A Change in Point-of-View

Music: Judie Tzuke–Blackfurs

Big news: I’ve finished Captain Corelli’s Mandolin!

I’ve learnt so much about Cephalonia, the fiasco of World War Two, and the passage of post-war civilisation. Gated, backward, quirky island culture was portrayed to a T (I should know). The humour was exactly my jam—from the first scene, during which Dr Iannis extracts a fossilised pea from his deaf patient’s ear. The characters were ridiculed without being trivialised, and the prose provoked thought without choking me on philosophy. I loved the recurring gags, such as the doctor’s system of peeing on his herbs in strict rotation.

Louis de Bernières is a master of bathos.

The eponymous character didn’t appear until over a third of the way through—an interesting decision, considering that the blurb gave me the impression of a love triangle. Yet I think it’s a strength of this book, and of many great works of literature. Note that Jane Austen limits even her ficklest characters to one love interest at a time (open to argument). Fact is, Pelagia is one of the greatest women I’ve ever read—she’s strong, honest, clever and unrelenting, admits temptation, admits regret, admits her morality is mostly circumstantial. Oh, yes, de Bernières pays great attention to the circumstantial! He’s not above beginning a chapter with ‘Dr Iannis was in a terrible mood for no reason other than the fact that it was a very hot day’ (or WTTE). It really is true to life.

Dayum, though. It gets dark. So much for a bittersweet, much-belated note of hope at the end: you only have to Google Cephalonia’s history to find out what the climax is plummeting towards.

Really what I want to discuss, though, is narrative perspective.

I often hear writers talking about which POV to use—first person, third, even second, tense. It can be hard to choose. I understand.

So, De Bernières was writing a massive ass hist fic. His solution to the which-perspective problem? ALL OF THEM. Chapter one is close third person on an unqualified, free-thinking Greek doctor. Chapter two is the first person monologue of Benito Mussolini!

There are chapters of letters showing the passage of time, chapters formatted like a dramatic duologue showing the progression of a relationship; it goes on. In the first half of the contents, seven chapters are entitled ‘L’Homosesuale’. It later becomes clear that these chapters are the sections of an Italian soldier’s ‘confession’ of his role in the war. This makes them easy to group and read in order later on, and see how his path crosses with the islanders.

I loved the thought and craft that went into it all—effortlessly, de Bernières sped up his pacing with a constantly surprising POV, incorporating aspects that broadened the story to far more than a mere romance or a tragic war crime. When you’re reading the POV of a goatherd mistaking bombs for fireworks, and an English parachuter for an angel, you know you’re in deft hands!

Now I talk about POV and me (because I’m self-centred like that). Ever since I started writing, it’s been in third person. I call it my ‘natural voice’; that’s where I feel comfortable. For that reason, I may have entertained a snobbish attitude at some point in my past, and for that I now apologise. I’m only just learning what a tool it can be to employ the right perspective. No POV is more valid, more correct or more effective than any other. It’s simply than different systems work for different books, and must be chosen accordingly.

I can’t believe how long it took me to recognise that! My WIP is in first person. It just is. One of my MCs has no physical presence (hard to explain, but it boils down to the word ‘ghost’). As a third person realistic contemporary writer, I’m soooo out my comfort zone it’s not even funny. But I got this. His first person POV feels so right.

Anyway, enough of me.

Check out this post by JA Goodsell, another #PitchWars hopeful, in which she discusses the merits of both first and third person and why it’s so important to think about your choice. 

Speaking of Pitch Wars, I’m so grateful to Brenda Drake and the team for putting together this enormous contest. ❤

I was lucky enough to snag some CPs via #FicFest a few months ago, with whose help I prepared my book for the contest. In submission week I met the Teen Squad (the other underage entrants (oops, that sounded as if PW has an age limit…)), and I’ve read two of their books so far. So. Much. Talent. I just want to squee about how wonderful and supportive this group is, how great it is to spar with GIFs, suss out our male characters’ underwear preferences, blaspheme against dentist appointments. These are real teens with teen worries and teen joys and a seriously good handle of real teen dialogue.

Rant over. It’s cool. I hope I’ll stay in touch with everyone I’ve swapped MSs with over the past three months, because what with my critique group and the #teensquad, I’ve finally found my people.

But hey, always room for more. Do comment your thoughts on de Bernières and/or narrative POV!

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A Concerning (read: amoral) Theme in My Reading

Music: Santana—Amore (Sexo)

I was trying to explain why I love Gone With the Wind so much, when it suddenly hit me that half my favourite reads feature truly awful antiheroines empowered by their amorality. Strong statement, I know. It concerns me.

Let’s look at these books, then. I’ve mentioned a couple of them before.gonewiththewind

Scarlett of Gone With the Wind and Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair are the epitomes (if more than one are permissible) of self-interest. But while Scarlett has a few sensitivities (notably her unrequited crush for Ashley) that make her an interesting character to invest in, Becky is so utterly unredeemable that it must be a conscious decision on Thackeray’s part. Her biggest crime, beyond unvalidated lies and manipulations, is her neglect of her son. The fact that she continues to be fascinating is a testament to great writing—or perhaps she satisfies the guilty, erotic side of readers’ greed.

A recent favourite was Gone Girl. The unforeseeable twists, the utter divided feeling on both Amy and Nick throughout the narrative, ending with a simultaneous hatred of Amy even while you can’t help but marvel at her sheer genius. It’s just a massive ‘eff you’ to happy endings.

An old favourite dates back to my school story collection. For some years my favourite was Winifred Norling’s The Worst Fifth on Record of 1961, which documents an epidemic of illicit smoking, make-up-wearing and boy-dancing at a conservative boarding school. It transpired that the character, Philippa, who’d been dragged into the affair, was nice, but at any rate some of her contemporaries were awful people. Maybe that book was a guilty pleasure, too, a fresh read compared to many of the admittedly priggish depictions of adolescence on my shelf.

thebookoflies

I must mention The Book of Lies, which is set on my own home island. Catherine admits on page one that she pushed her best friend off a cliff, and that she’s amazed she got away with it. The horribleness of the friend, who mentored Catherine in her own image, later goes to explain the action. The second clause is just a delicious admission that she was willing to destroy herself in order to destroy someone else. Immediately, she seems a very human character.

To me, anyway. Others might argue she is sub-human. The thread running through all these books is the amorality of the protagonists. I recently read Francoise Sagan’s A Certain Smile and Bonjour Tristesse and their amoral undercurrent was really quite singular. It was presented in so many ways: as a path to happiness, or at least contentment, as enabling to create adventures and experiences beyond those of the morally conscious—but in the end the character’s apathy fails and leads to her suffering.

These explorations, so often conflicting, are what I love most: ambivalence, self-contradiction and plain confused dismissal of societal morals. These characters don’t reject morality over a lifetime of thought and argument; they simply don’t connect with it. Just as sometimes I struggle to filter what I say, and will more often keep quiet for fear of being unwittingly rude.

That is human, is it not? It is my peculiar interpretation of what it is to be human, at any rate—as I assume I am, if anybody is.

In any case, it explains why I have such a penchant for writing saboteurs, even self-saboteurs. Drina: deliberately destroys her own life to impress her mother, that ultimately fails due to the disillusionment caused by her obsession. Flavie: deliberately destroys her bread-baking family business to ‘feed’ her self-destructive eating disorder (inappropriate verb, I know). My latest protagonist, Dani: deliberately destroys her own social skills to justify her inability to bring her unrequited crush into fruition. It’s a sick list.

thecatcherintherye

Dani reminds me of Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, in that she is so unpredictable when it comes to activity and passivity—he worships the elusive Jane, but throughout the story is divided between fantasy and action. It’s a page-turning combination. Then there’s Scarlett’s book-long unrequited crush, that acute combination of pain and hope most of us recognise from some point in our youth (says me, at eighteen).

Dani takes me right back to that awkward fourteen-year-old stage. In a comforting, nostalgic way, as well as an embarrassing one. I’m revisiting my old diaries, and it’s a bit of a slap to the face to realise how little time ago I was stuck in those crazy thought patterns. Dani’s soundtrack, by the way, is the Franz Ferdinand album Tonight. Not my favourite of theirs, but I like the way it reflects the evolution of a house party (I could write a blog post explaining why I imagine it this way…), with a couple of fairly insightful musings on the limitations of the teenage mindset. Dani’s climax takes place at a house party, so this album in the background eternally reminds me what the whole story is accelerating towards.

I digress. Anyone else see disturbing themes in the books you gravitate towards? (I reiterate, all the books above fall into the LOVELOVELOVEKEEPFOREVERTHISBOOKISMYLIFETHISBOOKWASWRITTENFORME category.)

Prog Rock and Prog Writing–Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain February 2015

Music: Adrian Belew—Big Electric Cat

Here it is! The prompt for this month’s Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain is:

“How does music relate to your writing?”

This is a question I could take hours about answering. Music is my number one hobby, both playing and listening (hobbies being distinct from passions, in the respect that I intend to take writing and maths to professional levels). Visitors can always tell when I’m home: soaring guitar solos, tuba multiphonics or shrill mellotron drones cranked up to full volume breach my defences (three doors) and penetrate the rest of the house.

It took me two weeks short of two years to get through my dad’s music collection, and, having navigated (and loved) Russian ballet, Solid Gold Soul and Icelandic baroque-pop, I’ve discovered that my true calling is progressive rock in the vein of King Crimson (who I’m going to see in September, woohoo!), Focus, Renaissance, Rush, Marillion and Yes.

I don’t make writing playlists. I find tone is best fed by the funkiest mix of styles music can give me, so I randomise it and let the variation drive my writing. But that’s the great thing about prog rock: its versatility. King Crimson are particularly known for their extreme counter-cultural music-making. Stick with their seemingly-chaotic mesh of awkward time signatures, atypical rhythmic structures, dissonant chords and fragmented lyrics for five or ten minutes and maybe you’ll fall under their enchantment.

Another aspect of versatility is instrumentation. Jethro Tull included a flautist (who famously stood on one leg while he played); Dan Ar Braz played Celtic jigs with a rock set-up (note the driving percussion, guitar solo and BAGPIPES(!!!), besides the pop-like vocals); then there’s the double-neck guitar which became a signature of the lead of jazz fusion group Mahavishnu Orchestra, and was used to create textural diversity ranging from Indian classical to chamber-like influences.

Prog rock helped to spawn a genre called ‘ambient music’. Most people have heard the motif of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells—but have you heard the whole track, or any of his other music? Oldfield is a master of writing mesmerising, lyric-less ostinatos that can just as well intrigue and inspire as provide background music for a project. That’s what I love: music that doesn’t set a standard of attention, that can drive your subconscious or satisfy your conscious intelligence with every new listening.

Next up is a lesser-known band called It Bites. Like Arcade Fire, they’re perhaps straying towards art and arena rock, but it’s the busy originality of their music that I find so easy to write to. It’s the kind of music that, even if it distracts you, you won’t emerge from its enchantment regretting lost time. It’s creatively enriching.

I can’t find my favourite track, Plastic Dreamer, on Youtube, but I urgeurgeurge you to look it up on whatever other media you have. Or have some Uriah Heep instead–this song of his has the same kind of effect on me.

Then we have Steely Dan, who explore tensions between jazz and pop chord progressions. They’re so well-known for using the added two chord they nicknamed it ‘mu major’, and the name has stuck. Their dissonant harmonies particularly keep me sitting up straight. It’s musical oxymoron! What author wouldn’t value that?

If I especially need something lighter, I’ll turn to Barclay James Harvest, America or Kayak. But they have more lyrics than the rest of the above songs put together; I use them for feel-good turn-tos, if I’m overdosing on cynical humour.

For the record, I don’t give a damn about a song’s lyrics. Considering I’m a writer, this may seem counter-productive; but if music is another medium for conveying stories and emotion, I feel it ought to be able to do so without words. If words can add to the feeling, so much the good; often I feel they don’t match the tone of the music anyway, and if attended too closely they ruin the track for me. So I listen primarily for wordless things—and then attempt to reproduce them in MY words, through writing.

Finally, I can’t finish this post without mentioning Captain Beefheart’s magnificent album Trout Mask Replica. The so-called Magic Band lived communally in a small rented house for eight months rehearsing the twenty-eight ridiculously difficult compositions of Van Vliet (aka Beefheart). During this time Van Vliet asserted utter artistic and emotional domination over his band members, using physical violence and unrelenting psychological abuse if they exhibited less than total submission to his vision. They rehearsed fourteen hours a day with restrictions on leaving the house. With no income, they were malnourished and in poor health—after their arrest for shoplifting, they were bailed out by none other than Frank Zappa!

Yes, it’s horrific (and it may all be rumours; Beefheart was known for those too), but it’s another artistic environment, and it translates in the music. This album has pretty much everything: folk, classical, blues, jazz; falsetto, casual ramblings, rumbling bass; history, politics, love, conformity, and civilisation. And the more I listen to this album the more I adore its tightness and spontaneous feel.

So, click on a few links and taste some sounds of the seventies! Do you like prog rock and ambient music, or hate it with a passion? Or are you utterly undecided, and not all that inclined to decide, either?

~

Here’s the rest of the chain:

6th  http://jasperlindell.blogspot.com/ and http://vergeofexisting.wordpress.com/

7th  http://novelexemplar.wordpress.com/

8th  http://www.juliathewritergirl.com/

9th  http://www.freeasagirlwithwings.wordpress.com/

10th  https://ramblingsofaravis.wordpress.com/

11th  http://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/ and http://www.pamelanicolewrites.com/

12th  http://randommorbidinsanity.blogspot.com/

13th  http://miriamjoywrites.com/ and http://whileishouldbedoingprecal.weebly.com/

14th  http://kirabudge.weebly.com/

15th   http://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/ and https://lillianmwoodall.wordpress.com/ <<<YOU ARE HERE

16th  http://theedfiles.blogspot.com/ and http://fantasiesofapockethuman.blogspot.com/

17th  http://irisbloomsblog.wordpress.com/ and http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/

18th  http://semilegacy.blogspot.com/ and http://from-stacy.blogspot.com/

19th  http://horsfeathersblog.wordpress.com/

20th  https://clockworkdesires.wordpress.com/

21st  https://stayandwatchthestars.wordpress.com/ and http://arielkalati.blogspot.com/

22nd  http://loonyliterate.com/ and https://www.mirrormadeofwords.wordpress.com/

23rd  http://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/

24th  http://themagicviolinist.blogspot.com/ and http://allisonthewriter.wordpress.com/

25th  http://missalexandrinabrant.wordpress.com/

26th  http://awritersfaith.blogspot.com/ and http://thelonglifeofalifelongfangirl.wordpress.com/

27th  http://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/ and http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/

28th – https://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ (Announcing the topic for March’s chain.)

Falling Flat, and Powerfully – Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain September 2014

Hi, I’m delighted to be back on the Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain. This month’s prompt is:

“What are your favorite book beginnings and/or endings?”

As a reader, I feel most satisfied with a less-than-satisfactory ending. Don’t call the contradiction police yet! Let me defend myself!

           1. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Now, you’re never going to plough through a 1,449-page tome knowing your destination, so I mustn’t give it away—maybe that’s the thing I love so much about this book. Mitchell takes you on a journey so unpredictable you can’t tell where it’s going to end. I mean, every twenty pages an unforeseen plot-twist grabs your insides and twists them into a colonic knot. And then the culmination of all this is a damn anti-climax!

gonewiththewind

The first edition cover.

Some readers would feel betrayed. It’s as if the writer gives up, not only on her intricate plot, but on the readers who’ve religiously followed and felt alongside Scarlett O’Hara. The non-spoiler version: Scarlett’s goal has been changing at the same rate it’s been slipping away.

Spoilers: Throughout the entire book, Scarlett has an immature desire for her childhood friend Ashley. She meets and marries Rhett Butler, the only man who understands her worldliness, though she doesn’t love him as he does her. A thousand pages later, Scarlett realises she loves Rhett after all, and Ashley was never worth her obsession. But by this time Rhett is bored of her pining for Ashley. His last words, spoken so heart-wrenchingly by Clark Gable in the 1939 film: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”, are so completely the opposite of what the reader has been willing all along.

I guess that’s it. The characters’ motives are at odds with the will of the reader. We know if they ‘just’ surrender their pride and fall into one another’s arms, everything’ll be okay and they’ll live happily ever after. That’s all anyone wants, right? But they don’t, because sometimes it’s genuinely impossible to retrace your steps through traumatic events like those shrouding Scarlett’s life. Anyway, that discrepancy is what I love. It’s so…human. And so tragic.

On the other hand, I didn’t like the beginning of GWTW. The first hundred and fifty pages were so stuffed with insignificant details, I guessed they had to be foreshadowing (it gave me a kick later when I was right). But the moment the book took off, I was lost.

         2. Cutting Loose by Carole Lloyd

This book changed my attitude to writing. It turned up under my bed—by providential means, I believe—pages browned as if with lentigos, cover blanched from untoward exposure. A Contemporary Bildungsroman set in the nineties(?), it basically tells the story of a girl’s crappy Christmas, alternating between her looking back from December 28th/29th and progressing with the New Year festivities.

It begins with the protagonist, Charlie, resenting the relentless tone of the telephone and the control it has over twenty-first century human beings, and believing herself irreparably changed from her rubbish Christmas. But over the next forty-eight hours, as she reflects on what has changed her, she realises she’s as selfish and hypocritical as ever. It’s a journey through levels of maturity, condensed into a small time-frame to augment the intensity and inconstancy of human perception. Charlie easily convinces you she has nothing left to learn, until the final chapter where she goes back on all her judgements of the past days and…well, takes the advice of her enemy and buys ‘some whacking great earrings’.

When I first read it a year or two ago, it resonated with my own teenage moroseness, insincerity and pretensions to maturity. Now, even though I pay more attention to the way it’s written, the ending still echoes something comfortingly lifelike. I can only describe it as a sigh of resignation.

          3. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

Again, classic. Again, anti-climax. Again, Bildungsroman. Next time I read it I have to count the times I expected Holden to get laid…and he didn’t. Not once. I mean, we didn’t even get to meet the girl he periodically mentions (Jane Gallagher). The entire thing is a ball of wool-fluff expectations that amount to nothing. That kind of book ignites my internal fires far more than a high-stakes fight scene.

Again, first edition cover.

Again, first edition cover.

I suppose, by using Holden as an example, I’m also exhibiting something masochistic. The informal, authentic (albeit unreliable) way Salinger writes draws us into Holden’s mind in a faintly disturbing manner: we share his suppressed angst and rampant hormones, his stream-of-consciousness-style evocations, and the seemingly far-fetched connections so true of our own thought processes. Reading Holden is reliving the tragedy of our own special human madnesses, loving and hating them…and now I’m in danger of getting poetic without point, so I’ll leave it there.

As ever, I’m interested to hear your thoughts. But make sure you check out everyone else in the chain, too:

7th – http://vergeofexisting.wordpress.com/

8th – http://zarahoffman.com/

9th – http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/

10th – http://www.elizamcfarlish.weebly.com/

11th – http://sammitalk.wordpress.com/

12th – http://irisbloomsblog.wordpress.com/

13th – http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/

14th – http://fantasiesofapockethuman.blogspot.com/

15th – http://miriamjoywrites.com/

16th – http://magicandwriting.wordpress.com/

17th – http://ttkesley.wordpress.com/

18th – http://www.brookeharrison.com/

19th – http://www.freeasagirlwithwings.wordpress.com/

20th – http://roomble.wordpress.com/

21st – http://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/

22nd – http://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/

23rd – http://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/

24th – https://lillianmwoodall.wordpress.com/ – YOU ARE HERE!

and http://www.paperdaydreams.com/

25th – http://write-where-you-are.blogspot.de/

and http://theedfiles.blogspot.com/

26th – http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com/

and http://anmksmeanderingmind.wordpress.com/

27th – http://semilegacy.blogspot.com/

and http://dynamicramblings.wordpress.com/

28th – http://oliviarivers.wordpress.com/

and http://randommorbidinsanity.blogspot.com/

29th – http://theloonyteenwriter.wordpress.com/

30th – http://thelonglifeofalifelongfangirl.wordpress.com/

The Redeemed Plot-Snob—Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain July 2014

Music: The Rolling Stones – Soul Survivor

Salut, mes petits choux*! I’m new to the chain (sixteen-going-on-seventeen, fractionally British, named Lillian), and quaking under the pressure of trying to write you a satisfactory post. Fun fact: the working title of Pride and Prejudice was ‘First Impressions’—so when you judge me, just remember Colin Firth was destined to play Darcy. (That was a joke.)

So, having introduced you to my caustic wit and romantic insecurity (that was also a joke), I will proceed to answer the prompt question in as concise and riveting a manner as I am able.

“What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started writing?”

When I started writing eludes me (perhaps because it involved the last dinosaur on earth, and that was approximately sixty-five million years ago), but I almost certainly wish I knew how to plot—moreover, that I had to plot! (Interesting that pretty much everyone has mentioned this issue so far.)

A shameless pantser was I, for the first decade or so of my writing life. It worked wonderfully—I scribbled directionless Bildungsromans about families growing up, three generations strong, each chapter a short story of its own, with the pacing of Cranford or Larkrise to Candleford. But agonisingly bloated with exposition!—for how else was I to remember the favourite colours of all the 1,352 characters ornamenting the humongous family tree I’d created? That tree was the best semblance of order my writing ever had.

In November 2011 I took inspirational sci-fi to NaNoWriMo, and there my pomposity literally went intergalactic. When I braved an edit three months later, I realised I’d written eighty-thousand words of circumlocutory (and often self-contradictory) philosophy, interspersed with elaborate chapter-long metaphors and highfalutin religious ideals I’d be embarrassed to repeat.

THAT WAS THE END.

And the beginning of a new era, in which I developed a holy adoration of Microsoft Excel—and now I construct plots scene by scene before even attempting to write. Not only does this provide direction in the drafting, but lends insight into such useful details as the probable length of the product (no more 132k YA Contemps, please) and the duration of the drafting. The older I get the more fundamental this becomes, for, like many busy people, I must schedule my time weeks in advance and am furiously averse to any interventions.

Midway into pre-draft plotting a Contemp.

Midway into pre-draft plotting a Contemp.

Long, long ago, I enjoyed the spontaneity to pantsing, but now I see it lacked professionalism. These days tireless plotting writes me better first drafts, for structural flaws may be spotted early. As you can guess from my 1,352-prong fictional family tree, I am a character-writer disdaining speculative premises. What I didn’t know was that in the fictional realm, plot and character hold hands—no one should be personified over the other. And in the fictional realm, you do often have to think slightly larger than ‘life’ in terms of sequential plot structure.

Post-draft plotting the same novel.

Post-draft plotting the same novel.

I could talk about determinism or focussing on the hook and to Hell with needless details, but instead I’ll just reiterate that if you’re a character-writer, by all means let the plot stem from the character—but don’t be a plot-snob. Vice versa, don’t be a character-snob and decide Darcy was a self-important fool and therefore all characters ever are self-important fools (they are, too).

There. How’d I do?

~

Here’s the month’s schedule! I’m away for the rest of this month, but will endeavour to get round all yo’ wonderful posts in the near future. À la perchoine**!

5th – http://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/

6th – http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/

7th – http://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/

8th – http://miriamjoywrites.com/

9th – https://lillianmwoodall.wordpress.com/ – YOU ARE HERE

10th – http://www.brookeharrison.com/

11th – http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/

12th – http://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/

13th – http://theweirdystation.blogspot.com/

14th – http://taratherese.wordpress.com/

15th – http://sammitalk.wordpress.com/

16th – http://eighthundredninety.blogspot.com/

17th – http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com/

18th – http://novelexemplar.wordpress.com/

19th – http://thelonglifeofalifelongfangirl.wordpress.com/

20th – https://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/

21st – http://theloonyteenwriter.wordpress.com/

22nd – http://roomble.wordpress.com/

23rd – http://thependanttrilogy.wordpress.com/

24th – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ – The topic for August’s blog chain will be announced.

~

*Literally ‘my little cabbages’. To avoid confusion, I am not figuring you beside a vegetable. ‘Mon petit chou’ is a French endearment—and considering I can see a French power station from my town church (twenty miles across roiling ocean), I thought it a fitting mode of self-introduction.

**‘Till the next time’ (I hope)! Not classic French—this is a near-extinct dialect of Norman French spoken by my islander ancestors.

 

‘SINGULARITY’ Explained

Music: Robert Fripp—New York, New York, New York

(After six weeks of toil I have finally finished exams, so even though schoolwork is mounting again, I have time! Yay!)

WARNING: long post. Can I excuse it on the grounds that Saturday was my blog’s one-year anniversary?

 

Miss Alexandrina asked me the other day whether SINGULARITY, the title under which I entered CAPTAIN’S PAPER/TRUMPING HEARTS/Drina’s story in PitchSlam, is a Shakespeare reference.

Here I attempt to explain the tenuous links which led to that title.

 

  1. Star-Cross’d Lovers (Shakespeare)

I studied Romeo and Juliet at GCSE, so multiple references crept into the first few drafts of Drina’s story. One passage in particular, when I was brainstorming titles last year, came back to me. Romeo meets Mercutio and Benvolio (finally) and they tease him by insinuating that the ‘important business’ that had delayed him was of a sexual nature.

The exact quote (Act II, Scene IV):

ROMEO         Why, then is my pump well-flowered.

MERCUTIO   Sure wit, follow me this jest now till thou hast worn out thy pump, that when the single sole of it is worn, the jest may remain, after the wearing solely singular.

ROMEO         O single-soled jest, solely singular for the singleness.

Note that ‘pump’ is a double entendre, as are the ‘flowers’. Beyond that, Mercutio is saying the joke is poor and no longer amusing. Romeo then invokes the low joke and I like to think he is berating Mercutio not only for the joke but for assuming he was with Rosaline (or any girl, for that matter). In the event, Romeo is planning his wedding to Juliet, has just received a hate note from Tybalt, her cousin, and is keeping his marriage secret from his best friends.

How in the world does this sordid passage relate to Drina, besides her tendency to bandy about words?

"O Garden Clogs!" - yeah, they're so wasted in the daily trip to the compost heap and back

“O Garden Clogs!” – yeah, they’re so wasted in the daily trip to the compost heap and back

First the play. Garden Clogs are one of my motifs (‘pumps’). In Drina’s very first scene they are broke-soled, but it is implied that the antagonist will salvage them. Later they reappear as a threat (pretty much a hate note), and as an icon of corrupted richness, with sexual connotations.

Like Romeo, Drina engages herself to someone she’s only recently met, and conceals it for fear of the repercussions. A major plot-point is her crushed, inebriated deal with her fiancé’s brother, and the speculation surrounding it. Assumptions being one of the two major themes, joking over something so untrue—yet, notice, undenied by Romeo—seems apt.

Regarding other Drina-Romeo parallels, Act II, Scene II is the famous balcony scene, in which Romeo begins to mature from the antisocial, melancholy Rosaline-lover. Similarly, Drina begins to mature after meeting Chas—realising the Captaincy isn’t the glory everyone made it out to be, foreshadowing how many times it will betray her over the coming months. Chas, like Juliet, is the more mature member of the pair—though Drina, like Romeo, likes at least to feel that she’s the dominant.

A young DiCaprio opposite Claire Danes in the 1996 Baz Luhrmann adaptation.

A young DiCaprio opposite Claire Danes in the 1996 Baz Luhrmann adaptation.

Drina and Chas’s families are old friends; not feuding factions. However, with Chas’s mother’s dementia and Drina’s mother’s problems (I’m beginning to think PTSD), there’ll never be a good time for the young ones to prioritise elsewhere.

Then there’s the famous line about a rose of any other name still having the essence of a rose. This exemplifies Drina’s dilemma: she feels inextricably bound to her mother’s history and fate, which I believe come under ‘name’. The definition of a Montague is one who fights with Capulet, and that of Capulet fights with Montague. Juliet denies that the ‘children’s teeth be set on edge because their fathers have eaten sour grapes (Jeremiah), opening up the debate that our forefathers are not responsible for our actions as we are not responsible for theirs—we have no obligation to repeat our ancestors’ successes (or failures). ‘Independent’ Drina likes this idea, but struggles to free herself of liability to her mother’s state; like many children in such home environments, she half-believes the instability is her fault, whether directly or indirectly.

Anyway, the cyclic nature of generation: good or bad? #2 suggests another approach thereto.

 

2.   The Singularity of Life (Shakespeare)

Is it not the singularity of life that terrifies us? Is not the decisive difference between comedy and tragedy that tragedy denies us another chance? Shakespeare over and over demonstrates life’s singularity — the irrevocability of our decisions, hasty and even mad though they be. How solemn and huge and deeply pathetic our life does loom in its once-and doneness, how inexorably linear, even though our rotating, revolving planet offers us the cycles of the day and of the year to suggest that existence is intrinsically cyclical, a playful spin, and that there will always be, tomorrow morning or the next, another chance.” ― John Updike, Self-Consciousness

What can I add? Tragedy and comedy are two fundamental layers of this life—intermixing the two is allegedly a ‘British’ habit. That’s one of the things Shakespeare does best: in King Lear, one daughter refusing to admit her father’s ego leads to half a dozen bodies on the floor. I hesitate to use the word ‘comedic’, but there is something acutely disturbing about the boundary between life and death: it is not nearly so solid and straight as we like to think. Perhaps amusement is my coping mechanism when it comes to such realisations.

Drina’s demise begins with her best friend insinuating that perhaps she’s just as arrogant as gossip tells. From there, an arrogance complex develops into distrust and withdrawal, prompting Drina into a series of progressively less wise decisions. One parallel relates her mother’s similar fall from glory—through an accident, it is worth saying, coupled with her inability to accept the singularity of life—though in fact it is Drina who gets the second chance; there’s something satisfyingly sacrificial about the climax, if I say so myself.

Anyway, unlike a Shakespearian tragedy, Drina gets another chance, flinging away the ‘solely singular’ Garden Clogs. There’s a reason it begins with Chopin and ends with Mendelssohn.

 

3.   Infinite Compression to Infinitesimal Volume

In terms of physics, the idea of an infinitely dense, infinitely voluminous point excites me. Lots of people believe black holes are some kind of portal to oblivion. A singularity is a point; sometimes it’s described as a ring. Get this: gravity deforms space-time to prevent ANYTHING from escaping. (Also, singular matrix in mathematics is an arrangement of terms with no inverse. That basically means it’s difficult to manipulate.) Contrary to #2, this singularity is infinite.

so beautiful

so beautiful

Drina is fundamentally self-interested, so you could be forgiven for thinking Drina is the singularity, the dense point at the centre of everything—gosh, Drina herself thinks so! She believes her success will attract her mother’s love.

Midway the set-up is flipped. Realising she’s just another galactic object, Drina alters her trajectory to accelerate her travel towards the black hole that is her mother’s ruination.

Warping space-time

Warping space-time

There’s something so cool about an inevitable path of fate, and a horizon only crossed in one direction. So, singularities warp space-time and quantities become physically infinite, they are weighty, powerful and at the pinnacle of destructive efficiency; ambitious physicist Drina, in the race for power, would definitely aspire such qualities—and definitely fall short of her aspirations.

 

 

4.   Individuality versus Community

A singular is a distinguishing quality or a peculiarity. Drina’s is that she has the capacity to become School Captain, and nobody else has that. In fact, that’s all she has that can possibly win her mother’s affections. But it also ignites the conflict between individuality and community, which composes the second major theme—not just in terms of whether to please oneself or those for whom one has responsibility, or grappling with standing out from the mob (or not!), but reliance on a significant other.

Drina’s self-esteem is dependent upon fulfilling her mother’s aspirations. The first act charts the drift and unvoiced betrayal of Drina and her best friend. While fearful of placing her welfare in the hands of another, whom she cannot control, Drina gradually surrenders to romantic love. Everyone might fancy her superwoman (including herself, at the beginning), but by the end she realises she can’t survive without other people—her power is not intrinsic, but channelled through those with whom she associates.

 

5.   Singularity and Suffering (Austen)

Singularity often makes the worst part of our suffering, as it always does of our conduct.’—Persuasion, Jane Austen. So that is our crudeness, single-mindedness, egotism, independence, vanity, conceit, ambition, obstinacy and power, our cyclic, infinite perception of life, both our overestimation and underestimation of our own significance. Maybe she’s even talking about singleness; her very voice seems to exalt the kind of community Immanuel Kant called the ‘Kingdom of Ends’ (I can’t think of another way to describe it). Austen ridicules society and abhors human selfishness, but there’s something undeniably unifying about reading her work.

You can almost breathe this guy's ego. (Oh, it's Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot, to whom the Persuasion quote applies.)

You can almost breathe this guy’s ego.
(Oh, it’s Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot, to whom the Persuasion quote applies.)

Anyhow, I like to think Austen’s equating singularity to suffering, and blaming both upon our conduct, but there are many many interpretations.

 

BONUS: ‘trick of singularity’, the Twelfth Night quote Alex was thinking of originally, is equally pertinent; when I first plotted the story, back in 2011, the tenor-changing plot-points matched the thirteen tricks of a bridge hand, and one of them I named ‘singularity’ (as discussed in #4). Sparknotes tells me ‘singularity’ in this quote means ‘free and independent’.

Hey. THE TRICK OF SINGULARITY. That might even work…

 

I may just have written an analysis of my own novel’s alternative title, and for that I very genuinely apologise! To make up for it, I’ve written another post for today. I promise it’s short!

 

 

 

An Unexpected Triumph

Hiya, people who read this! Today I’m blogging about general things in my life, because a lot has happened lately and because my exams begin on Tuesday (make what you will of that as a ‘reason’).

Firstly, last month I participated in CampNaNoWriMo. I took to Camp the novel I blogged about at Christmas, and haven’t had time to write as I’d hoped. Well, I certainly made time, because I wrote 42,000 words in April, a personal record. If I hadn’t gone away for a week (see flat bit on the graph below) I might’ve even got the 50k.

CampNaNoApr14

Can I take this paragraph to say how much I love my Camp novel? I’m totally shameless–sometimes I doubt I even wrote the plot. It’s so much fun to write! MC installs toads in water tank. Bakery gets sued. MC sent to my homeland (yay!), where she discovers all the quirks of being a Guern (hedge-veg, bombed tomato lorries, the fairy ring). Her uncle once wrote a sonnet comparing a pretty girl to a cabbage field, and in the now another boy imitates it, replacing cabbage field with toads. The only romance is between Flavie’s middle-aged uncle and his neighbour, and it’s very, very cute. See what I mean by fun?

And my cabin was awesome, so supportive and funny, and filled with Disney references. Why couldn’t even one of them have Twitter? *bemoans loneliness*

Here I come onto Pitch Slam. Some of you may know it. In short, it’s an online contest hosted by LL McKinney where you pitch your novel and, if you’re chosen, your 35-word pitch and the first 250 words of your MS are posted on the host blogs, where real life agents bid on them for queries and partials. But it’s the best kind of contest, because you get feedback and the chance to edit and resubmit prior to the agent round.

I’m not going to lie when I say I entered out of curiosity. The feedback on my 250 did not disappoint:

“If we were to divide the votes, there would be more of us who didn’t get the voice than those who did, but what we did agree upon was it was unique. Possibly so unique that it overshot the mark. … All of that said, we understood what was happening, the actions were clear, the writing was concise, we just had some trouble placing the voice.”

Unique, eh? That’s possibly the best compliment I’ve ever received, and it’s enough for me that some people ‘got’ it. And the second best compliment: ‘the writing was concise’. After the whole wordcount fiasco (plus I know I’m naturally verbose) that makes me so happy. (Update: after cutting countless scenes and characters, and totally wiping the religious theme, Drina’s wordcount is down to a smacking 89,863. I honestly don’t believe I’ll make it to 88k (two thirds of the original 132k).)

On the day of the Great Reveal of who got into the agent round, I logged onto a school computer, blog-skipped, sifted through titles. And then I saw: WHEN THE CLOCK BROKE. No, silly, that’s not my title. It’s Alex’s. I feel quite personally involved in WTCB’s fate by this time (oh my gosh, did I never post my review of it?!) so I logged straight off and phoned her in case she hadn’t seen (and interrupted some important revision in the process).

Later that evening I was traversing the Pitch Slam blogs reading entries, noting awesome things they did that must’ve got them in. And wow, I was thinking, these titles are so good. I came last to Team Electric hosted by Renee Ahdieh, and skimmed down the ‘band’ poster. SINGULARITY. Wha-? I read it again. SINGULARITY is the title under which I’ve entered Captain’s Paper in contests. Were there really two entries of that title? I’d have to go alias-title-hunting again.

TeamElectric

I clicked on the link, and to my tremendous surprise, saw not only my title, but my wordcount (the highest in my Team, I believe), my pitch, and then my crazy first 250. I can’t remember the last time I felt so surprised and gratified and invigorated.

Plus, I got an agent bid! Query and first ten pages. I did my research, polished the ten, wrote a query FROM SCRATCH, and sent. I’m not holding my breath over it, but it’s a massive step.

Someone got my ‘unique’ tone! Someone liked my conservative British concept!

That excitement pretty much destroyed my last days of CampNaNo, but I got my target and smashed my PR somehow.

Whew! I’m only halfway through the list of life-things (that you probably don’t care about) that I was going to talk about. The others being exams and universities (and a maths lecture at Cambridge last Saturday involving permutation cycles which got me VERY excited), I’ll leave them for another post.

Meantime, all the best for you in your navigating of this unmapped (figuratively, but peradventure oxymoronically) world.

🙂

campnanojuly13target2

 

 

 

Novelling Music

I’ve just returned to the Rock from the City of Dreaming Spires, and besides being several thousand words behind in CampNaNo (having previously been on track for the full 50k, for the first time *disgruntled face*), I have mock exams tomorrow. Post upcoming about my impressions of the various universities I’ve visited.

In the meantime, here’s my writing ‘playlist’. Since January 2013 I’ve been progressively working my way through my dad’s music collection. That’s an average of perhaps twenty albums a week, no repeats, no skips (except maybe some opera). I’m in the N section!

Here’s a [highly condensed] selection of the tracks I’ve enjoyed thus far.

Jessica Allman Brothers Band
Life is for Living Barclay James Harvest
Love Burns Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
More Than A Feeling Boston
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Chopin
Where Eagles Dare Ron Goodwin (played by Cambridge University Brass Band)
Call to the Dance Dan Ar Braz
Layla Derek and the Dominoes
New World Symphony Dvorak
Disenchanted Lullaby Foo Fighters
The Dark of the Matinee Franz Ferdinand
One in a Million Giles, Giles and Fripp
Eliza Blue Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson
Monkey Chant Jade Warrior
My God Jethro Tull
Pictures of a City King Crimson
Everybody Knows Leonard Cohen
Dream Mahavishna Orchestra
Ommadawn Part One Mike Oldfield
Change Your Mind Neil Young

Mike Oldfield’s music is the best I’ve found when it comes to novelling. No distracting lyrics, but so many instruments, styles and moods. You don’t have to keep changing track. And because sections are repetitive you can hum-jam (that’s now a thing).

Flavie for Christmas

I’ve a new project on the go. And this has happened at least three times before, but I’m getting the feeling this might be The One.

Title: WEIGHING UP

Because the story is set in a bakery, this title refers literally to the measuring of ingredients and figuratively to the valuing of potential results of a choice. Thematically, it also points to one of the main conflicts in the lives of modern teenagers: body image and the ever-unfulfilled desire to be ‘enough’. Some characters weigh too much; others weigh too little—my MC learns how to balance the scales.

Genre/Category: YA Contemporary

My MC is fourteen, so this time round I’m aiming for the lower end of YA. This is as much to keep at bay my characteristic (and unwelcome) longwinded introspection as anything else. Tight writing! Tight writing!

Wordcount Goal: 50-60k

I’m looking at around twenty-five chapters of two thousand words each. Knowing me, I’m likely to go overboard, but if I aim for fifty thousand I’ve space to manoeuvre. No more 132,000s and frantic fruitless cutting! (I haven’t given up on Drina, but I’ve accepted that she can’t debut in her complete form.)

Main Character:

I’m taking an interesting liberty here, by slimming down my count of female characters to the bare minimum. In the first and last thirds my MC, Flavie, navigates a world completely male since the death of her grandmother. She has many conflicts and insecurities going on, but contrives to retain a façade of completion and self-control. Her only explicit dilemma is how to honour a promise to her brother while simultaneously keeping the said façade intact.

Supporting Characters:

Her seven-year-old brother, Thibault, is asthmatic, a stammerer, and trusts Flavie above all else. Flavie’s job is to protect him, mother him, conceal her own sufferings, and procure whatever he desires.

Thibault with his imploring face on. Think Puss-in-Boots.

Thibault with his imploring face on. Think Puss-in-Boots.

The rest of the family consist of Monsieur Herriot, a hardened baker with little love for anything not concerning his beloved profession, Flavie’s mother, a cold, distant voice down the telephone, and vegetarian Oncle E, who might have been cast off by the Herriots before Flavie’s birth, but still seems to owe a duty to old Mrs Herriot.

Flavie’s boyfriend, Xavier, is no better. All he wants is a nice, painless date and for Flavie to for-heaven’s-sakes-stop-sighing.

I have no direct antagonist. If I’m sticking to real life, it isn’t some one-on-one duel between good and evil. A teenager does things, makes a hash of everything, and feels like he/she is up against everyone else in existence. The only person Flavie isn’t fighting is Thibault, but it’s his desires that embody her nemesis.

Setting:

As I said, a family bakery in a fictional town some way out of Paris. Near to both the hub of culinary expertise and the city of romance. Ironic, because all the couples separate and Flavie faces an eating disorder.

Style and Tone:

I’m looking for a full-stop-peppered, anticlimactic tone that nevertheless has an unexpected impact. Events won’t happen with a bang; they’ll fall flat. Why? My experience of the teenage years is as an epoch of waiting for something great and elaborate and soul-defining to happen. But it never does quite happen, and you’re often left feeling just a little bit less satisfied and emptier than before. Flavie ends up conforming, because she has no choice but to conform. “But that’s okay,” she says. “Or it will be.” No big statement. No mass revolution. Just, ‘it’ll be okay’.

Flavie's amused-because-there's-nothing-else-to-feel-that's-going-to-help teenagery look.

Flavie’s amused-because-there’s-nothing-else-to-feel-that’s-going-to-help teenagery look.

I’ve written the first and last chapters, and because I’m fairly happy with what I’ve written, I honour you with my first page as it currently stands, with minimal editing. Yes, there are many problems. First draft, guys, first draft!

Happy Christmas, all!

 ~

If anything, she wished she were fatter. For someone who exercised her right to differ as she did, she rather failed at consistency.

Consistency—meaning add more milk or beat by hand. Herriot Bakery aspired perfection. As if Flavie could ever measure up like four pounds of flour.

So Grandmaman insisted. Though she’d never shirked weighing others against the scales. Maybe she simply meant Flavie couldn’t make the recipe. Flavie didn’t disagree.

The bus windows heaved with precipitation of the April kind, the don’t-think-about-summer-quite-yet kind, juddering like machine gun pistons when Flavie pressed her hot cheek against them.

If funerals meant cake, they didn’t mean liberty. Even Oncle E had come, abandoning wet dog and coriander soup to the inbred population on his remote Anglo-Norman island. It seemed he owed a duty to the mother who’d cast him off.

“Vegetarian,” Grandmaman hissed from beneath the shroud.

Last lesson had been awful. Some hush-voiced teacher must’ve told the class ‘you must be good to Flavie. Flavie is bereaved. You must all join together to help her through her time of trouble’.

So they said nothing and shrank from her silence. So she almost smiled at their pity.

Only so long till her father raised the subject of the Bakery again. She wondered how soon the novelty of Grandmaman’s absence would wear off. If anything ‘wore on’ her father.

“You. Flavie. Is this deliberate blanking? Because I’m only going to say your name twenty times more and expect an answer.”

Goodbye to a Beginning

Lazy, aren’t they? Just eating up a valuable fraction of wordcount you can well do without, detailing an event that is usually explained in detail and context later on. And if you’re using a prologue as an excuse to build tension at the beginning, it’s no better than the dog ate my homework. Your first chapter should tick all the boxes.

Hypocrite, I can see y’all hissing. As if I know what I’m talking about.

Today I said goodbye to the prologue of my long-suffering WIP. Well, that’s what I’m doing now. I dedicate this post to a passage of which I’m proud, but alas know I must let go.

What’s wrong with it? I brace myself for your grimaces. Not only was it a prologue, but a DREAM prologue. Stop reading if you like. I’ll probably cry, but I don’t deserve your sympathy at having dared to write such an atrocity.

Still, I’m not averse to Freudian psychology. I like a few well-constructed dreams in novels. Characters are as human as we are, and I find my own dreams far more illuminating than conscious thought. But perhaps novel dreams are poor technique, if the conflict isn’t enough set-up that it should be conveyed more directly through dreams.

I’m rambling and I don’t know what I’m talking about. I sha’n’t edit that ^^^ bit.

I was supposed to write some kind of obituary on my quondam prologue but I’m really tired (please, dear term, just end!) so I’ll just post below.

Later: in some half-remembered fit of frustration I deleted it, so here’s an earlier version from my memory stick.

~

The boy never got his birthday present.

Father and son drifted along the platform, anticipating the growl of wheels on the rails, holding hands, skipping cracks, watching and waiting for the train of their dreams.

Again and over again Alix screamed at them—get out! get lost! unmake themselves!

No one skipped when the first blast wrenched through the concrete. Down they slid, down into darkness.

Alix wavered on the brink. Body bleeding dry and no spirit to stem the flow, she watched man and child plummet down a throat of flames. Only her mind could contort in madness, remembering a memory not its own to remember.

Closer and closer the tremors coursed, closer and closer—the screams, the feet, closer and closer…

Then everything shattered.

*          *          *

Alix awoke in a cold panic.

Her eyes snapped open, seeking nerve in round black pits. Frightwaves shimmered down her nostrils: always there, just eluding her. Inside her head hundreds of dead feet pounded and pounded, a million neural bombs detonating as she pushed herself up.

Gasp by gasp, awareness returned to the dim room. The bedcovers burned grey as broken concrete, sweat smeared across the pillow in gory glowing streaks. For a moment the sound of foreign breathing shocked her, and she considered waking the man beside her and warning him it was near morning.

Then she remembered he was her husband, and they lived together in an apartment in the middle of Manchester. No train; no fire; no boy and his father.

An endless ring of moon gloated through the gossamer curtains. Alix shuffled out of bed, the clammy undersides of her feet smooching the laminate as she crept to the window. Something urged her to defy tactility and diffuse through the glass and up into the void, but Alix sealed immaterial escape with the heavy blackout blind.

Growing somewhere within her was a child: a child destined for life, destined for great and wonderful things. For destiny Alix had only respect. Though the day she found her courage would be the day she died.

A draught sent a shiver up her lean spine, and she glanced at the room’s remaining orifice: electric light smouldered day and night in the apartment stairwell, spilling into the room through the cracks round the doorframe.

The closest My Pictures gets to 'demons'. Just use your imagination!

The closest My Pictures gets to ‘demons’. Just use your imagination!

Conscientiously she blocked out the light with rags from the washing basket. A backward step. It was enough. It had to be enough.

But no mind can rule its demons. Alix’s pursuers violated every barrier, surrounding her, calling out to her, cursing her child just as they’d cursed her…

The stocky shape in the bed stirred and grunted.

“Herbert,” said Alix, “it’s time to move on.”

~