Tuesday, 30 June 2015

On Creative Writing: "This Next Bit's Really Nice" (June ed.)

Once a month, I post a few things on creative writing.  This idea was taken from Channel 4's The Book Group (well worth a watch).  As always, here is my picture meme:

Character reading a book, saying "This next bit's really nice."

Let the madness begin!

C.S. Lewis:
"Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing.  I mean, instead of telling us a thing was 'terrible', describe it so that we’ll be terrified.  Don’t say it was 'delightful'; make us say 'delightful' when we’ve read the description.  You see, all those words - horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite - are only like saying to your readers, 'Please will you do my job for me.'"

Ernest Hemingway:
"When people talk listen completely.  Most people never listen.  Nor do they observe.
You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that.  If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling.
Try that for practice.  When you’re in town stand outside the theatre and see how the people differ in the way they get out of taxis of motor cars.  There are a thousand ways to practice.  And always think of other people."

Fay Weldon:
If we consider, like Camus, Sisyphus at the foot of his mountain, we can see that he is smiling.  He is content in his task of defying the Gods, the journey more important than the goal.  To achieve a beginning, a middle, an end, a meaning to the chaos of creation—that's more than any deity seems to manage: But it's what writers do.  So I tidy the desk, even polish it up a bit, stick some flowers in a vase and start.  As I begin a novel I remind myself as ever of Camus's admonition that the purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.  And even while thinking, well, fat chance!  I find courage, reach for the heights, and if the rock keeps rolling down again so it does.  What the hell, start again. Rewrite. Be of good cheer.  Smile on, Sisyphus!
Junot Díaz
You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden.  In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.

& remember:

       “Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.
- Lewis Caroll 

Previous editions:

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Tuesday, 23 June 2015

TTT: Bookish Gifts

Each week The Broke and The Bookish provides a topic for a Top Ten List.  This week it is favourite Top Tens that you have taken part in.  Seeing as I've only taken part since February I'm going to do my own Top Ten: Bookish Gifts.  I haven't bought any of these so I can't say for sure what they are like but they do have positive reviews.  What have you seen that you really want/love?

1. The Master and Margarita T-Shirt
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail  Bulgakov is one of my favourite novels, what better way to spread the word about the book than to wear the original cover art?
Shows a cartoon of a naughty cat holding a gun
2. Library Card Socks
Seriously, how cool are these?  I can imagine them peeking out of a pair of trousers.

Two pairs of yellow socks, with a two columns for return dates

This would look great framed on a wall and because it lists authors, is a great way of discovering new books.  Stylish yet practical.
Outline of the UK filled with the names of authors in the areas they are popular

These candles smell like books and are also inspired by books like Sherlock's Study which is supposed to smell like "Sweet pipe tobacco, cherry wood and fresh rain".  I hope that there is a UK stockist some time soon, so I can try them.
Part of our Book Lovers' Series, this candle is a completely original scent inspired by the smell of old books! Ideal for bibliophiles of all sorts. The scent is a sweet and floral earthy smell with a hint of must. (Not mildewy, rotten old books!)   Scents: Timber, White Tea, Newsprint, Must  Materials: Glass jar, soy wax, cotton wick, dye chips and fragrance oil.

5. Bookplates
These labels are pasted on the inside of a book and shows who owns the books (some fancy ones have a crest of arms/sigil and a motto).  As well as looking beautiful, they also help to make a book feel like a treasured family possession and prevent book theft.

I read to my rabbits so this is a very fitting choice
(it helps with bonding & building trust - there is a method to my madness)

6. Man & Superman Mug
Shaw's play is absolutely brilliant; it's highly funny and perceptive.  I recently saw the play at the National Theatre with Ralph Fiennes and it was outstanding so this mug would bring back happy memories.  I also love Penguins so win win (Ralph Fiennes on a mug would be even cooler though).

shows the penguin logo
Apparently red covers are for drama

7. Electronic Dictionary Bookmark
One of the things I love about reading on my Kindle is the fact I can look up words easily without disrupting my reading.  Lugging around a mini dictionary isn't really practical and there isn't a guarantee that you will find the definition in the dictionary so maybe this bookmark is the answer?

"A very thin dictionary you can keep inside your book for the words you don't know!"
8. Thumb-Ring Book Page Holder
Another benefit with reading on a Kindle is that it is a lot easier on the hands.  Sometimes holding open a heavy book for a long period of time and turning pages isn't that practical.  This thumb ring holds the pages open for you and it looks like it could reduce the cramp.

9. Paperback Inspired Kindle Cover
Mostly because it looks pretty (I could also paste a bookplate into the inside!)
10. The Novel Cure: An A to Z of Literary Remedies
This book compiles a list a recommendations for all your woes and the authors call this "bibliotherapy" (although, to be fair I suspect the fact of time passing and keeping yourself occupied also help).

Do you own any of these?  What has been your favourite bookish gift that has been given to you?
In case you missed it, I am also running a book giveaway for The Buried Giant here.

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Monday, 22 June 2015

June Book Haul

This month has been quite a busy month for the poor postman, although not so busy for reading (or writing those reviews!).  I've not been feeling too great so most of my spare time I've been watching Brendan Gleeson films, Game of Thrones and the Fargo TV series.  Anyway, I thought I could do a book update on all the books I've acquired since my last 'bookdate'.  Have you read any of these?  Apologies for the grainy photos, I need to get an actual camera and also another bookcase (oops)...

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro: Wordery have kindly given me two copies, one for review and one to giveaway; I super enjoyed Never Let Me Go and having just finished The Buried Giant it is very different to his past works - it feels like a different author in many ways.
Between Gods by Alison Pick: Alison Pick's relatives were victims of the Holocaust; many of her family members died and a few lucky ones escaped to America.  Alison never knew about her Jewish heritage, her father was taken to church as her grandparents hid the fact that they were Jewish.  This is Alison's story of her discovering her Jewish history and religion.  I really really wanted this book, so needless to say I was pleased when I managed to get a copy through bookbridgr.
A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman: Sarah Winman wrote When God was a Rabbit, which has been sitting neglected on my shelf since it came out.  Winman's new book is about a 90 year old woman living in Cornwall waiting for something and has had a lot of rave reviews.  I've been very lucky to get an ARC through bookbridgr.
Imagination and a Pile of Junk by Trevor Norton: Another one from bookbridgr.  I really love QI and in this book Norton goes over the history of all the inventions in a readable format.  My favourite way to start a sentence is "Did you know..." so hopefully this will add to my mine of random information.  (Do you have a favourite "Did you know..."?)

A massive thanks to Suze @ the Lavender Librarian for the huge pile of books I won in her giveaway; I also received a lovely owl mug and notebook!  Most of the books I picked were on various reading challenges, these are:
Ways of Seeing by John Berger
The Establishment by Owen Jones: these two were on my Top Ten Tuesday books to expand the mind.
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen: this is on my Mental Illness Advocacy Challenge and is a memoir of an 18 year-olds time in a psychiatric ward.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: everyone is loving this book in the blogosphere and I do love a good fantasy!
I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak: Zusak's first book The Book Thief is one of my all time favourites so it is about time I read another of his books.
Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín: I've read books by authors from Russia, Argentina, Colombia, Australia, USA and Britain but I've yet to read a book by an Irish author!!  I've been thinking of getting a world map and sticking a pin/sticker on every continent from every country that I've read and work my way around the world.
Thanks again to the lovely and generous Suze!

From the library:
On Writing by Stephen King: I've just finished this, it was a great informative read so a review should be up shortly.
The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp
I also managed to pick up a few second hand books in Tewkesbury:
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote 
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (for the LGBT Reading challenge)
Our Language by Simeon Potter
Lord Jim by Joesph Conrad, thanks to Nancy for the recommendation! 
The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse

I also bought three things to help with the blogging:
1. A new Leuchtturm1917 squared notebook!  I've usually used Moleskines and various inceptions of Filofaxes (e.g. Clipbook/Notebook and Filoflex) but I feel like a change and the reviews seem great.  This notebook is going to be used as my diary using the bullet journal system.  If anyone wants reviews of the Filofaxes etc. then let me know!
2. How to Read a Book by Adler & Van Doren: hopefully this will help make my reviews better.
3. A Lamy Safari pen!  I've tried Parker fountain pens but my handwriting is awful but the Lamy is really easy to write with.  I normally write in Parker ballpoint but I feel like a change; I have a tremor in my hands so I have to grip hard in order to write and this ends up with the cheap pens having a split barrel!  I also bought some green ink so I can feel like I've been to Scribbulus Writing Implements on Diagon Alley.


I had a coupon for kindle eBooks and Don Quixote by Cervantes has been creeping up a lot, so when I saw the Vintage one on sale I snapped it up.
Freedom to Fail: Heidegger's Anarchy by Peter Trawny.  It's been ages since I've read a proper philosophy book; this deals with Heidegger's controversial and disputed relationship with the Nazis (FYI, Heidegger had an affair with Hannah Ardent).

So, there's my book haul.  Have you read any of these?  Have any recommendations?  What's your favourite book from your book haul?

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Giveaway: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (Wordery Book Club)

I'm super lucky to be able to giveaway a new hardback of Kazuo Ishiguro's latest book The Buried Giant courtesy of Wordery!  The giveaway runs from Monday 22nd to Wednesday 24th.  The winner will be contacted on Friday.

Shows a thin white tree on a hill
2015 Faber & Faber edition to be given away 

About The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro.
This tale is set during Arthurian times and follows Axl and Beatrice, who joined together by their marital love, try to fight against a mist of forgetfulness.  Here is the blurb released from the publishers:
The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But at least the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. 
The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years. 
They expect to face many hazards - some strange and other-worldly - but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another. 
Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro's first novel in a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge and war.
Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien may also recognise places where Ishiguro has been inspired.
Previous novels by Kazuo Ishiguro include Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day.

About Wordery
Thanks to Wordery for donating the book for this giveaway! Wordery was founded in 2012 and they have a great range, including more uncommon titles that are hard to find or otherwise far more expensive.  They also have a great eBay store which I've used in the past - my books were always posted quickly and in great condition.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

T&CS: UK entrants only. 13 and over with parental permission. Address will be treated with strictest confidence. Once the book is posted (with proof of postage) no further responsibility will be taken.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

TTT: top ten books on my summer tbr list

Ok, so each week The Broke and The Bookish provides a topic for a Top Ten List.  This to be read list is actually going to be helpful for planning what to read during summer so I might check in Autumn (November time) to see how many I ticked off.

Book Cover (BC)

1. The Establishment: And how they get away with it by Owen Jones
Jones looks into how parliament and democracy is actually influenced by the Establishment, an organic group with similar goals of influencing people.  (This is kind of cheating as I have already started reading it but at least I can say in November I read at least one.)


2. Between Gods by Alison Pick
This is a memoir of Alison's coming to terms with her Jewish heritage, trying to reconnect with it and how her family has dealt with the loss of relatives in the Holocaust.


3. Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov
I found this book when I was watching The Guard, with Brendan Gleeson (a superb superb actor and film).  It made me really nostalgic for the days when I read nothing but long Russian novels.  I already have a copy on my kindle so I will be, metaphorically, packing my bags on holiday to Russia pretty soon.


4. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield
I bought this in May, it is meant to be very inspiring especially for those who have a difficult journey in front of them trying to achieve your life aspirations.  It helps you to value your journey, to strive to do your best and not to be upset if it doesn't work out.  I could really do with a boost right now so this is kind of a 'bibliotherapy' choice.


5. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
My father brought me up with the idea of being self-sufficient (he was brought up on a small-holding/farm) and that has stuck with me, so I think this book may be one of those 'life-changing' ones I will have to wait and see.

6. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Everyone in the blogosphere who has read this can't recommend it any higher than what they already have


7. Still Alice by Lisa Genova
This is on my Mental Illness Advocacy challenge; it is about a relatively young woman who suffers a disease causing her to slowly loose her memory amongst other things.  Tissues at the ready.


8. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson 
This is for my LGBT reading challenge which I'm falling behind on; I managed to find a copy and this was the one I'm most excited to read out of the challenge.


9. The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp
If I am honest, I am thinking about applying to the civil service and this memoir will help give me a better understanding of what it means to be a civil servant (although somethings probably have changed since Crisp's time).


10. No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre
My American pen-pal (hello Andrew!) and I have decided to read Sartre's play No Exit together so this is on my summer tbr.

What are your thoughts on my list? What is on your summer TBR list - any recommendations?  Thanks for reading :-)

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Monday, 15 June 2015

Making up for Mondays: Pet Peeves

Text of Meme

This weekly meme is hosted by An Avid Reader.  The aim is to write a post on a weekly question.  This week's question: What is your biggest pet peeve with authors?

The first thing that came to mind was treating the novel like a cash cow; I'm not going to name any specific authors because that's not really fair and you might probably have your own suggestions that spring to mind.  I find it really upsetting when authors effectively recycle content for financial gain. This isn't like reusing characters (e.g. fictional detectives or a character growing up) or a spin-off but literally just repeating what was in a previous novel or expanding on trivial detail.  I remember when an author just changed the names, the plot was identical to their last novel, and I was so annoyed the book was thrown out.  Yes, I agree that novels do not contain entirely new ideas - as Christoph Waltz said, even Shakespeare did not have an original idea - but something strikes me as dubious about revisiting a novel. 

So, that is my pet peeve.  What are yours?? 

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

TTT: Anticipated Releases (and TV show conversions!)

Ok, so each week The Broke and The Bookish provides a topic for a Top Ten List.  I'm struggling with this weeks topic 'Most Anticipated Releases for the Rest of 2015'.  The reason being, I'm not one for pre-ordering books and I like to read reviews first.  Because I missed last weeks Top Ten Tuesday,  this TTT is going to be split into between five most anticipated releases and last weeks topic of five books I'd love to see as a movie/TV show.  Are there any additions you'd like to add? I'd love to hear from you :-)

Five Most Anticipated Releases for the Rest of 2015

1. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.  A book that needs no introduction.  The last time I* pre-ordered a book was for the Harry Potter series.  *That was actually my father who paid and queued up outside WH Smith!

2. The Winds of Winter by George R. R. Martin.  Apparently this should be published before mid 2016.  If I am honest, I haven't finished the current set of books (next to read is #4 A Feast for Crows) but I love reading the spoilers on asoiaf wikia...

3. The Reasons for Flowers by Stephen Buchmann. I've always been fascinated by the Victorians who were big on the symbolism of flowers, my father is also a gardener and so I'm really excited to learn more about flowers.  This covers everything from food to medicine and more.

4. The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett.  I have only just started on the Discworld novels and I think I will save this one for last.

5. Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz.  This book continues the James Bond saga and I've a sudden interest in James Bond (which has nothing to do with Christoph Waltz being in the new JB film...).

Five Books I'd Love To See A Movies/TV Shows

1. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall.  A touching story about Stephen, a woman who struggles to be understood and fit into a society forbidding homosexuality.

2. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.  There was a brilliant adaption of Bulgakov's A Country Doctor's Notebook featuring Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm and this is the Bulgakov classic.

3. The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares.  This is, to put it crudely, like the Argentine version of the Matrix.  To say any more would ruin the plot but it is a philosophical thought-provoker.

4. The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander.  This follows a Jewish family during the Argentine Dirty War in the 1970s; this book made me cry and what's worse it is shockingly historically accurate.  Not many people know about the Argentine Dirty War and the terrible crimes that were committed including baby snatching which Argentina is still trying to address.  I don't know why this isn't rated higher on GoodReads.

5. The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig.  I think this could be done in an edgy way like Birdman with costuming à la The Great Gatsby.

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Wednesday, 3 June 2015

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

Update: The positive reaction to this post is more than I could possibly have dreamed for so thank you all very much.  For those of you interested in MH books there is the Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge which provides links to lists on fiction with various MH themes that you can join in with and connects you to other blogs. 

I read this book as part of #MentalHealthWeek in 11-17th May.*  One of the reasons I participated is because of the huge unawareness of the inequality of the quality of treatment for MH issues.  As part of ‪#‎MentalHealthWeek‬ the Wellcome Trust investigates the spending on Mental Health compared to cancer.  Both diseases are statistically likely to affect 1 in 4 people, but people with MH issues have £9.27 spent on them, next to £1,571 for cancer.  The biggest killer of men under 50 is suicide.  Yes, cancer is terrible and I lost someone I loved most dearly to cancer, but I also lost someone to suicide, which probably would have been prevented with better NHS funding. 

*Yes, I know it is June <insert excuse here>. Better late than never anyway.

Rating: 2 stars out of 5 (meaning this book was OK but had major downfalls) 

On the surface, this should be a book I enjoyed.  It focuses on Craig, an American schoolboy 'who tries to kill himself' and is admitted into a psychiatric ward.  There was and is a lot of praise for this award-winning book and given that Ned Vizzini died in 2013 I have to say I am very reluctant to review this because I didn't enjoy it.  

For me, the stand out positive feature was that Craig was very relatable.  I could relate to his worries about academic performance and the pressure that school/universities create especially with the fact that workload can easily snowball once you fall behind.  It does nicely highlight how the spiral of depression can begin and some of the difficulties caused by living with depression.  (Because everyones experience of MH issues and symptoms are different there is never going to be a 'catch-all' book describing every type of symptom.)  There was also a good diversity of characters.

Now to the negatives.  A few parts I found boring and I have to admit to resorting to speed-reading to simply get the book out of the way (I'm not a fan of DNFs).  My other gripe was a few throwaway comments that made me deeply uncomfortable e.g. comparing anorexics with skeletons in closets.  I am sure the author meant no offence but either way, I found them crude/cringeworthy.  I will admit when it comes to MH issues I am overly sensitive/critical.  It does really eff me off when people trivialise MH illnesses e.g. by saying that they are 'OCD' because they clean up straightaway.*

A more subjective/personal possibly cultural point.  I agree with Stephen King's On Writing when he says that dialogue attribution (such fancy terminology) should be kept simple in terms of "he said"/"she said".  Vizzini used "he's like" and it really grated on my nerves.  It was like listening to a good song with random scratches in; it definitely detracted from the novel.

I am sure that other people will enjoy this book and it will help them, but this isn't one for me.

Postscript: This book prompted a fascinating discussion on a Facebook group and I feel that the complexity of writing on MH is often overlooked.  The complexity/worry is this: a author can write on MH with a straightforward happy but risk their book being criticised as 'naïve', 'unrealistic' or  'fairytale-like'.  On the other hand, an author can portray MH as a lifelong struggle but risk causing despair and a feeling of hopelessness in a reader which could have fatal consequences.  It is a very fine line between these two extremes and perhaps authors of MH carry a greater burden of responsibility than others.

Book facts
Original publication: 2006
Publisher: Hyperion
Pages: 444
Book cover shows the outline of a head filled with a hand drawn map

*There is a movement to stop using 'gay' as an insult, and rightly so, but there isn't a similar one for MH e.g. that person is 'mad', a 'schizo' or a 'psychopath.  People with MH are far more likely to be victims than they are criminals, and if they are criminals it is probably because the system has failed them.  I am pretty sure you know all this already so I am going to leave it there.

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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Mañana by William Hjortsberg

Rating: 2 stars out of 5

On the surface Mañana (Spanish for 'tomorrow') has the makings of a great book.  Tod has a drug-fuelled party with some friends and his wife. The next morning Tod wakes up next to a dead woman, his wife has vanished into thin air and he has no idea how the woman died.  I don’t know whether it was a clash of cultural style but I really struggled to get into this book although I did persevere to the end.
My main grievance is the character Tod. I feel there is a disconnect between what is coming off from the book and what is supposed to come across from the explicit statements of how Tod feels. I just don’t understand the character at all. Tod is supposed to have these worries about where his wife is, how much money he has, but the book doesn’t really reflect this. He spends his first few days smoking and sitting in cafés. It didn’t come across to me that Tod was truly concerned about his wife. If it were me, I would restructure the book, so that the section on how he met Linda, his wife, and fell in love was the prologue. I would also restructure the flashbacks, which stop and start in the middle of paragraphs/sentences into defined paragraphs for clarity.

My second grievance is that I found the plot naïve and flawed. How is Tod to trust what he finds out about the death of the woman from his so-called friends and wife? It would be in the murderers interest to deny that they killed the woman so how will Tod genuinely know what has happened?  Also, Tod had very little to go off in terms of searching for the rest of the people involved. 
I didn’t find this book very believable either. There is supposed violence, potential and actual, that seems very far-fetched. Yes it is fiction but it also has to be believable.

At times the book reads like a shopping list, Tod spends pesos at this café and that café; he gains pesos here and there and there is the occasional conversion of pesos to dollars. Having read an autobiography that had this same monetary discussion, this is more a personal dislike and so isn’t really the fault of the author. Also, if you dislike fragments (e.g. “Did this…” “Spent pesos on…”) then this may not be for you.

Overall, I was disappointed. This book has a lot of potential to be much better than it is, perhaps it would translate better as a film. Thanks to the publishers for giving me this eGalley through NetGalley in exchange for a honest review.

Book Facts
Original Publication: 2015
Pages: 242
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media

Book cover

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