone’s¬†a little more invested now. ¬†We even have newbies joining us, which is great fun!

I’ll leave it there as it’s nearly midnight and I have to get up for work! ¬†Decisions on detectives will be made soon…

Happy writing,

EJ

ūüôā

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This week my writing of an hour a day went a bit awry because I found myself watching some family history programmes in my allotted time instead. It wasn’t a waste of time entirely, because some of the situations exposed through research were pertinent to my writing, and made me question a couple of technical aspects of my story – but it was a fairly standard avoidance technique.

I will do better this week.

Having said that, I now have a full team of characters (with a notable exception I’ll come back to shortly), with a victim, murderer, two who have strong motives, a very useful red herring and a great setting. ¬†There’s just one character I need to sort out…

The detective.

I’m torn – and I’m stuck in the storyline, where the detective needs to come in. ¬†I have a victim, and no-one trying to help¬†them rest in peace…

Do I have a police officer, an expert in their field like Morse or Wallander? A private investigator (official or otherwise) like Poirot or Holmes? ¬†An ‘ interested neighbour’ in the vein of Miss Marple or even Nancy Drew? ¬†Or is the matter solved by an injured party – someone who loved the victim, or a suspect who¬†wants to clear their name?

Because this isn’t my genre, and I don’t read a lot of this type of writing, I am struggling to make a decision. ¬†I am considering taking the question to my writing group next week to see what they think, but what do you guys feel works best? ¬†Does the busybody idea, the butting into conversations and eavesdropping at doors, get old fast? Do you think a sociopathic detective really adds a bit of texture to the tale? ¬†In this day and age is it likely that anyone other than a police detective will be allowed near the crime scene or the case file anyway?

Realism suggests a professional police officer, I guess.  But am I going for realism?

As you will see from the number of question marks this week, I don’t know the answers. ¬†If I can find the one necessary question to make a decision, I will be able to set my detective to work!

In other news – I have worked on a peace post this week, but as with all my writing at the moment, I can’t find the right words. I will continue seeking them this week.

And finally – I am falling behind on the 100 novels list again, so just to get back up to date I have not read books 68 or 69. ¬†I am however reading, so at least I’ve managed to do something I can tell you about in my posts this week!

Happy writing,

EJ

ūüôā

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It’s the start of a new year, and therefore the start of a new reading challenge.

I must admit I am quite excited to have a fresh start on this, and have been over-eager already – so this is a very long post, sorry!

Book 1 – Requiem for a Wren by Neville Shute¬†(known as The Breaking Wave in the US). ¬†I started reading this in 2014, but as I finished it on New Year’s Day it fell into this year’s list!

This book explores¬†two stories – that of Alan Duncan, a WWII pilot disabled in service, and of Ordnance Wren Janet Prentice, the woman Alan’s late¬†brother had planned¬†to marry. ¬†Alan¬†is the storyteller and his thoughts and feelings bookend each section, but this really is a requiem to a Wren – Janet is the subject of the book.

We are shown¬†Janet’s wartime experience and subsequent inability to find her footing in peacetime. ¬†She is overwhelmed by loss, and ill-equipped to deal with the guilt she bears for the deaths of seven men whose plane she helped destroy.

We see she was a force to be reckoned with during the war, and how she disappears into oblivion as the war concludes: not even the friends who shared her wartime experience retain contact after she leaves the Wrens.  By the end even her name is no longer hers.

Alongside this we see Alan finding his way back from the brink of despair, his search for Janet giving his life purpose and meaning, enabling him to find his own strength of will.  Alan becomes the opposite of Janet, ending up with a plan for the future that he would have shunned prior to the war, but one which gives him peace and satisfaction.

The way Shute wrote Janet really affected me;¬†he wrote women in a way many of today’s male writers cannot better. ¬†She is a strong woman who cannot find peace, a woman who feels that she has no place in the world once the war is over. You hope¬†there is¬†a happy ending even if you know it is impossible.

I’m sure you can tell I appreciated this book (this review was even longer originally!). ¬†I don’t know that I enjoyed it as such – there’s not a lot of hope in there – but I found it powerful, moving and engrossing.

Book 2 –¬†Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver. ¬†I was looking at Kingsolver books thanks to NavasolaNature‘s recommendation of one (which I couldn’t get so quickly), and I was attracted to this one for some reason I can’t actually remember!

This book is what I consider to be a ‘human experience’ novel, set against a background of climate change. ¬†The main character, Dellarobia, on her way to an illicit meeting with a young man, sees a mountainside which looks like it is silently burning. ¬†For her it is a sign and she returns home filled with a sense of wonder. ¬†The novel follows the discovery that the flames are in fact butterflies which are roosting in the mountains for the first recorded time in history – and the interaction between Dellarobia’s family, the church community she attends, and the scientists who come to investigate the abnormal behaviour.

Dellarobia’s whole life is affected and the novel explores the relationships between poverty, necessity and environment. ¬†Ultimately it is about Dellarobia taking some control and ownership of her life back and finding something exciting and challenging that isn’t related to affairs and attraction.

This was a really long book, much longer than I would generally attempt for this challenge, to be honest. ¬†Some sections of it were very strong and some seemed overlong, which is probably inevitable in a book of 500 pages. ¬†There also seemed to be a lot of repetition of ideas, images and information; the concepts were really drummed home. ¬†I didn’t mind that particularly, but there were points when I was reading and I wondered when the story would proceed.

I loved the setting though Рthe Appalachian mountains were described in ways that reminded me of a place I love, and I could really imagine the scenery.

Book 3 –¬†Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus. ¬†This book was set for reading group and I failed to read it so I was playing catchup! It starts with the release of convicted killer Tobias from jail. ¬†He moves back to his hometown, and the community rises up against him. ¬†However, it soon becomes clear that there is far more going on in the town that the locals would admit – and far more to the deaths of Laura and ‘Snow White’ than previously imagined.

The police get involved due to a related crime, questions are asked about some of the evidence from the original case, and in the midst of all this another young woman goes missing…

This book was one I couldn’t put down, even when I was exhausted and knew I ought to go to sleep! ¬†I worked out some elements as the story progressed, but so many more were mysteries I was unable to unravel. ¬†It was this book which inspired Sunday’s post¬†and made me wonder what I could learn for my own work by trying a crime-based story.

There were a few phrases and comments¬†that seemed a little unnatural¬†but I think part of that is that the book is translated from German. ¬†For example, there was a lot of reference to people and lives being ‘bourgeoise’ which isn’t a word I would¬†expect to see multiple times, and certainly not in the speech of a 17-year-old character, in modern English-language novels. ¬†Still,¬†it being¬†so absorbing and challenging in translation is an amazing feat and testament to both the writer and the translator.

The book has a lot going for it – the violence isn’t what I would consider graphic, the characters are well defined, the outcome is not what you would think.

I am going to stop there because this post is very, very long, but as a final point I would re-read any of these books without hesitation.

Happy reading,

EJ

ūüôā

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I have done a lot of reading this week. Three novels to be precise, by writers separated by a mix of gender, age, nationality and time period.

I compared them, seeing what drew me into them: characters, storylines, ideas, genre, settings all had an impact on my way of perceiving them, and it gave me a chance to think about what skills I need to develop in my own writing.

I was surprised how much the storyline of the third book appealed to me, as it was a crime novel, a modern-style ‘whodunnit’. I have found this genre more enticing over the last year or so, but historically it’s not really been that interesting to me and has never been what I would choose to write.

And yet… I think¬†that might be a great way to get back into the art of writing. To try out a new challenge and a new genre. Not with any intention of getting a full novel or a marketable piece of work from it; more because I want to get myself out of the writing slump I am¬†in right now.

There is something that puts me off completing my current work in progress, a sense that the tangled histories can’t be¬†portrayed effectively using my natural style of writing. ¬†The plot is there, the setting is there, the idea is there – but I am not sure I am able to sell it. ¬†I think exploring a ‘whodunnit’ idea might help me with this block in my approach. ¬†It will allow me to test out ways to mislead and misdirect the reader in a way that commercial fiction doesn’t really allow.

I remember being taught not to introduce ideas or characters that don’t affect story outline but that is precisely where ‘whodunnits’ succeed: they bring in red herrings, lines of enquiry that appear to go nowhere, characters who couldn’t have been the killer. ¬†It is the way their information is used that makes them valuable, and that is the writing skill I want to develop.

So the next few weeks will see me planning a short crime story complete with cast, alibis, motives and of course victim.  If I can get to grips with the filtering of information from unreliable witnesses, untrustworthy narrators and unwilling conspirators I will be ready to go back to the work in progress and make something of it.

And if I can’t, I’ll know I need to consider another approach!

In other news – I am falling behind in the 100 novels list, but suffice it to say I haven’t read 66 or 67. ¬†Now I am exploring the books I inherited I am far more likely to come across obscure and out of print books of the 40s/50s/60s than anything else for a while (just because these are currently the easiest to reach!) I am not going to add to my personal reading list for a while and will simply see where the tales take me!

And finally – with panto rehearsals, my new dance classes, book club and writing group, my evenings are going to be quite busy for the next few weeks, so I am not going to re-start the Thoughts on a Thursday posts yet. ¬†I do, however, hope to get back on track with these once I’ve learnt all my lines and cues for the show. ¬†Having never done any local am dram I may have taken on a bit more than I can chew with this one, but it’s all in good fun…

Happy new year to you all,

EJ

ūüôā

 

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…or something of that nature. ¬†Although I’ve never ridden a horse so maybe it was a bad choice of words.

Anyhow – I’m back from my jaunts and slowly trying to get back to some sort of normal. My return isn’t normal though, it’s exhausting! I barely unpacked my suitcases and was straight into preparations¬†for Christmas, I have had to jump into panto rehearsals, I was in Belgium buying chocolates yesterday and today I have started going through the wedding paraphernalia¬†trying to find a home for 100¬†candle holders and half a tree trunk…

Writing – what’s that?

Now, before it seems like I have been completely useless I will say that one of my gifts when I got married was a beautiful notebook which my parents gave me to write down my meandering thoughts when I was away. I just made a few disjointed notes at the start of the honeymoon but as the days went on it became a journal of what I had seen, felt and experienced, almost like a travel memoir. I could see the lure of writing in that environment – it was sunny, warm, beautiful and unknown.

I have subsequently been thinking about my writing, and my writing style. I think I write for the damp air and soggy grass of home, it is part of the world I explore. But what could my world be if I moved it – if my ghosts weren’t in the foggy winter of an English house, but existed in the sun-baked streets of Morocco, or the sultry Mexican coastline? What if my stories were about colour, brightness, light? How well would I be able to maintain a world that I only know for a handful of days at a time?

There’s no answer to this yet. My mind is wandering through countless possibilities and in the meantime I am thinking about poetry and imagery. Still, it’s given me a kick up the posterior to get myself back into the writing fold – and to really think about what exactly I am doing, and why.

In other news – I missed a fair few books on the 100 novels list but to keep this brief I have not read 59, 60, 61 or 62. ¬†That’s not likely to change any time soon either, there’s too much on my to-read list as it is! ¬†However, The Big Sleep is one I’d like to look at in the future, because for some reason I feel drawn to it. ¬†No logic there, I know – but reading isn’t really about logic, for me ūüôā

And finally Рyou may have already spotted this story about people generally preferring to read books written by someone of their own gender.  I thought this was interesting after my last book review when I talked about possible differences of style between male and female writers.  Maybe I had a point after all.

It does happen, you know…

Until next time,

Happy writing,

EJ

ūüôā

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