Thursday, 31 March 2016

Infinity Dreams // Vlog // Dragonish Reveal

Thank you to Tracey @ Adventure Awaits for this nomination! She is a book/writing/story blogger and you should check out her blog sharpish because it's pretty cool. She wrote a post about indecision/making big choices which was the best thing I've read in a while (if you're wondering why take a look at fact #7).

I try not to do awards massively often, so when I do they are jolly good fun. As well as the Infinity Dreams Award, I'm going to do the reveal for the Dragon Loyalty Award, if you can remember way back in time to February. But more on that later.

Rules: 11 facts // 11 answers // 11 nominees // 11 questions
(looks suspiciously like the Liebster Award to me)


11 Facts

[all images come from Pinterest. I do not claim ownership of images.]

1. I'm totally not over Uptown Funk. I don't really listen to the radio so hearing it overplayed and thus ruined never happened to me. I still cheer whenever it comes on. I'm not ashamed.

Dolce & Gabbana, autumn/winter 2015 couture - click to see the full collection:
Dolce & Gabbana AW 15
John Boles
2. I recently watched (and by recently, I mean I finished last night) the BBC Pride and Prejudice, and loved it! Normally I'm not at all into adaptations of my favourite books, but it was perfect. I do adore Colin Firth.


3. I really enjoy writing English Lit essays. This apparently makes me weird but there it is.

Love!! ❤️❤️ roald dahl- lukewarm is no good:


Charles Bukowski
4. I'm a film crier, but I'm not a book crier nor a life crier.

nastia sleptsova:
Nastia Sleptsova

5. I despise country music with every fibre of my being. Folk music I love -- right now I'm listening to a CD called Affric by Duncan Chisholm and it's gorgeous, have a listen here. But any mention of Nashville, Tennessee has me running screaming.

Rust Lake, Alaska:
Rust Lake, Alaska

Black and Blue by Loren for Hannah Sykes:

6. My one wish is to do art journalling, but I spend all my time Pinning art journals and complaining I don't have time to do art. It is not the way to live and I'm not proud.

Donna Tartt

Rebecca Blair: Moleskine 02, #081 - clear squares for experiments, different angles, studies, borders:

The universe is at your finger tips...

7. I went to Durham last week for an Open Day visit but I'm still not sure if it's the uni for me ... I'm now considering doing a gap year?! Just another chapter in Emily's Shaky and Undecided Future, a saga which we all wish would come to its end.


8. I've never broken a bone except my front tooth.


9. I really love hot cross buns. Easter is a great time of year.


Daniela Dahf Henríquez:

Daniela Dahf Henríquez
10. I'm going to Singapore next week to visit my brother, sister-in-law and nephew!


11. Tomorrow I'm going to finish the third draft of my novel.


11 Answers // The Dragon Loyalty Award Reveal (click here for the original post)


11 alphabetical Nominees

Ashley @ [insert title here]
Ely @ what can I say?
Joanna @ Starlight on the Western Seas
July @ I Solemly Swear I Am Up to No Good
Kat @ Word Spillers
Lauren @ Always Me
Marian @ Ivory Clouds
Skye @ Ink Castles
Sunny @ A Splash of Ink
Tracey @ Adventure Awaits (it's been six months, I think it's fair enough to send it back to you!)
Victoria @ Endless Oceans of My Mind


11 Questions

1. What is your guilty pleasure song?
2. Do you have any tattoos? If so, what, where, and why? If not, would you get one? If so, what, where, and why?
3. What is your favourite city?
4. If you had a daughter, what would you name her?
5. What's your most recently discovered favourite song / favourite at the moment?
6. Name a place or a few places at the top of your travel bucket list.
7. How old were you when you started blogging? How has your blog changed since then?
8. What's your favourite musical?
9. What was your latest five star read?
10. With what word would you most like people to describe you?
11. Tell us about a book that's changed your life.
And an additional challenge: answer these in a vlog!


Even if only for the pretty Pinterest finds and my embarrassing vlog, I hope you enjoyed this! What's your guilty pleasure song? (Uptown Funk is amazing, right?)

Saturday, 26 March 2016

SS#6: Long Time Dream

Happy Easter!

First things first, I have an embarrassing confession to make. This is that despite my shrieking over the past couple of weeks, I've been woefully misinformed and The Raven King does not, in fact, come out till next month. I saw the date ages ago -- the 26th of April -- but somehow got it into my head that it was the 26th of March and ran with that. If I've given you false hope, I apologise. Thanks to Cait for pointing out my error! Because, seriously, I was going to get up early this morning and get a train into town (at the cost of £5.20 to my good self) and walk up to Waterstones, brandishing my £7.99. Then my disappointment would have been bitter indeed.

Only some shred of integrity as a blogger is preventing me from returning to my previous posts and deleting my false statements. 

So that is a lesson to us all: always check your facts before posting things on the internet! 


Moving (very) swiftly onwards, I'm here with my Starting Sparks story.

Starting Sparks is hosted by Ashley and me, and it's just what it says on the button. For more information, hop up to the Starting Sparks tab.
This month I'm returning to the Ruskins.

As you probably know, I'm writing a high fantasy trilogy, but I have a contemporary forming in my head about four siblings from Surrey. It is well past the foetal stages -- it has grown arms and legs and indeed wings and when said trilogy is done, it's clamouring to be written. 

My working title is A Room Alone.

If you go to the page I Write (up at the top there) you can see two other Ruskins posts. One, In Rain, is a general introduction to the family, although details from it have now changed. The other, A Room Alone, develops the character of Teresa.

To refresh you: we have four Ruskin children, Matthew, Teresa, Felicity and Edmund.

This is the March prompt. (There's still time to link up -- click here to do so!)

These are lyrics from Accept Yourself by the Smiths. The four Ruskins are very different and don't always get on swimmingly, but one thing that brings them together is their love of The Smiths. If you don't know, they're a famous British band; loving them is something of a British teen's rite of passage. Recently I've been listening to the album Hatful of Hollow a lot, and the theme of dreams that runs through it inspired me.

It's basically a perfect album. It is extremely funny. Many of the songs are very painful, and yet Morrissey (the frontman) is always laughing at himself. The sound of the songs is quite upbeat, but often that conceals an upsetting undertone. This theme of appearances vs reality is really important to Matthew's story and character arc. I shall now make some introductions.

Matthew Ruskin is 21 and a third year medical student at Glasgow University. He is an artist and his family (who are all literary/musical/dramatic/artistic) always expected him to go to art school. He has kind of rebelled against them by choosing medicine, and also by his choice of Glasgow, which is galaxies away from their upper class Surrey bubble.

Yousef Haseeb is 20, also a third year medic, Matthew's flatmate and best friend. He's a second gen Pakistani Glaswegian and a Christian.

Alyssa Major is 20 and Yousef's best friend from school. She's in second year at Glasgow School of Art.

Charlotte Fitzmaurice is 21 and from Kensington. She has not informed me of her degree. She's a friend of Matthew's though as yet I don't know how they met.

The song: listening is not compulsory but the characters do sing the words to each other, and also it's a wonderful song, so I would recommend.

NB: This story contains drunkenness. I do not condone this, but the MC isn't a Christian so it's only plausible. (That whole area, of Christians writing about non-Christians, is a challenging one, but that's a subject for another day.)


Long Time Dream

The ceiling was low and the darkness thumped with the bass. Somebody crashed into Matthew from behind, sending half his drink lurching to join the sticky pools congealing on the tiles.

“All right, big man!” the boy shouted and wheeled away.

Matthew pushed through the bodies to where Yousef leant against the wall, laughing at his friend’s face. 

“Surrey in Glasgow,” he shouted, clapping Matthew on the shoulder. “I never get tired of it.”

“This music,” Matthew shouted, “is like being shot in the head.”

“We’re not all as cultured as you!”

Matthew grimaced, blinking in the bands of green strobe lighting. The room was packed, some dancing, most standing in circles and yelling to be heard. Figures were silhouetted clutching drinks, girls hugging and posing for selfies. His eyes flicked across, pretending he wasn’t looking for anyone in particular.

“Are you looking for Charlotte?”

Matthew opened his mouth in denial and closed it again. Yousef knew him too well. He nudged him in the ribs. “Well, are you?”

“Charlotte’s too sophisticated to come here,” said Matthew. “I don’t know why I did, anyway. It’s depressing.”

“Because,” said Yousef, “the fear of missing out—”

“The what?”

“The fear of missing out,” he shouted, “is greater than the probability of disappointment. Now you know you’d have been better staying in reading your textbooks, but Matthew three hours ago didn’t. He saw the possibility of a good night. The possibility—” he grinned – “of a certain blonde we know.”

“Shut up, Yousef,” Matthew said. “It might pick up, anyway. The first couple of hours are always ropy.”

“That’s one way of putting it.”

“Ruskin and Haseeb!” A trio of boys lurched towards them in a hail of back-slapping. They all looked the same, Matthew reflected: black sports jacket, low-slung jeans, Nike trainers. Hair shaved at the sides and gelled on top, worn with an inane expression.

Matthew frowned. This was not him, the cruel voice passing judgement from the corner of his mind. He blinked. I’m just tired. And disappointed Charlotte isn’t here …

One of the boys – Callum, everyone in this country was called Callum – grabbed the beer from Yousef’s hand. “Is that alcohol?” He waved it at his friends. “Look at that, that’s alcohol! You’re not being a good Muslim boy, Haseeb!”

They brayed with laughter and veered off.

Yousef made a face at Matthew.

“Outside?” Matthew said.

He shrugged. “I’m all right.” His eyes were travelling through the crowd. He too was looking for someone.

Matthew looked at the sea of people, bouncing to the beat of the drums. Did they realise that this was not music, that there were no drums, no instruments or voice, just a man in a booth turning dials to make this chart-topper? That this pseudo-song was as synthetic as the Hollister they wore? Did they consider, as they uploaded snaps to Instagram, that they too were particles in a vortex of mindless noise? He frowned into his drink. It was barely eleven and he was having an existential crisis. This was Teresa’s division, or Edmund’s, not his. Matthew laughed.

He waded through conversation like a sea creature through oil, slapping on his smile with a mime artist’s skill, returning again and again to Yousef as one to an oasis in the desert. The walls were sweating and Matthew reflected he was perhaps more drunk than he thought. Yousef was sober, his eyes still searching the mass. 

It was the music, Matthew decided, the music that made or slayed the party, and that wasn’t just a Spotify ad talking. As the night deepened he sensed a change, fewer of the mind-numbing dance tracks. When the Smiths came on he raised his hands in adulation.

Yousef rolled his eyes. “Now I feel like a third wheel.”

“When will you accept yourself?” Matthew sang.

Yousef started to laugh, and his eyes widened and he swallowed, a smile rising that was not for Matthew. Like the proverbial clouds the crowd had parted, and a girl was dancing with her arms above her head. She looked up and saw them and her face lit up. She waved, an exaggerated Over here!

She wrapped her arms around Yousef, still singing into his shirt, “Dreams have a knack of just not coming true!”, and he returned the hug with a bemused smile. Alyssa broke away and beamed at Matthew. They were hardly close, but the guitar – real guitar, Matthew rejoiced – strung them together, singing the words to Yousef. She hugged Matthew, a hug full of her frenetic energy, and he found himself dancing as if they were best friends.

Alyssa Major: Yousef’s best friend from school, a student at the Glasgow School of Art, the path Matthew could have chosen, had things been different. In the three years he’d studied in the city, he had found Alyssa problematic. She was a firebird with a broken wing, a kitten let loose in the jungle. She was loud, brash, the opposite of his Surrey upbringing. She was unreliable, immature, and many times he’d watched Yousef’s face fall as the casual text flew in, bright with emoticons, cancelling yet another plan. Matthew had resented Alyssa. But, with alcohol and good music, he could forgive a lot.

“Time is against me now!” he sang with Alyssa. “And there’s no one left to blame …”

Yousef didn’t know the song. His dancing was supremely uncomfortable.

“When will you accept your life, the one that you hate?” Alyssa sang at him. Her words were lost in the noise, and, not hearing her, he smiled. The song was deceptive, heartbreak concealed by beat and major chords. 

When it was over they trooped outside, laughing, giddy. The comparative silence of the street was a blessing. Alyssa fell against the wall, fumbling with her lighter.

“Smoking kills,” Matthew informed her.

“Does it? Crap, no one ever told me!” She laughed, leaning against Yousef. “I’m glad you two are doctors, to save me …”

“Not quite yet,” Yousef said.

“Have a positive mindset! Live in the moment, be mindful …” She collapsed into laughter. Yousef steadied her to stop her from falling.

“You’re a good friend,” she told him, “you’re a really really good friend—”

In the orange streetlamp her blue hair was an unhealthy green. Her mascara was smudging, black rings beneath her eyes to match the blue shadows of tiredness. Her face was pink, perhaps with cold, giving her the look of feverish intensity she always carried.

“I like you, Matthew,” Alyssa addressed him. “I don’t really know you but I like you. I like how posh you, it’s funny …” More laughter, and Matthew laughed with her, confused late-night laughter of the sort that can lapse into tears.

Alyssa blew rings of smoke across the street. “I might have to redo second year,” she said.

“What?” Yousef exclaimed.

“They say I’m not working hard enough, they don’t understand that I’m a tortured artist … it’s my creative process …” Laughing, leaning into Yousef.

“Your work’s too brilliant for them,” he said into the top of Alyssa’s head. There was a catch in his voice that made Matthew look up.

“Let’s look at the stars and think deep thoughts,” Alyssa said.

“There are no stars,” Yousef said. “Only light pollution.”

“I bet if you lifted me up I could see past it.”

Yousef laughed. “It doesn’t work like that.”

“I bet it does, if we try …” Matthew watched as she led him away. Laughing, partway down the street, Yousef was picking her up, pointing past the sandstone buildings. There was a glimmer of something about them, a glow, and suddenly Matthew felt oddly sad. Alyssa was laughing at something Yousef said, one arm draped across his shoulder.

I once had a dream and it never came true …

A voice behind him said his name.

He turned, a shock of heat blooming through him. He had been waiting, there was no denying it, waiting for something he was half afraid to want; and there she was, Charlotte Fitzmaurice, as appropriate for the drunken Glaswegian night as a dove in a skyful of ravens. His heart was racing, he could hardly say why, and she shone in the streetlight like a spirit ministering to the world below.

Matthew gulped and said, “Hi.”

“I was hoping to find you,” Charlotte said. “You’re probably the only intelligent person in a five mile radius. This party is lamentable.”

“I – yeah,” said Matthew. The alcohol was not making him brilliant, rather wrapping his thoughts in a dull fuzz through which she shed golden and confusing light. His mouth was dry.

“It’s all cheap vodka, it’s pathetic. And the music!”

“Yeah, the music’s crap, yeah,” said Matthew, glad to latch onto something true. He remembered what he’d said to Yousef, in a soberer time. “It’s like being shot in the head.”

Charlotte laughed, a short hard sound like a diamond. She was wearing a white dress, completely steady in her heels. Matthew was conscious of the cold, but she stood impervious, the tsarina of her own kingdom. She had a class and a glamour lost decades ago. He could imagine her in an old Hollywood film, tapping ash from a silver cigarette holder. The Bond girl, blonde, stunning, icy English beauty with the wild streak of the unknown inherited from her French mother. Matthew had heard her speak French on the phone, her coolness tempered by the flare of the foreign, a promise of something untold.

Down the street Alyssa laughed loud and brittle, breaking into a throaty cough that sent smoke spluttering around her. Charlotte’s lip curled. “Like I said, lamentable.”

Matthew’s brow creased, presented with the choice of defending one girl or impressing the other. In the fog of his mind the options were uncertain. Charlotte read him, deftly, with a glance.

“I forgot you were friends with them.”

“Yeah,” he managed.

The door of the club opened, spilling Hollistered boys clutching their Smirnoff bottles like trophies. They surged down the street, shouting to each other.

“I hate this city,” Charlotte said.

Matthew frowned. 

“Everyone’s overweight and it’s always raining.”

“Wow,” he said, unable to think of anything else.

Charlotte studied his face. “I think I like you better sober.”

He blinked, some obedient part of his brain snapping awake. “If you hate it, why are you here?”

“The party?”


Charlotte shrugged. “I wanted to see my father’s look of horror.” Her smile: the beautiful, unsettling quirk of her lips. “It’s a good joke, really. The perfect daughter at the perfect school, all set to go to Cambridge, but I thought I’d change things up for once, so here I am, in the frozen socialist north.”

Matthew laughed, very conscious that she had moved towards him as she spoke. He could smell her perfume, like her, heady yet sharp.

“I was planning to find some rough-edged Glasgow boy, in a tracksuit maybe …” She put her hand on his arm, her touch going through him like static. “Straight-laced medic as posh as I am wasn’t part of the plan, but it seems I can’t help myself.”

Matthew couldn’t swallow, the orange of the streetlamps colliding like stars in his vision, Charlotte rising in an electric haze like Aphrodite from a lightning storm. She kissed him, the goddess beneath his hands, sparks showering in the Glasgow night like fireworks on a black sky. Matthew was breathless, everything forgotten, sure in a moment of clarity that this was it, it had all been building to this night in this street at this misty, untellable hour. She kissed him, again and again, such a woman as he’d never seen; the climax of the film, the moment the audience longed for, and here he was, lead actor, hero. When he looked into her face she was smiling. Matthew wanted to hug her, folding her against him, affectionate; he wanted to talk to her, for hours perhaps, make her laugh, find out everything that made her such a glorious mystery. Charlotte waited for him to do neither of these things, but let go of his hand with a brush of the fingertips. “Goodnight, Matthew,” she said.

She walked away with assurance, a glimmer fading into the grey night, and Matthew shivered in the sudden cold. He was left staring at this hands, the hands she’d touched, unconscious of the smile on his face.

“Thank goodness that’s over.”

Matthew jumped. The world had retracted, leaving just the two of them, but here was Alyssa, grinning with nicotine-stained teeth. 

Yousef caught Matthew’s eye and raised an eyebrow. 

When they were back in the flat Yousef made tea. Matthew was nearly sober but he hadn’t left the plane of dreams. He put the Smiths on half by reflex. To die by your side, oh the pleasure, the privilege is mine …

“Well?” said Yousef, handing him the tea.

“Well what?”

“Are you happy?”

With anyone else he would have brushed it off, a shrug, a laugh, it’s no big deal. Perhaps he’d have pretended he kissed girls like Charlotte all the time. But Matthew knew, and Yousef knew, that there were no girls like Charlotte. “I’m delighted,” he said, and started to laugh. 


Saturday, 19 March 2016

Haul of Mirrors

The haul puns are only going to get worse, you guys.

In my defense, The Raven King comes out one week today and I'm struggling to string sentences together.


The last time I did a haul post was September or so, which is bizarre because it feels like no time at all. I cannot believe almost an entire year of school has elapsed. I literally have about four weeks of class left and then I'm done forever?!

Lalalala I refuse to think about it.

Since the summer I have, unsurprisingly, bought/received/accrued a number of books, so this haul is kind of a part 1 of what I've been acquiring since I last showed you guys.
I bought this at the end of the summer. I'd already read and loved it (review here), but after deciding I was going to write my dissertation on it I needed my own copy. Since then my love of this book has deepened to a whole new level; I've discovered so much that I didn't realise on my first reading. It was one of my 2015 Top Three Books and ... yeah, it's pretty great. Go forth. Read Hemingway.

I was recently very saddened to learn that Louise Rennison has died aged sixty-four. She created the absolutely marvellous Georgia Nicolson series, which are the funniest books I've ever read -- they cannot fail to convulse me -- and just a beautiful look at a British teen going through her formative years, complete with boyfriend fiascos, best friend dramas and make-up woes. These books, however that brief summary makes them sound, are not shallow teen-girl rubbish; they are heartfelt, warm and hilarious and mean a lot to me. I'm yet to finish the series but am so looking forward to jumping into book 8 in the Easter holidays.

I completed my collection with books 2 and 10, bought in Durham in September. I'm actually going back next week for a Post-Offer Visit Day (where am I going to go to uni, guys?!) so hopefully will discover some more delights in the adorable tiny secondhand bookshops.
I got this beauty with birthday book tokens in October. Have you ever seen such a moodily poetic poet? I heard on the radio about this woman who met him and had such a physical reaction of attraction she had to go and vomit for a while. Which doesn't sound too hot, but still ...
I also finally purchased We Were Liars. I'm only about four years late to this party ... And no, I've not read it yet. Soon.
Again, I'm rather late to this one, but I'm looking forward to (eventually) reaching it!
My final birthday purchase. I have received a couple of massive spoilers for this book which I'm not impressed about, but it's such an angsty teen classic staple I'll have to get in there at some point. (Also, Morrissey of the Smiths is obsessed with Wilde so ...)
Bought secondhand on my trip to Oxford. Hemingway, so, yeah. Also it's an adorable tiny old paperback.
I was trying way too hard for a visual pun here. IT'S CALLED LIGHT AND IT'S IN A LIGHT! Ahahahaha ...

This is the sixth and final book of Michael Grant's Gone series. That brings my collection to ... 1/6
(you have to start somewhere). This is the only one I never read, but I'm going to get the rest and binge and it'll be wonderful. (Or heartstopping and nerve-racking and feels-shredding, you know, either one.)
The last of the Oxford books. I bought this knowing nothing about it except that Isabel Allende originated my favourite ever writing quotation: Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the Muse shows up, too." However, I've since learnt that she was Chilean and sets her books in the political turbulence of Chile in the 1970s. She was the niece of Allende, Chile's first democratically elected president. My sister lives in Chile and I visited her there last month so I was very interested to learn this and I'm even more excited for the book!
Now we're into the Christmas presents. This YA sensation passed me by, but my brother/sister-in-law got it for me so my deficiency shall at last be righted. 
Beautiful book given to me by my aunt. In the true logic of my family, we own multiple copies of some Dickens books but none at all of his arguably most famous Great Expectations. I am excited about this.
A wholly surprising present from the ever-awesome Joanna. I love the Septimus Heap series and look forward to rereading them one day.
We end with this beauty from my friend Cat! Please note the wand (which she made for me a couple of years ago. She's a fount of HP presents). This book is BEAUTIFUL, and it's been a real struggle not to read it cover to cover (even more of a struggle than my usual Potter yearnings, I mean). Click here for a look at one of the gorgeous illustrations.

Which is your favourite photo? Have you read any of these books? I'm especially interested to hear: who else likes Hemingway, Hughes or Georgia Nicolson; and what's your opinion of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children? And, tell me, what was the last book you acquired?

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Beautiful People: Mel

We haven't had one of these in a while! 

Beautiful People is a monthly character meme hosted by Cait and Sky.

I have not participated in a bit, but I have felt a bit bad that three of my four MCs (“What MCs?" you ask. Well, I'll answer that in a minute) have had BP posts and the fourth has not. She is exceedingly miffed. And when I saw these questions, I thought, instantly, “they're perfect for Mel!" 

So here we are.

The City and the Trees is a YA high fantasy novel currently midway through its third draft. Here, have a slightly rubbish synopsis that I wrote ages ago and have never bothered to improve (wow Emily you're too kind. I know, guys, I know):

Corrie is our MC and our narrator, and she has three bezzie mates (I used to use that phrase ironically but now can't stop) called Freddie, Mel and Jem. Freddie and Jem have had their own posts, but Mel has not.

Mel gives an offended sniff.

Yeah, all right, I know.

Mel Oswald is sixteen when Corrie meets her. She has lived in Teyvanidan all her life. She left school at fourteen and is now a waitress in a potshop* in the city harbour.
*Ivarian tea and ale houses

This post is heavily inspired by Ashley's Odd Tale. If you haven't already read it you should because it is freaking hilarious. It is in present tense with Ashley herself in the story, as an omniscient narrator. That's what I'm doing here. However, please bear in mind the following:

I've never done this before soooo let's just roll with it!

1. What first inspired this character? Is there a person/actor you based them off?
I love this question! We spend a lot of time talking about what inspired our books, but not so much our characters.

Back in the olden days of summer 2013 when I was conceiving TCATT, I had some characters that came to me straight away. I knew that Corrie was going to become best friends with a city girl, and fall in love with a city boy.

“What was that? I was going to what?" says Corrie.

“Nothing, dear," I say, “leave me to talk to the followers on my own for now."

Freddie laughs because he knows what's going on. Jem looks confused and a little embarrassed.

So anyway, Mel started out as a rather horribly stereotyped City Wench, like the type with an apron and round cheeks.

“How offensive!" Mel breaks in.

“Don't worry," I placate her, “you didn't stay like that for long. Though, I have to admit, I did originally think you were called Molly. Then I realised that Corrie & Molly sounded like a cupcake company so I changed it to Mel."

“A what company?"

“Never mind," I say.

“You haven't actually answered the question," Corrie points out.

She's such a know-it-all.

So, Mel was probably mostly inspired by Anne of Green Gables, at least, that's who I think of when I think of her. Although, when I think about it, I didn't reread Anne until summer 2014, a year after creating Mel, so maybe I'm only imposing that inspiration post-emptively. I'm not sure.

“Who's Anne of Green Gables?" Mel asks.

I think it would take too long to explain.

2. Describe their daily routine.
“I have to get up so early," Mel says, “and then it's off to the potshop to earn an honest wage ... Basically I serve tea all day, and talk to people. I'm not exactly living the dream, but it's an interesting job. Then I normally find one of this lot to hang about with for a bit, and, when I can't put it off any longer, I return to the madhouse."

(She doesn't get on the best with her parents.)

3. If they joined your local high school, what clique would they fit into?
No cliques!

This is basically her.

Mel's eyes widen. “The painting ... the scarily realistic painting is moving! Freddie, come and look at this! What kind of magic even is that?!"

I sigh.

4. Write a list of things they merely tolerate. Ex: certain people, foods, circumstances in their lives…
“Nasty people who come into the potshop and treat me like dirt because I'm a waitress," Mel says. “The monarchy. Poverty. The amount of beggars in Teyvanidan. Sexism. Cabbage, which I really cannot stand. My father's attitude towards my friends. These are all things I tolerate, although--" her eyes flash -- “I shouldn't have to."

5. How do they react in awkward silences?
“Awkward silence?!" Mel exclaims. “What awkward silence? Where? LET ME FILL IT!"

“It's true," says Jem wearily. “She's insufferable."

“You love me really," Mel trills.

So that's your answer: she never stops talking. Here, have a snippet from the scene where she's introduced.
I stare into my mug, wondering if I should speak, but the silence seems to grow less uncomfortable; she is worlds away, one hand propped under her chin. At last she says, quietly: “That cloud looks like a cat with a helmet on.”
I start, unable to stop my incredulous expression, and she groans. “By Ilma – I really am sorry – no connection from brain to mouth, today …”
I stare at her for a second, then look up at the sky, and surprise myself by laughing. “You’re right!”
She laughs, too, and we are both shaking with laughter, one part at the cloud but mostly at this bizarre conversation.
“Look,” she says, when we regain control, “I have definitely ruined your quiet cup of tea. I’m very sorry. I’m not always this odd … Well.” She tilts her head. “That’s not true, I am …”
6. Can they swim? If so, how did they learn?
“Afraid not," Mel says. “I love the sea, and I've lived beside it all my life, but no one wants to swim in the harbour in Teyvanidan."

“I do!" Freddie says.

“Go ahead," I tell him, “if you want a wasting sickness."

7. What is one major event that helped shape who they are?
She had these friends from school, not because she liked them -- just through social necessity -- but eventually she realised she needed to break with them. They were doing some nasty and/or illegal things. She had a rough few months where she didn't really have any friends, but things are good now.

8. What things do they value most in life?
“Friends, family," says Mel, counting on her fingers, “political freedom, social justice, equality ... art. The sea. Happiness."

9. Do they believe in giving other people second chances? Do they have any trust issues?
Yes to chances and no to trust issues. Although, despite her very friendly and happy exterior, she might take longer to trust than you imagine. Like I said, some horrible friends (and a horrible boyfriend), and parents who will not win any awards ... She has learnt how to read people.

10. Your character is having a rough day…what things do they do to make them happy again? Is there anyone they talk/interact with to get in a better mood?
“I never have rough days," says Mel.

“Liar," I say.

She smiles. “All right. Talking to Corrie or Freddie or Jem will always improve things ... And I guess I like just walking around Teyvanidan, being in the city, it reminds me that I'm only one person, you know? Other people have real problems."

Don't let little stupid things break your happiness.:

This is Corrie's description:
That is her, exactly: so in every sentence, because she truly feels things, heartbroken at the tiny plight of another, overjoyed by the simple beauty of a trader’s coloured cloths or an evening sky; affectionate, enthusiastic, sometimes capricious, and yet steady, grounded, always with the right thing to say, with a remarkable selfless streak; not from bravery, or exactly compassion, though she has both in rafts, but because of a wide world perspective that never wallows in some distorted self-pitying hollow of the mind, but always looks outward, always to the horizon, laughing off her needs because she sees the good in everything and she will not let the bad prey on her. So it is that she can feel sorry for me, whom some would despise; she overflows with too much energy for self-pity, physical energy, yes, but more than that a sort of luminous joy in the world, a lens before her eyes to lift the mundane from dustiness and charm every passing heart.

I so enjoyed that. I really love Mel Oswald a lot. How did you enjoy the omniscient narrator / dialogue thing? Should I do it again? Ooh, and have you linked up with Beautiful People? Drop me a link!

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Les Mis // my many thoughts on insta-love.

The Raven King comes out a fortnight today. This is not a drill.

I've been walking around for the past two weeks emitting occasional random squeaks of excitement when alone. Not joking. I have never been this excited about a book release.

And by excited, I mean gripped by awful and paralysing fear.

(Me most of the time.)

In other news, I finished reading through my book today and started third drafting. I see it both as a painful and disgusting mess, and a masterpiece that I cherish in the deepest facets of my soul. And if you weren't nodding along to that sentence you've clearly never created anything.

On Thursday night I finished reading Les Mis.

I am feeling quite accomplished (I think it's the second-longest book I've ever read) and quite overwhelmed. It was magnificent. It was overblown and over detailed and at times meandering on pointless tangents. It was also beautiful, gripping, and startlingly readable. Sometimes Hugo would take a diversion -- the most notable being a gigantic description of the Battle of Waterloo -- and I'd wonder if we were going to make it out alive. Sometimes he would tell the story with such verve and mastery I was hanging off his every word.

Les Misérables truly is a great book and you should make time for it.

Today we're going to talk about love.

The love story in Les Mis the musical is one of the most flagrant examples of insta-love since Romeo and Juliet

The first time I saw the musical was as a school play, with predictably dodgy acting, and I don't remember Marius and Cosette and Eponine having much of an effect on me. Next time was the film in the cinema, and that time, dang, it hit hard.

At that point I was in the throes of my own Eponine debacle, and I connected to her a lot. I disliked Cosette immensely.

On subsequent viewings, of the film and onstage, and repeated soundtrack listening, I came round to Marius/Cosette quite quickly. Of course, I feel desperately sorry for Eponine, but I also think that A Heart Full of Love is an absolutely beautiful song, and I'm totally willing to suspend my disbelief regarding the whole love-at-first-sight thing. It's a musical, hello!? Everything is intense and sped-up and dramatic. That's how musicals work.

The book was a bit different.

I was hoping that, in book format, we would not have insta-love, and my wish was in one sense granted. Marius and Cosette see each other for, like, a year without noticing each other; she's fourteen and unattractive, and he pays her no attention. Then he's absent for six months, and when he returns, Cosette is fifteen and has become beautiful. (Because that's totally how it works.) Their eyes meet once, they go their separate ways; their eyes meet again the next day, and it's love at second sight.

I was unimpressed.

Like many a modern-day reader, my automatic response to insta-love is

I mean, to quote Elsa, you can't marry a man you've just met!" Love is based on far more than appearances or first impressions; a relationship must be based on personality and common ground. 

And yet: the physical aspects of love cannot be discounted.

I can think of at least three couples, now married, who profess to love at first sight. I can think of many, many others who profess to no such thing, but that does not discount the way it happens for some people. Let us glance through the realms of literature at a famous example or two.

“Oh, she doth teach the tortures to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear,
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear.
Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night."

(Romeo and Juliet, 1.5.42-51)

This is potentially the most famous love at first sight. Personally, I think these lines are absolutely beautiful, and, much like in Les Mis, I am fully willing to accept it. (Rom and Jul are my OTP.) Again, however, R&J is a play, and it intensifies the drama into a condensed, three-day affair which, I would argue, is not really meant to reflect real life.

A lot of people give Romeo grief for his instant love, and the fact is based wholly on Juliet's appearance. But think about this:

“You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; 
you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace."

(Song of Solomon, 4:9)

You can argue with Shakespeare, but you can't argue with the Bible.*

If this isn't insta-love I don't know what is. I have recently begun to wonder if I've been too quick to condemn love at first sight in books etc; because the physical aspects of love are very real and they cannot be denied. We are made in God's image, and that doesn't only mean that we are creative, relational and capable of higher thought and understanding. It also means that we are beautiful, like all of creation. And it's all very well to get on well with someone, to be compatible and good together and share a love of cultivating geraniums ... but if you don't, for want of a better word, fancy each other, then that's called friendship. Friendship love is great. It's not the same as romantic love.

*I mean, you can, obviously, and many do, but I'm writing from a Christian perspective.

Now let's take a lot at Marius and Cosette themselves.

“The girl looked up at him and their eyes met.
... Rarely does it happen that a gaze such as this does not profoundly affect its victim. All purity and ardour is concentrated in that magical and fateful gleam which, more that the most calculated oglings of a coquette, has the power to implant in another heart the ominous flower, so loaded with fragrance and with poison, that is called love." (3.6.3)

Marius, it seems, is utterly passive; he is the receiver of The Look, in Hugo's words, “its victim." I have to say I take issue with this. He says “there comes a day when every girl has this look in her eyes, and woe to him who encounters it!", but that is not true. For one thing, not all girls look like Cosette, bewitchingly beautiful, and not all men are the passive victims of women. Whilst I liked Cosette as a character -- she is developed and likeable, unlike her portrayal in the musical -- in her Hugo displays a common trope in nineteenth-century novels: the deification of women.

“The masculine gaze must display even more reverence at the rising of a girl from her bed than at the rising of a star; the very possibility that she can be touched should increase our respect. The down on a peach, the dust on a plum, the crystal gleam of snow, the powdered butterfly's wing, these are gross matters compared with the chastity that does not yet know that it is chaste. A virgin girl is a vision in a dream, not yet become a thing to be looked at. Her alcove is buried in the depths of the ideal. An indiscreet caress of the eyes is a ravishment of this intangible veil. Even a glance is a profanation. Therefore we shall depict nothing whatever of the soft commotion of Cosette's uprising. According to an eastern fable, the rose was white when God created it, but when, as it unfolded, it felt Adam's eyes upon it, it blushed in modesty and turned pink. We are among those who are moved to silence by young girls and flowers, finding them objects of veneration." (5.1.10)

I'm not saying that's not a beautiful passage, because it is, and Hugo is a Great Writer, blah blah blah, but SERIOUSLY?! Girls aren't like that! They certainly aren't today, and I may not have been around in the nineteenth century but I'm pretty sure they weren't then, either.

I'm not saying you don't get nice girls, pretty girls, sweet girls, good girls -- but we're also messy and complicated and contradictory and cruel and vindictive and any number of imperfect things. Not all the time. But we are human. We sin. 

Marius seems unable to accept this -- Cosette is his whole life. Now, of course, love can blind us to the faults of the beloved, and a lover may see his one and only as perfect. This is normal! But Cosette becomes Marius' only reason for living; he forgets to eat, to sleep, to take care of himself; he obsesses over her, despite the fact they've never spoken, and lives day to day waiting for the moment when he'll see her. She is his everything, though he doesn't know her name. All else fades away. According to Hugo, he will literally die without her. This devotion, can it be anything other than religious?

This was the reason that I did not like Book Marius: he was completely passive. Hugo set him up as a Romantic and a dreamer and a Really Intense Feeler, and normally I'm all up for these things (they are my own qualities, after all), but Marius' Really Intense Feelings took control of him. He wasn't passionate in action; he was, in fact, a bit of a weed. (I mean, you'd DIE without her? REALLY?!)

I am all up for defending love at first sight, and I do believe that physical appearance can affect love. But Cosette becomes an idol, and I think this is ridiculous, and unhealthy.

What about sexual love?

I've been talking about Marius' physical love, in that it is love based on physicality; it is based on Cosette's beauty rather than her personality. And yet:

“Two beings composed wholly of chastity and innocence, bathed in all the felicities under Heaven, nearer to the angels than to men, pure, truthful, intoxicated and enraptured, shone for each other in the gloom. To Cosette it seemed that Marius wore a crown, and to Marius Cosette bore a halo. They touched and gazed, held hands and clung together; but there was a gulf they did not seek to cross, not because they feared it but because they ignored it. To Marius the purity of Cosette was a barrier, and to Cosette his steadfast self-restraint was a safeguard. The first kiss they had exchanged was also the last. ...

It was the first stage of their love, the stage where physical desire is wholly subdued beneath the omnipotence of spiritual ecstasy, Marius would have been more capable of going with a street-girl than of lifting the hem of Cosette's skirt, even to above her ankle. When on one occasion she bent to pick something up and her corsage gaped to disclose the top of her bosom, he turned his head away." (4.8.1)

I was interested in, and confused by, this. Sexual love, I believe, should stem from romantic love, and of course, I am overjoyed at Hugo's defense of sex after marriage. Equally, it is possible to feel attraction with no love involved; to like somebody purely for their appearance. I'm not saying you should have a relationship with this person -- you definitely shouldn't -- but you can fancy them just because they are, again for want of a better word, hot.

But can you really have romantic love without sexual love?

Again, I want to stress that I'm a Christian and I believe you should wait until after marriage before having sex. But God made sex for us, and we are physical as well as spiritual beings -- “this at last is flesh of my flesh," said Adam, showing that Eve was for him physically as well as emotionally. Therefore, whilst sex is for after marriage, to feel sexual attraction before marriage, for your boy/girlfriend, is the natural course of things.

How, therefore, can Marius and Cosette be existing in this “state of spiritual ecstasy", without even wanting to kiss?

Again, I think it comes back to Hugo's deification of Cosette. With her russet hair and dainty feet, she is a divine being, too revered to be touched. She is a Pure Perfect Virgin, and even the idea that her virginity could be desired would sully it. Take a look back at the passage I quoted: “An indiscreet caress of the eyes is a ravishment of this intangible veil. Even a glance is a profanation."

Excuse me whilst I'm sick.

A woman's worth does not come from what men think of her! Hugo implies that if a man desires her, it “ravishes" her; she is made impure by men's actions. This is not the case! I don't want you to think that I think that Hugo is a misogynist -- he is not, and his treatment of women, especially Fantine, whom as a prostitute society despises, is tender and loving. But, whilst Fantine the Prostitute can be pitied and cared for -- it is not, Hugo argues, her fault that she has to sell herself, but rather society's -- Cosette the Virgin must be worshipped.

Where does this leave us? I am not always out of favour with love at first sight. But I believe that it should be two-way, rather than the Holy Goddess and the Passive Devotee. Ultimately, I like Marius and Cosette's relationship -- which does develop throughout the book -- and I do not sniff at notions of true love, in which I believe. Moreover, I really really don't want to put you off reading Les Mis, which I did properly love, and if you'd like I may do another more general review (would you like that?). But in my reading of male-written nineteenth century novels, the deification of women is a trend I've noticed, and one I'm tired of seeing. I don't think you can put it better than Mulan does:


That was a bit of a ramble! (And I definitely used the word “sexual" far more than I ever thought I would on this blog.) What do you think? Insta-love: can you get on board, or do you shout KILL IT when you come across it? Have you read Les Mis? What are your thoughts on the musical? Also, on a scale of one to Mount Etna, how excited are you about The Raven King?