When You’re Struggling…

I’m not telling you anything new when I say it can be a massive effort sometimes to stay motivated. The key is how to solve it.

When I’m struggling I take time out. I know that’s not always possible if you’re working under pressure but usually I’m okay at getting stuff done if there’s a certain amount of pressure. The problem comes when no one is there to press you to do something, when it’s all down to self-motivation.

For those who don’t know, for the last few months I’ve been working on a novel, something I’m choosing to do for my benefit alone. In other words, it’s totally down to me to get the thing written.

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Progress was going well both in terms of character development and plot, then, quite suddenly, I stopped. (You might have noticed because it’s been a while since I last blogged too). There wasn’t one particular reason for this sudden apathy, things were just getting too much and I was struggling to find the time. Now I’ve taken just over a week off writing.  I know this will set me back because I’ve lost the thread of the bits I was working on, but it was so completely and utterly necessary. Sometimes taking a break will do you more good than anything else. I now feel refreshed, revitalised, and have a whole bank of new ideas to bring to the table. I’m excited to get these new leads down on paper and even more excited to tell you all about them, but I won’t spoil the surprise just yet.

I’ll keep you posted. Over and out –

 

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Stay Alive – Simon Kernick

Stay Alive, as the cover tells me, is written by ‘the number one bestselling author’ Simon Kernick. This gave me doubts from the very first moment, and as it turns out, my gut instinct was right.

The thing about bestsellers is that they’re almost always appallingly written. In order for them to be read by the masses they need to be simple enough for anybody to handle. They need to be accessible for that person who only reads one book a year, which offers no challenge to those who read dozens. The plots are predictable, the use of language is at times laughable and the grammar is invariably off.

This book was recommended to me but the problem with that is that everyone has completely different tastes. Perhaps I’m a book snob after three years studying Literature at University but I was hoping for something better.

Stay Alive Simon Kernick

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. SPOILER ALERT.

My biggest problem with this book was the utterly ridiculous storyline. ‘The Disciple’ (who thought of that name?) is murdering couples all over Surrey, so when cheating husband George and his lover Ivana are found dead in their home it’s pretty obvious where the investigation leads. Except this plot isn’t obvious; it’s all over the place. There is a pedophile living in the woods, a murderous Grannie, and who thought escape via canoe was a good idea? At times I wondered whether this book was supposed to fall into the category of black comedy since it reminded me greatly of the film ‘Hot Fuzz’, what with the extreme gore and the complete and utter bad luck the protagonists seemed to have. However, judging from the other thrillers Simon Kernick has written and the reviews online this is clearly not the case, which is kind of a shame; I think I would have enjoyed it more had the humour been intended.

The next problem was the choice of language. This was perhaps one of the things that steered me into the direction of thinking it was intentionally comedic. Take this sentence for instance: ‘Jess would never forget the slightly confused expression in Jean’s eyes in the half-second before they closed and she toppled heavily in her seat, falling sideways so that her ruined head hung over the side of the canoe, grey hair hanging down towards the water as if she was leaning in to wash her hair’. Never before has an atmosphere been so completely obliterated by a simile. Well done Simon Kernick, that takes some doing.

Then there’s the repetition. In my three years of Creative Writing classes one of the things they really drill into you is to never say anything twice. Pick the best way of saying something and run with it; never repeat yourself. Simon Kernick could have benefitted from a class or two at UEA because he explains everything to his readers at least twice. Perhaps he assumes we are all a little hard of understanding but the beautiful thing about books is that they are written documents, meaning it is possible to flick back through if you ever want to reread or check anything. Someone please explain the concept of writing to him. (Am I being a bit harsh?)

My final problem with this novel is the sheer amount of characters. It is 420 pages long, I’ll give it that, so you would think there would be space for a fair amount of characters but Stay Alive has millions. Ok, 32 to be precise, but that’s insane, especially as there is very little to differentiate between the millions of cops and corrupt ex cops (other than their morals). It wasn’t until probably a quarter of the way through this novel that I actually got my head around Mike Bolt, Mo Khan, Keogh, Mehdi, MacLean, Sayenko, Grier and Scope. Until this point they were pretty much all the same person. I would say this novel lacks characterisation because they are literally nearly all the same other than names and ethnicity but (and this will sound really contradictory) on the flip side every single character has reams and reams of back story, so much in fact they almost all deserve their own novels. The problem is that it’s all forgettable backstory and none of it is actually relevant to the main plot. What you’re then left with is a long, meandering plot with predictable twists and irrelevant background information. Do not waste your time with this novel. Life is too short. (As proven by this novel where most of the characters are shot to bits before you can even begin to sympathise with them).

– Over and out x

The Good, The Bad and The Average

From where I’m sitting there are three types of books in this world: the books you stay up all night reading and just can’t bring yourself to put down, the books that you’re tempted to toss aside right from the very first chapter, and those in-between books that are fine, just fine, but maybe a tad bland.

Reading

The last book I just couldn’t put down was Gone Girl, and I know I’ve raved about this book to death but I just found the pages disappearing as I got deeper into the story. This was a true show-stopper; I felt like I never wanted it to end. I love Flynn’s writing style and I was completely taken in by her characters. I don’t think I’ve ever connected so much with any book before and I doubt I’m ever likely to again (until I get around to finishing my own).

The most recent book I just wanted to junk was Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson. I hate giving up on a book; I always feel like I owe it to the author to see it through to the end, just in case there’s something spectacular waiting for me there. The thing is, nine times out of ten I remain disappointed and then feel that I’ve wasted my time giving it a chance.

The in-betweens are undoubtedly the largest category. Here I could list The Grown Up, Me Before You and Girl With A Pearl Earring to name just a few books that I’ve read recently. These fill up the majority of book shelves; they are the true definition of the word ‘average’. There’s nothing wrong with them but there’s also nothing special about them, so I’m not exactly going to recommend them all to my friends.

I guess what I’m trying to work out, both as a reader and as a writer, is what makes a novel ‘un-put-downable’ and ‘easily-put-downable’. What do you think fully engages a reader? What books have you fallen in love with recently? And what books have you wanted to chuck out of the window from the very first chapter?

Over and out. M –

The Garden, Part III

Read the first part here,
and the second part here.

The next day I resume my position in my chair. The clouds have knit together across the sky causing a gloom I don’t believe will never shift. It’s funny how much the weather seems to affect my mood. I flick through the latest copy of Gardener’s Weekly but soon the neighbours’ voices become intertwined with the words on the page and I pause to listen.

“Can’t you find some way to forgive me?” he asks.

It’s as if the conversation is continuing from yesterday. An electric blue butterfly catches my gaze.

“I don’t know. The kettle’s boiling, come inside.”

The butterfly, with all its exotic patterns and intricate filigree, flutters away.

I don’t know what’s going on between them. I’m not usually one to pry, and I am content in my little sanctuary, but I feel as if I need to know.

Watch this space for the next instalment.

1 Year, 5 Years, 10 Years

I now find myself only a couple of weeks away from graduating University. This is a scary time but what makes it even worse is that the question on everyone’s lips seems to be what am I going to do with my life.

In case you’re new to my blog I’ll spend a second filling you in. I’m a Literature and Creative writing joint honours student at the University of East Anglia, Norfolk, UK. It’s a three year course, most of which is spent reading and writing essays on books (and I don’t just mean classic texts but all manner of things). However, towards the end of the degree in particular I’ve had the chance to practice my fictional writing skills through taking more creative writing modules. I chose my university not just because the Creative Writing course at UEA is the top in the country but because I love Norwich as a city. And I wanted to study a joint degree so that I could practice not only my analytical skills but also my writing skills – which are probably more important in the real world, right?

So that’s me. Now that my years in education are nearly over I’ve got to start thinking about my next steps. I’ve always been one of those people who plan things meticulously (probably to the great annoyance of others who are not like me) and so I’ve always set myself goals. I wanted to get good GCSEs and achieve solid A Level grades, then get into UEA and receive a 2:1 or better for my efforts. All those targets were pretty easy to set. Education is arranged to push you through to the next stage, it’s effectively done for you, so it’s all pretty simple to plan. Now the world is my oyster and I don’t have a clue how to plan the next bit on my own.

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Where do I see myself in 1 year from now?

1 year isn’t actually a very long time. I see myself living at home and working. That doesn’t sound very interesting I know but after moving away (300 miles away) for 3 years I feel like I’ve lost touch with not just friends but where I come fro. I’d love to spend some time reconnecting whilst earning some savings. Maybe I’ll try and spice things up with some summer plans, who knows.

Where do I see myself in 5 years?

In 5 years time hopefully I’ll be well on the way to having a successful career. 5 years sounds like long enough to get my foot in the door. I have quite a long list of places I’d like to visit – Paris, Venice, America, Iceland and India to name and few – and hopefully I’ll have managed to tick a fair few off. In fact I’d really like to spend some time working abroad, most likely America, but I’m not sure how to organise that yet. Hmmm.  The next thing is that I’d like to  have bought my own home by 2021 since paying rent is such a waste of money. Then I’ll decorate it with all manner of cute things and place Yankee candles in every room and have a huge bookcase library where I can store all my precious books. That’s domestic bliss right there.

Where do I see myself in 10 years?

After 10 years it’s really quite hard to say. It’s difficult to imagine myself as a 30/31 year old. I suppose the main thing is travel. By that time I hope to have seen a large proportion of the places on my list now. I’m sure I’ll add more with each passing year but it would be nice to have done the initial stuff by the time I reach my thirties. Hopefully I’ll be living and working somewhere far more spectacular than Taunton so I’m surrounded by interesting people and places to write about. I’d like to have at least one novel written by the time I’m 30 and maybe have it published, who knows. Perhaps I’ll have read 1,000 books on Goodreads too, that would be wonderful. More than anything though I hope to be happy. That’s all anyone can really wish for in life, to be wonderfully, irrevocably happy.

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Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Having just finished my degree I wanted a trashy read for a change and found myself picking up Me Before You by Jojo Moyes in a charity shop. I’d seen the trailer at the cinema for the film adaptation and thought it might be an interesting read, something outside of my comfort zone. I’m never usually a fan of this genre; I’ve steered well clear of My Sister’s Keeper, The Fault in Our Stars and other such things because frankly I find them too depressing. The thing that made me try Me Before You was that I liked their casting choices for the film (Sam Claflin as Will and Emilia Clarke as Lou) and I always like to read a book before I see the movie. (Has anyone seen the film? What do you think?)

Me Before You

I suppose this book was exactly what I was expecting. It has that dreadful sense of impending doom from the very first page. A sad ending is obviously to be expected due to genre conventions if nothing else, but this made it difficult to read. I hardly wanted to finish this novel because I wanted to delay the grief I would inevitably feel at the end. So I cannot tell you it is one of those books you won’t be able to put down. I put it down many times, often for days at a time, because I didn’t want the sadness to get any closer. However, that’s really my issue with this genre of novel.

What I enjoyed most was the continuous flow of the narrative. Although at times predictable, I liked that the plot took the shape of one long undulating journey. The steady unfolding of Will and Louisa’s personalities and the slow progression of their relationship meant growing to love them both, and adoring them together. Despite being predominantly in Louisa’s head it was equally easy to sympathise with Will and his condition. I can see why this novel has been so popular. It’s rare to see such thorough character development in this type of ‘easy-read’ novel.

Me Before You

It is by no means a literary masterpiece. In fact there were numerous occasions where I paused and thought ‘what a ridiculous metaphor’ or ‘why would anyone write that?’ Here are a few examples:

The castle baked in the high heat of summer, the ground cracked
and the grass wispy, like the last hairs on the head of a balding man.

There was a definite waft of large haddock in the atmosphere. 

I understand Moyes is attempting humour here but she didn’t quite pull it off for me. In fact it made me feel a lot better about my own writing.

That being said, not all great novels are brilliantly written. I would recommend Me Before You to anyone who’s after a good story, not a good novel.

Over and out –

Writing a Dissertation on Fairy Tales

I’ll admit now (rather guiltily) that I’ve had over a month away from the blog, and it literally feels like forever. Initially I chose to have a break because the deadline for my dissertation was quickly approaching, then I moved back home and decided to continue the break whilst I job hunted. Then other things took over. I’ve had family visit and really got into my running – beat my personal best today (yay!) Now for the important stuff.

Dissertation

Writing a dissertation was easily the most time consuming and stressful part of my whole degree, in fact, of my whole academic experience thus far. I don’t know about other Universities or subjects outside of Literature but this was my experience:

The first step is choosing a topic. Most University tutors warn you to only opt in for a dissertation if there is a topic you are extremely passionate about. Maybe you want the chance to take something you’ve studied before further or maybe you want to work a subject into your degree that isn’t already available. This is good advice: I didn’t follow it. I chose to write a dissertation just because I felt like it would ‘complete’ my degree, for want of a better word. I did it because lots of other people did it and because that’s what I thought third year was meant to be about.

As it turned out I did find a topic, but it wasn’t the topic I initially planned for. I’m a big Angela Carter fan and studying at UEA opened up a world of resources that other students across the country wouldn’t have access to. Then I realise just how many people had written criticism about Carter’s work. I decided there was probably nothing original I could say about The Bloody Chamber and so moved towards a dissertation about the canonical tales. Yes, there’s loads written about them too, but when you consider the number of tales the Grimm Brothers wrote alone, let alone Perrault, Basile and those in The Arabian Nights, I was sure I could find an original angle to explore a unique grouping of canonical tales. I can’t say fairy tales have always been a passion of mine, in truth they’ve only really been on the periphery of my knowledge, but through this process I have discovered a new interest (and thank God for that – imagine setting out to write a research paper on a topic you soon found you hated!)

The next thing to mention is that no one prepares you for the amount of research involved. Okay, I knew there was going to be a lot of reading, being a Literature student I’m pretty used to a hefty reading pile, but wow. I spent pretty much all of my Christmas break and then another 6 weeks at Uni reading critical books cover to cover before putting pen on paper.

When I did start writing I started with Chapter 1. If essay writing has taught me anything over the years it’s to write the Introduction last, else you don’t know what you’re introducing. After I’d completed both my chapters (only a couple of weeks before the deadline) I received feedback that the argument got lost along the way. This took DAYS of rewriting to sort out. Then I had to write a conclusion – and I still to this day don’t really understand what a conclusion is meant to say. It’s a waste of words to repeat yourself but you shouldn’t include any new information. Hmmm.

The next problem was the word count. Who knew that 8,800 words could be so, so short? I believe most undergrad dissertations are 10,000 words and I’m sure that would have been far easier to cope with. Overall I probably had to cut about 1,500-2,000 words and that’s tough. It feels as though you’re deleting good content that could be scoring you marks.

In the last couple of days before the thing was due I must have reread all 8,766 words about 7 times. I’m definitely not a fan of proofreading my own work and this was exhausting.

Then there was the printing fiasco (not a particularly interesting story so I’ll leave that out but it’s safe to say that technology is not my friend.)

On reflection, I’m glad I wrote a dissertation. It’s nice to have a bound piece of work to be proud of. It’s nice to think 3 months’ work can be compiled into a real something, not an essay or snippet of analysis, but what is essentially a chapter of an academic text. Just be warned if you’re thinking of writing one in your third year – there will be break downs, there will crying and sleepless nights – that just goes with the territory.

The Garden, Part II

Read the first part here.

It’s a Friday afternoon and I’m sitting in my chair, a straw hat firmly atop my head to keep the sunlight at bay. Sparrows flutter in and out of their nest and bees hop from one milky buttercup to the next, but that’s not what holds my attention. There are voices on the breeze. One the jagged tones of a man’s speech, the other a woman’s, bright as a dropped gem. Some of the words blend together, a myriad of textures overlapping. I uncross my legs and lean forwards.

“Why would you do it?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

A door slams and the words are pinched from the air. I turn back to the swallows. The life of a bird must be so easy. I envy them and their simplicity.

Watch this space for the next instalment.

The Garden

I push open the gate, the white paint flaking off in chunks, and walk into the garden. I remember when the lawn used to be freshly trimmed, now it’s an overgrown haven for voles and mice. They scurry about beneath the foliage, the leaves trembling as they pass. Birds nest in the trees overhead. When they hatch I will watch as the mother regurgitates food for them. When they are strong enough I will watch as they make their first attempts at flight. I watch everything from my garden chair. It’s a deck chair really, one of those pink and white stripe ones meant for the beach, but I make the rules here. This is my safe place. This is my sanctuary. This is my Eden.

Seasonal Creativity – My Writing

Apparently seasonal creativity is a thing. Artists – of all descriptions – apparently have periods of creativity that align with the seasons. Productivity increases in certain months and lessens in others. It’s different for everyone when these peaks are, and I suppose it depends on what kind of material you are trying to produce (I’m just assuming here that gothic literature for example would come easier in the depths of winter with a blustering storm outside your window).

Seasons

For me writing comes more naturally when I’m happy and my happiness is undoubtably greater in summer months. I love feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, having longer lighter evenings to spend with friends, day trips to wonderful places like the Valley of the Rocks etc. Being cold and damp from the rain all the time (I live in the UK, it’s always raining) isn’t a pleasant experience.

Now that Spring is finally upon us – which incidentally coincides with me finishing my degree- I’m ready to begin writing again. I haven’t exactly taken a break but everything I’ve been doing has been for coursework and my dissertation. Now, with the evenings getting longer and a big bank of spare time coming up, I want to start writing for me again.

It may be ambitious but I want to write something longer. I want to write a novel, maybe a novella, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ll keep you all posted! xoxo