Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Reading Africa

A month today, I am moving to Nairobi, Kenya.

Books teach us about other places. Right now I'm in Westeros with Jaime Lannister. Last week I was in Florence with George Eliot in Romola. In November I walked the streets of a lost Glasgow in Alasdair Gray's Lanark. Moscow with Tolstoy; Paris with Hugo; London with Dickens. Books take me there. Since the summer I have been visiting Africa by page -- Tanzania, Nigeria and Kenya -- while my real trip gathers shape and form in my mind. I have organised these books in order of publication, to take you from colonial days to the Africa of the present.

Lake Elementaita South of the lake, Kenya  --  new Natural World Heritage Site:
[source] // Lake Elementaita, Kenya

Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway (1935)

“An attempt to write an absolutely true book to see whether the shape of a country and the pattern of a month's action can, if truly presented, compete with a work of the imagination." A slice of autobiography, Green Hills of Africa charts a month of big game hunting in Tanzania.

Green Hills of Africa is an idyll, a magnificent landscape where life and death walk hand in hand. Hemingway's intention of writing “an absolutely true book" gave him free rein to explore the life he loved the best.
Now, looking out of the tunnel of trees over the ravine at the sky with the white clouds moving across in the wind, I loved the country so that I was happy as you are after you have been with a woman you really love, when, empty, you feel it welling up again and there it is and you can never have it all and yet what there is, now, you can have, and you want more and more, to have, and be, and live in, to possess now again for always, for that long, sudden-ended always; making time stand still, sometimes so very still that afterwards you want to hear it move, and it is slow in starting. ... So if you have loved some woman and some country you are very fortunate and, if you die afterwards, it makes no difference. Now, being in Africa, I was hungry for more of it, the changes of the seasons, the rains with no need to travel, the discomforts that you paid to make it real, the names of the trees, of the small animals, and all the birds, to know the language and have time to be in it and to move slowly. I have loved country all my life; the country was always better than the people. I could only care about people a very few at a time. 
One Hemingway book I have says on the back, “the most important writer since Shakespeare". This is a bold claim and not one I necessarily support, but perhaps there is something in it, because how is it, really, that one person can do that with words? How does it happen? Amidst his love of the land his love of language shines through; he discusses reading and writing what it means to be a writer.
Writers are forged in injustice as a sword is forged.
So Green Hills is not only a book about big game hunting; it is a book about life. Every kind of life that was important to him. I am not, of course, pro-hunting, but reading Green Hills gave me a strange, thrilling sense of Hemingway himself, his presence very close to me. He was a writer living in East Africa and adoring it, and in a month that is what I shall be, and this seems very special to me, as if I can tread in his footprints.


Out of Africa by Karen Blixen (1937)

1914-1931: Karen Blixen farmed coffee in Kenya. Her love of the country quivers on every page, and this is a wonderful tribute to how a land can adopt a person. Out of Africa is a meandering book and it took me a while to read -- it is not plot-driven, rather a collection of anecdotes -- but it did make me excited about seeing this country for myself.
On an evening just before sunset, the scenery drew close round you, the hills came near and were vigorous, meaningful, in their clear, deep blue and green colouring. A couple of hours later you went out and saw that the stars had gone, and you felt the night air soft and deep and pregnant with benefaction.
Blixen's anthropological discussion was also very interesting.
[Native Kenyans] dislike speed, as we dislike noise; it is to them, at the best, hard to bear. They are also on friendly terms with time, and the plan of beguiling or killing it does not come into their heads. In fact the more time you can give them, the happier they are, and if you commission a Kikuyu to hold your horse while you make a visit, you can see by his face that he hopes you will be a long, long time about it. He does not try to pass the time then, but sits down and lives.
Many people have told me that living in Kenya will give me a different idea of time, and I can't wait!


Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)
A village in Nigeria suffers as the changes of the twentieth century rip across the land. I was not a massive fan of Things Fall Apart. It was both tribute to and condemnation of lost Nigeria. The main character, Okonkwo, is poisoned by his desire for success, his desire to prove himself:
Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo's fear was greater than these. It was not external, but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father.
The patriarchal culture of Things Fall Apart forces men to exert their dominance through war, through ancestor-worship, through the taking of many wives and the fathering of many sons and the marrying off of their daughters at the highest price. Achebe paints bleakly this world of misogyny, murder and child sacrifice, and yet the alternative is seen to be no better: the coming of the white man, to convert the villagers to Christianity. The book's title comes from The Second Coming by William Yeats:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
In this poem, the Second Coming is an event of horror, a “beast slumping towards Jerusalem", and likewise the coming of Christians is one of division and destruction. The character of Rev Smith shows very clearly mission gone wrong, and as such I found the book pretty depressing. I enjoyed the way it was written, and the Nigerian fables woven into the narrative, but ultimately it was a very bleak picture of a world of hatred.


A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Kenya, 1963: on the verge of independence from the British. Uhuru -- independence day -- drums through the consciousness of the village of Thabai consciousness. But within Thabai's community secrets lurk, and the past and the present wind together as that which is hidden emerges in Uhuru's light.

I properly loved A Grain of Wheat. It is an interlocking narrative of the personal and the political. It gave me a fascinating look at Kenya's recent history, while at the same time pulling me along in the lives of the villagers. It is masterfully written: an ensemble cast of POV characters gives its interwoven tales, past and present rippling out of one another. Kenya's legacy of verbal storytelling is kept alive both in the characters' inner monologues and the tales they tell one another, and as the pieces of the story unfold and slot together the novel is hugely satisfying.


Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)

Race. Racism. Growing up and falling in (and out of) love in a changing world. The way you will alter in a watcher's eyes depending on your colour.

Nigerian Ifemelu has been in America for thirteen years. Americanah opens with a description of why she likes living in Princeton ... “But she did not like that she had to go to Trenton to braid her hair." In the midst of her American life, longings for Nigeria return to her, for the land of her coming of age. In that country Obinze, her teenage love, still lives, but they are both more changed than they can realise.

Americanah was a hugely interesting and insightful book. It exposes the layers of racism within America: the teenage African boy beaten up by black American classmates for his African accent; the way the whites around him look on in amazement, because they assume all blacks are the same. Ifem, a Nigerian student in an American college, being asked to give “the black perspective" and having nothing to say, because she is not a black American. I had never even thought about these differences.

It is a rich and varied novel, drawing from a wide range of Adichie's interests and passions: racism, feminism, the blogosphere, body image, politics, hair. The sections on hair -- it is fitting that the book opens with Ifem going to get her hair braided -- were among the most interesting to me, as Adichie rails against black women using the burning chemical relaxant to make their natural hair lie flat in order to be styled like a white woman's.
Relaxing your hair is like being in prison. You're caged in. Your hair rules you. You didn't go running with Curt today because you don't want to sweat out this straightness. You're always battling to make your hair do what it wasn't meant to do.
Overall, I think it's fair to say I enjoyed the themes and ideas more than the plot and characters; Ifem was kind of annoying. But Americanah opened a world of thought for me. I will leave you with an utter gem of a justification for positive discrimination.
The American Black deal is kind of like you’ve been unjustly imprisoned for many years, then all of a sudden you’re set free, but you get no bus fare. And, by the way, you and the guy who imprisoned you are now automatically equal.

Have you read any of these? Which would you pick up? Where did you visit most recently via book? What is the vividest setting you have ever read? And have you ever been to Africa -- by page or in reality?

Friday, 9 December 2016

Books Upon Books

Unable to think of further haul puns. Any suggestions would be welcome.

(Alternate title: Emily Never Posts The Books She's Bought So Here's A Photo Dump From The Past Six Months You're Welcome.)

The various secondhand:

Beads, Boys and Bangles // #2 in the Threads trilogy, a series illustrating how very mistaken one can be when one judges books by their covers and titles. I still haven't read the third one, but I now own them all and when I read them all again it shall be a beautiful and glorious time. (It's a friendship and art story set in London. They hang out in the V&A. Could you actually ask for anything else?) (Also, Sophia Bennett once commented on this very blog. I may have died. Just a little.)

Career of Evil // can I have an ASGKLAJGSKL for JK Rowling, Queen of my Heart? In case you missed it, I LOVE THE CORMORAN STRIKE NOVELS WITH ALL OF MY SOUL. I LOVE CORMORAN. I LOVE ROBIN. I LOVE LONDON. I LOVE IT ALL.

Image result for fangirl screaming gif
Career of Evil was soooo good. I mean it was so. good. And the next book is coming out early 2017! WHICH IS REALLY SOON. Except I am going to be in Kenya. So I'll need to wait till I get back. GAAAHHH.
The Beggar of Volubilis // because I love The Roman Mysteries with every muscle and fibre of my heart.

The ones I bought secondhand in St Andrews:

A Moveable Feast // I adore Hemingway -- sure, I've only read two of his books, but they were exquisite -- and I never stop seeing quotations from A Moveable Feast.

[source] // how is it possible to write such a long sentence with no commas and repeat the word together twice and yet it is still ... perfect? (Hemingway's disregard of commas validates all my choices. I love it. Love him. So much.)
[source] // then there's this picture. One of my favourite pictures ever, I have no clue who these people are but I just really love it. I have it on my wall. And he's reading A Moveable Feast. Don't I always say it? Everything is connected.
The Captain's Verses // fun story, that time I went to Chile I visited two of Pablo Neruda's (beautiful, incredible) houses, one in Santiago and one in Valparaiso. I read one of his poems while there, because the original copy that he wrote (with a translation beside it, thankfully) was sitting on the desk in the Valpo house. Since then I've read a couple more poems and they're lovely, so I can't wait to dive into this book! 
La luna hace girar su rodaje de sueño.
Me miran con tus ojos las estrellas más grandes.
Y como yo te amo, los pinos en el viento,
quieren cantar tu nombre con sus hojas de alambre.
The moon turns its clockwork dream.

The biggest stars look at me with your eyes.

And as I love you, the pines in the wind
want to sing your name with their leaves of wire.
~ from Aquí Te Amo (Here I Love You)

Horace's Complete Odes and Epodes // I freaking love Horace. Last year for Latin I wrote a dissertation comparing themes of time and transience in his poems and the poems of Shakespeare and Marvell. Horace is the originator of the phrase carpe diem. He is a master of irony, or, to put it more bluntly, sass. I'm reading this book at the moment and loving it.
Don't ask what will happen tomorrow.
Whatever day Fortune gives you, enter it
as profit, and don't look down on love
and dancing while you're still a lad, 
while the gloomy grey keeps away from the green.
~from Ode 1.9

Birthday Letters // and if you don't know that Ted Hughes is my favourite poet, you're a) new here (hi! Welcome!) or b) do not listen. Birthday Letters is the last and most famous of Hughes' books. For this reason I'm kind of putting it off? I sort of like to read authors' works in order, sometimes, rather than reading the best regarded one first, because sometimes if you start with “the best" you can find you've peaked at the beginning? Not that that could happen with Hughes, obviously, because I've already read lots of his books. So I don't know. I don't understand myself either. ~shrugs~

The ones I bought secondhand in Glasgow:

Across the River and Into the Trees // because, again, Hemingway. This one is set in Venice! Where my heart lives! (No, I've never been, but that's just a detail.) And don't you love the title? Rivers! Trees! My two favourite things! I love books with “trees" in the title. Bit of subtle self-promotion there.

Much Ado About Nothing // I love this play a lot. And the shipping is real. Best hate-to-love romance.

Physik and Flyte // because you know what is great? Hilarious British children's high fantasy with a main character literally called Septimus. I spend 80% of my reading life looking forward to when I can next reread a kids' fantasy series (this Christmas it's going to be Skulduggery, SOMEBODY HOLD ME), and I can't wait for this one.

Cutest, tiniest edition of Much Ado ever! And I love that Hemingway cover. Venice!
The ones I was randomly given:

Jane Eyre // my mum gave me this rather battered copy of Jane Eyre. (I think she found it in the house somewhere. Who even knows. Our home is a book labyrinth, you could get lost for years.) It has a beautiful illustration on the cover.

Image result for jane eyre cover
How lovely is she? I can't wait to reread Jane Eyre. I enjoyed it the first time, aged thirteen, but I think I was a little young.
From the Mouth of God // my minister gave me this as a sorta “good-luck-on-your-gap-year-congrats-you're-an-adult-now" type thing. How nice?? And I'm told it's a great book. Looking forward.

All the Light We Cannot See // this is a short vid of my face when my mum casually gave this to me:

From the off, the title of All the Light attracted me, and despite being an avowed historical fiction avoider, I do bend the rules for WW2. And the cover is really pretty. 

Also it is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

I don't normally base my opinions on prizes, but you know what won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014? The Goldfinch. And in 2007? The Road. After making this connection between these two of my favourite books, I made it my business to devour all the Pulitzer winners. 

So I started visiting All the Light in Waterstones quite some time ago. (That's what I do -- I find books I want but I don't buy them straight off, because it's a big commitment, buying a book firsthand when you really know nothing about it except look the cover is pretty -- and I visit them for a while. Eventually, sometimes, I take the plunge. At the moment, if you're interested, I'm visiting Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter; By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart; and a lovely illustrated edition of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.) I almost bought it on numerous occasions. And then my mum's friend came to stay, and gave her the book, and my mum finished it, and gave it to me!

A Clash of Kings // a friend (shout-out to you, Cat) was clearing out books and gave me this. Once upon a time I thought I'd never reread A Song of Ice and Fire -- because they're frigging massive and who has time? -- but increasingly I don't know. Basically I just want to read A Feast for Crows again because Jaime. He doesn't have any POV chapters in A Dance With Dragons Part 1 because of the way GRRM splits the books geographically rather than chronologically. So today I was reading A Dance with Dragons Part 2 and, on p112, he got his first POV chapter for more than a book -- and eighteen months of my reading life -- and I legit nearly started crying. Moreover, who knows when The Winds of Winter will come out? NEVER, PROBABLY, SO WE SHOULD READ WHAT WE'VE GOT. (Though this is the gross TV show edition. But we can't have everything in this life.)

The ones my brother (a babe) gave me for my birthday:

Crow // because Ted. My one and only.

The Flame Trees of Thika // set in Kenya. Will be fun to read in Kenya.

A Grain of Wheat // also set in Kenya, in the 1950s as they gained their independence from the British. This was a wonderful book. Review on its way.

No Country for Old Men // because The Road by Cormac McCarthy is one of my favourites of 2016.

Things Fall Apart // I was disappointed in this one, considering its extreme renown. Review forthcoming.

Out of Africa // a beautiful tribute to Kenya. Review shortly.

Darling // I have very nearly finished this poetry collection by Jackie Kay, the Scots Makar (which is like the Poet Laureate, but in Scotland), and I love it.
Across the world were mirrors to see
faces that looked like me,
people caught between two places,
people crossing over the seas.
~from Yell Sound

Jackie Kay was born to a Nigerian father and Scottish Highlander mother and adopted by a white couple from Glasgow. As someone extremely interested in national identity -- as someone planning a book about national identity -- Darling is fascinating. I'm sure I'll share more from Kay as I talk more about LesMisBook.

The one I bought firsthand:

Lanark // that's right, the only book of this post that I actually got from a firsthand bookshop. I was going to say, “with my own money!" ... but it wasn't. During the summer my school sent me a book token with a note saying, “lol u won this prize nd we forgot 2 give it 2 u here's £10." So I still don't know what the prize was for ... but I got Lanark all the same!

Her abs are #goals. Gray did all the illustrations himself: absolutely stunning!

What books have you bought recently? Do you, like me, avoid firsthand book-buying like the plague? Have you read any of these? Come, let us get excited together.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Life in November // All the Updates // A Vlog?


Happy Advent!

The year is in its old age. Snow has fallen. Life spirals on towards Christmas in a vacuum of busyness and glitter.

A picture of my garden. We have had the most beautiful frosty November. What an incredible world God has made for us!

For me, November saw Kenya preparations: designing team T-shirts (they're gonna be great, I'm just saying), getting about a million vaccinations (and I'm not done yet) and having a second weekend with the team. There are eight of us, all girls, and it's a really lovely group.

While I'm in Kenya, there is going to be a fortnightly(ish) team prayer letter. I will not be blogging during my trip (which makes me wanna cry, but there it is) because of very limited Internet. But if you would like to pray for me -- which I'd love! -- please leave a comment with your email address, or email me at emmilobb@gmail.com. I would really value it!

Illustration by Becca Stadtlander:
[source] // Becca Stadtlander

November has also seen work getting really busy. Remember how I used to work in the little shop selling the sparkly trainers? Now I work in a massive shop selling very expensive everything. Christmas is upon us -- not just upon us, mauling us with its ravening claws, or so it's felt -- and sometimes I spend my days stacking cards and wrapping paper and £20 faux-glass reindeer. The Christmas section is right by large electricals, so I can watch suburban couples, accountants and lawyers, pay £500 for coffee makers to take home to their clean streets with their two big cars and holidays to Tuscany. In the cheap sparkly trainer shop, the materialism accepted itself for what it was. Cheap and cheerful were the buzzwords. But this big shop takes itself so seriously (remember the trouser suits?) it can hardly admit it's a consumerist temple in a consumerist nation selling people very expensive things they don't need. As I stacked cards the other week I reflected on these things, and I thought of lines from Mary Oliver:
I want to think again of dangerous and noble things / I want to be light and frolicsome / I want to be improbable and beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings.
And I thought of how the suburban coffee machine buyers would look at me and see a rather wan-faced small girl in large black trousers, stacking Christmas cards in a robotic fashion, and never know that I want to be noble and improbable. And it made me think of lines from Jackie Kay's poem Watching People Sing:
Oh, I think, Oh, who will
sleep at my foot, who will sing to me like that
eyes brimming with love and change and spark.
And then I remembered that I only work part-time, and I'm very lucky to have a job at all when I think of all the beggars I walk past on my way to work, and that I am a writer and an heir of God's kingdom, and I live in the most beautiful country, which is at peace, with a democratic government, and I have parents and brothers and sisters and food and warmth.

And I felt foolish for my dark reflections at the Christmas card shelf.

I have a difficult relationship with the world and myself.


I feel this -- the lines from Dylan Thomas -- so very strongly, and yet I know that I romanticise everything and break my heart over realities that don't exact, over loves that are not fulfilled. But perhaps it is about finding the balance between on the one hand being improbable and holding fast to your dreams and not giving up, and on the other committing everything to Jesus, the one who will never disappoint.

That got a bit deeper than I meant.

how beautiful is this though?
Let's talk about Starting Sparks.

You may have noticed that no December prompt has been posted. This is because we are taking a Starting Sparks hiatus.

After over a year of running the link-up, neither Ashley nor I could exactly pretend it has taken off. We normally get one or two linkers and ourselves -- or not even ourselves, sometimes (I am working on my November story, honest). Because we're all busy. And as Ashley pointed out, maybe some of you are reluctant to publish your short fiction online because you are hoping to sell it. As I said, I won't be blogging while I'm in Kenya, and so we've decided to suspend the link-up.

If you've got any suggestions, they'd be very welcome. Is there any other kind of link-up you'd like to see? A way that would make it easier to participate in Starting Sparks? Let us know!

In Books
Not a great month in terms of numbers of books, but they were good (and Lanark was frigging massive, so I can be forgiven). Out of Africa was a beautiful portrayal of Kenya, shimmering with a love of the land that made me really excited to see it for myself. A Grain of Wheat was also about Kenya at the time of its Independence from the British: a story of village life, interweaving the personal and the political, and a really wonderful book.

Other Life News

 (Notice how I skilfully wove all my life news together? Not.) I have a new niece, Alice, who was born three weeks ago in Singapore! I cannot wait to meet her on Boxing Day. Every baby I see makes me more excited.

Any maker will tell you, it's a compulsion. #type #typography #handmade…:
[source] // I really love this

I'm currently in Oxford. Remember how this happened this time last year? And I got interviewed and I didn't get in and I ended up taking a gap year? Well, we're back. I think I have actually forgotten to tell y'all (do you like my use of y'all? I'm basically American what can I say) that I got an offer from Glasgow. Increasingly I feel that leaving Glasgow is a ridiculous idea and why would anyone do that? So basically I am a confused crocodile (don't question the metaphor). But I am not worried. God will send me where I need to go. And Shakespeare will be Shakespeare, and Fitzgerald will be Fitzgerald, and I shall read Hughes and marvel, so what could actually go wrong?


A Vlog Proposal

One last thing: I am, I think, going to make a vlog soon, because we all know vlogging is the most fun way to do tags, and you'll miss me so much when I'm in Kenya you'll want to see my face before I go. I have a couple of tags for this. (One of them is, like, a year old, don't judge.) But if you would like to add to the Q&A -- because the more the merrier, right? -- drop me an email to emmilobb@gmail.com (or just a comment would do the trick!). 

Anne Morin I Wonderwall:

maria elena alvarez:
red cats look best in stripes (by Marc Johns):
[source] // one of my favourite illustrations


How was your November? Best book you read? Are you excited for Christmas? Remember: email me with vlog questions or if you'd like the Kenya prayer letter!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

I Wrote A Book // What Comes Next? // A Big Ole Writing Update

1st August 2016: I started Stay in the City, the sequel to the high fantasy novel I finished in June.

30th November 2016: I finished it.

Image result for excited sherlock gif

So, what even is this novel?

In the land of Ivaria, teenagers are Selected for their special talents and go to complete their education in the court of the Queen. Corrie, our narrator, is an introverted writer who generally prefers books to people. When she is Selected she thinks it's a new sparkly life in the sparkly capital city. As the first book begins, it is summer, and everything is exciting and happy and gleaming. But events, as events will, take a turn for the worse, and soon there is snow and blood and darkness and war and revolution and magic. Trees kill people. Secrets fester. An awkward introverted romance wends its awkward introverted way. We drink enough tea to drown a small country. By this point -- the end of book 2 -- everybody is in love, though mostly with the wrong people. War! Stabbing! Sentient forests! Do you drink tea a lot of tea, read a lot of books, and have a habit for wading straight into danger? You'll fit right into these novels.

I wasn't actually participating in NaNoWriMo (because a) I started the book in August, b) I handwrite and c) NaNo is not my style, I don't think) but it is the 30th of November. So I kinda feel like I won NaNo.

And what else?

I've had a rather strange afternoon. I moped about like an untied balloon. I tried to draw and paint and listen to Les Mis -- normally a definite cure for any sort of weird feelings -- but it didn't work. In the few hours after finishing the novel, was I walking on an elated cloud of sunshine? Honestly, no.

But I am happy! And proud! And excited! And very grateful to my Heavenly Father, for helping me to get to this point. It's just ... here's the thing. I really really hate the limbo between drafts of novels. I am not a furious NaNo-er. I'm not a write-a-book-in-a-month-or-maybe-even-a-week-and-then-breathe-a-sigh-of-relief-until-next-tine. I am someone who took four months to write this novel -- that's been a little less than 1k per day, on average -- and that's what I like. I do not like not writing a book. You know True Love Waits by Radiohead? I'm not living, I'm just killing time. That's how I feel when I'm not writing a book!

Am I creatively exhausted? Weirdly, no. These feelings of limbo I'm talking about. I did experience them in between drafts of TCATT (the first book), but I was also -- at least in the first few days -- like, “yikes, I need a break!" Now? Not so much.

After a few hours, though, the blues are wearing off (probably also because I ate an amazing dinner of peppers stuffed with couscous, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon and cheese. Food really does make everything better and don't listen to anyone who says it doesn't). I am happy! I am excited! I am full of love for my babies (despite what I've put them through this book. Sorry guys. It's only going to get worse).

me @ them/this book
Now we draw to a question.

What Comes Next? 
(You've been freed, do you know how hard it is to lead? You're on your own! “Awesome! Wow!" Do you have a clue what happens now?)

“Well, redrafting, obviously, Emily!"

Actually, no.

Good question, Ross, let me explain.
Honestly, my book is perfect, so it doesn't need to be redrafted.* Well ... maybe not. Let us dip into my life schedule for the next few months. “Gee, Emily, sounds fun." Yeah, I know, what can I say?
*That was a joke, to clarify. Such a joke. I mean, a joke. If you read this first draft -- which no one ever will, obviously, except me, when I cry painfully over how bad it is -- you would know how much of a joke that was.

In January I am moving to Kenya.

Image result for i didn't see that coming gif
Kidding. You already knew. But we can at least pretend I kept some of the element of surprise.
I will be living in Kenya until May. (Doing school and church work, if you didn't know.) That's over four months. And here's the nub and gist of the matter: I will not have consistent electricity. 

Now, I handwrite, and I'm sure that when I second draft, I shall rewrite/add many, many, many scenes (because, structure? What the heck is structure? I know already that the book is seething with plot holes and saggy bits. I just, uh, don't know what they are). But I will be working from the typed* first draft. Which means I need my laptop. And I don't really want to rely on it when I'm in Kenya.
*Nearly typed. I'm getting there. If you're interested, I've got 81 284 words typed, and just over ten chapters to go.

There are Various Reasons for this. We won't have many plug sockets in the house. No internet. Sometimes we might have power cuts. My laptop is temperamental to say the least. What if it crashes? Will I able to get it fixed cheaply in Nairobi? I don't know. Also, I won't have masses of space to take stuff, and I do need clothes and other life necessities (boring, I know), and four months' supply of books. Will I even have space for a laptop?

“So, are you just not going to write a novel while you're in Kenya?"

Image result for hahaha good one gif

As if. I would die. May I never go four months (nearly six months, starting from now) without writing a novel. So, what then?

I'm going to write LesMisBook.

This post is already ridiculously long, so if you're saying “LesMisBook, what's LesMisBook?", you're going to have to wait. But I can say it is a contemporary. So I will be taking a break from fantasy. And maybe that will be good for me?

It's a tough one. I have very mixed feelings. Because on the one hand, I love the LesMisBook concept/characters/high presence of Nutella sandwiches, and I can't wait to write it! But on the other, the thought of leaving Stay in the City in its lonely first draft state -- the thought of leaving Ivaria, leaving my babies -- fills me with torturous horror. And I know that once I start LesMisBook I'll have a whale of a time, and end up being sorry to leave it, but ... still. How do I write a book that's not part of the TCATT series?? I never have! I don't know how!

And that probably accounts for my finishing blues. The knowledge that I'm leaving this world and won't be back until May. Which is ages away!

And that was slightly rambling and mildly angsty dip into my writer's brain, and if you read this far, I salute you. Thank you. But you must tell me: did you finish NaNo?? YOU ARE AMAZING. We can pretend I did, too (rather than just coincidentally finishing a novel on November 30th) and celebrate together! (I'm eating Bitsa Wispa, that's my celebration. What is your celebratory food?)

With you, with Stay in the City ... ~loud sobbing~
But I shall return -- because, in case you missed it, I finished my book, so I now actually have time for things. Life updates! Starting Sparks updates! Tags! Book reviews! A short story! My Kenya TBR pile! Maybe even a vlog! The excitement is just too much, isn't it? Until then, friends, goodnight.


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

THE SECRET HISTORY // “beauty is terror"

Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw,' that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn't. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs. (p5)
So begins The Secret History by Donna Tartt. 

Image result for piazza della signoria
[source] // Neda Khorami // yes, I posted this image recently, but I love it and it fits this book so well and also this is my blog I do what I want.

Richard Papen is nineteen when he reaches Hampden College, Vermont. Estranged from his cheap Californian parents, who do not understand his love of literature or his “morbid longing for the picturesque", he flees the West Coast to realise his dreams of beauty and elegance. After embarking on a literature degree he is swept into Hampden College's enigmatic Classics department: an exclusive group of five glamorously unreachable students, presided over by the mysterious, charming Julian Morrow. When Richard enters the group -- and the study of Greek -- he finds friendship like never before, and soon shuts out the rest of the world. But there is a darkness in his new group which he must begin to recognise, and as he begins to ask questions he may be pulled beneath the surface forever.


The Secret History is a magnificent epic and a soul-jarring story of a boy's coming of age. If you don't know how much I love Tartt's The Goldfinch you obviously don't pay much attention to this blog. Going into The Secret History I was understandably nervous -- it's always dangerous reading another book by the author of your fave, because what if it's a disappointment -- but Tartt's captivating writing and crafting of a story pulled me along just as before.

Richard, our narrator, is a perfect study of a teenager caught up in a heady love of the exquisite. As those wonderful first lines show, he is a romantic, plunging after after beauty “at all costs", and in this I relate to him almost painfully. 
I read The Great Gatsby. It is one of my favourite books and I had taken it out of the library in hopes that it would cheer me up; of course, it only made me feel worse, since in my own humorless state I failed to see anything except what I construed as certain tragic similarities between Gatsby and myself. (p82)
Gatsby is the gold standard of hopeless romantics everywhere, and this comparison between him and Richard -- more than that, Richard's reflective consciousness of his own pretensions and morbidity in making such a comparison -- is a perfect picture of his character. (And how exciting is it, too, when characters love the books/music you love? I remember my thrill in The Goldfinch as Theo referenced Harry Potter, Radiohead and Belle & Sebastian. There's nothing better.)

When Richard arrives at Hampden College he is bowled over by the beauty of Vermont, so different to California; by the romantic melancholy of the whole place: 
Hampden College, Hampden, Vermont. Even the name had an austere Anglican cadence, to my ear at least, which yearned hopelessly for England ... It [in photoswas suffused with a weak, academic light – different from Plano [Richard's hometown in California], different from anything I had ever known – a light that made me think of long hours in dusty libraries, and old books, and silence. (p10)
To me this was one of the most successful things about the novel: Tartt's ability to capture so perfectly a teenager's feeling of serendipity in places and friendships. Potentially my favourite passage:
It is easy to see things in retrospect. But I was ignorant then of everything but my own happiness, and I don't know what else to say except that life itself seemed very magical in those days: a web of symbol, coincidence, premonition, omen. Everything, somehow, fit together; some sly and benevolent Providence was revealing itself by degrees and I felt myself trembling on the brink of a fabulous discovery, as though any morning it was all going to come together -- my future, my past, the whole of my life -- and I was going to sit up in bed like a thunderbolt and say oh! oh! oh! (p107)
The novel hinges on Richard's being swept along by his new friends, his initial blindness to and later complicity in what's going on. The prologue begins thus:
The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation. ... It is difficult to believe that Henry's modest plan could have worked so well despite these unforeseen events. (p1)
So from the first page we know that Bunny dies, and the prologue introduces the terrible sense of danger that pervades the novel. The reader can never claim to be ignorant of the darkness, and yet we are still swept up as Richard is, believing that everything is wonderful. This is Tartt's mastery. We see the world through Richard's eyes, and share his perceptions. When you go back afterwards and begin to unpick it all, realisations come to you that, while reading, you do not have -- I did not have, at least. The Goldfinch too begins at the end, with a prologue, and then takes us back through the story, and Tartt shows her genius for leading the reader by the hand, immersing us totally in her world.

“Beauty is terror."All of Tartt's writing, in a way, can be said to be the study of beauty. The Goldfinch is a book about visual art, but The Secret History is a book about literature. Studying Greek literature, to be precise.
“All right," Julian said, looking around the table. “I hope we're all ready to leave the phenomenal world, and enter into the sublime?" (p39)
I'm glad I had some classical education -- it's nice to read a chat about The Aeneid and know what's going on -- but any booklover can appreciate Julian's genius and the class members' love of books and of Greek. Books about books are among my favourite things ever.

The settings were stunning. Much and often have I gone on about New York, Las Vegas and Amsterdam in The Goldfinch, and the Vermont Tartt paints in The Secret History is breathtaking. I visited Vermont once, many years ago, and am now desperate to return.

Donna Tartt hawwaetc.com:
[source] // art by Hawwa // another of my favourite quotations
The prose was exquisite. Tartt really is in a class of her own. Her writing style is described as “Dickensian", “Victorian" and “neo-classical". In a world of journalistic style where we're encouraged to use short, snappy sentences in short, snappy paragraphs, she is a unique delight. She uses period sentences! A lot! A period sentence is a thing of great beauty. I've been having a slight existential crisis these last couple of days because a wonderful Beta Bae of mine sent TCATT back, and when commenting on my fondness for a long sentence, she mentioned that they are not popular in YA. Which is true. They are not. And I was overwhelmed by sudden fear because I know that the Tartt style (which I 900% try to emulate) is not in vogue. But then I thought about how amazing Tartt's prose is, and how I could read it for a thousand years without getting bored, and felt better.

(Though, one does then start comparing oneself to Tartt, and this is a mistake. Trust me. You will not come off anything other than very badly. Ahahahaah--)

As well as her beautifully constructed sentences and passages, Tartt's metaphors and emotive language is extraordinary.
Francis talking, gesticulating wildly in his white robe and Henry with his hands clasped behind his back, Satan listening patiently to the ranting of some desert prophet.
Rarely have I seen a more perfect metaphor. Can you not picture it just so? Tartt is a magician.

At the end of the day, I can only bow in admiration of this extraordinary writer. Her characterisation, theme, setting, plot, pacing, and prose are unmatched. Read Tartt; in doing so you will taste the very best.

“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.” (p2)

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Occasionally I Win Things

Sometimes these things result in book tokens.

Always I buy pretty books.

June 2016 // check that colour scheme! Books know how to take a good picture, I'm just saying.
This was a cracking book. I did not agree with everything she said -- namely, that a writer needs to have a mind “incandescent, unimpeded" by their problems, “with no desire to protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay off a score, to make the world the witness of some hardship or grievance", and that's why history produced so few great female writers, because women were generally so oppressed. Whereas, surely, it is protest and pain that makes good writing? Suffering that makes art? A desire to speak about what is important to you?
In spite of this, my big problem, it was a hugely interesting book. You know -- because I never stop going on about it -- how obsessed I am with having a room of one's own. (I chat fully about that here, in the bit called #Write-spiration.)
Me: Metafiction?!

Image result for up doug gif

I've not read this one yet, but I'm proper excited.
(Though reading plays is quite hard. In October I DNF'd a book for the first time in living memory, because it was a play and I was struggling to visualise it. So we shall see.)
On The Beach At Night Alone by Walt Whitman // I wasn't a massive fan. But would read Whitman again.

“On the beach at night alone,
As the old mother sways her to and fro singing her husky song,
As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the clef of the universes and of the future."

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke // I HAVE A FUN STORY ABOUT THIS ONE!
(At least, I think it's a fun story. Stop rolling your eyes. You don't have to read my blog.) Once upon a long time ago, I had a tumblr, and in my brief forays on that website I found and loved this:
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, page 35.:

It lived in my heart -- the questions themselves, the very foreign tongue, the slightly messy underlining -- and then I stopped using my tumblr, but then, months later, what should pop up on Pinterest but the same image? And where had that person Pinned it from? My old redundant tumblr! And I smiled gleefully and Pinned it (and even now, only the two of us on the whole of Pinterest have it saved), and then I realised that the author of these lines, Rainer Maria Rilke -- whose name, when I first fell in love with them, I did not know -- was the Rilke from Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater, whom Sam loves. The Wolves of Mercy Falls series / Sam / Rilke which I had been loving independently of this image, because I'd never made the connection!

And that is what we call book serendipity. And when I bought this book, what else did I buy, if not ...
Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater!

So you see, everything is connected.

HOW CAN WE SAY HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS BOOK/AUTHOR/SERIES? Sinner was an absolute triumph, the perfect culmination for the wonderful Wolves of Mercy Falls. Click here for ALL MY FEELINGS.

Because Fitzgerald. I'm yet to read this. Did you know “tender is the night" comes from a poem by Keats? I was reading Keats last year and come across it and spent a while pointing at the book and grinning. Other book titles from Romantic poets -- putting me in a similar pointing/grinning position -- include “not a drop to drink", “under the greenwood tree" and “alone on a wide, wide sea."(Also, how pretty is this book? I would never really buy a hardback firsthand, unless I had book tokens. Look at it. SHINY.) 

If anyone tells you it's not beneficial to put your books in trees and photograph them ... ignore them. They have not your interests at heart.*
*If you read this and said, “Hamilton reference!" ... I like you. You can stay.

I thought I'd end this post with my fave. Tales from Ovid was properly great, and River was absolutely wonderful, one of my favourite books this year.


What is your most recent bookish purchase? What's been your favourite book of the year? (Now it is nearly over: it's legit snowing where I am.) And do you have any stories of bookish serendipity?

“So we stood, alive in the river of light
 Among the creatures of light, creatures of light." 
~ Ted Hughes, That Morning