Posts Tagged ‘style’

After a very limited sleep and going back to work today, I’m not 100% sure this post will be any better than it would have been yesterday. Still, needs must and all that, so here goes…

Book 18 – The Goldsmith’s Wife, by Jean Plaidy (one of my Grandma’s old books). This is a fictionalised account of the life of (Elizabeth) Jane Shore, one of the most famous women of King Edward IV’s court, lover not only to the King but also (after his death) to his stepson and one of his most trusted advisers. It explores how her beauty and warmth captivated the powerful, and took her from a respectable, if stultifying marriage, into the glamour and sensuality of the Court.

Plaidy takes some liberties with the accepted history of both Jane’s first marriage and her later relationships, but the narrative flow of the story is an intriguing picture of a woman both warm and beautiful; someone who used her power with the king not for her own sake but to petition for pardons for those who had fallen out of favour.

However, there is one relationship that Jane forms that fundamentally changes the readers perception of her wisdom and goodness, which seemed to be abusive. I don’t know if this was Plaidy’s plan but based on the known history it was one of many ways to explore the relationship and this choice didn’t fit with the character or the rest of the story particularly comfortably.

The story generally paints a number of the male characters in a negative light, but surprisingly paints Richard III as a victim of circumstance and false history. I wonder how she would feel about the finding of his remains and his reinterment…

I do enjoy Plaidy’s books, and they’re great holiday reads, but this one didn’t connect as well as some. The time period isn’t one I know much about, the abusive relationship was a narrative choice I can’t really get behind, and the ending was much sadder than the evidence suggests was the case for Jane. Still, it did give me a way into a period of history I really ought to try to learn more about!

Book 19 – Coffin’s Ghost, by Gwendoline Butler (one of my Nan’s old books!). This is the story of John Coffin, Chief Commander of the Second City of London Police, in a fictional world where London has been split into two cities. As Coffin recovers from an attempt on his life, the arms and legs of a woman are found on the doorstep of his old home. The story follows this and a number of other crimes being investigated, and how they cross and tangle each other.

This was an unusual read. I wasn’t too keen on the style early on and even by the end there were choices made by the writer that irritated me and took me out of the story. The big reveal was almost mundane, considering the clue crumbs that were dropped through the story, and it didn’t work for me particularly well.

However, I enjoyed the core of the book. The characters were generally interesting and sufficiently twisted and complex that I had absolutely no idea who the dead woman was, or who had put her there. The unreliable nature of the police officers was a great storyline, because there was never any confidence in what they were saying – any one of them could have been a liar, or telling the absolute truth – there was no way of knowing.

There was some heavy-handedness about pushing certain ideas, which made me doubt them, and I did think I knew who had committed one of the crimes stated quite early on, but despite my disappointment in the ending I left this book thinking it was an educational read, genre-wise.

This is one of a series of books with the character, and if I find another I will certainly read it!

So there you have it – 2 holiday reads, neither in any way taxing, but both bringing entirely different styles to the table!

Until next time – happy reading,

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Well, I did say I might not post until Monday and here I am!

Here in the UK there’s a national holiday for Good Friday and Easter Monday so I’ve tried to cram a lot in over the four-day weekend. Amongst other things I’ve done community work, spent time with my husband’s family, seen my own family, spent time gardening and done some writing (well, I had to fit it in somewhere…!).

I tend not to talk about religion on this blog – everyone’s views are their own and I respect their rights and privacy – so the only other thing I’ll say about Easter itself is that I have eaten far too much (especially of chocolate – maybe for the last time) but very much enjoyed being a spectator to an Easter Egg Hunt!

I managed to watch the tv show I saw filmed; most of the contentious, political content was edited out but it still ended up as a good show. Just more middle of the road.

It got me thinking about challenging writing. My style isn’t inherently challenging: I’m not trying to change any world views with my work.

As long-time readers know that has bothered me in the past and occasionally I do feel I should push the boundaries more – be more political, more divisive, more assertive in talking about the rights and wrongs I see and feel around me.

It’s not going to happen with my current work but the longer I’m away from one thing, and the less time I have to write given all my other responsibilities and activities, the more I think I should pursue that side of me. If it comes to nothing so be it, but I have nothing to lose in trying.

Even more reason to get the whodunnit done soon, hey?!

In other news – I missed book 79: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark. ¬†I haven’t read it but it’s a name that has hovered in my consciousness since I was at school, so I think I ought to at some point! ¬†Book 80 is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. ¬†It’s never appealed to me but reading the article has piqued my interest, and I had no idea about the debate over the title, because catch-22 is a phrase that gets used and understood in everyday conversation. ¬†I guess, like George Orwell, Heller has had an unexpected influence on English.

I’m going to leave it there for today, as I’ll be posting again tomorrow! ¬†I hope those of you who have had a long weekend have enjoyed yourselves and made some happy memories, and for all those who didn’t – well I hope you had a great time anyway!

Happy writing,



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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,



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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,




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I managed to finish one last book this year, and it’s a bit different from my normal choices.

Book 55 – Call The Midwife, by Jennifer Worth. This is a memoir, a collection of various stories from Worth’s life as a midwife in London’s East End, in the 1950’s. The stories told are sometimes funny, sometime sad, occasionally horrifying – this book doesn’t depict a cosy, rosy past. ¬†There is a section about prostitution which I noticed in the Goodreads comments had caused people to stop reading the book.

It shows women trapped by circumstances and abuse; women loved and adored; women who gave up their whole lives to the service of God and others.

I found this an intriguing book. Obviously you can feel and hear Worth’s own experiences and emotions within the book but the writing has an almost detached feeling, as though she is reflecting the cool professional approach required of her. The descriptions of even the most horrifying situations are matter-of-fact, not dramatic. There were a couple of notable exceptions but this was the general style¬†of the book.

That’s not to say it was heartless, or unfeeling. Rather, there was a sense that every woman she met was entitled to respect, understanding and appropriate care, regardless of how they presented. Whenever Worth veered off this path she quickly showed that it was a mistake on her part to do so; that she hadn’t been fair to judge the women so harshly.

I don’t often veer into non-fiction but when I do I like to read stories of the ‘normal’ person – how life was lived by every(wo)man not just the rich and powerful. This book provided many examples of real people – in all their messy, selfish, loving, pungent, generous glory.

I would recommend it with a note of caution regarding some of the abuse depicted, and the descriptions of prostitution.

As an aside, I know this book has been turned into a TV series, which I haven’t watched. However it is a dramatic read and I imagine it would make dramatic viewing.

Happy reading and a happy new year to you all!



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Following last week’s post where I said I was stuck in the middle of my story, I finished it in about an hour the next day – drama queen, aren’t I?!

Book 53 – The Secret Adversary, by Agatha Christie. This was Christie’s second novel, and stars Tommy and Tuppence, two friends who lose touch but are reacquainted a few years after the end of World War I. With little money and few prospects for employment, they join forces as ‘The Young Adventurers’. ¬†The story follows them as they investigate a missing woman who holds incriminating evidence against the governments of the UK and the USA – evidence that the criminal European Socialists and some of the British Labour party are planning to use to instigate a general strike and the fall of the Government. ¬†All the characters in this plot, however, are simply puppets in the control of the secret adversary – one Mr Brown.

Obviously it is of its era – politically, it is vaguely offensive and the language and some of the comments are not what you expect to read nowadays, but it was my first Agatha Christie and the first time I had come across the two characters so it was an educational read, if nothing else.

It seemed clear to me very early on ‘whodunnit’, which was surprising as I rarely work out Poirot’s cases on screen! ¬†However, there were lots of clues and details about who everyone was and how they interacted that I did miss. ¬†That was what I really found most enjoyable – the little details sprinkled throughout that I was able to reflect on when I got to the end of the mystery.

This book wasn’t as sophisticated as I’ve always thought Christie would be but I am not sure if that’s due to the characters or her developing writing skill.

It’s definitely one to read if you’re a fan of her work though, just to see where her writing life began, and it made me keen to read something she wrote a little further down the line…

Book 54 – The Hollow, by Agatha Christie. ¬†This was first released in 1946, 25 years after The Secret Adversary, and there was a very definite change in the writing style. This story follows a group of people whose lives intersect at The Hollow, a country house. ¬†On the day the lady of the house invites Hercule Poirot to lunch, one of her guests is murdered…

The plot followed the twists and turns as evidence appears¬†and is¬†found wanting, and a number of characters seem¬†to have motives and opportunities to commit the murder. ¬†The book shows¬†multiple character viewpoints, giving the opportunity to see how each person reacted to the crime. ¬†This was a great way to assess not just whether someone was possibly guilty of the crime but whether they had every really cared for their ‘friend’ in the first place, and how the death affected them – from emotional trauma to social inconvenience.

The story is a straight ‘whodunnit’, and this time, I didn’t know who it was which was much more satisfying!

The stylistic differences between this and The Secret Adversary were significant, and too many to list, but key ones from my point of view as a reader included:

  • a constant shift of viewpoint – we saw all the main characters away from the setting of the story and each other
  • the very late introduction to the recurring Christie character – Poirot is not the main player in this story, and he arrives about a third of the way into the book
  • the way the characters exist¬†in a recognisable reality¬†– we see a doctor, a sculptor and a shop assistant in their workplaces
  • The language used – this book seemed much less dated than The Secret Adversary which used more¬†slang and colloquialisms (or perhaps the slang in The Hollow was better adopted and became normal English, who knows?!)

This book seemed to be about grown-ups, for grown-ups, whereas The Secret Adversary was more like a young adult book as we describe them now.  I definitely preferred this one.

Just as an addendum – I chose The Hollow as¬†it was¬†the first Christie I saw on the shelf¬†of books I inherited from my grandparents (and am aware it isn’t necessarily¬†reflective of her other work). ¬†It reminded me¬†that their library is sitting unused, when books should¬†be read, so I am going to choose my next few books from there and give it life again.

Some are probably¬†out of print, or out of style, or politically insensitive but that’s the way it goes with books – they are a reflection of¬†a moment in time. ¬†I just hope they bring me a little more insight into the world my grandparents experienced.

Until next time – happy reading,




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Oh dear – another late posting and I’m not even in the last gasp of getting the wedding stuff done. ¬†By November I’ll probably be about two weeks behind!

This week I hosted the¬†writing group and decided to use the magic of the internet to find some writing exercise that I thought would spur everyone’s imagination. The theory was that by allowing people to choose their own exercise, they would engage with it and explore something that felt right for them.

It didn’t quite work like that though – in fact it filled everyone with a shared horror, akin to sitting an exam when they¬†haven’t done any studying! ¬†Still, we all got through it and it was very interesting to see how different people approach writing. ¬†For example, one person can take virtually any exercise and create an adventure story whilst another explores what I call ‘the human experience’ by focussing on feelings and emotions.

This is what’s best about writing exercises, especially for newer, or less confident, writers. ¬†You spot patterns in your work. ¬†Areas of strength and of development; styles; shortcuts in your language that need refining. ¬†You see how easy, or hard, it can be to put on paper what is in your mind.

Don’t just take my word for it though; have a go. ¬† There are plenty of exercises on-line or in writing guides, but you can make your own if you like too. ¬†Write a piece where the world is black and white, and your character has to explain colours in 500 words, or where your romantic lead is a serial killer, or where someone can hear the weather talking and has to decipher what it is saying.

Anything, and everything, is possible in books. ¬†The limit isn’t just your imagination, it’s also your ability to describe what you imagine. ¬†By exercising your mind you will make yourself as good a writer as you can be.

Hopefully, it won’t always feel like a pop quiz when you try!

Happy writing,



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