January – Read something you read in school…

Yes, I know it’s February now – but I did read the book in January, I just didn’t get time to do the  post until now 🙂

So… ‘read a book you read in school’ was the instruction and I decided that loosely this could mean anything from high school through to my post-grad stuff, which gave me quite a lot of choice. At the same time, I was already halfway through the month and in the middle of reading a couple of other books, so I didn’t want anything too heavy. Don’t worry, you’re not about to read a post about an Allan Ahlberg book, although they are pretty awesome.

In the end, I opted to read some poetry. Partly because it is was faster, but also, I don’t often read poetry – I suppose I don’t really consider myself a ‘poetry person’, even though I have no idea who I would be defining as such. Anyway, as a ‘not really a poetry person’ person, there are only a few poetry books on my shelves and I have a limited list of poets I would say that I enjoy reading. So, my choices were Robert Lowell, who I discovered in my contemporary literature class (I think!) in 3rd year at uni or Ted Hughes, who I first read in high school with things like ‘Crow’ and ‘The Thought Fox’ (for which I can still clearly the images in the poem, despite not having read it in years).

birthday-letterI ended up going with Ted, but re-read his collection of poems Birthday Letters, which I had read at the end of university, after watching the film Sylvia. Birthday Letters is probably my favourite poetry book (if I don’t count Roald Dahl and Lewis Carroll). I remember reading both Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes in high school and again for A-level. I didn’t ‘get’ most of Plath’s poems – the bleakness and images she returned to over again, were perhaps not easily accessible for a younger, immature reader – someone not familiar really with the pain life can inflict. I still don’t enjoy them, but can appreciate something different in her poetry now as an adult than I did before.

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Daniel Craig and Gwyneth Paltrow as Ted and Sylvia in 2003 film Sylvia

Whether you enjoy the film Sylvia or agree/disagree with the presentation of Hughes and Plath’s life together, what I found for me was that it gave me a context for reading Birthday Letters against. If you’re interested in knowing more on this, check out Wikipedia pages on the book here. Most people believe that the poems collected in Birthday Letters are Hughes’ response to Plath’s suicide and their relationship as a whole – published in 1998 shortly before his own death. Compared to the ‘nature’ poems we had focused on at school, the poetry in Birthday Letters feels to me more personal and precise, like the words have been worked over repeatedly not to create the perfect poem, but to enable the poetry to properly express what had been worked over in someone’s mind, heart and soul over and over again, before making it on to paper.

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Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath

As I found Plath’s poetry more vivid and painful re-reading it as an adult, I felt the same about reading Birthday Letters compared to Hughes’ other poetry. When you read these poems you are being taken on a journey, one that is emotional and real – not to tell you a purely fictional story created in their imagination.

Whilst the poems have an autobiographical slant, talking about real events, they are still being interpreted through the medium of poetry. It feels like someone try to write through grief and perhaps bend it to the format that they felt most comfortable with. My own experiences with death have always been that I can express myself better on paper than I ever can out loud – like things make sense of how I’m feeling when written down, instead of being talked about with others or floating around in my head.

Of the many poems in Birthday Letters ‘Visit’ is one of my favourites. However, it is The Thought Fox by Ted Hughes that I’ve posted below for you to enjoy, if you’ve not come across it before. I’m sure it will ‘speak’ to the writer inside you, which I think is why it has stayed with me so long, since I read it over twenty years ago in school…

THE THOUGHT-FOX

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near

Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,

A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox

It enters the dark hole of the head.

The window is starless still; the clock ticks,

The page is printed.

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2016, a year gone by

Over new year there are always lots of reflection posts and ‘what I’m going to do next’ ones floating around everyone’s blogs. I’ve not done one so far this year – I’ve enjoyed reading other people’s posts, sometimes been saddened to see what they’ve struggled with in 2016, other times I’ve been impressed with what they have achieved. Now that we’re nearing the end of January, I suppose I’m finished procrastinating…

For me, 2016 was a bit of a mix – my new job kicked into high-gear and never really stopped, which meant alot of my mental space was dedicated elsewhere. I wrote sporadically – Cirque de la Nuit moved on a bit, but not as far as I would have liked… my ‘new adult’ project got a few scenes expanded, nothing major. I did release a book (surprisingly) – Faris and Jack – but it was something I had written a long while ago (nearly ten years!) and I got the chance to re-edit and polish it up whilst on holiday in Scotland.

So far, Faris and Jack has proved to be the most popular of my books, in terms of downloads. I’ve not pushed it hugely, opting rather to release it free electronically for all the major e-readers forever. I’ve already written the sequel and the outlines for the final couple of books that go with the series, so I’ll be aiming to get the second one out in 2017, then hopefully (!) finish Cirque de la Nuit because it feels like it deserves to be finished. I’m actually enjoying writing that story more than any I’ve done so far – little pieces clicking into place more easily, more naturally than the books before. Perhaps that’s just practice helping me along?

So that’s about it really, from a writing point of view. I’d like to blog more than I did last year – it was a bit of a bust across the four blogs I work on, with only bits and pieces being posted… I’m not doing too badly so far this year and I’d like to post about the 2017 reading plan if nothing else, I think there’s going to be some interesting reading this year.

For anyone reading this, I hope that you write well in 2017 and that the year is good to you… I hope that readers amongst you find some fantastic books to enjoy and embrace the new writers that you find… For everyone, I hope that 2017 takes you closer to achieving your dreams and that you have a happy year.

Mel x

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2017…I plan to read

I saw this today on Pinterest and thought it might be worth giving it a try. It’s still a pretty loose guide to what you’ll read and I’ve got my own ongoing ’empty the bedside table’ challenge and ‘clear the kindle’, which would fit around this.

I quite like the idea of something that nudges me to read something a bit different, without being too prescriptive. Some of the books in my own challenges will fit into this plan (I think) so I’m going to give it a go. The pin is saved below for you, to see if you fancy trying it too.

For January’s book, I’ll need to have a quick trawl through my shelves and see what I fancy re-reading. It’s been a long time since I looked at some of those books…

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‘Thinking’

I found this today, typed onto a piece of paper and pushed between some books on a dusty shelf I was clearing out. It feels familiar to me, like I wrote it… but at the same time I can’t actually remember specifically writing this.

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A little challenge…

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My 2016 TBR list 🙂

A while ago I did a challenge where you had to blog about different book things every day for a month – the 30-day challenge. Although I didn’t make it 100% through the month, I did answer all the posts by the end, with some creative mergers!

One of the questions in that challenge asked you what book had been on your ‘to read’ shelf for the longest and I realised that The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series remained uncompleted from my late teens and so had been carted around university halls and a couple of house moves in the last twenty years or so… And no, I’ve still not finished the series :/

Anyway, I’ve been ‘Autumn cleaning’ this weekend and took in the sorry stack of books stashed in my bedside table… They are a motley bunch and seem to follow no rhyme or reason as to why they are there. The only thing I can find to link them is that, at some point in the last few years, the books have appeared there with me thinking ‘I’ll put that here so I read it next’… Research books for my own writing, autobiographies passed on by friends, novels from family (some bought for my birthday, others loaned when they had finished with them), and my spontaneous ASDA purchases that appealed more than broccoli…

There’s an impressive twenty-four books stuffed into that small space and so I’ve decided to give myself a little push with a challenge to clear the decks of these books. So, this weekend I’m starting the ‘clear the bedside table challenge’ – sounds exciting, I know 😉

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/7198950?shelf=bedside-table-challenge-2016

I’ve set up my Goodreads shelf (for motivation) and now I’ve posted about it here, I’ll have to carry this through – I just need to decide where to start Game of Thrones, James Bond, Antigone or Essential Bushcraft…? Decisions, decisions…

 

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Dystopian Apocalypse A-go-go

Well, it’s been a depressing (?) few weeks of reading and viewing for me..

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After reading the post-apocalypse dystopian trilogy The Testing I descended into a world of zombies, desolation, crazy governments and plucky teens (for the most part).

Whilst on holiday I read the last two books in the Pittacus Lore ‘Lorien’ series, which I’ve read in fits and starts over the last few years. I have to say after a couple flatter books in the middle of the series it really finished well – I went straight from one to the other, eager to see how everything works out (or not!) in the end. I’ll have to take the time to do a full review of the series at some point as it is a great, action-packed YA series.

On the return flight, I watched Alligent, the last in the Divergent series. From here you may know that I didn’t really get on with Tris in the first book, but I thought I’d give it a second chance and tried book two… It still wasn’t for me – the writing wasn’t bad but I didn’t feel that the factions premise held up well. In some ways the films got me through the story better, but the third was a let down again for me – the rationale for the factions and experimenting really didn’t seem that strong, it was a bit like the faction idea wasn’t thought through fully to the end of the series before the first was finished. I liked Tris better in the films than as narrator, but in the last she was ridiculously naive and several stock dystopian elements seemed to be thrown in, with no signficant enhancement of the story.

On the flight out, I’d downloaded eight hours of The Walking Dead to watch… It was a long flight and I managed to get through most of them. I’ve been power watching season four and five since we’ve been back home and now half expect it to be normal for the knock on the window to be a walker, or that sharp garden tools should be carried at all times – you know, just in case. I’ve got a few more episodes to go now, it’s been a much better series for me than the third, where I lost a bit of my affection for characters. There’s some really good development and focus on individuals in these two seasons which has definitely got me back on the (zombie) wagon. (Oh, random image just struck me then, I wonder if you could use walkers to draw you along in a cart, using flesh on a stick as the carrot…? Kind of disgusting, but could prove a viable alternative to fossil fuel in post-apocalyptic Georgia…)

Zombies on the back-burner (well, just a bit) I watched the second Maze Runner film this week. I’ve not read the books, but I did like the first film and the slight Lord of the Flies feel to it. Second film was similarly enjoyable. I think the characters and story are stronger than Divergent and in the films they have some good people cast in the core gang. Not sure I’m 100% convinced on the back story to some of the things at the moment, but I can see how there might be some good reasons behind what you see in this film that will be fleshed out, so will hold off deciding for now.

That brings me up to my latest read, Legend by Marie Lu. I’ve seen this around the web FOREVER and so I’m way behind on getting to read it, but I saw it I the library last weekend and thought ‘why not?’ if it’s free. And so I’m about halfway through now, enjoying my latest bout of humanity scraping along to survive under the thumb of a reasonably oppressive seeming government. When their lead by a glorious leader who has pictures everywhere it doesn’t usually bode well, trust me – we’ve been there before in my adventures through the end of the world 😉

i have to say, despite all of these outside influences , I’ve not really been feeling the creative spirit in me to get on with my own dystopian series, maybe finishing editing the kids book will perk me up… Less gore and guts (well, you’d hope so!)

 

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Just Finished…The Testing Trilogy

Maybe an odd few spoilers in here, so tread carefully, just as you might if you were going through The Testing yourself! 🙂

In the last couple of weeks I’ve read the three books that make up ‘The Testing’ trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau. I think I downloaded the first book in the series a year or so ago, when it was on a free Amazon download day… I picked it up because it was pegged as being for ‘fans of the Hunger Games…’ and with a blurb like this, you can see why:

Testing

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one and the same? 

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career. 

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies–trust no one. 

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

See? Handsome boy from your home sector – check. Students chosen from outer colonies to come to the capital city for ‘Testing’ – check. Deadly competition and questionable morals amongst the candidates, check and check!

I think it was the reported similarities to The Hunger Games that made me avoid reading this for so long. I loved The Hunger Games: the competition, the rebellion, Katniss and Peeta (yep, Team Peeta, not the other guy – Katniss is the narrator and you never got the romance vibe from her in relation to him, did you?) The relationships between the characters as well, from Rue and Haymitch, through to Finnick and Mags – they all had good depth and realism, which I loved throughout that series and for me made it very strong.

Anyway, I’d not read any YA dystopian for a while and so I picked this up in the end and gave it a whirl – and it was worth it! Book one was good, book two was even better I thought – it moved further away from the Hunger Games-esque arena and built out it’s own world and plot.

After blasting through the first two books in this trilogy, I did stall a bit when it came to ‘Graduation Day’. I really liked the world built up in the first two books and in a way, keeping Cia’s world more compact (either controlled as part of the Testing, or built around her place at University) made her actions and the scale of the story realistic.

When we move to the final installment Cia doesn’t seem as ‘changed’ as she continually tells you that she is – this was something that started to grate on me a little in this final book. It felt like there was a lot more tell over show in this part and the characters that you were familiar with from books one and two began to feel a little more like cardboard cut-outs, despite the fact that you knew them already and could have seen their behaviours come out, rather than Cia telling you how she was interpreting things.

Overall, after two good books with plenty of pace and action, bounded nicely within the areas they were set inside, the third one fell flat. The various climactic elements left me a bit cold if I’m honest, which is a shame as the set up was good. I think for me – as some other reviewers pick up – things became quite unrealistic in the third book: the scope of what Cia got tasked with seemed inconsistent with the scale of everything else happening around her and her ever-present bag of magic tricks became a crutch. How could they be advance enough to manipulate genetics and do complex chemical engineering to revitalise their world, but not have anything more than basic communications, which a university student can apparently knock together in a workshop pretty quickly.

This is a good series and some comparisons to The Hunger Games are fair, particularly in the first book. But by the second it does stride out in its own direction, which I really enjoyed – the third book delivers many of the answers following the set up in the other books, it just didn’t grip me to the end as I hoped it might.

Overall I’d rate the series 4* – it is very readable and enticed me enough to buy the next two books in the series, having read the first one for free. I would have just liked something more, something different from the ending that was delivered.

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