Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Post-illness ramblings!

Well, I've not been able to do too much this week, because I came down with a really nasty and evil bug! Luckily I don't tend to get sick all that often, but when I do it really knocks me off my feet. It drove me a bit crazy actually - I find it very hard to just switch off, even when I'm ill. I always need to be doing something, and sitting around watching TV constantly for days on end is actually really hard for me!

So I've been killing some time by making Christmas decorations. It hasn't been anything too fancy; just paper snowflakes to hang in the window. I can't really have any tinsel or a tree in my room, in case Millie Moggy decides to eat it when I'm not looking (!), but I don't mind too much because I LOVE snow!

Now I can concentrate on tougher stuff, I have a lot of work to do, to try and make up for the time I've lost getting better. I need to write a lab report on DNA sequencing (let's hope I don't mess that one up!), get some letters and application forms sent off for more uni-related stuff, post a bunch of Christmas presents, do a load of background reading for my assignments... Hopefully I'll manage it all in the next week so I can have Christmas off!
Besides all that though, I've got plans to update my room a bit and redecorate it. I've decided to do it white with a violet feature wall, as well as rearrange a lot of my pictures and ornaments. I'm not too sure exactly when I'll be doing that - sometime after Christmas - but I'm aiming to get it all done in one day. My room is quite small so I should manage that!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Emotional foundations

Today I was thinking back on the post I made a few days ago about books that have had an impact on me. It was really hard narrowing it down to just five, but the main reason why is because there are a lot more books which have influenced me, all in different ways. And then I got onto thinking why.

(Warning - I do ramble on a bit here!!!)

The thing I love about books in general is how they can strike different chords. If a hundred people sat down and read a book, I'll bet they would all react differently. Some of them will see something almost personal in the pages, and to others it will just be a story. It can mean many things, depending on who is reading it; their frame of mind; the time in their lives. The thing I don't particularly like is when books are analysed to death; ripped apart to find 'meanings' - some of which could be left entirely to personal interpretation.

I had a bit of a weird love-hate view towards English Literature classes in school because of that!
 As a writer, I’m the first person to admit that my stories do have meanings in them, but more than anything, they are there for me. Most of the time, I don’t even realise I’m putting them in until after the story is finished. If anyone else sees something in a story, be it one of mine or any other, I think it’s up to them what they take from it, if they take anything at all. But I’d like to think that if something written does strike a chord for someone, it does so with the most basic of levels: emotion.
I firmly believe that no matter how many books an author writes, they can never completely sever themselves from their characters or story. For something to be convincing, you have to write about what you know. Even if the plot is the most far-fetched and fantastical thing ever, the basic emotions must be real, and the only way to do that is to admit you have experienced them yourself in some form. So a fictional story will pretty much always have a thread of reflection, homage, or catharsis – even if it’s never actually intended and only the author sees most of it.
My characters are their own people, but I will always admit I can see traits of myself, or occasionally people I know, woven slightly into them. I’ve certainly never lived Raphael's life in Blindsighted Wanderer, but I know the same kind of joy he felt, and that helped me bring his alive. The key, at least for me writing these things, is finding an emotional connection: the same one I found with other books that mean something to me. Likewise, with Tragic Silence, I’ve never been embroiled in vampirism.
The thing is, I don’t really view Tragic Silence as an overly ‘vampire’ story. I had the basic idea for it about twelve years ago, but it took a surge of very real emotions to catapult it into becoming a full-sized novel. I see Tragic Silence as a story of mental strength and endurance, that just so happens to involve vampires. In many ways, I see Blindsighted Wanderer in a similar light: a giant misunderstanding that happens to involve water nymphs.
I’ll mention Blindsighted Wanderer first. That story had been growing with me since I was a little kid, and in it I can see the same kind of response I had to things that influenced me. But the major theme for me is how people react differently to a single situation in the pursuit of their own personal happiness. Some will condemn, some will accept. The book is completely different to the context in which I learned these emotions, but I still felt them, so I saw them in the characters.
In Tragic Silence, the main character has to deal with a lot of quite intense emotions, which stem closely from the mental tangle I was experiencing myself during the first few drafts. I had two years of deaths, serious illnesses and anxiety, and a good portion of the book developed in direct response to all that. Bee and I am not the same person, and our experiences are very far apart. But I know for definite that if I’d written it at any other time, it would have ended up being a completely different story.
But, just like only a tiny piece of the author might end up as a foundation, this is just a snapshot of what went into making these books. It takes me at least five years to create a novel - The Trilogy of J'hura took me almost a decade. Besides research, most of the work is just sitting down with myself and figuring out who these characters are, and what made them that way. Their psychology fascinates me, and I can’t imagine not getting to know them and what we have in common.
On the deepest level, I think the strong responses to a fictional story all boil down to those basic human emotions. They may have only been felt once, but they leave their mark in a very definite way. There’s no reason why a reader can’t have that response to a book too.

But likewise, I think a story should be enjoyed for what it is: a story. Not everything read or watched needs to be analysed to death. Not everyone will take something from it, or even take the same thing if they do. It's all personal, no matter who it is, and I think that should be respected.

Monday, 9 December 2013

My top five most inspirational books

I decided to do this for a bit of fun, but it turned out to actually be quite tough! I think it's great  when you find something that really strikes a chord deep inside, whether it's a book, movie, song, whatever. I can't list even half the books which I've read and fallen in love with, but among my absolute favourites, there are some which really left a lasting impression on me. They have influenced not just the way I approach writing, but also became a kind of marker for the times in my life when I first read them.
So, here are a handful of them: five of my most inspirational books. Here we go!
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
Joanne Greenberg
The hidden strength is too deep a secret. But in the end... in the end it is our only ally
This isn't one that jumped to mind straightaway, but as I thought about it, I realised just how much it has impacted me. I ended up reading it almost by accident, but it hooked me in a way I never thought it would.

One of the things which makes this so inspirational in general, I think, is the fact that it's based very closely on a true story. It captures the whirlwind of mental illness in a beautifully brutal narrative - the words flow in a way that doesn't happen in many books. I was so impressed with the way in which Deborah uses her vivid imagination to find solace from and make sense of reality. It formed one of those weird connections which you never see coming, but which really speaks to some part of you. Reading this story, which is non-fiction in many ways, turned out to be one of the most rewarding literary whims I've ever ended up taking. It was so inspiring to follow a journey through one of the darkest places of the mind, and come out the other side.
Northern Lights
Philip Pullman
You cannot change what you are, only what you do.
I have honestly lost count of the amount of times I've read His Dark Materials. Out of all the books I've put together here, it's the one that's been with me the longest, and it still fascinates me today.
I think it's one of those stories where the more you read it, the more you notice. Despite the world and imagery being very impressive, I love the way this book addresses some pretty heavy and  harrowing issues, through the eyes of a kid. And she is a very realistic kid. Lyra is one of my favourite child characters ever. She can be difficult, rude, lazy and deceitful; but also very mature, selfless, intelligent and loyal. I first read the books when I was around Lyra's age, and it was refreshing to find a young protagonist who wasn't always an angelic big-eyed little girl. But besides her, this is the story which sowed in me a love of the Arctic. After I read this, visiting the far north went straight on my bucket list and it's never gone away. So Northern Lights very easily makes my top five!
Jane Eyre
Charlotte Bronte
I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.
This is my favourite piece of Victorian literature. I can shower it with compliments about how its structure and characterisation is near-perfect; the way the gothic elements blend with the romance. But the main draw to this book for me is Jane Eyre herself.
I recently found an article listing how the story can still apply to modern readers over 150 years after it was first published, and it sums up my feelings pretty well. Jane is a strong, independent character, who respects herself without being proud, to the point where she is willing to make huge personal sacrifices for the sake of her own honour. But despite all that, she isn't without flaws, and one thing I really love: she didn't start off so controlled. One of my favourite parts of the book is near the beginning, when Jane tells her Aunt Reed just how much she dislikes her. And while I loved her spunk and thought she had good reason to speak her mind, I really admired the way she still found the strength to move on as she grew up. She's one of those characters who is brave in a subtle way, taking life as it comes. Every time I read this story, she appears so real and human, I can imagine glancing up and seeing her standing there. I've come to really look up to her, and I think she's a brilliant literary role model - and not just for girls.
Garth Nix
Choosers will be beggars if the begging's not their choosing.
I first read Sabriel, the first book in The Old Kingdom series, when I was in my mid-teens, and didn't actually get around to the other two for a while afterwards. I really enjoyed Sabriel, but when I moved onto Lirael, I felt myself connect with it in a very personal way.
I think what put this one in my top five inspirational books is the time at which I read it. If I'd read the rest of the series directly after Sabriel, it might not have had the same effect. But as it stands, I devoured this story in just a few sittings, because it was shortly after a very difficult period of family deaths. One of the main themes of the series is death, but it's done in a fascinating way which never struck me as morbid or oppressive. Lirael herself goes through a brilliant transformation in both this book and the next one, Abhorsen, battling not just outside forces, but also depression, personal identity, nightmares and loneliness. It's beautiful to witness, and was a real help to me. I'm so glad I fell into this series when I did.
The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness
Michelle Paver
Evil exists in all of us, Torak. Some fight it. Some feed it. That's how it's always been.
Growing up, there were three series which I got obsessed with, and bought every single instalment as soon as it came out. They were Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness.
That last one is the story I always tell everyone to read, and I'm always a bit surprised that more people haven't heard of it. I honestly can't pick one book out of the lot which I can place above the others, so I've cheated a bit here and just put the series itself. There are not enough adjectives to describe how much I adore these six books. But besides being my absolute favourites, the entire series has impacted me in a huge way. It's actually the only one which has influenced me not just in writing, but also in university work. When I first read Wolf Brother in high school, I was blown away by the chapters written from the POV of a wolf. I'd never seen anything like it before and it worked perfectly. When I went to uni, I studied Animal Behaviour, and the wolf chapters are still ingrained in my head. I honestly think it is the most realistic and accurate animal POV I have ever come across in a work of fiction.