JAJ: Sense and Sensibility

Jane Austen January kicks off tomorrow with:

Sense and Sensibility (1811)

Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor's warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love - and its threatened loss - the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

which will run until January 14th.

Please be aware comments on this post will contain spoilers for those who wish to discuss during their reading. If you don't want the book to be spoiled, wait until you've read it to comment and discuss!

Happy reading!

Audio Books

I'm not a fan of audio books, although I was going to give the first Gossip Girl book a whiz on audio because it was included with Season 1 of the TV show... until I discovered it was abridged - grrrr!

Personally, I prefer to read books than listen to them. I remember as a child I had these Disney audio tapes and I would *always* read the book along with the tape. I like reading the action for myself and being active with my stories.

What does everyone else feel about audio books? Love them or hate them?

Top 100 Reads!

This is the Top 100 Reads, taken from the BBC 's 2003 list. How many have you read? What books from 2003 - 2008 do you think should be on an updated list? Which are you surprised to see on here?

1. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
18. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone - JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets - JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban - JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch - George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany - John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath - John Steinbeck
30. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker - Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude - Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth - Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion - Jane Austen
39. Dune - Frank Herbert
40. Emma - Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down - Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited -Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm - George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom - Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers - Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men - John Steinbeck
53. The Stand - Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The BFG - Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons - Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty - Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl - Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses - Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha - Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds - Colleen McCollough
65. Mort - Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree - Enid Blyton
67. The Magus - John Fowles
68. Good Omens - Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards! - Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies - William Golding
71. Perfume - Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch - Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda - Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White - Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses - James Joyce
79. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
80. Double Act - Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits - Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle - Dodie Smith
83. Holes - Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast - Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel - Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
89. Magician - Raymond E Feist
90. On The RoadItalic - Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather - Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear - Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic - Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine - Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel - Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love - Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries - Meg Cabot
100. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie

Book Review: Twilight

The film version of Twilight is finally released in the UK today, so I thought I'd review the book by Stephenie Meyer before I revert into a complete tween and drool... sorry, before I head off to watch and appreciate the movie. But, I don't know which is worse. You see, I also drool over Edward, the book character. Yes, I *heart* Edward, with teeny ♥♥♥'s too!

Now there are some people who scorn the whole Edward is a vampire (sorry if I spoilt that for you) and therefore "Bella-is-so-fragile" attitude. Not me. I *loved* it. I think what people forget with Twilight is that this is a tweeny-teen book. People forget that first crush giddy feeling they had, back in the days when you went all swoony and envisioned boys to be bona fide knights-in-shining-armour (before you knew better, basically). But, if you approach Twilight with this impossible ideal, then I think you too will adore it. If you can get into that mind frame, Bella's endless lavished praise of Edward's perfection will be the most logical description you have ever read. You may even find yourself swooning over him too.

Sure, if you approach Twilight as a cynical adult, then you're going to get irritated with Bella's "quirks" - she's actually a 2-D character who I feel Meyer tried to pass off as 3-D - but reading through the eyes of unrequited puppy love, combined with the knowledge of adult passions... *sigh* You can overcome that this is a love story about a girl with low self-esteem (rather annoyingly Bella constantly sees herself in a sub-par light to the point it is blatantly annoying) who falls in love with a vampire... who loves her anyway, despite all her "but you're so perfect and what am I? A mere ugly mortal" moments. I thoroughly recommend you check out Twilight (if you've not already) but *only* if you approach it by embracing your inner tween

Anyone else read the book (is this is a silly question)? If so, what did you think?

Jane Austen January Information

I'm very excited to be starting 2009 with Jane Austen January and am really looking forward to this. When I first decided I needed to read Jane, as I'm severely under-read, I never expected a Book Club to come out of all this - it only emerged because Hannah said she'd read Jane with me and that gave me the idea! :0) Thank you to everyone who has promoted this as well!

I hope you've all got your copies sorted out (there's still time to ask for copies for Christmas! :p). Here's the schedule:

Jan 1st - 14th = Sense and Sensibility
Jan 15th - 28th = Pride and Prejudice
Jan 29th - Feb 11th = Mansfield Park
Feb 12th - 25th = Emma
Feb 26th - March 11th = Northanger Abbey
March 12th - 25th = Persuasion

I'm still not sure if we are including Lady Susan (thoughts?), but if we do, then that will be from March 26th!

On the first day of each book, I'll open a blog post up and I'll link to each book discussion at the top right of the site so you don't have to scroll through my other posts to get to Jane Austen January posts.

As it stands, for discussing the books, please be aware comments on the book post will contain spoilers for those who wish to discusst during their reading. If you don't want the book to be spoiled, wait until you've read it to comment and discuss!

If you need to get in touch with me personally, you can via Twitter or e-mail me at, but I think that's it - here's to some happy Jane Austen reading and thank you for wanting to take part!

PS: I was asked if I'm only doing a Jane Austen Book Club and I said if people are interested, I will happily host others. If you are interested and have any book suggestions for April onwards (or maybe May if we feel like a break first!), then comment and let me know!

Jane Austen January

By my count, it seems we have eight people so far for Jane Austen January. Awesome! But what this update really is for is to sort out some questions - mainly how long we will allow on each book, what order will we read the books in and whether we are focusing on discussing any particular aspects of the books.

Firstly, I think it's ambitious to manage to read all the books in January. As far as I'm concerned January merely marks the start of the Book Club, but how long do you think we should allocate to read and discuss each book? Is a week enough time? Ten days? Or perhaps two weeks per book? Let me know your thoughts!

Next up - what order? Order of publication? That would mean we start with Sense and Sensibility and end with Persuasion, unless anyone wishes to include Lady Susan or has any other order preferences?

Then, are there any particular areas anyone wishes to focus on in discussion? Favourite parts? Favourite characters? Themes? And so on? Do you want to discuss as we read the book or at the end of the book?

Finally, let me know if I've missed out any important questions and remember to spread the word if you know any Jane fans! :D If you need to buy copies of the books, I'm using this all-in-one version.

PS: Today, December 16th, is actually Jane Austen's birthday! Fitting, huh? She was born in 1775 at Steventon Rectory in Hampshire.

EDIT: Another thought - what about spoilers? Some people might want to comment as they are reading the book, some afterwards... when shall we choose to discuss the book - during or after? I think this will be ironed out after we've got through the first book how we'll approach discussion, but if anyone has views now, let me know!

Do you lie about reading?

Apparently, half of all men and one third of all women lie about what they read, according to a recent Populus survey (spotted here). I can't understand why you would lie about your reading... unless you are a lazy student asked if you've done your tutorial reading (an understandable lie). What purpose does it truly serve?

Personally, I've never lied about what I have and haven't read, but has anyone else ever lied? If so, why?

Jane Austen?

I am ridiculously under-read on Jane Austen; I've only ever read Pride and Prejudice, although I've seen TV/film adaptations of some of her other books... shameful, huh?

But, I am going to rectify this. I now have Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and Lady Susan in my possession and I'm sure there are some readers out there who love Austen, right?

So, any recommendations to which book I should start with? What's your favourite Austen book? What's your least favourite? Or are you as under-read as I am?!

EDIT: As a follow-up, it seems that following Do-cember, it's going to be Jane Austen January (or Jan-eAusten-ary :p)! Basically, we're going to do a Jane Austen Book Club (like the book by Karen Joy Fowler; also made into a movie) where we set the order of reads and then discuss the books/encourage each other to make up for our appalling lack of Austen-reading. But, if you're already an Austen devotee, you're more than welcome to be a part of Jane Austen January (which will more than likely spill into February), plus anyone in the world can take part. Oh, and you can be part of this for one book, or all of them! So, anyone in?

Book Review: The Tales of Beedle the Bard

If you're a Harry Potter fan, it's extremely likely that you will have already skedaddled to the book shop/ordered online the latest charity spin-off from J.K. Rowling - The Tales of Beedle the Bard - mentioned in the final instalment of the series: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

This book raises money for CHLG, with £1.61 from the sale of standard edition book going to Jo's co-charity (MEP Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne is the other founder). CHLG aims to help the 1 million children across Europe still living in large residential institutions, and it works at a political and practical level to ensure that UN minimum standards for the care of children are implemented across the whole of Europe and beyond.

So, the reason behind the book deserves a round of applause, but was it any good? The book features the original Tales of Beedle the Bard, translated by Hermione, with a commentary after each from the late Albus Dumbledore. There's also an introduction from Jo and her own illustrations throughout.

To be honest, there's not much I can say about it. If you're a fan of the series you're going to get little tidbits about the world of Hogwarts, previously unknown, and you'll like it because it is Harry Potter-related. Viewed as mere fairy tales, they hit the fairy tale requisite, and highlight the usual moral cautions. All in all, this is an enjoyable, but quick, read for any Harry Potter fan and it's for a good cause - what more can I say!

Has anyone else read this, or are you not Harry Potter fans? (Say, what?!)

What's your writing weakness?

Some writers are better at creating believable characters; some have witty dialogue; some set the scene so well you can almost sense the sights and sounds radiating from the pages. Some writers are fabulous, full stop, and some are so truly awful that you wonder how they managed to get published in the first place.

For me, I admire writers who can knock out loquacious description. In fact, there are times when I have to remind myself to include a little detail because description doesn't come as naturally to me as narrative voice or dialogue - I tend to shy away from it.

Personally, I blame Tolkien. Don't get me wrong, I bow down to his writing, but is it just me who always finds themselves skimming his ten page descriptions in Lord of the Rings? In fact, when I see a book described as "epic", I just know that it's going to have lengthy descriptions. My reading habit of skimming lengthy descriptions has created a writing habit where I forget to include description. You could say description is my writing weakness.

For my fellow writers out there, what's *your* writing weakness? And for those of you who are just readers, is description actually *that* important to you?

Personal Achievement

Tell us about a personal achievement that was important to you.

Now, am I wrong to believe I shouldn't include my novels in my CV/job applications? Because to answer the above question I had on a recent job application, I felt I couldn't use the one achievement I prize above them all - my books - through the fear the company would take that answer as me having no interest in a career. Is it the right thing for me to do - pretend the Pipe Dream doesn't exist for the sake of a Profession - or would you use it as the achievement if you were me?

For the record I ended up using the example I HATE because it's more "employer friendly" - however, if they Googled me, Pipe Dreams & Professions is attached to all variants of my name so they could discover the truth anyway ... it's a tough call.

Anyway, enough about me, what personal achievement is important to you?

Are we repeating our stories?

... as storytellers we basically spend our lives telling the same story over and over, only we do it from different angles.
The trick is disguising it so it doesn't seem the same.
The L.A Diaries - James Brown

I once read an article that stated there are no original stories anymore; all we can do is repeat the same three stories over and over by adding our own twists and personal experience to them. Reading The L.A Diaries last night, especially the above quote, reminded me of this article and made me question whether it is true? Are we telling the same stories over and over?

I was in two minds today whether to do a book review about Goodnight, Beautiful, or write this, but thinking of Goodnight, Beautiful made me realise that, whereas I think Dorothy Koomson is an extremely talented writer, the themes of her five books are pretty similar. They all focus on real-life; she makes the ordinary, everyday life seem gripping and captivating. Family plays a strong role in her books - usually people tackle their demons, and their demons are family-related. Is she telling us the same story each time, but from a different angle like Brown suggests? More importantly, is it partially her story she is always telling us in some way?

Thinking about my own work to answer these questions, I agree with Brown's statement in some ways. All my chick lit books focus on the protagonist's destruction of their love/life and their subsequent search for their happily ever after - I probably am doomed to repeat these tales of destruction and re-building forever more.

But, as long as the angle is different, it's not repetition. We can't help but write what we know, and we can't help that we share our humanity and common experiences with everyone else (to a certain extent). This is why every story (whether real or fictional) is made from different influences - just like every person is - we may be echoing those three basic story concepts, yet through our highly unique lives we make those stories so much more than an echo. I think it's probably more accurate to say we repeat the same themes, but use our individuality to make the stories our own.

What does everyone else think? Do you think we fundamentally tell the same stories over and over, or are we more creative than that?!

My interpretation of "On Writing"

Having heard Stephen King's On Writing is a useful "writing book", I decided to buy it. Now, I've never read any of SK's work (probably because I was traumatised watching the TV version of IT when I was about 6), so I figured this book would be a good starting point in my SK journey (I have Carrie, Salem's Lot, The Shining and Firestarter in my To Read pile - any more King books I *should* read if there's any of his fans out there reading this?)

Whilst the book didn't really offer me any insight into "how to write" (which wasn't why I bought it anyway), it's always interesting to see how other people operate, and how you relate to other writers. I chose King's book especially because I liked the idea of him sticking his rejection letters onto a spike, but also how he gives "insight" into "how a writer is created" - i.e. - he reinforces it is an individual experience; rightly so. King has an easy style - it's not a preachy, or a book that screams superiority - it's an enlightening insight of a very popular writer.

As always with my "Book Reviews" (I use the term lightly), I like to personalise and explain my connection with the book because that's what reading is all about - what *you* gain from the book. Here are some points I had to share because they immediately struck a cord with me:

I think I was forty before I realised that almost every writer of fiction has been accused of someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.

Thank you! As someone who has been accused of this - told chick lit writing isn't stretching enough - I appreciate knowing there will always be someone out there who will accuse you of not meeting their idealised view of what your writing should be like.

Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.

I agree with this one wholeheartedly. I think us writers like our secrecy, plus we're afraid people will laugh at our dream, but having a support network who genuinely believes can inspire you more than keeping these aspirations to yourself. I see it as a self-fulfilling prophecy - if you tell people, then you have to *make* it happen, especially if you think everyone is secretly willing you to fail. After all, if a tree falls and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? ;p One thing I will add though, is whereas it is fantastic having people believe in you, fundamentally you must believe in yourself.

If there's no joy in it, it's just not good... when you find something which you are talented, you do it until your fingers bleeds or your eyes are ready to fall out of you head.

Definitely agree with this one. Yes, you may suffer writer's block, but if you are *forcing* yourself to write, and I mean forcing, then perhaps writing is not for you. If you want to create your own world, then you have to put the time and dedication in because that's the only way it will resonate with its readers. If you can't be bothered putting the effort into making it credible, why should people waste their time and effort reading your work?

What would be very wrong, I think, is to turn away from what you know and like in favour of things you believe your friends, relatives, and writing-circle colleagues.

I firmly agree writing should be for you, not for what you deem to be prestigious. You're writing for yourself, and I believe writing is much stronger if you write this way because it's harder to trip up and stumble. If you're pretending to be something you're not, you will be exposed as a phony. Keep your credibility by sticking with what you love and know best.

This is the part which allowed me to be a psychotic nurse for a little while... And being Annie was not, by and large, hard at all. In fact, it was sort of fun.

Exactly! One of my favourite parts of writing is writing characters that are not me - having the freedom to be and do whatever you want through them - it's exhilarating!

You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.

If you don't make the time to read and respect other's work, how can you realistically expect to *know* about writing when you sit down to do it? How will you know what you want to write? If you don't enjoy reading, can you be a writer? If you don't write and make those mistakes, how will you learn not to make them again? How will not trying make your writing stronger? It won't. Read and write a lot, and be brave - no one is perfect, and even those who are amazing writers, became amazing through some error and experimentation.

King raises some excellent points throughout for the aspiring writer to ponder, more than I've touched upon above; I would recommend the book to any writer looking for a light-hearted read on the craft.

Has anyone else read On Writing? Or bought similar books? Do you think they are worth it, or is teaching yourself the best way to go?

Getting Personal: Answers

Thanks to everyone who submitted a Getting Personal question!

Paula: If you could live anywhere in the world (money was no object) where would you live?

If money was no objection, I'd split my year. I'd spend the summer in the South of France, autumn in New York, winter in South Africa, and spring in London. This is actually my plan if I become a published writer, although it's very selfish and expects a lot of flexibility from my future husband (and some issues when I have children as I can't really move them around the world four times a year... can I?!).

If you could eradicate the earth of one celebrity that really annoyed you, who would you choose and why?

Now this tough! I don't really like the idea of eradicating someone - it seems a little mean, even if they are an annoying celebrity! *thinks* I'm going to for Russell Brand, and this isn't because of the whole stupid Radio 2 fiasco, it's because I don't get his humour, hate those skinny jeans on him, and I hate the way he lurches around a stage. Oh, and his hair. *shudders* Yep, it has to be Russell Brand (sorry RB!).

Liza: If you could rid the world of three books so no one would ever had to read them again, which books would receive the ultimate shredder fate?

This is like Paula's question above - it seems a little mean! Surely the three books I would choose would be loved by *some* people out there, and they might not like the shredder fate! I will try and answer this though. My first thought was quite controversial, and would be interesting seeing as religion is considered the cause of many problems - what if I said the Bible, the Qur'an and the Śruti? The three main texts for the top three religions... that could be quite interesting, although slightly chaotic... but I'd rather shred Hubbard's stuff than those (sorry if you're a Scientologist)! I think that's my answer - the religious texts (please don't flame me - I'm only curious to how the world will be if part of the so-called "religion is the cause of all evil" obstacle is removed).

Who is your least favorite author of all time?

Sylvia Smith. I read Misadventures and I loathed the fact she got a book deal based on the sort of writing an intelligent five year old could write:

"He took me to the cinema to see a film. He bought our tickets and said to me: 'I must go to the loo. I won't be a minute.' I waited in the foyer and looked at my watch as the time went by. Twenty minutes passed before he came out of the gents' toilet. He was not at all embarrassed and simply said, 'I'm sorry' as he led me in to see the film, which fortunately had not started."

Poetica: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be????

I really want to go to Argentina next, but I think my next holiday will be somewhere in the Indian Ocean: Mauritius or The Maldives.

Agent Elle: What was the first story you ever wrote about?

I found in my First School exercise book a story entitled "The Ten Friends and the Sunken Treasure", dated October 5th, 1992!! It's definitely Blyton-influenced, although I wouldn't have as many characters nowadays (all named after people I knew!).

I also have such wondrous tales as "The Five Friends and the Birthday Party", "Jenny and the Magical Pencil", "The Island of Animals, Trolls and the Four Children", "The Five Friends and the Pirates" and "The Nightmare" in those books! I think I must have been feeling ambitious that day with ten!

Han: I think your story about Geli is cool! What gave you the inspiration for it?

Back in December 2007, I'd finished the first draft of TROG and was about twelve chapters into Tabitha, when I spotted an announcement on Facebook that gave me the idea for Geli. I had already noticed a few random engagement announcements that week, but on that day, one particular announcement caught my eye - this sparked off the idea of a great rivalry between two characters; they became Geli and Tiggy.

I decided it wouldn't be enough to have Geli question her world merely from this, so I gave her apathy towards her career and delved into her love life - the feeling you're "left behind" as everyone gets paired off, even if you have fantastic friends and a nice job. Her boredom was probably inspired by me - I lose interest quite easily in things (apart from my writing!).

I was really itching to go to Durban, South Africa, at the time, so this became Geli's hometown. I didn't want her to be another stereotypical Home Counties girl. I've no idea where the name Geli came from - it just popped into my head, and then I thought it could be a shortening of Angelica as no sane parent would call their child that. Tiggy Boodles sounded like a perfect enemy name. The Boodles surname was sort of a play on the diamond industry - perfect because Geli's dad works in the diamond industry for De Beers.

As for Geli's job, I'd quite like to be a columnist, so that was straight-forward, plus I wanted to use my knowledge on political issues to prove something useful had come out of my degree - cue the creation of Theo. But, the crux of inspiration came from the engagement announcements - you really can find inspiration anywhere!

Book Review: High Jinx

As you might have read on my blog before, I love Enid Blyton books. I especially love the Malory Towers books, and was particularly gutted I was never allowed to go to boarding school to partake in midnight feasts, tomfoolery and high jinx.

So, when I discovered High Jinx by Sara Lawrence (courtesy of Tatler's Summer Reads), a modern-take on Malory Towers, I suspected I would like the book. For the record, I *love* it.

High Jinx follows the story of Jinx Slater and her classmates at Stagmount, England's most exclusive boarding school (based on Roedean, which was founded by Lawrence's great-great aunts, and which she also attended).

From sneaking out into Brighton, A-Levels, battles with the evil Gunn, and the arrival of bitchy Stella Fox, there's never a dull moment at Stagmount! Peppered with colourful (explicit) language, this is an accurate and enjoyable (controversial to some) portrayal of life at an exclusive boarding school for girls. Sure, the girls are a little spoilt, but they are nice enough about it, and the humour detracts you from hating them outright.

If you ever wondered what a modern day Malory Towers would be like, you have to read this book. There's also a sequel out - Jinxed - that was released in September, but I've not managed to get hold of a copy yet (grrrrrr). And if you're worried this is strictly for children, it's not, as demonstrated by the opening sentences:

Jinx Slater lay in bed listening to Chastity Maxwell shagging the handyman. She wasn't so much listening, mind, as accidentally overhearing, for the paper-thin walls of the sixth-form boarding house had been built with no regard for aural abstinence.

Brilliant! Has anyone already read this? Or does anyone know any similar young adult modern boarding school books? x

School Reads

It's kind of fitting I'm doing a "what books were you forced to read at school" post because I read this post here on The Dutchess of Kickball's blog and she mentions not appreciating the "classics" you were supposed to read in high school. That pretty much was my sentiment towards the curriculum-set books I was forced to study - yuck, yuck, yuck - but what *were* these horrible books I was set?
  • Lord of the Flies - William Golding
  • Romeo & Juliet - William Shakespeare
  • MacBeth - William Shakespeare
  • A Taste of Honey - Shelagh Delaney
  • Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson (I still have school's copy!)
  • Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë
  • My Left Foot - Christy Brown
I *hated* them all, apart from Romeo & Juliet, which is one of the few Shakespeare works I like. I do *not* like The Bard, at all. I know I particularly hated Jekyll & Hyde at the time because I was forced to read about 75% of that book out loud to the rest of the class (that's one way to kill a book for me), and by the time the exams rolled round, I was sick to death of Lord of the Flies. I probbaly should re-read it to see what my opinion now is.

And then, then there was the poetry - Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage (he was given "cool points" because one of his poems was used in C4's Teachers, mentioned by English teacher, Simon (the yummy Andrew Lincoln), Sujata Bhatt, John Agard (Half Caste), Moniza Alvi, Tom Leonard (The 6 o'clock News), Grace Nichols and Henry Newbolt (Vitaï Lampada, of course) - they are the only ones I can recall now (well, it was 7-8 years ago), but I know there's more. They weren't actually that bad, but I probably hated them at the time.

And, because I did a year of English modules alongside my degree modules in first year, I've studied even more poets - the likes of Siegfried Sassoon, W B Yeats, Laurence Binyon, Seamus Heaney (Seeing Things), Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, Stevie Smith, Samuel Beckett, Dylan Thomas, Rudyard Kipling, William Wordsworth (The-Two Part Prelude of 1799), Samuel Taylor Coleridge, T.S Eliot (Marina, The Waste Land, Prufrock), Ezra Pound, Wilfred Owen, Thomas Hardy, John Milton (Lycidas), Ted Hughes, Charlotte Mew, William Blake (A Poison Tree), Sir Thomas Wyatt... and I'm probably forgetting lots.

And, as I went to university in Scotland, they made sure we knew our Scottish verse as well - the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson, Douglas Dunn (he was one of my lecturers) , Edwin Muir, William Tennant, Robert Ferguson, Robert Burns (Tam o'Shanter, To A Mouse), Robert Henryson and William Dunbar.

To be honest, I haven't ever let poetry have much of a chance, so I should dig out my anthologies and give the genre another go! I am surprised though by how many poets I have studied, and on top of all those, there were the set books. Wuthering Heights and Jekyll & Hyde came up again - this time round I liked them - as did:
  • The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner - James Hogg
  • King Lear - William Shakespeare
  • Anthony & Cleopatra - William Shakespeare
  • Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
  • Beloved - Toni Morrison
  • Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
Even though I was older with these set texts and should have had a better attitude towards them, I hated them (apart from Frankenstein). Confessions of a Justified Sinner is probably the only book I've ever fallen asleep to whilst reading (the ultimate sin), and no, I still can't see the wonder of The Bard.

I think if I did an English course in ten years time, then I'd hate *those* set books. There's just something about education + books that typically springs up a dislike in me. But, maybe that's just me. I just HATE the fact you have to over-analyse books/poems/plays to "get into the mind frame of the writer". It's so subjective - how can we realistically know the creator's thought process? Must we delve, prod and poke about unnecessarily!? That's my *real* issue with set school reads.

But, what about everyone else? What books did you have set as your school reads? Did you automatically hate them because it was "forced" reading, or did you give the books/poems/plays a chance? Let me know!

Getting Personal

The first thing I like to do when reading a new author is to have a squint at their author blurb to nosey into their life. You can read look at my Blogger Profile to learn my favourite books and movies, but I thought I'd open the blog up (à la other fabbity blogs) and let you ask me any questions you've been itching to ask.

So, ask away! x

Book Review: Vintage

Champagne. Being a fan of the delectable delight, a book about the dizzy world of champagne was inevitably going to end up becoming one of my favourite books. I give you this week's book review: Olivia Darling's debut novel, Vintage.

According to Darling, Vintage is a modern take on the blockbusters of the '80s - the likes of Jackie Collins and Danielle Steele. I've never read any of Collins' or Steele's work (should I?), but I *loved* the sound of Vintage:

Three women who dare to make it in a man’s world. One sparkling prize.

Madeleine Arsenault has prepared for this moment all her life. She is determined to rescue the beloved family chateau and prove she’s got what it takes to run the most successful champagne house in France.

Former supermodel Christina Morgan knows she hasn’t got what it takes. But she’s sure as hell not going to show it. And with the help of her friends, she’ll turn her ex-husband’s hobby Californian vineyard into a major player.

British cleaning-girl Kelly Elson would rather drink vodka and coke than champagne. Then she inherits a vineyard in Sussex and suddenly she’s thirsty for success.

Watching over them all is Frenchman Mathieu Randon, head of luxury goods conglomerate Domaine Randon. Super-rich. Seductive. And a sociopath.

In competing to produce the world’s best sparkling wine, the three women are swept into a world of feuds, back-stabbing, sabotage and seduction. Have they got what it takes to survive?

What can I say? Well, the characters are all believable, there's a plot beyond the superficial champagne world, but it's also peppered with interesting tit-bits. This book has it all. There's: Love. Mystery. Struggle. Grief. Glamour. Ooh, and power.

Set in the UK, France and the US, the plot time frame spans several years, but it still makes a captivating read. It flows as smoothly as a champagne fountain should. ;) Just read it, okay? x

More childhood and teen reads

I knew I'd miss out some childhood reads and teen reads, so here's an update post! Let me know if you've thought of any more books you enjoyed as a child or teenager. 

Okay, first up, the Richard Scarry books! Does anyone else remember the inhabitants of Busytown? Lowly Worm and Mr Frumble! Yes? No? As is usually the case, this was made into a TV cartoon, so you might remember that. It was on Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nickelodeon!!!! Here's the opening credits as a reminder:

I don't know how I could forget this one: Charlotte's Web by E. B. White is a lovely story. How about His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman? The Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer? Dianne Wynne-Jones books? (I avoided these for ages thinking they were merely Harry Potter rip-offs, until I noticed the publication dates were decades before Harry Potter). Meg Cabot's: The Princess Diaries (only one book left - *sob*)?

It's embarrassing I forgot these as I practically lived in France as a child and teen (it felt that way anyway): Tintin and Astérix! (Also embarrassing as one of my characters is nicknamed Obélix. Sacré bleu! Writing inspiration comes in many forms!)

I was absolutely in love with Dylan from Diary of a Crush (I can't believe I forgot this!), which used to be published at the back of J17. In the summer there would be a free book with the magazine telling Edie's summer adventures. Even though by that age I was reading Cosmo, I still got J17 for my monthly fix of Edie and her art-boy, Dylan. The writer Sarra Manning has a blog if you're interested!

I *think* that's all I've forgotten. Was anyone a fan of any of these? Or, if you're new to the blog, what were your favourite childhood and teenage reads?

Book Review: Cents and Sensibility

In summer 2006, when I was working front of house for Burberry, I can recall deliberating over two books. I can't recall the book I didn't purchase that day, but the one I chose became one of my favourite books and in part influenced me to write the genre I write.

The book was Cents and Sensibility by Maggie Alderson and things might have been quite different today if I had picked the other book. However, the reason I chose this book was because of the author information; Maggie's happens to say:

Maggie Alderson was born in London, brought up in Staffordshire and educated at the University of St Andrews

Being a St Andrean myself, the decision was made.

Cents and Sensibility follows the life of journalist Stella who writes about luxury for top newspaper, the Journal - she'd rather be writing about Politics though. On a press freebie in the Côte d’Azur, she meets Jay - a gorgeous playboy who could give her womanising father (called Henry, and he's also had six wives ...) a run for his money - but because she knows the rules from her dad, she knows how to get him. What she doesn't realise however, is that Jay is actually a billionaire. That's when the problems begin...

Set in the Côte d’Azur, London and New York (some of my favourite places), the book is beautifully descriptive and perfectly accurate with its luxury smells, sights and sounds. I've read reviews that say this is pure fluff, but Maggie peppers the book with delightful insights into the world beyond the fluff *if* only you're the sort of reader who appreciates the subtle hints behind the surface. This isn't fluff - this is clever, captivating writing.

Definitely one my favourite books, and I whole-heartedly recommend you read it! Has anyone else read this or any of Maggie's other books?

Teen reads

Following on from childhood reads, it's time for my teen reads. I'm a little fuzzy on exact reading dates, so some of these might be childhood reads, but ho-hum.

As an early teen, there were four book series I mainly bought. Firstly, the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine - these were the predecessor to me buying Point Horror books (another of the series). I *hated* the ones with the ventriloquist dummies - soooooo creepy! From what I recall, I liked the one set in Egypt where the mummies came to life - I think the kid was called Gabe - and the one where the kid swapped bodies with a bee. LOL. Anyone else read these?

Another of the series was The Baby-sitter's Club books by Ann M. Martin - I loved the New York Special - and my favourite characters were probably... actually, I have no idea now! I'd say Kristy or Mallory, but I don't think my thirteen year old self thought that: I think my favourite was Stacey back then, maybe Dawn! And then there were the Sweet Valley books. From Sweet Valley Twins to University, I couldn't get enough of the Wakefield twins! Oh, and The Unicorn Club!

I suddenly feel quite juvenile! Moving on! Two other authors that spring to mind are Bill Bryson and J.K. Rowling. I was eleven when Harry Potter was first published, but started reading the books aged thirteen. It was just before Prisoner of Azkaban was published - coincidentally that became my favourite Harry Potter book, and I recall reading it for the very first time on Christmas Day. I was fourteen when I started reading Bill Bryson: Notes from a Small Island was my first book of his I ever, and I've read him ever since.

When I was about sixteen, I started reading Robert Rankin books. I can't remember why - I think I spotted them in a bookshop, and was attracted by the covers. My first read of Rankin's was Snuff Fiction, which I still love now. Then it was onto the likes of Bridget Jones, Adrian Mole, and Ben Elton books - Dead Famous was my first Elton read. It's funny how I didn't develop my love of chick lit until I was twenty-one - I much preferred travel writing and comedic far-fetched fiction like Elton's and Rankin's.

I'm sure I'm missing some essential teen reads out, so what were *your* teen reads? Maybe you can jog my memory! What do you recall reading?

Book Review: The Ex-Boyfriend's HandBook

The Ex-Boyfriend's HandBook by Matt Dunn is another of my favourite chick lit books, except this is chick lit with a bit of a difference. We follow the plot solely through the eyes of Edward Middleton. Yes, that's right, a man!

Edward is dumped by his girlfriend, Jane, by letter, who leaves him this rather nasty PS:

I realise at this point I'm supposed to say something like "it's not you, it's me", but in actual fact, it is you.

Brilliant! So, Edward sets forward into changing his over-weight, fuddy-duddy image into the man Jane wants, helped along by best friend, Dan, and personal trainer, Sam.

It's a very witty and funny journey, and Edward is a lovable character, nicely contrasted by his man-slag best friend, Dan. With the antics of Dan you can't help but want Edward to achieve his transformation, for him to save the day for all the nice, normal men out there. There are some nice, normal men out there... right?!

It's definitely my favourite Matt Dunn book, but I read on Trashionista that there is a sequel out now - Ex-Girlfriends UNITED - so I'll have to check it out. If you check this one out, let me know what you think! Or, let me know if you've already read it - do you love the book as much as I did?

Childhood reads

Razia Iqbal blogged last week about her favourite children's books as last week was Children's Book Week: "a celebration of reading for pleasure for children of primary school age" (up to the end of tween years, age 12). This got me thinking about what my favourite reads of that time were. Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton automatically spring to mind, but I'll go back to the very beginning. These are my favourite reads from when I could first read, to the onset of my teenage years (I'll post another time on those).

I have *devoured* books since I was three years old. My favourite early read was a series of books called Puddle Lane by Sheila K. McCullagh (there was also a TV series that aired in the late '80s). Sadly, there's not much information about the books online, but the books were split into five stages and told us about the inhabitants of Candletown:

Has anyone else read Puddle Lane books? Thinking of picture books, I'm sure everyone will have read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. How about the Topsy and Tim books, not to mention Mr Men! I loved those!

After Puddle Lane, Enid Blyton was my next lot of childhood defining books. I *adored* The Famous Five, and also loved the R-Mystery books (actually known as the Barney Mysteries - anyone remember the likes of Snubby and Loopy?), the Adventure series and Malory Towers. The Secret Island from the Secret series is still one of my favourite books, but I wasn't a big fan of The Faraway Tree series, even though I know a lot of people who rave about that series from their childhood reading memories.

I also loved the Galliano books, and The House at the Corner is brilliant, too. You will never hear me say a bad word for Blyton. I think the reason I like her books so much is because the children go off and do their own thing - there are rarely adults involved - yet the children cope and survive, managing to catch a nasty robber or two along the way! Dreadfully politically incorrect nowadays, but you can't change the face they were written when they were written.

Roald Dahl was another childhood favourite of mine. At school we had to make a monster from The Minpins in clay. We had Danny, the Champion of the World read to us (I actually have a first edition of Danny - I also have first editions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and a few of The Famous Five books), ditto for Fantastic Mr Fox. At one point I could recite that book off by heart, as well as The Magic Finger, but my *favourite* book of Dahl's is George's Marvellous Medicine. I even painstakingly trawled through the book to write down the ingredients so I too could make my own "medicine"!

Other reads: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Then there's The Chronicles of Narnia - my favourite is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Stig of the Dump by Clive King. The Horrible Histories books. A series called Coping With... by Peter Corey. The Anastasia books by Lois Lowry. Poor Jack by Una Power. Various Judy Blume books but in particular Are you there God? It's me, Margaret and the Fudge books). Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. The Demon Headmaster series by Gillian Cross... Oh, and I read the Nancy Drew books, and also The Three Investigators. Jupiter, Pete and Bob anyone? I was never a fan of The Hardy Boys though.

What were your favourite childhood reads (up to age 12)? And, more importantly, do you go back and dip back into your childhood by reading them now? x

And the winner is ...

Despite me judging a book by its cover to predict that Linda Grant would win The Man Booker Prize 2008 with The Clothes on Their Backs, Aravind Adiga won the prize (and £50,000 cheque) last night.

Has anyone read The White Tiger?


Balram Halwai is the White Tiger - the smartest boy in his village. His family is too poor for him to afford for him to finish school and he has to work in a teashop, breaking coals and wiping tables. But Balram gets his break when a rich man hires him as a chauffeur, and takes him to live in Delhi. The city is a revelation. As he drives his master to shopping malls and call centres, Balram becomes increasingly aware of immense wealth and opportunity all around him, while knowing that he will never be able to gain access to that world. As Balram broods over his situation, he realizes that there is only one way he can become part of this glamorous new India - by murdering his master.

The White Tiger presents a raw and unromanticised India, both thrilling and shocking - from the desperate, almost lawless villages along the Ganges, to the booming Wild South of Bangalore and its technology and outsourcing centres. The first-person confession of a murderer, The White Tiger is as compelling for its subject matter as for the voice of its narrator - amoral, cynical, unrepentant, yet deeply endearing.

Write and fight with love

"To be able to talk about books you love is the way to understand how writing works. Nothing of any value proceeds without love. If writing is a means to an end - it is not worth doing. If it is an end itself, even if it makes no money, even if it is never published, then it has value."

This quote is appropriate for any aspiring writers, I think. At the end of the day you can't write to make money; you have to write for the love of it. And the reason you have to write for the love of it is because if your writing lacks that sparkle that is achieved from your enjoyment, your writing probably won't be very good anyway. It will show (or, technically, won't show) and your writing will suffer. If you don't have feeling for your writing, how do you expect others to gain anything from it?

Whether you are published or not, your writing does have value. It should have value to you. Yes, it may not be appreciated how you would like it to be, but if you don't appreciate it, I would take a good hard look and consider whether you really want to be a writer or not. It should be your passion. I'm not saying it should consume every breathing moment, but it should consume a significant amount of moments. You shouldn't be writing for the sake if it - you should be writing because you want to tell a story - a story that you feel strong enough about to take the criticism, the pain, and the rejection. A story is worth fighting for, just like love is worth fighting for. If you love something, then it will shine through. How can you expect others to love your creation if there's no love from you?

Yesterday I had my first rejection for Geli and, do you know what, my world didn't crumble. I am immensely proud of Geli because it is my third finished chick lit book - if I didn't feel for my characters and my book, there's no way I would have achieved that.

Because I love what I do, I will fight for Geli to be published so people can love the book as much as I do because, after all, when we write for love, then we will fight for that love.

Book Review: The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson

The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson has to be one of my favourite chick lit books. I chose to write about it today because it's actually set somewhere other than London (amazing!). It's set in Leeds, where I happened to be today. Not only is it set in Leeds, it's accurately set in Leeds, as Dorothy Koomson went to uni there. As I'm a writer defined by my years at uni in St Andrews, I can relate to DK in that sense. She's very lovely about Leeds (rightly so); not only that, the story's decent as well!

Really, I'm dreadful at reviewing books. You really want me to do this?

Okay, so for me the big pull of it is the Leeds setting. But, I absolutely adore Greg - he's the love interest in this book - and I mean, I *adore* him. Amber, the protagonist, is the right sort of chick lit heroine for my taste - she's an over-thinker with potential. Did I mention I adore Greg "man-tart" Walterson? He's your classic man-tart redeemed when he finally meets the right woman - sort of like Mrs Beeton's "she reclaims her husband from vice" observation (honestly, Mrs B is a genius!). Greg is definitely my favourite sort of chick lit main man, and Amber comes across as deserving of him. Don't you hate it when the "heroine" gets it all, yet she's annoying and blah, or is that just me?

So, it's a believable book because it has sass, plus it's not at all fluffy. What else? Amber works in the world of film, and she's a chocoholic. Mmmm - chocolate! Tick points there. Ummmm... Just read it okay - I highly recommend it! Alternatively, if you've read the book and liked it/loved it, post me a review! Yours will be much better than mine! Ta! 

Why I love Mrs Beeton

One of my favourite historical periods is Victorian Britain. If I was a Lady in the Victorian Era, Mrs Beeton's book of Household Management would have been my Bible. But, as I'm in 2008, my interpretation of Mrs Beeton is a lot different from her contemporaries (it's probably a lot different from everyone's interpretation).

Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management isn't merely "a classic of domestic literature" with a cookery book, it's an informative and intelligent study of household life. From what to equip your kitchen with, to how to write invites to dinner parties, Mrs Beeton tells us etiquette, but she also goes beyond the surface. Giving the history of the development of the kitchen, to how animals are reared and slaughtered, Mrs Beeton was more than just the Mistress of her household: she was a pioneer, and quite the educator.

Her book opens as follows:

AS WITH THE COMMANDER OF AN ARMY, or the leader of any enterprise, so is it with the mistress of a house. Her spirit will be seen through the whole establishment; and just in proportion as she performs her duties intelligently and thoroughly, so will her domestics follow in her path. Of all those acquirements, which more particularly belong to the feminine character, there are none which take a higher rank, in our estimation, than such as enter into a knowledge of household duties; for on these are perpetually dependent the happiness, comfort, and well-being of a family.

In this opinion we are borne out by the author of “The Vicar of Wakefield,” who says: “The modest virgin, the prudent wife, and the careful matron, are much more serviceable in life than petticoated philosophers, blustering heroines, or virago queens. She who makes her husband and her children happy, who reclaims the one from vice and trains up the other to virtue, is a much greater character than ladies described in romances, whose whole occupation is to murder mankind with shafts from their quiver, or their eyes.

And this is why I truly love Mrs B - it's the way she compares her life to be equal to a man's life. It's more than that actually, it's her quote from The Vicar of Wakefield that gives me the sense she really was a modern day chick lit sort of women (which is why I like her) - she reclaims her husband from vice - she wasn't merely a feeble romantic waiting in her ivory tower to be saved. Honestly, this woman is a heroine of the Victorian times. She had sass, sass and a household to run, and it makes for a very endearing combination, believe me.

The book is peppered with gems from Mrs Beeton - gems which more than excuse the fact she is writing about domestic life. Plus, it's not at all stuffy - surprising for the times. Mrs B rocks! Please tell me there are some fans out there?!

It's my opinion every household should have this book. Watch the clip below to see the spirit and sass of Mrs B I'm on about (I hope you see what I mean!):

Originality vs books made into movies

I read this article here with some interest as I'm a writer whose ambitions extend beyond mere novels (I want my own production company, and I want an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. I have my first film idea firmly scripted already (in my head), ideas for a book/film adaptation [based on another author's work - I will cry if the rights go before I can buy them], an original TV series idea, and a sketch show all planned out.).

The article explores what happens when a book is turned into a film by Hollywood, and should the writer interfere with the film process. For me, I write it as a book because that's the format I deem most appropriate for what I want to convey. If I wanted it as a film, I would write a screenplay.

However, this only applies to my chick lit work. Whereas I don't think I'd be happy with say Geli making it onto the big screen (ask me again when I hear how much they are offering), I actually would want Boudica's Attic to be filmed (directed by Tim Burton, please). Certain genres work better as books (and should be kept as books), some swing both ways, and some are films through and through.

Of course there are times when the movie produced does not do the book justice (I'm thinking: The Golden Compass [firstly, it's the Northern Lights!], The Other Boleyn Girl and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), but then there are the crazy instances when the movie is better than the actual book.

With recent books turned into movies including Brideshead Revisited, Twilight and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - do you think books should be turned into movies, or should original movies be made? What sort of books work best to be turned into movies? What are your favourite examples of books made into movies? And what books do you think were "ruined" because of their movie adaptation?

The Legend of Arthur

I seem to be having an overload of Arthur these past few months. First, I saw Spamalot on the West End, which tells the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table on their quest for the Holy Grail. Then a few weeks ago, I started watching Merlin, which shows an interpretation of how the Arthurian legends came about. This BBC TV series shows the relationship between Prince Arthur and Merlin when they first meet (airing in the US from January '09).

The Arthurian legend pops up everywhere in popular culture. From Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, many parts of the Arthurian legend exist in direct, or indirect forms. More and more will follow, no doubt. Not bad going for a legend that has existed since the early 6th century - around 1550 years ago.

I knew the Arthurian legend was old, but not that old. When I think of the legend, I have to admit, my knowledge is a little woozy. It also has a high Disney influence. I know there's a dragon who lives under the castle (from the castle at Disneyworld to be precise), and then Merlin in my mind always springs up the image of Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice (from Fantasia), with The Sword in the Stone explaining Excalibur. My knowledge is a little fragmented and skewered, I must admit, especially to say Arthur is such a legend. So, how did the legend come about?

Well, the legend is huge - it spans 16 centuries after all. To look into everything would take a lifetime, but here are some snippets I thought worth mentioning:

* The Arthurian legend perhaps begins with Arthur's father - Uther Pendragon. Uther helped Merlin fetch over the stones that compromise Stonehenge (with 15,000 knights), and he is supposingly buried under there.

* Merlin is actually older than Arthur (minus points to the BBC), and his magic actually brought about Arthur's birth by allowing Uther to sneak into Camelot became the city of Arthur's realm, where his court and Round Table were. Depending on sources, there were between 12-150 knights - Lancelot, Gaiwan, Percival, Galahad and Bedivere are perhaps the most famous. The Knights had a vision of the Holy Grail, and went on a Quest for it.

* Guinevere was Arthur's Queen Consort. She was believed to have had an affair with Lancelot.

*Excalibur was given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake, proving him to have the rightful sovereignty of Britain. She is credited for enchanting Merlin, reviving Lancelot (they were lovers), and for taking Arthur to Avalon.

* Because Arthur was taken to Avalon, it is believed he never really died. Therefore, one day, he will have a messianic return to save his people.

Speaking of which, Arthur's return is a possible book/screen idea if I ever saw one (and let's face it, his return probably already exists in the cultural world). It's safe to say however, Arthur is firmly established in British mythology. He will no doubt survive for another 1550 years.

What's your favourite bit of the legend? How did you learn about the Legend? Do you think King Arthur really existed?

Would you like to earn £5 a SECOND?

According to Forbes, Harry Potter author JK Rowling makes £5 a SECOND. This is a phenomenal amount of money - about £150 million a year. Can you imagine earning that much? It would be lovely to be a successful writer, but I can't ever comprehend making that sort of money (I say that now... ask me my view if I ever make that sort of money ;p).

James Patterson placed second, and Stephen King third. I'd be happy enough with just having my books published...

Are you above average?

I've just read this article here, and I'm shocked - not that nearly 800 titles are to be published on Thursday to gear up for the Christmas rush (that comes as no surprise) - but to this little fact near the end of the article:

People who buy books only buy an average of seven books a year, and a lot of those are for Christmas.

An average of seven books a year?! A YEAR!? Now I don't know how true this stat actually is, but my last book order from Amazon was eleven books, and I've just ordered another seventeen today. I can safely say I'm above average when it comes to book-buying.

Are you above average? How many books do you buy a year?

Why the lure of the vampire?

The Vampire genre is popular, especially in the past few decades - from Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire (well, her Vampire Chronicles), to a blast from my teenage past - the film, and its TV spin-off of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (which then spawned the Angel spin-off) .

Last week I read Twilight (prompting me to re-read Dracula - the book defined as bringing the lure of the Vampire into modernity), and Kate recommended I check out new TV series, True Blood. This recent influx of Vampires into my life got me thinking. Where did the Vampire myth spring from?

Of course, I know the association of Bram Stoker's Dracula fuelling the myth, but where did Bram get his inspiration from? Polidori's: The Vampyre (interestingly this was the result of the boredom task Lord Byron set at Lake Geneva, which also resulted in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) is the progenitor spawning the Vampire genre, although Stoker is the one who the credit is usually attributed to. The term was popularised in the 18th Century, with the first appearance of the the word Vampire been in 1734.

Before the Industrial Revolution, knowledge of body decomposition meant it wasn't realised bodies could decay at different rates, hence it was believed bodies that weren't decomposing as fast as was believed to be "normal" were actually Vampires - illustrated by the Arnold Paole case.

Mass hysteria in Eastern Europe in the 18th Century led to Vampire hunts, which only ended when laws were passed prohibiting opening graves and desecrating bodies. The Vampire went on living instead in the world of pupular culture, but why?

For me, I think the exotic glamour of ever-lasting life (ignoring the blood-sucking, evil, death connotations) is what makes the Vampire so appealing. The use of the Vampire brings about human issues of life and death - the natural and the supernatural - the Vampire serves as a juxtaposition to remind us of our mortality. It highlights the forbidden to us, serving as a reminder every human being will face within their life - we live, then we die.

The Vampire shows us it is wrong to long for ever-lasting life. We are usually told they have no soul, that they are as cold as ice. This makes them incomplete, without life. It is interesting to note the cold Vampire dies in the sunlight; the sun is what allows us humans to inhabit the Earth and to live.

I think the Vampire rose to prominence when it did, because at that time people were beginning to unlock the "secrets" of life through technological and societal advancements. The Vampire was put in place in popular culture to reassure us in some way - to keep the hope of the unknown and everlasting out there by highlighting the forbidden ever-lasting life.

This is the lure of the Vampire - whilst ever we face this struggle between life and death, the Vampire will flourish because it goes against all scientific explanation.

For a creature depicted as being damned to the night, the Vampire remains as a light bringing us hope... in the form of excellent cultural entertainment! Any more books/films/tellybox shows I should check out? What lures you to the myth of the Vampire?

Guest Blogger: A Good Writer

Courtesy of Katie:

You will never see the question “What makes a good writer” on any SAT or test of advanced placement exam. There is no formulated response to this question. There's no recipe that one can follow to get 'it right.'

Accomplished writer and 1953 graduate of Princeton, John McPhee answers this question to the best extent that I have ever seen: "Perseverance. You have to stay with it. Great writing doesn't simply happen; it takes time, struggle, and a willingness to accept that sometimes you won't know where you're headed."

Ah, the beauty of not knowing where you’re headed. What a two-edged sword that is. Though it’s a wonderful thing to know that you can go anywhere, and beyond your wildest expectations, it’s also frightening as hell. Especially when you seemingly skew off of the path you believe you should be headed down.

I'm an avid blogger. As long as I can remember, I’ve been coming up with new ideas of things to write about. One day, I sat down, ready to blog, and the unimaginable happened. I couldn’t think of anything to write about. I ran out of ideas. I hit my own form of writer's block. At this point, I did what every right minded person does when they have a question ranging anywhere from “Where to go for great Italian in Philadelphia”, to “What to get my crazy, obsessive Mother-in-Law for her Birthday”… I Googled it. "Idea's for Blogging." I found page after page of ideas; none of which appealed to me. I just can’t write about Politics, Animal Rights, or Life Expectancies of Males VS Females. They just don’t interest me.

Then, I came across an article that featured someone that I had never heard of. They went on to say that they wish they had the problem of having 'no ideas', for they have 'too many' ideas. That, they said, is what makes a good writer. My heart sank. If this guy has too many, then I should have too many. Was I mistaken? Was I just too tired to think of more ideas? Maybe I should give it a few days. After all, the one thing I was sure of was that I wanted to write. I gave it a few days, and no ideas... I was pretty crushed. I was under the assumption that because this 'person' again, whom I've never heard of claimed that a writer has 'too many ideas', and I was struggling to find one, that I wasn't a writer.

I went from blog to article to book for the next few weeks. I sobbed at all of the ideas people had that I could have had…should have had. Maybe I was a writer for a little while. I had done my time, given to society, and now I was done. Since I couldn’t be a writer anymore, I started thinking what else I could do, and dreaded the next passion that would die after my talent exhausted itself.

Weeks passed, and one day…I was in the shower, of all places, and I got an idea. I jumped out, ran to my bedroom and wrote it down. Then, I celebrated. And by celebrated, I mean did the ‘booty dance’ all over my apartment. Jumped on my bed, and then cracked my head on the ceiling. All I could do was laugh. I was all better. I was a writer again.

Truth is, I was never ‘not’ a writer. I was just stuck at a roadblock. An actor is not no longer an actor when he/she is between movies. Writing, just like anything, is not all fun and games. It takes practice, and it will get frustrating, just like anything else. As long as you write, and keep writing about things you enjoy, then this will allow you to go deeper than you ever imagined.

As I said, there is no ‘formula’ for a good writer. The only thing I know for sure, is that a writer is always a writer, even when they’re at a block, or an ‘off time’. The important thing is to realize this, and to stick with it. Don’t give up. It takes a massive amount of dedication and perseverance to be a writer. You have to have a heart of stone, sometimes, to take the rejection, and roadblocks that often come with it.

Remember, you’re a writer. In good times, and in bad; you’re always a writer.

Thank you, Katie!

Guest Blogger: The Delusional Writer

Courtesy of my first guest blogger, Paula:

I am forever grateful that the chick-lit genre became popular just as I became 18 - it was getting a little embarrassing being at uni and still visiting the kid's library every week for my Point Romance and Sweet Dreams hit. Finally I had a more grown-up option.

I always believe that writers tend to ultimately write what they themselves would like to read. As a kid, it would be boarding school stories I would scribble down feverishly in exercise books pilfered from my teacher mother, inspired by Enid Blyton and "The Chalet School". As a teenager, "coming-of-age" fiction in my attempt to recreate a more modern Judy Blume novel. And when I discovered chick-lit, I knew my true calling.

Inspired then by such authors as Helen Fielding, Fiona Walker and Marian Keyes, I started to write a "novel". I used the term loosely as it really wasn't a particularly good novel. I realise that with hindsight. At the time I thought it was awesome. I would waste most of my free time scrawling it down freehand, and at night I would read it to my sister. She loved it. I thought this was a sign of things to come.

The whole plot was a bit crap though. I called the story "Make 'Em And Break 'Em" and christened my heroine Zoe. She was - well, bonkers, to be honest! And a bit of a nympho. She'd slept with about seventy people and at the start of a new year, she resolved to stop being such a slut. Then she continued to be one! And she never ever had trouble pulling men - and they were always hot! I mean, that's completely unrealistic, right?

But my hero . . . Oh my god, he was amazing. His name was Ryan, he was gorgeous, intelligent, and he had that moody quality which is so attractive in imaginary men, but not so much in real life. Still, if I could have brought that guy to life, moods and all, I would have. Yum. I like to think other people would have fallen in love with him too. Probably not though. I had created him to be everything I wanted in a guy. And sometimes I have strange taste . . .

Anyway. So I actually finished my story, even typed the whole thing out in its entirety. "Polished" it, admittedly half-heartedly. With arrogance of youth on my side, I felt like my story was better than most of the stuff on the market already anyway. And it had taken me nearly six months to write (and nearly as long to type out) so I really had to start concentrating on other things (my uni coursework, for example). I started to do my research, forked out some of my limited student allowance to buy a copy of "The Writers and Artists Yearbook". I practically read that book cover to cover, I was so excited at how close I was to being a published author. I imagined how envious everyone would be of me, a mere teen, being on the bestseller list. How delusional I was.

Taking the advice of the manual, I chose an agent, trawling through my favourite chick-lit books to find the mention of who their agents were in the acknowledgements, and finding the one who I felt meshed best with my style. I can't remember for definite, but I have a feeling the literary agency I selected in the end was called "AM Heath & Co". I composed a cover letter and synopsis and sent it off with my first three chapters.

Did anyone even read it? If they did, they probably laughed at the stupidity of the whole thing, at the girl who thought she could stop sleeping with randoms, and the girl who had wrote about her and thought she would be a bestseller. All I know is that several months later, the manuscript was returned with the rejection letter. Unfortunately I hadn't included enough postage so, to add insult to injury, I had to go to the post office to collect it in person and pay for my failure.

I still write these days and one day I do still hope I'll write something that a publisher wants to fork out money to turn into an actual real book. I'm realistic enough to know that rejection is something that virtually every writer goes through at one point, but I'm not quite ready to put myself out there again just yet. For now, blogging, and writing the occasional short story, is quite enough. I don't really have time for much else.

And, even though I chucked out everything to do with "Make 'Em and Break 'Em" - although there is a slight possibility the rejection letter lies somewhere in my parent's attic - I'll always have my memories of the delicious Ryan . . .

Thank you, Paula!


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