Wednesday, 27 January 2016

SS#4: A Room Alone

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."
-- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

Recently I've been very interested in the Woolfian ideal of the room, both as a physical space and a metaphor: a private space, for reflection, introspection and creativity. Confession: I've not actually read A Room of One's Own, but I will, very soon.

Starting Sparks is a monthly link-up for writers, hosted by me and Ashley.
Do you remember Teresa Ruskin?

I conceived the Ruskins -- a large, literary family living in an old dilapidated house in Surrey -- at Easter last year, and have subsequently written four pieces about them. They bounce around in my head, demanding that they get their own book.

I posted about them in Starting Sparks in October, a story called In Rain.

For this month's Starting Sparks, the prompt is:

Writing Prompt:

I was really excited about this prompt, but in the end it didn't work for me. I tried to write a story based on an idea I've had floating for a while, about a girl who meets a character from a book she's reading -- he's fallen through the fabric of the universe, or something like that, into her world -- and she has to help him solve a murder or something; except she is actually a character from a book he's reading, so they are like parallel book universes? However this is a very complicated idea with a lot of logistics to work out, and in the end, I didn't find myself up to the task, at least not for a short story that you guys would actually enjoy reading.

The idea needs more time to simmer in my head. 

So, it's Teresa again.

A bit of context: she's nineteen and she's in her second year of an English Lit degree at Durham. This story is set in January.

This is The Bridge.
I wrote this story a few months ago. It's not inspired by a song, but you could listen to a song here or here or here or maybe here to find something relevant. (All favourite songs, anyway, so I'm almost following the prompt ... ish.)

My initial working title was Write About Love, which is basically a command to myself because I, er, never do. As resident hopeless romantic I love reading about love, but I guess I'm always a bit scared of writing about it, because I'm terrified that I'll end up with vapid contemporary teen girl fiction, which I really don't want. TCATT (my WIP novel) is a romance-free zone. Yes, obviously, there's Corem (FMC and MMC), and I ship them forever to eternity, but they don't know that yet. Nothing “happens" between them, not in Book 1.

However, after thinking, as I have been recently, about rooms, my current title -- which is also the working title for the book -- is A Room Alone. I'm interested in the concept of being alone, which can be both negative -- loneliness -- and positive -- solace, especially for an introvert like Teresa, and a time to reflect and create. Exploring the dual nature of “alone-ness" will be a central theme of the novel, I think.

And if you want to link up with Starting Sparks, there's still time!


A Room Alone

For Teresa, the room was her refuge and her prison.

Like a stage it was the scene of so many reflections and visions. It looked like any room in halls – a low bed with a steel frame; a desk; a swivel chair – but it was also hers, indubitably, with her posters on the walls and her paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling. She had affection for its buckled floor and narrow bed; it was a slightly musty haven, and she imagined it as the cabin of a ship, or a sleeper train’s compartment, rocking her to sleep as the horizon shot closer. She enjoyed the rain on the double-glazed window when she nestled in bed with tea and paperback; her view of the narrow cobbled street was one of wistful beauty, and she had come to love it. Yet the room was also a symbol, in her mind, of cut off hopes and shattered dreams, because it represented loneliness, and things she wanted but couldn’t have. It was in her room that lucid sorrow washed over her, stretching out in the grey nights she spent alone.

Alone: a solace, always, for her, to be by herself, away from the exhausting rush of the world. Teresa – reader, thinker, dreamer of dreams – cherished solitude, and the room was a paradise, therefore, a place to step from the physical world to the planes of the mind. She read Coleridge, “and what if in your sleep you dreamed”, and that wandering dream state was her habitat and her home. Yet now to be alone was sullied; for alone had a double meaning, a connotation not of solace, but of heartbreak. To be alone, now, in those long rain-washed evenings, was to be vulnerable, for those were the nights when he came to her, flooding her mind and her stomach, stealing the oxygen from her blood.

He came suddenly, obtrusively, always with the same sickening swoop beneath her diaphragm.

She didn’t remember exactly the first time she saw him – there was no blinding flash, no sudden total devotion – but she had tumbled into heartsickness as late summer fled into autumn, those first weeks of first year, right on the threshold of her new university life: there he was, dominating her horizon, so that she had virtually no memories of her time in the city that were not tinged by him. The room, from the first, had fluttered with the idea of him, then the firm-rooted thought, making it jagged and erratic to Teresa, a place of glittering shards of dreams, through which he strolled, always, reflecting light back to her. He spread through her mind unstoppably, and she was a bystander, watching as something unprecedented overcame her, frightening and glorious in its intensity. Teresa read Fitzgerald, “all great happiness is a little sad”, and knew that she had stumbled into the soul-deep point where joy and grief overlap; she had found something that knifed through her with physical pain, and yet was purer than any desire she’d ever imagined.

She thought about him constantly, a never-ending cycle of colour and words; the conversations she reeled off went on for hours, winding back and forth. Perhaps they joked at first – light-hearted, a chance meeting, somehow alone together – but then the tone would change like a gathering of clouds. His altered voice, looking down, I’ve never told anyone this, but … His realisation, then, that she was the single person to whom he could bare his soul; she understood as no one ever had, was right on a molecular level. They were meant to spend long days talking, heartbeats in time at the convergence of sound and silence. He would have this epiphany, and then Teresa’s night would end and he would be there, him, glowing in the dawn.

It was ridiculous to imagine, and she knew it. What was the truth, after all? That they had lots of mutual friends, existed in the same wide group, might find themselves walking to the train station together or beside one another in the cinema; but they were not close, did not share secrets, were barely alone together. That though she imagined their hearts side by side, the whole world falling into place, to him she was another face in a crowd – a nice girl, no doubt, clever and generally decent – but neither close friend nor confidant. These were the facts. Yet reason was useless, longing inescapable; she was a tearstained fugitive, always desperately turning the page, fraying her mind with the constant question: when would the denouement finally come?

Once, on a clean-skied day in late October, a month into second year and a year after she had started, terrifyingly, to live for him alone, it had happened as Teresa had envisaged so many times. She was walking from her lecture, one strand of her mind on Wordsworth but the other as usual full of him, and suddenly there he was, a saint stepped from a dream into bright life. He was standing on the bridge, wearing a black raincoat which was endearing in its practical ugliness, and when he saw he raised his arm in latent hello.

With painful pulse Teresa had fallen in beside him, and it had been perfect: the greeting, his smile, the way her name sounded when he said it.

“I was stopping for the view,” he’d said, and gestured across the river, which was grey and glorious in its reflections of the trees; and in that moment its beauty was his beauty, so that Teresa could hardly speak. Now the bridge was marked for her: the Place, the Time, the Autumn Day. It had a radiance to it, a secret stamp that changed it in her eyes. It became the scene of some of her fantasies.

They had started walking, talking – he liked the Romantics too, her heart more or less burst – and somehow, as they agreed it was cold, that they had nowhere to be, there was the coffee shop ahead; and there they were, across from each other in the window, and Teresa span among the constellations.

Only it didn’t follow her pattern.

He talked excitedly about his course and his family, they discussed what they were reading and watching and listening to, and outside the light was fading and Teresa felt that the world was leaning forward and lowering its voice. But there was no change in the atmosphere; no veer of subject into deep, unchartered waters. He stayed as friendly and kind as he’d always been. When they parted, it was with a smile, an assertion that we should do this again, and a wave.

That was all.

Afterwards she felt dazed, wandering in an elated mist of colour and the sound of his voice, because it had been far better than all her reveries, he high above any holograph she conjured; but it didn’t take long for the sorrow to set in again. That was the trouble, that the eternal fly in the ointment; however much of him she had, she wanted more. Once upon a time he’d been a face in a crowd, a little flutter of attraction; then they’d been introduced, but for a while, still, he’d been a faraway figure, so that even the exchange of a word set her dizzy with joy. But as they moved into the same circles, as they become, indisputably, friends, she craved more and higher. For the Teresa of a year ago, the thought of an hour over coffee would have been an inenarrable wonder. Now it made worse the dull ache that never left her. In one way she cherished it – and she never would never go backwards, never – but she knew, also, that passion and suffering have the same root in Latin. She holed up in her tiny room, replaying every moment and wishing for the if and the maybe.


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Books and Secrets


The fangirl is unleashed!

Several lifetimes ago, Lauren from Always Me nominated me for the Book Fangirling Blog Award. (You see, I do do my awards, it just sometimes takes me ... five months ... or so ...) I'm not exactly sure what this award is for -- am I just good at fangirling? 

I mean, I like to think I am.
Anyway, thanks, Lauren! Don't you love that award button, by the way?

1. Would you rather read a fantasy/sci-fi novel or a comedy? 
I have to say, I'm disgruntled that fantasy and sci-fi are grouped together. 

From these three genres (and if you read that in a pointed and frosty tone, you were right), I'd rather read fantasy, because, well, I'd always rather read fantasy. I don't read the other two much at all. What even is comedy? Just because a book's funny, it's not a comedy ... right?

One of my favourite books is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, which is a farcical comedy but also sci-fi. There you go.

2. What is your go-to book recommendation?
Right now it's The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, for reasons that I've repeated on this blog till I'm blue in the face. Of course, I differ my recommendations to suit the person.

Apart from The Goldfinch, I'd always ask “Have you read The Book Thief?" and if the answer is no I'd tell them to sort their life out and get to it. Then I have genre-specific recommendations: The Raven Cycle for paranormal fans; Emma for people who like Pride and Prejudice but haven't read any other Austen (Emma is the best one, I'm just saying); A Song of Ice and Fire for lovers of an epic fantasy; A Farewell to Arms for those prone to “literary fiction"; Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler or How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff for YA fans; The Cuckoo's Calling for anyone who likes crime. And if they were looking for some fantasy aimed at twelve year olds I'd point them to the Icemark Chronicles by Stuart Hill, which I just finished rereading, because they are AMAZING, and I've never met a single! other! person! who's read them! How, I ask you? How and why?!?

3. What song best fits the personality of the main character of your current read?
I love this question! I'm reading The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith, AKA JK Rowling (and it's amaaaaazing!). The MC is ex-army London detective Cormoran Strike, a man whose personal creed is  “do the job and do it well." I can't really think what he'd listen to. But for fitting his personality:

 “I'll write you a story, but it loses its thread, and all of my witnesses keep turning up dead."

Two of my favourite songs.

4. Are there any books you want to rewrite? If so, which one and what would you do differently?
A tough one! I absolutely adore A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin, but I really wish I'd been his editor. I could have a) weeded out the infuriating Americanisms; b) warned him off some of the more unpleasant sex scenes; and c) helped him to cut down the books, which are freaking gigantic. 

Equally, though ...

So I wouldn't really change anything.
5. What book would you like to see a movie or TV adaption of and who would you cast to play the main character(s)?

I'm pretty weird amongst bookworms, but I, uh, don't like movie and TV adaptations. I mean, we all know that the book is always better, but equally, most bookworms enjoy an adaptation now and then. I'm not saying I don't -- there are plenty of enjoyable films of books, of course! -- but I always prefer to keep my favourite books out of it. Seeing them onscreen invariably changes things and pollutes my headcanon, and whilst I can always retain my unsullied version, it makes it harder. 


Now, let me spill my secrets.

Another few lifetimes ago, Cait from Paper Fury nominated me for the Bookish Facts Tag. Thank you very much, Cait! 

1604882_755034217928693_2428613194777611300_n.jpg (540×720):

1. I have never owned, and hope never to own, a Kindle. (This, taken with my previous answer to question five, may lead you to suspect I'm a technophobe ... you wouldn't be wholly wrong.) I get all the arguments for them -- light, accessible, a lot easier than carting a load of books on holiday -- but I like holding books. I like buying books. I like lining books up on my shelf and looking at them. I like drawing a book from my bag. I like seeing what other people are reading on the train, which you can't do with a Kindle. I like the different weight of different books in my hand. I like unusually sized books. I like smelling books. You can't do those things electronically.

Catrin Welz-Stein - The Storybook:

2. The only way I can handle bookish organisation is alphabetically. People who just throw them on the shelf however are not to be trusted, and as for colour organisation, it freaks me out! How can you bear to split up a series? What about books with many-coloured spines? Hmm? HMM??

As for organising by genre, it also stresses me. Is The Lord of the Rings a classic or fantasy? Does Harry Potter go side by side with A Game of Thrones, or should it be in the children's section? I CAN'T MAKE THESE CHOICES!

Alphabetical is the only way. 


3. I never read two books in the same genre in a row. Right now I'm reading a crime novel, which means I'll have to move onto paranormal, then contemporary, then classic. Even if I love a series, I'll never read the books one after the other (unless I'm binging); I'll always jump genre in between. 

4. Despite my deep and enduring love for this graphic, I don't use the library often. We have literally thousands of books in our house, and I have my own collection of two hundred and something, half of them unread. So I rarely, in fact, borrow books.


5. I believe that reading is its own, quite particular, pleasure. Watching a great TV show or film encircles you in a visual world; drawing gives you a different kind of immersion; writing has its own world-changing intensity; but reading is different to them all. I really can think of few things better than a whole morning or afternoon -- even, dare to think it, a whole day -- spent with a good book and lot of tea. I am so very happy to sit unmoving with my book (apart from to get up and make more tea, of course), allowing its world to fill my mind and the space around me, giving me the gift that only a book can.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Write Me The World

2015 is the year I decided to be a writer.

Wait, Emily, hold up. You've been writing since you could hold a pencil. You started your WIP novel in 2013, which you finished in August and are now three quarters of the way through redrafting, and you wrote novellas before that. You've been writing short stories your whole life and you started writing poetry aged fourteen. How the heck flip had you not already decided to be a writer?"

Well, blogglings, here's the thing.

When I was little, I said I wanted to write books. When I was ten or eleven, this changed to: I want to write picture books. Then I entered the big bad world of secondary school.

My parents said I should be a lawyer, so I briefly considered this idea. I then, aged thirteen, decided I'd be a sociologist and made the rash decision of taking Geography (one I'd regret for the next two years of my life). Looking back, it seems pretty plain that I mostly just fancied my Geography teacher that year. He subsequently moved to Switzerland and I found myself studying volcanoes and wondering where I'd gone wrong.

I thought about other career paths or degree choices. Maybe I'd study History. Maybe I'd study Classics. Aged about fifteen I thought seriously about going to art school. I was still writing all this time, and I was fourteen when I began The City and the Trees, my WIP novel, but I felt like I needed another career aspiration.

Basically, I was scared.

Apparently only the top 2% of aspiring writers actually get published and make a good living, and I was scared to put my hopes on something that has such terrifying statistics.

When somebody asks you what you want to be, they're expecting you to reply “doctor", or “lawyer." Lots of kids -- at least lots of kids who like reading -- go through phases of “writing books", and there are plenty of teenagers who can write a good story for English class. But at seventeen, nobody expects you to answer, straight-faced, “I want to be a writer", and I was scared of explaining to people that yes, this is me: I live inside worlds I've created, talking to people who don't exist in this world, and I want to keep going for the rest of my life.

The rest of my life is an awfully long time, and I was scared of daring to dream that I'd fill those years writing novels.

It was only in 2015 that I realised the truth: success isn't going to come to me. I have to go to it. 


And, funnily enough, it's also the year that I discovered that writing is a pure and unadulterated joy.

It's the year that I started writing every day. It was no longer “I'll write if I feel like it" or “I'll wait for inspiration and then write." I realised a truth that is wonderfully expressed by Isabel Allende:


To some people, that sounds like a slog. I can only imagine the reactions of some of my peers at school if they knew that, rather than sticking the TV on when I get home, I find laptop or notebook or both and I write. That, even though it's not homework, I wrestle with metaphors and dialogue and syntax. That I have very serious thoughts about commas. That I love every second of it.

Writing is hard. It's really hard. Sometimes I fall into plot holes and it hurts to claw my way out. Sometimes I read what I've written and am gripped by despondency, because I feel sure that it won't ever be published, and that I'll never be able to live my dream. But, as irony has it, writing fiction makes me real. Writing shows me my thoughts and my emotions, gives me catharsis, helps me to understand the world. I write and I write and I will stop for nothing. 


2015 is the year I took that decision.

The truth is that I don't know the future. Of course, I know, I will definitely have to get a salaried job when I leave uni because I am not going to fall into a life of making my living as a writer. I will have to work for pay, and obstacles will come up and I'll get rejected by publishers and derided by critics and some days I might feel as if I'm never going to get there, but I'm not going to stop trying. And maybe I never will get published, maybe I'll have a “normal job" all of my life. Statistically, if we think back to the 2%, it's pretty likely. But I'm not going to stop writing, ever, because even if nobody is reading it it will be the expression of my soul. My veins are full of ink and, though it might not make medical sense, to live I need to bleed.

salaried job? please no:

In 2016, I will continue on this path. 

Now that I am a committed little novelist I am, as you would expect, going a lot faster. Gone are the half-uncaring days when a first draft took me two years. I may not be the fastest writer out there, but I keep at it, and that simple fact means I have no limits.

I am currently thirty-two chapters into the redraft of The City and the Trees. I finished typing Draft 1 (yes, I hand-write, and yes, I get distracted by the exciting process of redrafting so I forget to type what I've written) the other night. The final word count is 99 955, which I will definitely be slimming in subsequent drafts. I'm very happy to have Draft 1 fully typed.

My goals for 2016, then, are to finish TCATT Drafts 2 and 3, and send it off to the betas. I hope to do this by the summer, and then, after the customary six-week detox, I'll be starting the sequel. I am so, so, SO excited to follow the story into Book 2!

Other than that, I'll keep going as I'm going. I'll still be hosting the Starting Sparks link-up, and writing many other short stories besides, not to mention fostering the seeds of other novel projects -- the Ruskins, the untitled steampunk one, the metafiction one -- in my mind. I will keep writing, keep liberating my thoughts from their shadowy half-formed realm to the world of ink and paper, and I will not cease. 

I am a writer.


Tuesday, 5 January 2016

2015: The Books

Happy Tuesday! It is January the 5th; I am feeling a little morose that my family have all gone home, but also breathing a sigh of relief that the Christmas stress is over. All would be more or less perfect, were I not soon heading back to the torturous world of school.

New year is a time for reflections, revolutions and resolves; to look back on the year that's past and think on the year to come. Today I'm thinking about 2015 in very important terms: in terms of the books I read.

I'm linking up with The Perpetual Page-Turner's Annual End-of-Year Survey, to consider what I read in 2015!


Number Of Books:
Number of Re-Reads: 

9 or 10 (I know, right? A lot.) That is: Roman Mysteries books 1-5 by Caroline Lawrence (BEST! SERIES! EVER!); The Cry of the Icemark by Stuart Hill (OTHER! BEST! SERIES! EVER! I just -- like, an hour ago -- finished rereading book #2, Blade of Fire, and asdfadsflkag it's perfect); Percy Jackson 1-4 by Rick Riordan (ALSO! BEST! SERIES! EVER!) I say 9 or 10, because I can't for the life of me remember whether I read The Battle of the Labyrinth or not when I was younger. I definitely read the first three ... ?

Most-Read Genre:
Pie charts are fun!
As you see, I read the most classics, although if we combined High Fantasy and Paranormal/Urban fantasy into one big Fantasy section, it would win at 16. I am surprised to see 8 in Historical Fiction, because with some exceptions, I don't really like Historical Fiction.

It may have something to do with those books 1-5 of the Roman Mysteries ....


1. Best Book

I have already talked this book to death. Suffice to say, I couldn't possibly love it any more. To discover the reasons that the book is absolutely perfect, read my review here.

2. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn’t?

 As I mentioned, I have a gargantuan love for Lawrence's Roman Mysteries (really and truly, one of my top five favourite series EVER), and as such I was so excited to read this book. It was tiny and ... rubbish. So saddening.

I was also disappointed by The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas); The King's General (Daphne du Maurier); The Mayor of Casterbridge (Thomas Hardy); A Room with a View (EM Forster); When We Were Orphans (Kazuo Ishiguro). 2015 definitely finished better than it started.

 3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read? 

 Good surprise:

I read Throne of Glass in April, and enjoyed it, but it wasn't as good as I was expecting. (I liked it, I really did, but I didn't think it lived up the hype.) So I was pleasantly surprised by Crown of Midnight, which I thought was really and truly excellent. I loved it! I'm so excited for Heir of Fire!

Bad surprise:
I didn't have particularly high expectations for this, because it's a Victorian ghost story and I tend to take a dim view of Victorian ghost stories (I just can't be bothered with horror, most of the time). But it's a classic, and I've never read a classic without some merit.
Until now.
This book was a bad surprise because it was, frankly, pants. Annoyingly written, with an infuriating narrator and heaps of commas, it was a convoluted ghost story that was not at all scary, merely irritating. I had to force myself to finish it, and when I did, the ending? It made no sense. Almost nothing happened in the book. Thank goodness it was only short!
I have lost my faith in the reading public. Why is this book still in print?

 4. Book you pushed the most people to read?

I managed to get one friend on the Department 19 bandwagon (good job, Joanna), and I have given The Goldfinch to two people for Christmas. I am planning to slowly inflitrate all my friends, family and acquaintances, before moving onto strangers in the street.

Then The Goldfinch will be mandatory reading for all ... and Donna Tartt will be our queen.

 5. Best series you started in 2015? 

So yeah I don't mention it a lot but I kind of love Maggie Stiefvater? Hahaha it's funny because I mention it all the time.
I'm so excited to read Forever!

Best Sequel of 2015? 

Absolute perfection.
And this is the book that saw me fall obsessively in love with Jaime Lannister ...

Best Series Ender of 2015?

I really love the D19 series -- it doesn't get nearly enough recognition. You should really read it. I'm not generally into vampire novels, and I know the covers are atrocious, but this is really and truly marvellous. And this conclusion was thrilling.
I'm so sad it's over.

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2015?

HELLO DONNA TARTT. Admittedly I've only read one of her books, but I have the other two and, uh, will read them very soon. 

Also F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read Gatsby last summer but didn't get it until I studied it in school, and I'd say it was this year that I had my epiphany, which is that it's an objectively perfect book.

I then read this utter gem in the summer, and my love was consecrated.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

This is historical crime fiction, two genres I don't read that much -- and crime is definitely out of my comfort zone -- but I really really enjoyed this book. It's a thriller set in Stalinist Russia, following high-up official Leo Demidov and his wife Raisa as they investigate the gruesome murders of children. Leo must confront the crimes, as well as his own demons, his relationship with his wife, and his misgivings about the totalitarian Communist state.
It was a really, really good book. I've not read the sequel, The Secret Speech, yet, but I'm excited to!

 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Most action-packed: The Cry of the Icemark. Having just finished Blade of Fire I can confirm that these fantasy novels are full of battle scenes. Just SO GOOD!
Most thrilling: D19. Gee I love this series!
And then there's The Goldfinch, which picked me up from chapter one and wouldn't let me go. I lived in this book. Over the period of time I read it, I thought about it constantly, and was always desperate to get back to it. I lived Theo's life. I still think about it a lot now, three months later.

 9. Book you're most likely to re-read next year?

I really loved Rapture a lot. If you don't read poetry, it's the perfect gateway. It has fifty-two short poems detailing a relationship from its start to its end; as such, it has a continuous story arc, rather than being fragmented, so you can read through it like a novel. I've read some of the poems so many times, and will revisit them a lot next year! Also The World's Wife, also by Carol Ann Duffy. (She is my new favourite poet, can you tell?)

10. Favorite cover?

The World's Wife
What did I just say?

11. Most memorable character of 2015?

(I really do really love Jaime Lannister.)

Also Cormoran Strike, the detective from The Cuckoo's Calling by JK Rowling -- I loved him a lot -- and Theo Decker, the narrator of The Goldfinch, whom I adore.

 12. Most beautifully written book?

13. Most thought-provoking/life-changing book of 2015?

I can't believe I've not mentioned The Handmaid's Tale yet -- it's one of my top four books of 2015! It describes a dystopian society wherein women are wombs on legs". The State sanctions Handmaids" to be used as concubines by rich and powerful men, and only the ruling male elite are allowed to read; for everyone else, the written word has been taken away. The most terrifying thing is what Atwood said about the book: there's nothing in the book that hasn't already happened." It made me think a lot about reproductive ethics, the different sides of feminism, and the freedoms we have: is it better to have freedom to do whatever you want, and the nasty consequences that come with it, or freedom from those nasty consequences, and no personal choice?

We Need New Names tells the story of a girl's move from Zimbabwe to America, in pursuit of the American Dream. It draws stark parallels between poverty and suffering in Africa, and the torpor and rot of American society. It really made me think about different types of misery. I talk about this more in my review, here.

And there's The Goldfinch, this book I read ... I don't talk about it much ... *ahem*
It made me think about life and love and art and suffering and ... just read the damn book, OK?

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2015 to finally read? 

(What a pleasing blue and green collage.)
The book blogosphere has been shrieking about Anna and the French Kiss and Throne of Glass since their publications, but only in 2015 did I succumb to its pressure. (I'm glad I did.) As for Blue Lily, Lily Blue and The Cuckoo's Calling, they are by two of my favourite authors, so why did I not read them instantly on publication? Hard to say.

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2015?

These bitter sorrows of childhood! when sorrow is all new and strange, when hope has not yet got wings to fly beyond the days and weeks, and the space from summer to summer seems measureless.

~ from The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

It’s been so perfect – you and I. So like a dream I’d longed for and never thought I’d find. The first real unselfishness I’ve ever felt in my life.

~ from This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illumined in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.


For the deepest, most unshakeable part of myself reason was useless. She was the missing kingdom, the unbruised part of myself I'd lost with my mother. Everything about her was a snowstorm of fascination, from the antique valentines and embroidered Chinese coats she collected to her tiny scented bottles from Neal's Yard Remedies; there had always been something bright and magical about her unknown faraway life. ... She was the golden thread running through everything, a lens that magnified beauty so that the whole world stood transfigured in relation to her, and her alone.

~ from The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The air that floated by my seemed to say
Write! thou wilt never have a better day."

~ from Epistle to Charles Cowden Clarke by John Keats

A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness

~ from Endymion by John Keats

Falling in love
is glamorous hell; the crouched, parched heart
like a tiger ready to kill; a flame's fierce licks under the skin.
Into my life, larger than life, you strolled in.

I hid in my ordinary days, in the long grass of routine,
in my camoflage days. You sprawled in my gaze,
staring back from anyone's face, from the shape of a cloud,
from the pining, earth-struck moon which gapes at me 

as I open the bedroom door.

~ from You by Carol Ann Duffy

It's too long to quote, but click here to read my favourite passage from We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.

 16. Shortest and Longest Books

Rapture -- 96 pages
The Count of Monte Cristo -- 1054 pages

17. Book that shocked you the most 

(Because of a plot twist, character death, left you hanging with your mouth wide open, etc.)
A Feast for Crows shocked me because it took me from my one-time hatred of Jaime Lannister to utter total love. (Not that I ever talk about him ... oh. That's right. I talk about him all the time.) Read more of my thoughts on this process here. And A Dance with Dragons: Dreams and Dusts had some great plot twists!
Now, can we talk about the enDING OF CROWN OF MIDNIGHT?!?!?! I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING!
(I mean, looking back, it's totally obvious, so I guess I'm just an idiot ... oops.)

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

BLUE/GANSEY! I'm putting them in here because it was only in Blue Lily, Lily Blue that I clambered truly aboard this marvellous and beautiful ship. Click here for marvy fanart.

THIRRIN/OSKAN! They are from The Cry of the Icemark and I love them ridiculously. I can't find much good fanart for them because no one has read the book. Seriously, if you're a fantasy fan, if you like Game of Thrones, if you enjoy magic or sassy protagonists or humour, GO GO GO! Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever met anyone who's read the books. I MUST FANGIRL WITH SOMEONE!

CHAOLAENA! I didn't quite get it in Throne of Glass (at one point I was *hem hem* a Dorian shipper), but in Crown of Midnight OH BROTHER! Click here for wondrous fanart (contains spoilers for Throne of Glass).
19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year
Robin and Cormoran from The Cuckoo's Calling; they are a brilliant detective duo and I love their relationship.

Brienne and Jaime from A Feast for Crows. BEST. FRIENDSHIP. EVER. They start off hating each other; she despises him because a) he's horrible and insulting and b) she's heard what everyone says about his dastardly past. And he's really rude and cruel to her and generally nasty. AND THEN .... !!!!

OK, they maybe don't get quite to this point, but a fangirl can dream, can't she?

20. Favourite book from an author you’ve read previously

I'm going to take this opportunity to spotlight The Mill on the Floss, because even though it's one of my top ten books of 2015, I've managed to avoid talking about till now!
I read it because I'd previously read and loved Adam Bede, also by George Eliot, and I loved it just as much. It combines beautiful rich writing with a mesmerising story, following Maggie Tulliver, her family relationships and her discovery of live. It's ultimately a coming of age novel and I found it very touching.

21. Best book read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else/peer pressure?

I'd probably go for Anna and the French Kiss again here, because when I first heard about it I was v disdainful -- the title alone put me off. However, after approx. four years of pressure from the blogosphere I finally capitulated.

22. Newest fictional crush? 

I, uh, am in love with Jaime Lannister.
That is all.

24. Best worldbuilding/most vivid setting?

This prize always goes to George RR Martin. The world he creates in A Song of Ice and Fire is truly breathtaking.
The settings in The Goldfinch -- New York, Las Vegas and Amsterdam -- were also absolutely wonderful. Did I mention that I love The Goldfinch?!

I was too disoriented by my surroundings to listen very closely and with almost painfully heightened senses I stirred at the potato mess with my fork and felt the strangeness of the city pressing in all around, smells of tobacco and malt and nutmeg, cafe walls the melancholy brown of an old leatherbound book and then beyond, dark passages and brackish water lapping, low skies and old buildings all leaning against each other with a moody, poetic, edge-of-destruction feel, the cobblestoned loneliness of a city that felt -- to me, anyway -- like a place where you might come to let the water close over your head.

(The Goldfinch, Amsterdam)

25. Book that put a smile on your face/was the most FUN to read?
Anna and the French Kiss was a lovely feel-good read. It was adorable and made me fangirl a lot.
By some sad mockery of the universe, I've only managed to read one Georgia Nicolson this year -- what happened?! -- but these book always put a smile on my face because they are HILARIOUS. In fact, they convulse me!

26. Book that made you cry or nearly cry?

I didn't. I'm made of stone.

27. Hidden gem of the year?
Ted Hughes is my favourite poet, and Poetry in the Making was a really marvellous book about how to write and think and observe. I loved it.

KEATS! KEATS! KEATS! I read the complete works of Keats this year. He is a babe and a half. This biography and literary study by Sidney Colvin was a quietly brilliant book; very interesting in terms of understanding the poetry, but also a touching and tender insight into the tragic and beautiful twenty-five years of John Keats' life.
28. Book that crushed your soul?
A Farewell to Arms, a stunning tale of love in WW1, is one of my top three books of 2015, so I can't believe I've not mentioned it yet! It is beautiful but the portrayal of war is devastating so ... yeah. Review here.
Also The Handmaid's Tale and We Need New Names (see question #13).
29. Most unique book?
This Side of Paradise was really unlike anything I've ever read. It combines vignettes of prose with poems and drama script to create a style that perfectly mimics its story: of Amory Blaine, a young man growing up and learning about life and love. It follows Amory from his childhood to his time at Princeton University, and it's probably my favourite coming of age book ever. (And I love coming of age books.) One of my 2015 top three.

The World's Wife is a poetry collection that takes famous men and imagines the women behind them. Sometimes tragic, sometimes hilarious, always fresh and insightful.
30. Book that made you the most mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?
EH UP MISOGYNY! (Interesting, isn't it, that the two most sexist books I read have men's titles as their titles. What does that tell us?)

Maybe I'm being a little unfair by calling The Count of Monte Cristo misogynistic; it's pretty harmless, really, but it's got these agonisingly one-dimensional female characters, whom the males of the novel just worship. I don't have a problem with beautiful women characters. I don't have a problem with virtuous women characters. I don't have a problem with kind-hearted women characters. But here's a thought: not all women are beautiful AND virtuous AND kind-hearted! According to this book, though, all young women of merit are like this.

As for The Mayor of Casterbridge, the MC is just a generally awful misogynist and really not a nice guy. I'm not saying this reflects Hardy's own views, although I am told he treated his wife abominably, sooooo ...


1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2015?

(And others, but these are the ones I know I discovered in 2015)

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2015?

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

I've enjoyed jumping on the bandwagon of The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday meme this year, but in terms of memes my highlight has definitely been setting up the monthly writing link-up Starting Sparks! My co-host Ashley and I post a prompt each month to get writers thinking. If you want to know more, click here!

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2015?

This would also come into question 4. I met, chatted to, and had a signing from Carol Ann Duffy!!!

6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?

Honestly, the only answer I can think of is that, since this is the year I've started trying to take proper book photography, I've found my lack of camera skills very challenging. Exposure! How does one fix it?!??! But really, this is a pretty minor problem, so now's the time I'd like to thank you guys for making 2015 awesome. You really are the best bunch of bookish gals, and I always feel so welcomed, supported and appreciated in the book blogging community! Here's to you guys!

I spend 98% of the time posting Sherlock gifs, and still you put up with me!

7. Most popular post this year (whether it be by comments or views)?

It was my 100 Followers Q&A Vlog and Giveaway. I HOPE this is because you guys wanted to watch the vlog, not because you are shallow giveaway hounds!*
*Fear not, I too am a shallow giveaway hound. #bloggerslife
You guys have also enjoyed my new award format, wherein I bombard you with pretty pictures from Pinterest and some facts: One Lovely Blog Award (August) // Versatile Blog Award (October) // these posts are also great fun to write!

8. Post you wished got a little more love?

Bookish Loves and Bookish Qualms (I thought this was a good post. It got one comment. Thank you, Lauren.) // Books and Their ~Ships: On Trios (I made a rather genius infographic but you guys weren't buying it) //  What the Water Gave Me

1. One book you didn't get to in 2015 but will be your #1 2016 priority?


2. Book you are most anticipating for 2016?

^ My mindset concerning both of these books.
And I've not even read the second part of A Dance with Dragons yet!

3. One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging life in 2016?

In terms of reading, I must finish some of the legion series I've got on the go. In terms of book numbers, I've set my Goodreads challenge to 52. A book per week is pretty steep for me, but I'm hopeful!
As for blogging, obviously I want to increase my follower count, but also to improve my bookish photography; to get better at keeping up with reading you guys' blogs; and to keep producing content that makes me proud. I am proud of what I've blogged in 2015; may 2016 be even better!