Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Back to the Classics 2017

Once again I speak to you from the past! Am I writing from a parallel dimension? Can I time travel? Or did I just schedule this post?

Image result for jack sparrow ooh hands gif
I guess you'll never know.
So anyway. Gifs aside, my past self would like to announce that she's linking up with the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017, hosted by Karen @ Books and Chocolate!

To quote from Karen's blog:
It's back! Once again, I'm hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge. I hope to encourage bloggers to discover and enjoy classic books they might not have tried, or just never got around to reading. And at the end, one lucky winner will receive a $30 (US) prize from or The Book Depository! 
Here's how it works:
The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read 12 books to participate: 
Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing
Cool, right? Thanks so much to Karen for hosting! Here are the twelve categories.

1. A 19th Century Classic

Ah, we could slot anyone in here. Maybe Bleak House? Or maybe I should tackle Walter Scott at long last -- my parents recommend The Heart of Midlothian.

2. A 20th Century Classic - must have been published at least fifty years ago (1967).

Perhaps The Beautiful and Damned by F Scott Fitzgerald. He and I have been apart for too long.

3. A classic by a woman author

I've been meaning to read Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Or I could return to Du Maurier -- it's been far too long -- and finally pick up Jamaica Inn. Or Middlemarch (so that Eliot can be redeemed in my eyes after my disappointment in Romola?). Or I am planning to read The Flame-Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley while in Kenya. Lots of options!

4. A classic in translation

I intend to read Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, originally written in German!

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, page 35.:
Based on a) this picture and b) Rilke's featuring in Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls. Read a serendipitous story combining these three things here.
5. A pre-1800 classic

I'm about to reread Romeo and Juliet, as research for LesMisBook -- Nina is performing a Juliet speech (Act 3 Scene 2, if you're interested) in her drama school audition. At least, that's my excuse for revisiting this beloved play ... I also plan to read A Midsummer Night's Dream and Cymbeline. And I've been meaning to tackle Spenser's Faerie Queene for ages ... if I can work up the moxie! 

6. A romance classic

Austen, anyone? Mansfield Park is the last book of hers I'm yet to read. I can't wait!

7. A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads.

So, confession time. I have never read Dracula, Frankenstein, or Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and I don't really want to. I think it's because a) I don't like sci-fi/horror, and b) they all feel so familiar to me -- Dracula and Frankenstein, especially, have been rehashed so many times in popular culture over the years. So please, change my mind! If you've read one of these books and liked it, tell me why, and maybe I'll pick it up!

I do, however, have some preferred options for this category. Maybe The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo -- because I love Les Mis! So! Much! -- or maybe Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. I've had this one on my shelf for a while -- it's a cult fantasy book from 1959. The only problem is, I'm trying not to start series with gay abandon, and it's the first in a trilogy. So we shall see.

Titus Groan - Mervyn Peake.   After five or six abortive attempts as a teenager, I decided it was about time that I read my mother's favourite book all the way through. I don't think I've ever read a book with such vivid imagery - it's amazing. I may have to wait for the strange dreams to stop until I read the next part of the trilogy though...:
[source] // how great is this cover??
8. A classic with a number in the title

OK, I don't have an idea for this one! But apparently Fahrenheit 451 is about book-burning? (Maybe everyone else knew this and just didn't want to tell me?) So I might give it a go.

9. A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title

I would've been all over this last year, reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Metamorphosis. This time I think I'll read one of my Little Black Classics (because I've been awful at getting through those): a Viking epic called The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue. Sounds good, right?!

10. A classic set in a place you'd like to visit

I love this category! At the moment I lean towards Across the River and Into the Trees by Hemingway, because my heart dwells always in Venice.

11. An award-winning classic

Don't have a clue for this one. Suggestions?

12. A Russian Classic (2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution!)

This one's easy: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It's a book they talk about a lot in The Goldfinch, so, yeah, I'm right there.

And now, the rest of the rules, copied from Karen's post:

All books must be read in 2017. Books started before January 1, 2017 do not qualify. All reviews must be linked to this challenge by December 31, 2017. I'll post links each category the first week of January which will be featured on a sidebar on this blog for the entire year.
You must also post a wrap-up review and link it to the challenge no later than December 31, 2017. Please include links within your final wrap-up to that I can easily confirm all your categories. Also, it is OK to rearrange books to fit different categories in your wrap-up post -- for example, last year I originally planned to use Journey to the Center of the the Earth in the Fantasy/SciFi/Dystopian category, but then I decided to count it as an Adventure Classic. Most books count count toward several categories, so it's fine if you change them, as long as they are identified in your wrap-up post.
All books must have been written at least 50 years ago; therefore, books must have been written by 1967 to qualify for this challenge. The ONLY exceptions are books published posthumously.
E-books and audiobooks are eligible! You may also count books that you read for other challenges.
Books may NOT cross over within this challenge. You must read a different book for EACH category, or it doesn't count.
Children's classics are acceptable, but please, no more than 3 total for the challenge.
If you do not have a blog, you may link to reviews on Goodreads or any other publicly accessible online format. For example, if you have a Goodreads account, you could create a dedicated list to the challenge, and link to that with a tentative list (the list can change throughout the challenge).
The deadline to sign up for the challenge is March 1, 2017. After that, I will close the link and you'll have to wait until the next year! Please include a link to your original sign-up post, not your blog URL. Also, make sure you add your link to the Linky below, NOT IN THE COMMENTS SECTION. If I don't see your name in the original Linky, YOU WILL BE INELIGIBLE. If you've made a mistake with your link, just add a second one.
You do NOT have to list all the books you're going to read for the challenge in your sign-up post, but it's more fun if you do! Of course, you can change your list any time. Books may also be read in any order.
The winner will be announced on this blog the first week of January, 2018. All qualifying participants will receive one or more entries, depending on the number of categories completed. One winner will be selected at random for all qualifying entries. The winner will receive a gift certificate in the amount of $30 (US currency) from either OR $30 worth of books from The Book Depository. The winner MUST live in a country that will receive shipments from one or the other. For a list of countries that receive shipments from The Book Depository, click here.


I'm really excited about this. It's a nice way to organise the books I'm planning to read, and hopefully to reach out in the classics blog network (because I pretend to be a YA book blogger, but ... am I? No. I am an enigma and a mystery.) And the giveaway part is lovely, too!

Please let me know if you're taking part, and link me to your post!

Pinterest: @isabellereneexo:

Saturday, 14 January 2017

TIME'S ARROW // tired of being human

If everything has gone according to plan, I'm currently in Kenya.

reminds me of Skulduggery:
[source] // sorry, that was a bit harsh. Put it down to my current HIGH SKULDUGGERY FEELINGS -- it reminds me of him -- as I reread the books.
Speaking of Skulduggery (as I always am) -- books involving dubious mortality bring us nicely onto Time's Arrow by Martin Amis.


Image result for time's arrow martin amis cover
I moved forward, out of the blackest sleep, to find myself surrounded by doctors. So begins Time's Arrow, as the narrator wakes from death. This novel is his story, backwards. Time winds back: he grows younger, and the reader pieces together the excitements and horrors of his life as we span back through the twentieth century.

Describing this book, I run the risk of making it sound childish. How can a narrative run backwards? In fact, the structure is delicious: an exquisite puzzle as Amis turns ordinary events on their heads, making our world strange by showing it in reverse.
Water moves upwards. It seeks the highest level. What did you expect? Smoke falls. Things are created in the violence of fire. ... Oh, the disgusted look on women's faces as they step backwards through a doorway, out of the rain. Never watching where they are going, the people move through something prearranged, armed with lies. They're always looking foward to going places they've just come back from, or regretting doing things they haven't yet done. They say hello when they mean goodbye. Lords of lies and trash -- all kings of crap and trash. Signs say No Littering -- but who to? We wouldn't dream of it. Government does that, at night, with trucks; or uniformed men come sadly at morning with their trolleys, dispensing our rubbish, and sh*t for the dogs. (p51)
I have never read a book that deals with time in this way, and on every page I marvelled at the dexterity and freshness with which Amis handled his subject.

[source] // it's not the first time I've posted this and it probably won't be the last. You're welcome.
So, why? Why is it told backwards? “Time is heading on now towards something. It pours past unpreventably, like the reflections on a windscreen as the car speeds through city or forest." (p67) Where is time heading? Notice the swastika on the cover. The novel leads us, inexorably, to Auschwitz.

The main character was there. By telling his story backwards, Amis defamiliarises World War Two and shows its horrors in a whole new way. In an effort to disconnect himself from what happened to him -- what he did -- the narrator speaks from outside the MC's body, seeing himself as a separate entity.
He is travelling towards his secret. Parasite or passenger, I am travelling there with him. It will be bad. It will be bad, and not intelligible. (p72)
“Bad, and not intelligible." This is it, this is Auschwitz. Time's Arrow deals with the realities of World War Two and the overwhelming question: after committing atrocities, how can one remain human?
There's probably a straightforward explanation for the impossible weariness I feel. A perfectly straightforward explanation. It is a mortal weariness. Maybe I'm tired of being human, if human is what I am. I'm tired of being human. (p103)
your local human:

Time's Arrow was easily one of my favourite books of 2016: it challenged the way I thought about time, death and reality, and it's in no way your average WW2 novel.

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. (p91)

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

16 Bookish Thoughts from 2016

Yet again I'm linking up with Jamie at the Perpetual Page Turner for her End-of-Year Book Survey! Because we don't talk about books enough. I have slightly, *ahem*, modified the survey, so here you are: 16 Bookish Thoughts from 2016. (Which is a fancy way of saying I picked 16 of the In Books questions. It's #aesthetic, trust me.)

Number Of Books You Read:
Eight more than I read last year! Well done, me! That includes five rereads.
Most-Read Genre:

Classics! There's a surprise, eh?

1. Best Book

Last year I actually picked a single book, but ... here we are. Oops. To highlight the books I'm not going to talk about again this post:

Les Mis // exquisite, honestly. More than worth the month I spent on it. I don't know if I'd be writing LesMisBook if I hadn't read this -- I already loved the musical, but reading it takes that to a whole new level -- so it has literally changed my life!

River // favourite book by favourite poet. I think about this book a lot.

Hurry up. Join the love-orgy
Up here among the leaves, in the light rain,

Under a flimsy tent of dusky wings.

~ from Caddis

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More Than You Did?

The Raven King // OK OK PLEASE DONUT HATE ME. I LOVED THE RAVEN KING. I GAVE IT FIVE STARS. I BOUGHT IT ON RELEASE DAY AND FINISHED IT THE NEXT. But ... it confused me? At points? Basically I expected it to be perfect, and shrieked a lot beforehand about how I expected it be perfect, and when I read it I couldn't exactly work out if it was perfect ... or if I just read it too fast and assumed it was perfect because that was my expectation. I may also have slightly forgotten the plots of the previous books. So the conclusion is I must reread the series, and then I shall know the truth. 

Two Lives // I was so disappointed! A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth is one of my favourites (heck, Nina Seth is named after him), but this one I ... did not like. It meandered. A lot. It didn't answer any of its own questions. Much sadness did I feel.

Lanark // was hoping for METAFICTIONAL GLASWEGIAN TRIUMPH and got really long, sexually dubious, bizarre novel. It was really interesting and I really liked it. But I didn't love it the way I was expecting.

Romola // SO MUCH DISAPPOINTED SADNESS IN MY HEART. I loved (with the blazing passion of a forest fire) Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss, also by George Eliot. And then ... Romola. Really long. Characters ranging between kinda annoying and very annoying. So densely written I thought my eyes would fall out. Lots of politics. Weird religion.

It just makes me so so sad when an author you loved who wrote books you adored (Vikram Seth, George Eliot) produces something you do not adore, and you have to say, oh, maybe he/she isn't perfect, after all. And the cruel reality of the world falls heavy upon your young shoulders.
Heir of Fire // it really wasn't Crown of Midnight, was it?? WHERE WAS CHAOL? (And where was the satisfying worldbuilding, and the great writing, and the male characters who don't instantly fall in love with Celaena? Yet to see any of these in this series, to be honest. (I did like this book, but not as much as the previous one!))

The Aeneid // so ... long ... so many ... names ... so much ... blood ... honour ... swords ... light is ... fading ... 
^Basically me reading The Aeneid.


3. Best Series Started? Best Sequel? Best Series Ender?

Desolation // I started this trilogy in the spring. I didn't think Demon Road was the best thing ever, but Desolation absolutely blew me away! It was! So! Good! (And now I'm rereading the Skulduggery books and just, damn, I love Landy a lot.)

Forever and Sinner // HELLO TO THE BEST SERIES ENDER AND TWO OF THE YEAR'S BEST BOOKS. Wolves of Mercy Falls just gets better and better. The writing, the romance, the humour. We don't say All Hail Stiefvater for nothing, do we? More thoughts on this series here.

Anne's House of Dreams // after slight disappointment in the fourth book, this #5 was wonderful. Watch out for more Anne chat in this post.

The Golem's Eye // a good surprise! The Amulet of Sarmakand, the first one in this trilogy, was good but not amazing, but I loved this book!

The Last Olympian and The Lost Hero // Percy = life. These books are my old friends, I love them.

AND THESE BOOKS WERE UTTERLY AMAZING. Because I don't talk about JK Rowling enough. I loved The Cuckoo's Calling, but these two took it to a whole new level. Characters! Setting! Murders! Plot twists! Pace! Social observations! Come on, look me in the eye and tell me you don't want to read about a detective duo solving fascinating murders in London.

The fourth book is coming out this spring.

4. Most Memorable Character?

I'm going to take this as a Donna Tartt cue. All her characters are complex and utterly believable, and The Secret History was a perfect example of this. (One of) the theme(s) of the book is the nature of evil and how it presents itself, and this centres around the character of Henry, who is the mastermind behind the murder with which the book starts, and also beloved of the characters and the reader. I can't stop thinking about him, about this book. More thoughts here.

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.

5. Most Beautifully Written? // Favorite Passage/Quotation?

Right back into The Secret History!

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. 

// I know I've shared this one at least twice before, but, like, damn. First line. Swooping me in and refusing to let me go until I'd turned the last page.
[source] // @hawwaetc

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!

// This probably is my favourite passage, if I'm going actually to answer the question. Serendipity. The world slipping into place. Have we not all felt this way? The tragedy, of course, is how it falls the other way so fast, dreams shattering, certainties vanishing like mist.

Tracey Emin's Neon Lights - Feminine Collective:
Also Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway. This really was one of my favourite books, too.

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.

// take me to Kenya! Review here.

Pinterest: @pastel5sos Tumblr: @viirtualsouls:
And finally Darling by Jackie Kay, specifically this poem, which I posted in my last post but hey let's all read it again!

In my country

walking by the waters
down where an honest river
shakes hands with the sea,
a woman passed round me
in a slow watchful circle,
as if I were a superstition,

or the worst dregs of her imagination,
so when she finally spoke
her words sliced into bars
of an old wheel. A segment of air.
Where do you come from?
‘Here,' I said, ‘Here. These parts.'

National identity, innit. For more thoughts on why this is so important to me, click here.

6. Most Thought-Provoking Book?

Completely changed the way I thought about race and racism. And hair. Review here.

7. Book That Shocked You The Most

Apart from We Were Liars? A Dance With Dragons: After the Feast by George Rampaging Ruinous Martin. I'm not going to say why, but if you read it you know why.

I just thought ... well let's not talk about what I thought because what I thought was wrong. The world is a web of lies.
8. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)


Also ROBIN AND STRIKE, STRIKE AND ROBIN from the Cormoran Strike books!

Me @ Book 4
9. Best Book Read Based On Peer Pressure?

We Were Liars by E Lockhart. Everyone and their nan has read this but I only got involved this spring ... and I loved it! Absolutely stunning. If you're like, meh, don't like hyped books" ... make an exception for this one! Review here.

10. 2016 fictional crush?

Bizarrely, I don't think I have one! Maybe Henry Cheng? But really, my heart goes on for Jaime. That's all there is ...

11. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Normally I talk about A Song of Ice and Fire, but as I have already said “the worldbuilding is so stunning! The depth! The geography! The religion! The history! The food!" 685950 times, I thought I'd highlight Sunset Song.

you'd waken with the peewits crying across the hills, deep and deep, crying in the heart of you and the smell of the earth in your face, almost you'd cry for that, the beauty of it and the sweetness of the Scottish land and skies.

There is a scene from Macbeth that sticks in my head. Malcolm and Macduff are talking, and after a long speech in which Malcolm speaks of the horror coming for their land, Macduff, overcome by emotion, cries simply, “O Scotland, Scotland!" One of the reasons I loved Sunset Song was that I've barely read any books set in Scotland. The way Grassic Gibbon described the land was absolutely beautiful,

12. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Got to be the two Georgia Nicolson books I read, Luuurve is a Many-Trousered Thing and Stop In the Name of Pants! If those titles don't tell you all you need to know ... Seriously, though, you may frown upon teen romance / bright pink books, but the Georgia Nicolson series, I assure you, will send those prejudices skittering aside like dust. They convulse me with laughter. I can't believe I only have one left to read!

13. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

I'm putting this one in here because, whilst Anne of Green Gables is well-loved and famous, I feel the later books of the series get a lot less love. Anne's House of Dreams was absolutely delightful! And I don't think many people have read this far. I cannot wait to read the sixth book!

14. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Apocalyptic picture of a father and son travelling through an ashen America, searching for the sea. Probably in my 2016 top three; it also took my heart and diced it and mashed the pieces and served them on toast. The opening lines:

When he woke in the woods in the dark and cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. The nights dark beyond darkness and the days each one more gray than what had come before.

15. Most Unique Book You Read In 2016?

Time's Arrow by Martin Amis. It's told backwards! Like, it starts with the narrator waking up in bed, having just died. He gets up, he leaves the hospital, and back we go through his life as he grows younger. This book absolutely blew me away; review is written and scheduled!

16. Other Books You Want to Shriek About?

Love's Labours Lost // properly hilarious Shakespeare play. Loved it.

Under Milk Wood // “a play for voices" by Dylan Thomas. Absolutely wonderful interweaving narrative telling the story of a day in a Welsh village.

A Grain of Wheat // very similar to Under Milk Wood, in fact: a Kenyan book about a village on the brink of independence from the British. Marvellous. Review here.

Shakespeare's Sonnets // stunning. This book changed the way I think about Shakespeare: it showed him, a man, an individual, writing about his feelings and his day-to-day. Read Sonnet 27. Have you ever lain awake thinking about someone? Well, so did Shakespeare. That blew my mind.

TS Eliot's Selected Poems // “Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherised upon a table ..." So begins The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, one of my favourite poems. This book also contains The Waste Land, the post-WW1 poem that shook the face of twentieth century literature. I love TS Eliot, I can't tell you.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest // a remarkable look at mental illness, written after the author Ken Kesey spent time in a mental hospital in the 1960s.

Up on Disturbed there's an everlasting high-pitched machine-room clatter, a prison mill stamping out license plates. And time is measured out by the di-dock, di-dock of a ping-pong table.

I think about this quotation so much! Because that's how I feel about ping-pong! I mean, I get that's not exactly what it's about, but I remember reading this and being like YES, YES, THAT IS WHAT PING-PONG IS LIKE, THAT'S WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE, EMPTY, SOULLESS. It was a good moment.

Image result for alan bennett the best moments in reading
[source] // Alan Bennet
1. 2017 Excitements
Skulduggery Pleasant Ten Teaser

The Winds of Winter // this was my answer last year, too! WHEN OH WHEN?!!!

Skulduggery Pleasant X // excuse me whilst I SHRIEK THE CONTENTS OF MY SOUL FOR SEVERAL THOUSAND YEARS. I'm currently rereading the Skulduggery series and having a whale of a time. It's like a massive reunion, and more beloved friends keep arriving!

Cormoran Strike #4 // still no cover or title! I NEED TO KNOW. It'd better be out when I get back from Kenya, I'm just saying.

2. 2017 Priorities: The Ones I Didn't Manage in 2016

2017's colours are blue and red, apparently.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone // humiliatingly enough, this was my answer to this question not only last year, but also the year before. IT'S SHAMEFUL I KNOW. But I am taking it to Kenya, it is HAPPENING!

The Scorpio Races // obviously.

Inglorious // because I love Come to the Edge by this author, and I've owned this one for over two years, and, yeah.

Queen of Shadows // because whilst I wasn't Heir of Fire's biggest fan, it's important to keep up with one's series!

Capital // I've owned this for so long ... like, I can hardly remember what it's about or why I bought it. (And it's not the only book on my shelf in that category! Oops ...)

I Am the Messenger // because I spend 100% of my time saying, “I love Markus Zusak! The Book Thief is one of my favourite books!" and 0% of my time a) rereading The Book Thief or b) reading any of his other books. Oops!

All the Bright Places // I'm getting there!

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell // I think I've owned this for about four years?? And every fantasy fan and their gran has told me to read it. It's just ... you know, really long ...

Gone to the Forest // owned since summer 2015, I think. Very cool surrealism! I just need to actually, like, read it.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius // owned for over four years. Oh, Emily, when will you learn?

Probably never.


That was a post and a half! Can you sum up your 2016 reading in a word? What was your favourite book? A big disappointment? What's top of your 2017 TBR? Link me up to your survey!

Now, I'm hoping to schedule a couple of posts before I go on Thursday, and I will probably pop up occasionally to reply to comments, but ... I'm not sure. This isn't goodbye goodbye, but it might be a little bit of a goodbye. A farewell, let's say. There's not enough virtual cake in the world for you guys. Regular blogging resumes in May; until then, you're in my prayers. Write those novels! Topple those TBRs (but don't get crushed). Lots of love.

Friday, 6 January 2017

It's 2017 And I'm Writing A Book

And I guess you don't need to read this post because I said it in the title.


Happy Christmas and New Year! I hope you've all had / continue to have (because it's Twelfth Night, guys, still Christmas! Unfortunately my true love hasn't sent me twelve drummers drumming -- maybe because I don't have one ...) a lovely time. My holiday has been characterised by friends and family -- seeing a lot of old schoolfriends, going to my two-month-old niece's baptism and playing a lot of Duplo with my two-year-old nephew -- and Kenya preparations. Because I'm leaving Scotland on Thursday ahahahahaha.

I'm totally fine.


On Monday I started LesMisBook.

I had a bit of a weird December, because I wasn't writing a novel. I hate not writing a novel. I don't mean to be melodramatic, but when I'm not writing a novel my existence becomes a directionless void of loss and emptiness. (Not melodramatic.)

Now I am, and life has fallen into place once more.

beautiful books
This link-up isn't currently open, but I'm nonetheless swiping Cait and Sky's questions.
Describe what your novel is about!

It is about Les Mis, Nutella sandwiches, national identity and fancying annoying boys, which are my four areas of expertise.
Nina Seth is in her last year of school. She's always wanted to be an actress and her favourite musical is Les Mis, so she should be thrilled to land the role of  Ă‰ponine in the annual school production ... right? But as the book begins, everything seems to be falling apart around her: her best friend is her best friend no longer, the stress of applying to uni and knowing exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life is mounting, and she cannot shake her infuriating attraction to the extremely annoying Jonathan bloody Holcroft. He is Marius, and to make matters worse, Nina's nemesis Verity Locke is Cosette, completing the onstage love triangle. For Nina, school cannot finish soon enough.

What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?

OK so. In the summer of 2015 I was on camp and had a big epiphany about Les Mis, how it's a perfect musical -- perfect songs, perfect hero, perfect villain whose arc perfectly mirrors the hero's, perfect REVOLUTION, perfect romance, perfect brotherhood, perfect comedy, perfect deaths, perfect themes. And the day after this, I remember it clearly, I was standing in the lunch queue with my friend and we were talking about Les Mis/my epiphany, and it came upon me in a rush: “OH MY GOSH I'M GOING TO WRITE A LES MIS RETELLING!"

Then I thought about it and realised you can't really “retell" the French Revolution, and the idea got shelved ... until May 2016. You see, there was this great prompt link-up called Starting Sparks, a really cutting edge initiative hosted by two intelligent, witty young writers--

OK I'm kidding, but yes, the germination for LesMisBook did come from Starting Sparks. The prompt was “No, not you, anyone but you", and I decided to write about a cast performing Les Mis. When I wrote the original story the prompt referred to Verity Locke -- as in, “No, not you playing Cosette, anyone but you" -- because for the first two and a half seconds of the idea it was going to be about Strong Female Friendship, Nina and Verity initially hating each other but Overcoming The Odds etc etc.

Then Jonathan bloody Holcroft waltzed in and everything changed.

[source] // one of my favourite LesMisBook pictures

Introduce us to each of your characters!

Nina Seth. 17. Misanthropic sass queen supreme. Born in Stoke to a Scottish mother and Indian father, though people are surprised to hear she has a white parent (this got old fairly fast). True loves include Les Mis and Pride and Prejudice. Never ask her if she's PMS-ing, at least not if you value your life. Doesn't brush hair because who can be bothered? Wants to be an actress; currently applying for alll the drama schools. A-Levels: Drama, History and English. Loves Victorian novels because a) they're great and b) are normally big enough to be a handy weapon. At the start of the book she's a best friend down after an incident of racist bitchiness. A harsh judge of others and herself. She definitely does not fancy Jonathan bloody Holcroft. No sir. Not even a little ...

what can I say?: august + september || 2016:
Jonathan Holcroft. 17. Charmer, golden boy, infinitely aggravating. Loves plants, dogs, and his family. Two older sisters. Would eat sandwiches for every meal if he could. Also broccoli. Wants to study horticulture. A-Levels: Drama, Biology and Music. Plays guitar and piano and knows how attractive this makes him. Flirt; low-key player. Infuriatingly blue eyes. Refuses to read Les Mis. Hides more hurt than he lets on.
geoff mcfetridge twitter - Google Search:
Verity Locke. 18. Has never been seen with smudged eyeliner, wrinkled clothes or a hair out of place. Wears ridiculously nice shoes. 5"2 but will fight you (don't make short jokes). Blonde. Wants to study Maths (I know, gross) at UCL. A-Levels: Drama, Maths and Physics. Soprano. Nice to nobody except her younger brother and sister. Losing her best friend to that best friend's new boyfriend. Skilled in choosing accessories. World expert on passive aggression and veiled rudeness.



Eileen Seth. 48. Nina's mum. Glaswegian social worker. She met her husband Pravit in India when on a gap year and they decided to study in England together. She and Nina are close but they fight a lot -- she can't understand why Nina won't do a bit more armpit-shaving and eyeliner-winging -- or even hair-brushing -- and go to a few more parties. She's the opposite of the That Dress Is Too Short You Stay Out Too Late mother trope -- it's not so much “When I was your age I studied every night and didn't wear make-up", but rather “When I was your age I was backpacking to India alone and falling in illicit love with a Hindu boy". Nina's like “yes, Mum, OK." I don't want to give a bad impression of Eileen -- I love her. She's great.

Pravit Seth. 47. Nina's dad. Indian optometrist. Mostly quiet, but approximately 85% of the words he does say are laced with sass -- where do you think Nina gets it from?

Dipankar Seth. 20. Studying dentistry in Yorkshire. Does sport and other unintelligible activities. Really great guy. Complains -- ineffectually -- about Nina stealing his hoodies. He and she call each other Louis. (Their mother remains mystified by this.)

Also featuring: Shy Adam; Camp Kieran; Infuriating Beth; Extremely Nice Tracey; Equally Nice Ibrahim; Just As Nice Jess; Flappy Mrs Moseley; Annoying Chris; Super Annoying Zenaye. What a cast.

How do you prepare to write? (Outline, research, stocking up on chocolate, howling, etc.?)

All of the above, though more of the second two than the first ...

I am an incurable pantser and not ashamed. I once heard the author Ian Rankin being interviewed on the radio, and he said, “If I knew how a book was going to end before I wrote it, what would be the point in writing it?" Now, I'm not saying I exactly agree with that -- I do know, roughly (very roughly), how LesMisBook is going to end -- but for me, a lot of the fun of writing a book is in the journey, in me and characters figuring things out together, in things revealing themselves to me in the writing. So I do try to outline a bit, but for the previous book I wrote and this one I only outlined the first section and trusted the rest would fall into place. Which it did last time.

Maybe one day I'll write a post about why I pants. I think it is tied up, also, with why I handwrite.

Research, though. Research is super important.

For the first six months of LesMisBook I forged merrily on writing snippets of sass and banter and completely ignoring all the practical things I'd have to research. During December I did so much research I think my brain is leaking. Mostly about drama school.

If you checked my browser history, you'd 100% think I was applying there myself! So! Many! Drama school! Websites!

Fortunately I've got some amazing friends who've applied for Acting like Nina -- one friend wrote me a whole spate of massive paragraphs detailing her audition experiences in loads of drama schools, which will prove invaluable. Another friend took me around Glasgow's main drama school, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where he studies. How nice of him?!!? So I have walked around and seen where Nina will have her audition, where she'll eat her lunch and go to the loo, etc, etc.

Unfortunately I've not been able to visit any of the schools in London.

But maybe I will before I edit!

What are you most looking forward to about this novel?

Gah, so much. I'm loving being inside Nina's head -- because the razor-sharp sass! All! The! Time! I love her relationship with JBH, obviously (what do you think of Ninathan for a ship name?), so writing them together is so much fun. I'm really looking forward to the national identity stuff. Let me share a poem by Jackie Kay:

In my country

walking by the waters
down where an honest river
shakes hands with the sea,
a woman passed round me
in a slow watchful circle,
as if I were a superstition,

or the worst dregs of her imagination,
so when she finally spoke
her words sliced into bars
of an old wheel. A segment of air.
Where do you come from?
‘Here,' I said, ‘Here. These parts.'

Jackie Kay, the Scots Makar, has lived in Scotland all her life with Scottish adoptive parents. Her father was black Nigerian. Nina has had experiences like the one of this poem -- people asking her where she's from and being surprised when she says England. People asking her if she considers herself British, and then saying, “yes, but you're British Indian, it's different, isn't it?" People's surprise when they discover her mum is white: “but your skin is so dark!"

I am English but have lived in Scotland since I was six. My English friends -- the other girls on my Kenya team, for example -- consider me Scottish and say they hear Scots in my accent. Last night a Scottish friend told me he considers me “100% English". So I'm both, but also neither. I know my experience isn't the same as Nina's -- I'm white and have never been a victim of racism. But the struggle of belonging to more than one country, and yet being considered by those “wholly" of that country not to really belong there, is one I know all too well. And I can't wait to write about that.

I'm also excited to write about finishing school, applying to uni, maybe not getting into your dream uni, and all the feelings that accompany that. And about Nina and Verity's relationship. Love that hate-to-love!

Ooh, and also Shakespeare. All drama schools, pretty much, want you to prepare a Shakespeare speech for your audition. Nina and I haven't picked it yet, but we're thinking about Romeo and Juliet (because she's such a romantic at heart, she just pretends she isn't!).

Ooh and also (I'll stop after this one, I promise!) the chat about books. JBH refuses to read classics, because they are “too long"/“lame"/“who can be bothered". Nina refuses to read fantasy (except Harry Potter), because “reading about wizards is dumb"/“it's not highbrow enough".

So basically they're both really stupid.

But they're going to teach each other! How cute?!

I'm also looking forward to writing about JBH's dogs, because there's a sad paucity of dogs in the TCATT books. I'm scoring this out so you won't notice that I broke my promise to stop after the last point.

List 3 things about your novel’s setting.

Image result for stoke on trent
1. So, I'm the worst, because it's set in Stoke-on-Trent, a city I've not visited for years. I was born in Burton-on-Trent, which is near Stoke ... it's on the same river! Let me tell you a story. Last semester I was in a student Bible study group and one of the boys in it is from Stoke-on-Trent. Before meeting him I hadn't really thought about LesMisBook's setting. I met him and asked him where he was from, and he told me Stoke, in a sort of we're-in-Scotland-so-I-guess-you-won't-know-where-that-is voice. And I was like, “OH MY GOSH I'M FROM BURTON", and just hearing his Stoke accent gave me an overwhelming resurgent affection for that part of the world. I picked Stoke over Burton for the setting because it's bigger. That's all.

2. London. Nina is about to go for an audition at LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), and I can't wait! Though as I say, I wish I'd visited ... (Ugh, this is why fantasy is so much easier!)

3. Glasgow. As if I would leave it all in England! Nina is applying to the Conservatoire, and I think JBH is actually going to come up to Glasgow with her! I love the thought of them knocking around Glasgow together! And Nina's mum is Glaswegian, so when they come up we'll get to meet her Scottish granny ... !

What’s your character’s goal and who (or what) stands in the way?

To get into drama school; to quash her feelings for JBH; to resist everyone everywhere's attempts at friendship and sail coldly to the end of term with her sassy misanthropic head held high. Jonathan bloody Holcroft is definitely standing in the way of those second two. As for the first, I'm not sure exactly how it will pan out, but ... (smooth lead into the next question):

How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

... but I'm hoping by the end Nina won't feel the overwhelming pressure to go to uni next year anymore. Perhaps more importantly, the way she judges others will also have changed. She will learn not always to trust first impressions; she'll learn that it's OK to depend on others, that she doesn't have to shut everyone out all the time. She'll learn that she doesn't need to be so very hard on herself, either.

What are your book’s themes?

Love is a theme. So are race, racism and national identity, and identity more broadly -- the persona Nina has crafted for herself; her identity has an actress. I'd say the main theme is judgement. This ties into the race thing -- people forming judgements about one another based on colour -- but it's more about Nina's views of others. She judges others and thinks she knows about them (specifically JBH and Verity) when she doesn't. She's too proud to change her opinions (you could say there are themes of pride and prejudice ... ahahaha!). But the book is about overcoming this, opening up to others, and letting yourself care and be cared for.


If you read that massive post, thanks! So I'm going to Kenya in under a week. I will post again before that, but I'm glad I've got this one up, because ... I'm excited. About LesMisBook. And you guys have been great, reading the stories. I love you lots. Thank you and goodnight.