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
[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?!

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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

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

October's Arrow // Starting Sparks: November

The clouds pass on; they from the heavens depart: 
I look--the sky is empty space;
I know not what I trace;
But, when I cease to look, my hand is on my heart.
~ William Wordsworth, 'Tis Said, That Some Have Died for Love

It's hard to believe that winter is nearly upon us, that 2016 is entering its first death throes. 

tumblr_ofz6uv7emx1qz6f9yo5_1280.jpg (960×767):
October. I turned eighteen: an increased wage, the ability legally to buy alcohol, and the complete right to vote. Definitely the best birthday for a while, spent with lovely friends old and new.

what can I say?: { how to live } a chronically ill christian:
What else? Working until, suddenly, I found I loved my job (the sparkly trainers one); finishing that job with a heavy heart and moving to a new one. My first day was on Sunday. It is very different, in some good ways, some bad ones.

Working Sundays sucks. I feel I have compromised myself, but on the other hand I am earning money for Kenya ... It is a difficult one. Pray for me.

Gabrielle Assaf // [source]
I'm not sure what else to report about my life. I feel I'm on an inexorable trajectory towards Kenya and I'm trying not to let that dominate me. In Colossians 3:15 it says, Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts", which is both a big encouragement and a massive challenge.

 [source] // “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20)

In Writing

I have had a good writing month!

I am quite terribly in love with Stay in the City. What is happening? A LOT OF BATTLES -- paired with agonies of waiting around with no idea what's going on -- and a lot of broken hearts.

Little Moon Elephant: How to See The Best of The Republic of Ireland in Three Days:
[source] // Amy-Anne Williams // Republic of Ireland


[source] // heck, we all wish someone had told them that.
[source] // Jem // give me a moment to sob for a thousand years.
I have been having attacks of THIS BOOK IS TERRIBLE IT MAKES NO SENSE EVERYONE WILL DEFINITELY HATE IT, but then I play myself a calming lullaby on the violin* and croon, “It's draft one, it's draft one, it's draft one!"
*Metaphorically. I do not, unfortunately, actually play the violin. 

I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.:
[source] // I love this
Also, the characters always cheer me up when I am discouraged. Mel has dyed her hair green!
Jem comes in as we’re starting and forces us to open a window [because of the bleach fumes]. “I don’t want you to die!” he says, coughing. 
“We are dyeing!” I say, holding up the dye, “get it, dyeing,” and after Mel and I have laughed at this for about five minutes Jem gives up and leaves.
~ from Stay in the City 

More than friends quotes quote friends friendship quotes funny quotes:
In Books

It was a good reading month! I had a great time with Wordsworth and Coleridge (for my review of Lyrical Ballads click here), and Georgia Nicolson never fails to bring joy and gladness to my heart (though I am very perturbed to only have one book left out of ten!). Percy Jackson likewise is the love of my soul, although he himself was sadly lacking in The Lost Hero (not that I didn't love Jason and the gang by the end. And the Roman-ness! SO FASCINATING, I CAN'T WAIT TO READ THE NEXT ONE)The Outsider was weird but interesting.

I read The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

Reading another book by the author of your favourite book is always going to be a risk, but I can confirm it was marvellous. I did not love it the way I love The Goldfinch, but because there are only a handful of books I love as much as I love The Goldfinch, that is kind of immaterial.
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.
The opening line. Is that not more or less the best hook you have ever read?


So yes, it was wonderful, and I shall post a review in due course. My other favourite was Time's Arrow by Martin Amis, which I LOVED.
I'm being immature. I've got to get over it. I keep expecting the world to make sense. It doesn't. It won't. Ever.
I have far too much to say about this book, so I shall leave you in eager anticipation (Shut up. I can dream.) of my review. 

Also, Shakespeare's Sonnets. Absolutely mind-blowing. He is the foundation of every word written since, the alpha, the fountainhead. It is almost inconceivable that one writer achieved so much: he was a planet amongst stars, in a world of streams an ocean. And yet he was a man, a real man of flesh and blood and love and hate and hope and disappointment. That's why Sonnet 27 is my favourite -- click here to read -- because when I read it I realised, yes, he was a real person. He lay in bed and could not sleep for thinking about someone, just as I have done. He had a soul.

Starting Sparks: November

Starting Sparks is a monthly writing link-up run by the inimitable Ashley, and also by me. For more info go to the page. (Yes, we have a page; we're very professional. *ahem*)
November prompt
There a lot of brilliant nursery rhymes -- click here for a helpful Wiki list -- and I think they have a lot of scope for stories. Ring-A-Ring O' Roses is about the Great Plague: London in 1665 to 1666, on the cusp of the Great Fire! What about Georgie Peorgie Pudding and Pie, who kissed the girls and made them cry? How do the girls feel? What about the ten thousand grumbling soldiers of the Grand Old Duke of York, mutinying as they're forced to march up and down, up and down? That polygamous traveller to St Ives? The slightly demonic children going round and round the mulberry bush, obsessively washing their faces and brushing their hair? Who is going to write the star-crossed love story of the dish who ran away with the spoon?

I am sorry, my dear chums, that I've posted this a day late (but none of you were waiting with pens quivering in hands, were you? So really, no harm done). Anyway, my failures aside, I look forward to reading your nursery rhyme inspired tales!


Lemony Snicket:
With this, my newest favourite thing, I leave you. How has your October been? Farewell, my friends, until we meet again.