A Heart So Fierce and Broken – Review

A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

Goodreads rating 5 stars *****

I haven’t figured out a rating system for my blog yet so we’ll just go with 5 stars and then some right now!

Obviously, there are spoilers ahead! I start by talking about the ending so just tread carefully!

This was my second attempt at reading this book since the first was interrupted by anxiety issues! **

To be really honest, I’m still processing this book emotionally and this is a second third attempt at writing a review for this so bear with me!

In that respect I just have to flail about the ending for a moment!

***SPOILERS***

I can’t quite believe that despite the fact a lot of Rhen’s reaction to Grey comes from fear of magic that he’d actually agree to another deal with Lilith! I can’t believe that Harper will agree to this when she finds out in book 3 (and she will find out). My thoughts when reading that part was basically along the lines of internal screaming and shouting “Rhen……NO!!!!”

I adored Curse from the start, and I love it more each time I read it (full disclosure, I have now read Curse 3 times this year) but Heart is just taking me more time. Maybe it’s because it’s focused on Grey and Lia Mara instead of Harper and Rhen; maybe it’s because Rhen is so utterly horrible in this book. I just want so much more Harper and Rhen to be honest, at least I know that Vow will be from their perspectives at least in part.  

There’s just something in me that can’t fall in love with a book that puts Grey and Rhen against each other, which doesn’t really bode well for Vow, and I still have like 3 months to go before I can read it!

Before I go on with my flailings about the rest of the book I need to take a moment to talk about Harper again.

As with book one I adore Harper, she isn’t in this book much but every time she is, or when Grey thinks of her properly she manages to just be everything I needed to hear when I was younger and that honestly, I still need to hear.

I remember the day she first asked me to show her this, how the very act of learning weaponry seemed to be an act of defiance. At first, I thought it was against Rhen, but it didn’t take me long to realize she’d grown up thinking she could never learn to defend herself. The defiance was towards herself. Or who she’d thought she was.

I know that Brigid Kemmerer doesn’t have CP herself which makes it all the more incredible that she manages to get right down to the core of what it feels like to grow up with CP well, what it felt like for me growing up with CP. It shows how incredible a writer she is, and how deeply she has researched everything. It makes me love and respect her as a writer even more.

Ok, on with the rest of the book!

I really liked Lia Mara and how she holds herself. She is so often wracked with self-doubt and often seems to have zero self-confidence but she is determined and honest and believes in what is right so strongly that no matter what, she can’t be dissuaded – despite the way Karin Luran treats her.

I do love Rhen but can see why Lia Mara thinks he’s an asshole because this is the persona he presents during this book. I can imagine how much it must have cost him to whip Grey AND Tycho. Even Grey can see and understand why Rhen is acting this way, maybe that’s what makes the idea of them going to war against each other even harder. Grey is clear he doesn’t want to go to war; even after Karis Luran is killed. But I have to believe Rhen doesn’t want to either.

I like Jake a bit more in this book but I’m still not 100% on him really. It annoys me that he dislikes Rhen so much, and that for a lot of the book he dislikes Grey too, only going with him to make sure he kept his promise to take him and Noah home.

Yes, he eventually decides to stay so he can stay with Harper but he’s still just – I don’t know, I can’t properly articulate it; he just doesn’t seem to trust Harper’s decisions or Grey’s or anyone except his own. Even though his past decisions weren’t exactly always stellar. And we know from book 1 that he just doesn’t trust Harper. Maybe that’s why he wants to stay, to just keep an eye on her, to just judge her decisions.

I knew from vague little spoilers that book 3 was going to be a battle between Emberfall and Syhl Shallow but I wasn’t prepared for the book to be Grey versus Rhen

It’s heart-breaking that Grey and Rhen are now enemies essentially, that going to war is the only way through this, how am I supposed to choose a side in this?? Especially as it seems Jake and Noah will be on one side and Harper on the other. If you were to just read book 2 you wouldn’t be able to understand why Harper stays with Rhen instead of running with Grey and her brother. If you were to just read book 2, maybe you’d have an easier time picking a side since Rhen is so cruel in this book.

I like that pretty much everything Grey does is out of loyalty – he’s still Scary Grey and still loyal to Rhen; at the start of the book he ran when he found out the truth, he gives Rhen a chance at the end too because he doesn’t want to invade; it’s shown every time he flinches when Rhen says commander – because he still thinks of himself like that, because he still wants to protect him – or when Rhen admitted that they should have been friends seasons ago. I love that he cares so deeply for Harper too, that he wonders what it would have been like to allow himself to fall for her like Rhen did even though they are so much better as loyal friends. I hate that he’s going to be pitted against Harper too!

I really like Isiak though, and I’m excited to see him in book 3, he is as mysterious as Lilith without all the evil. He challenges Grey the way he needs to be challenged, the way Rhen needed to instead of running scared. I hope he gets some kind of happy ending, whatever that will end up being.

I feel like I need more from Tycho before I can decide. I need to find out more of his past really, before I can tell what his vow to Grey really means for him.

This is more of a musing ramble than a proper review. All I can really think is how heart-breaking book 3 is going to be. After everything I do love this book, I love Emberfall and the world that Brigid Kemmerer has created. I guess I want a happy ending and right now I can’t envision how Vow is going to give us one. I foresee death and tragedy, and to be honest I’ve fallen in love so much with these books that it’s upsetting to think about it. I guess because these books mean more to me than just engaging fiction now, I don’t want to be left heartbroken.

See you in the future!

**This happens on occasion and has really nothing to do with the book itself or what is happening with the global pandemic, it just seems to be something that happens that I just need to ride out.

A Curse So Dark And Lonely – Review

A Curse So Dark And Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer***

20200607_185257

5 Stars ***** (and then some more)

Honestly I think I might create a new rating system to use on my blog because a lot of the time 5 stars just plainly aren’t enough.

Obviously Spoilers Ahead!!

I’ve loved Brigid Kemmerer’s contemporary novels so when I found out that one of the main protagonists of this novel has cerebral palsy I knew I had to get this book.

As much as I’ve wanted books with proper representations of disability in them, I guess I was a little scared. I was nervous about reading about the things I live with all the time. I guess I was scared that the representations would be terrible or even worse, that they would be spot on – that they would be too good somehow. I think I was worried that would hurt more, that it would force me to face things that perhaps I had been hiding from.

Yes, that fear is still there –in a way – but I have also loved the representations I have read so far. **

From almost the first page I fell in love with Harper – even tweeting about a particular passage that perfectly sums up how I’ve felt for about my disability for so much of my life:

I grip the banister and rush down the steps. My left leg is clumsy and about to give way, but I mentally threaten to cut it off if it doesn’t get me out of here. It listens.

Of course, for me it’s been my right side that’s been affected and unlike Harper, I’ve never had to have surgery, thankfully. I did however try ballet when I was younger too and gave up after a while as well. But for me, this perfectly summed up how I used to (and honestly still do) treat my CP side. I knew then that I would adore this book purely on the representation of Harper and her cerebral palsy.

I loved Harper so much. She is as determined as I’ve always been described by my medical specialists. (They say determined, I say stubborn) So determined to prove to everyone she is just as capable as anyone; not that she’s “normal” really but that she can be anyone she wants to be and do anything she puts her mind to. Harper is who I wanted to be growing up; she represents so much of what I needed to hear and read when I was younger. I so wish I had this book when I was 14 or 15, or even younger. To have a representation of someone like me when I was that age would’ve been truly amazing.

Harper’s relationship with Jake is interesting because as much as they love each other, they hide so much from one another. I get the impression that Jake thinks he’s protecting her by hiding her from everything but in a way it’s like he doesn’t believe in her or trust that she is capable – something that Grey and Rhen do instinctively, even before learning the whole truth of her disability or injury as they originally believe.

When I found out it was a retelling of Beauty and the Beast I kind of knew what to expect at the end. Although I did really like that Rhen only became the monster at the end of each season instead of the more common idea that the curse has made him a beast all the time. And while there was a happy ending, in that Harper and Rhen ended up together I really liked that it took more than Harper just admitting that she loved Rhen to break the curse.

Also I have actually read up on this but Beauty and the Beast is NOT an example of Stockholm Syndrome – even the guy (psychiatrist Frank Ochberg) who defined the term Stockholm Syndrome doesn’t think it is. Yes, Rhen doesn’t admit to the fact that Grey can travel back to DC and does kidnap Harper, but he does allow her to move about the castle freely, and leave to explore Emberfall when she chooses. He agrees to help her and understands why she leaves the castle and why and how he needs to start helping his people.

I also really loved Rhen, how much he struggled to even get Harper to just listen to him let alone care about him. How much he struggled to fight against the idea of the spoiled prince and how much he really cared about other people. Yes, it took Harper to really push him into action in Emberfall but he felt every death, and every pain of his people. This was shown so obviously in his nightly torture by Lilith.

Honestly, I was a little surprised that the twist at the end of this story wasn’t that Harper would fall in love with Grey instead but I absolutely loved that the twist was that Grey and Rhen are related and that Grey is part magesmith. It makes my excitement to read book two all the more powerful.

Honestly, I’m just excited for the next book in general – not just because I’m so excited for another book about Harper and how she deals with her CP. I love her and Rhen; I can’t wait to see how their relationship develops and how Grey and Rhen’s new relationship dynamic works.

Really I loved this book and not just because of Harper. I loved the way Kemmerer handles the Beauty and the Beast myth/fairy tale. I loved Harper and Rhen’s budding relationship. I love Grey and his loyalty.

OK so really, I think a lot of that review is a bit garbled and rambling. Point is I adored Harper, I loved Rhen and Grey and am so, so happy to a have found such an awesome representation of a character with Cerebral Palsy. And I’m so excited to read book two – which, happily, arrived this morning!

20200607_185304

See you in the future!

**I’ve wanted to write fantasy for so long but I really don’t actually write a lot of fantasy or read that much fantasy especially what might be considered high fantasy but I honestly loved this so much. Although it has reminded me that I should always, always check if a book is the first in a duology or trilogy and when the various novels are released so I’m not stuck waiting an entire year for the conclusion! Argh!

*** Yay I’m reading again! \o/

Rambling in the time of Covid-19

Lockdown Thoughts. Old but New Hobbies. Hoping for Happiness.

A blog where I let my mind wander.

I wish this blog had a happy ending; that it had a positive message to make you feel better but I don’t think it does.

There are spoilers to the end of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. They are at the very end of the post, I tried to be as vague as possible but warnings none the less!!

I’ve been sewing for the past few weeks. This is the first time in a long time I’ve done this. I don’t think many people have realised how big this has been for me. In all honesty it’s taken a while for me to come to terms with how big an event this has been for me too.

After a conversation with my therapist where I cried over noticing the details of the costumes in The Last Jedi** she made the point that with mum’s help I could try using sewing as a hobby. This was a new idea for me; it’s been an extremely new experience for me.

It’s been a common note in my biography over the years to explain that I learned to sew when I was 8, by the time I was sewing in Home Economics at high school a few years later I was so advanced that my teacher kind of trusted me to do my own thing. By the time I was in 2nd and 3rd year of high school I was trusted with making some of the costumes for the school shows using my own designs and ideas. By the time I was 16 and heading towards my standard grade exams and starting to consider university, my main thoughts were of art school and fashion design. An exhibition on “The Art of Star Wars” in early 2002 in Edinburgh changed the direction to costume design and I knew I had to have films or television in my future.

The idea of sewing as a hobby had been lost so long ago that it’s such a foreign concept for me now. I mean, what do I sew now? What do I do with the things once I sew them? Can sewing ever be just something for me now?

Unless you’ve been living completely off grid or in a cave recently you will know we’re currently living through a worldwide pandemic so bad it’s being compared to the Spanish Flu in 1918. Me, mum and dad are currently self-isolating based on the advice from my specialist nursing team. We’ve been socially distancing for over 2 months now. Due to our various autoimmune illnesses and other health issues we decided to essentially lockdown our house about a week or 2 before the official government announcement. I could make a joke about pandemic hipsters here that we locked-down before it was cool.

This has meant that apart from a couple of doctor appointments and walks with the dog in March/early April I haven’t really left the house at all – I haven’t gone beyond the front gate in roughly a month and a half. If this had happened 2, even 3 years ago, I would’ve maybe seen this as an adventure: suddenly locked inside with all my sewing supplies; piles of books and a novel to edit. But it’s happened now: at a time that I’m still adjusting to being chronically ill, I’m just starting to understand how to come to terms with losing my sewing and my novel is stuck in the corner of my mind that’s busy telling me everything I have written; am currently writing, and will ever write is terrible. I still have my piles of books but due to a side-effect of the aforementioned chronic illness I’m finding it hard to read anything right now.

Needless to say, I’m struggling right now. I’d love to say repeat all the amazing advice I see online that this lockdown is not about proving how “productive” you can be. That you don’t need to have learned 6 languages or how to play a new instrument or even taught yourself how to make bread during this lockdown. That this situation is completely unprecedented; that no -one really knows what’s happening and that just getting out of bed can be an achievement.

I’d love to remind myself of all of this; I’d love to say these ideas are helping but they are not helping as much as I would like.

I feel guilty that I haven’t finished editing my novel yet; that I can’t bring myself to share my writing, even with my friends.

I’m a reader who has lost the ability to read

I’m struggling that, before this pandemic I had reached the halfway point of my Goodreads challenge and had somehow managed to read 40 books by March; but now I’m barely making it through 1 book in 2 weeks and despite doing my usual practice of continually buying books I have no idea what genre to try, let alone which of my new books to pick up next. For the first time in a very long time I can’t seem to want to read right now; regardless of whether it’s politically relevant non-fiction or escapist fantasy.

I feel bad that, despite having all the materials for refreshing all my knowledge of Russian I haven’t glanced at it since pulling them from a box under my bed.

I keep giving myself hard time that despite having fridge magnets as alphabet reminders; and finding brilliant comprehensive YouTube videos I still haven’t become fluent in BSL.

I started this blog talking about sewing. Through my therapist’s suggestion mum and I have sourced all the materials and half-finished projects needed to make an 1840s gown to fit me. The Victorian era, and this style of gown specifically was a gown I had never managed to make before I had to give up. This was going to be my very first sewing as a hobby project.

Before that though, we decided to make some face masks. There are quite a few countries now that have made wearing a mask while outside mandatory so it was easy to find patterns; and as I have mentioned I have a huge stash of fabric stock and materials waiting to be used. We realised that along with our various illnesses/health issues it would make sense to have some masks. We also realised that surely our Government would catch up eventually and make masks mandatory too.

After making a few tests and prototypes we mentioned to friends and family that we were making masks. So a couple of weeks ago we finished and posted off roughly 30 masks for close friends and family. Last week, we finished a couple for us; on Tuesday I had a MS nurse appointment; my first venture outside for over a month so we decided that I needed a mask too. A mask I now have.

Making these masks hasn’t felt so much like a hobby. It’s the first time in over a year since I sewed anything, (the last being a wedding dress for my wonderful friend Jenna.) It’s now been a year since I went into hospital and things changed in my life more drastically than I really understood at the time. Making these masks has been closer to my old job of sewing something for someone else and posting it off, hoping they’ll love it. But maybe making these masks will work as a stepping stone for me from professional to hobbyist.

Maybe I’ll make these masks and I’ll still be struggling. Maybe even after making that dream gown with my mum I’ll still be struggling. Maybe the darkness that’s overtaking me right now is something I can’t fix. Maybe I just need to struggle for a while.

Maybe all I can do is keep buying books and crying at Star Wars films.

All I can say for now guys is that I hope you stay well, I hope you stay safe and as always I will –

See you in the future

 

 

** It was the last 10 mins as Rey continues her search for Luke. All I could focus on at the time was all the intricate embroidery than adorned Rey’s outfit. I cried because it reminded me why I wanted to be a costume designer in the first place; why those tiny details mattered to me – mattered to the character. I cried because I could still only see those details in a film full of space crafts, battles and lightsaber fights; all I remembered was the details on Rey’s sleeve.

Short Story: Hero

With everything that’s going on right now it reminded me of a short story I wrote first of all years ago, then edited it while on my MA. Hope you guys like it! ❤

The Hero

The Government promised they’d be prepared. The voices booming out over loudspeakers scattered through The City. They told us not to worry, that the procedures were in place and that they were ready.

It would be safe, for us to blame them; for us to take all the consequences, the tragedy and the destruction and lay it at the feet of those faceless officials, protected in their pristine offices. It would be nice for us to sit here and point the finger of guilt at them. It would be nice.

For a while we blamed the idiots. Those mindless fools that believed all the slimy condescending rubbish and propaganda spin that the Government dished out in spades. They believed them and so did nothing. They sat in their homes and ate their pre-packaged convenience foods and watched their empty televisions safe in the belief that they would be taken care of; that they would be safe.

It would be nice to blame the idiots, ignorant in their faith. It would be nice to turn around and shout and scream out all our hatred towards them, to spill all the poison that was created and throw it over them all.

We tried to blame the activists; the strong and argumentative. The ones that didn’t believe and the ones that fought back; they understood the ways of the Government media monkeys. They knew the people were being lied to and tried to fight against it.

It would be fairer for them to take the blame, fairer for us to force all their violence and riots back in their faces; to yell all those fucking slogans back at them until their ears bled and their faces contorted in pain. It would be nice to say that they could have done more; that they could have helped more people.

When They finally came, people were surprised and didn’t expect the chaos it caused. No-one understood why They had arrived, and no one knew what was about to happen next.

But not me, I saw it coming but did nothing. I sat and I waited. I watched all the destruction that was caused; watched as the body count mounted, as the screams echoed around the blackened remains of The City.

I waited and watched and did nothing to help.

We had built The City up from nothing and They reduced it to dust. They came into to our cosy little world and turned everything around.

It would be nice, after everything to force the blame onto Them; to turn back and shout our accusations of hatred at those blank staring eyes.

It would be easier to say that everything was perfect before They came; that The City had no problems until faced with this apocalyptic threat. To shake our heads in despair and say that They were the cause of our destruction; of our pain and hatred and death.

It would be nice to turn the blame onto those emotionless little droids with their hidden agenda and their taste for blood. It would be nice to pass the buck and scrub our hands until they were clean.

It would be nice to say I helped; to say that I was a force for good. It would be simple to play the hero. To rewrite history to become a shining beacon of hope. But I saw what was coming and did nothing. I sat and watched and waited ’til this City no longer existed.

It would be safe to blame the Government, sitting on their piles of gold. It would be simple to blame the idiots, in their identical little boxes. It would be easy to blame the activists, with their human rights and anger towards establishment.

It would be nice to blame the Androids, with their long dormant plans.

 

I hope you like it!

See you in the future!

.

Refraction by Naomi Hughes review

Refraction by Naomi Hughes

And this time I knew the genre before I started reading!

20200304_173808

5 stars (or 9 or 10 or 100)

Spoilers!

As you probably know I absolutely adored Afterimage so it didn’t take me long to order Refraction. On a side note, both books are gorgeous! The cover art, designed by Rosie Stewart is stunning and fits each story perfectly. They also look brilliant on a shelf together which warms my little book dragon heart.

20200315_104639

Onto the actual book!

Once again Naomi manages to perfectly balance the emotional rollercoaster that is having siblings and family with a clearly beloved sci-fi story. Also we have another really careful and considerate representation of mental illness in Marty’s OCD. I love that in both books we have two extremely capable protagonists who are dealing with all the crap that the plot can throw at them at the same time as coping with their mental health and illnesses.

I think Naomi does such a wonderful job showing how characters can actually be the protagonists; the hero of the story without the story being simply one about their illness or god forbid providing them with a f*cking magical cure****

While I don’t *think* this is an #ownvoices representation of OCD *** ; it is really carefully handled with such respect. I love Marty so much, especially his frustration at thinking he was “cured” only to find himself struggling with the thoughts he thought he’d overcome. I felt his pain as my own and really isn’t that what great writing is supposed to do?

This is where I surprise nobody by crying

I expected it; I really did. I mean when was the last time I didn’t actually cry at what I was reading? When Marty’s relationship with the missing Ty was introduced, I just knew it would happen eventually. When Marty and Elliot build their relationship in the fog, I expected to cry at this new found family. But when I got to the halfway point and hadn’t teared up yet turns out I had been lulled into a false sense of security.

We get to the last 50/60 pages and I am in floods. I was reading in bed so it was struggle to find a position in which I could still read (and breathe since my nose was blocked with tears) but my tears weren’t soaking the pages. Marty’s journey from being so focused on seeing Ty to understanding how positive being selfless can be was wonderful. His acceptance of his own death and willingness to make sure Mirage isn’t alone during his death was one of the things I was sobbing at.

Elliot’s journey from being so isolated, so down on himself and so desperate for his mum’s love to actually understanding that that familial love can come from some many other places and that he is such a good person and actually deserves so much more is brilliant too. His realisation that his mum’s love isn’t the only kind of love out there is perfect; and his realisation that he can be the hero in spite of what she thinks is a really nice bit of characterisation by Naomi.

Like with Afterimage Naomi manages to explore sibling relationships so well in this book and what it means to actually love someone.

I don’t think anyone can replace Kyle from Afterimage in my heart but I really did love the relationship between Marty and Elliot. Both had lost their brothers by the time the book starts but throughout the book they find siblings in each other. They hate each other or at least dislike each other so much at the start of the book but they both learn to support each other with their various issues. Elliot supports Marty with his OCD without judgement, he just protects him. Marty helps Elliot both by getting Mirage to heal him and protect him in the end but without laughing and judgement in his fears such as the scorpions.

This is just a really longwinded way of saying how much I adore Naomi’s writing. Her characters are so full of life and wonderfully real. Her worldbuilding is so immersive; her love of sci-fi is apparent on every page. Someone mentioned to me recently about trying to build a list of books that she could recommend to teenagers that dealt with invisible disabilities and mental health issues; the first books that came to mind were Naomi’s.

Anyway, enough gushing onto the next book!

See you in the future!

***turns out this is #ownvoices! I have so much respect for Naomi that she is able to talk about her own experiences with OCD so well that she can put it into her writing! I haven’t gotten to that level yet so Bravo!!

****In case it wasn’t clear, I HATE this trope. I’ve said it before and it’s so important. It’s OK to hate your disability/illness. It’s OK to be struggling. You aren’t there to be an inspiration for anyone. You aren’t there make anyone feel better. It’s possible to be the hero of your own story and just happen to have a disability. Your story doesn’t have to be just about your illness.

The Romance of Reading a New Genre

 

Let’s take the guilt out of guilty pleasures

I’ve recently been partaking in some guilty pleasures. Well, it’s not so much a guilty pleasure since I don’t actually feel guilty about it; more a fun surprise direction that my book reading has taken over the last year. These rom-com novels are like the book equivalent of eating ice cream and junk food to cheer myself up.

In the second half of last year and into this year I’ve been having fun bouts of insomnia so instead of dragging myself out of bed to watch mindless T.V. repeats at 2am I looked to my kindle to find something un-demanding that would distract me enough for my brain to switch off and let me sleep.

Enter the cheap and colourful romance books (they rarely cost more than £1.99) that I can devour in a day or less.

The characters are fun and silly but still engaging enough for me to follow and care about through the story. The story too is so often so detached from my real life that every book is the perfect level of escapism for a mind and body racked by exhaustion and insomnia.

Yes, I have on occasion cried while reading them because, well it’s me, and so would you really expect anything else? They are silly, fun, and maybe at times completely un-relatable for me but still satisfying to read.

Fun with Formulae

They are so often formulaic that within the first few pages, as the MCs are introduced I usually know what’s going to happen. But they are also completely unapologetic for this.

Filled with tropes but never problematic (at least the ones I’ve read) I can care about the characters from the first to last pages and I feel comfortable giving them 4 or 5 star ratings on goodreads. Would I compare them to some of my other 5 stars reviews? The books that have taken apart my heart and truly spoken to me? The books that have me sobbing weeks, if not months after I finish? Probably not. But I guess that’s the point in guilty pleasures, in holiday reads with splashy airport friendly covers. I don’t need them to be anything other than what they are.

I’m not looking for multiple levels, for hidden subtext and deeper meaning. If you look at my goodreads challenges you will see that I’ve started reading these ‘trashy’ romances and I enjoy it.

**On a side note, isn’t it cruel to call these books ‘trashy’ novels? Someone has sat and worked at the words in these pages; has crafted plots and characters that mean something to them. Maybe it’s not ultimately what they want to be writing, maybe it just pays their rent or some of their bills and maybe that should be enough. **

So let’s stop with the idea of a “guilty pleasure” and just honestly enjoy the things that bring us pleasure. Does this mean I’m going to stop reading all my YA favourites? Absolutely not. Does reading these books mean I’m going to give away all my favourite Science Fiction and Fantasy novels? Does this mean that China Mieville is no longer one of my favourite authors? I laugh in your general direction. It just means that for now, I am enjoying reading books that are not my usual choices at the same time as the ones that are.

Let’s just all learn to enjoy these things for what they are and what we can gain from them.

(Why do so many of my blog posts devolve into philosophical ramblings? Is that my brand now?)

Until next time,

See you in the future

Writing Epistolary Devices

In which I talk about the fun of attempting to write a full scale epistolary novel – and why I love them so much.

Regular readers of my Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook will all be aware of my continued attempt at writing my first full length YA novel. My working title is ‘The Final Confessions of a Little Rebel’ and is written entirely in an epistolary format.

Regular reader will also be aware of the fact that on a personal level I have been dealing with a crap tonne of medical and health things over the past 3 years so it’s been quite a journey and I am just as surprised as anyone else that I’ve made it to this point of editing.

But using this device has meant certain constraints: it’s been a confusing 3 years of messed up tenses, my MC * Rosa, switches between the present, the recent past, the distant and very distant pasts and even slips in a few wishes and hopes for the future. I decided early on not to use formal dialogue (for the uninitiated amongst us that means using “quotation marks” and he said or she said dialogue markers) which has brought with it its own set of problems. One reason for not including the formal dialogue is that when a character is relaying the information in a letter or similar how is it possible that they can remember exactly what was said and how by each person earlier in the story? This is especially true if the MC is discussing events that happened years before.

Also, as the novel is set 40 years in the future I have to find a way to show world building and explain certain situations without just using “as you know, bob”** dialogue or explanations.

Something we learned on my Masters course was the difficulty of writing first person. If we chose to use this POV*** we needed to answer certain ‘conditions of narration’: who is telling the story, why are they telling us specifically and how are they telling us? Thankfully epistolary devices answer all of these easily.

Whether it’s a signed letter or a text message it’s easy to include the narrators’ name. That answers who is telling the story. As to telling us, again it’s pretty simple to see who the letter etc. is addressed to. It’s possible that the reader is not the original intended recipient but that can be discussed in the 3rd condition: how are they telling us? When someone throws a message in a bottle – that’s easy to know how we are reading it. A letter can be found, delivered to the wrong address or simply lost. This answers how we are getting the information, and can often help answer why they are telling us, specifically.

My Love for This Device Knows No Bounds

Keen observers (actualy casual readers too) will know how much I adore this device in literature – I have read countless books using the device, even before I decided to write my novel. Sometimes these novels ignore some of the rules mentioned above and it bugs me but I just love it so much.

I also studied writing for graphic fiction and we often talked about the gutter or the gap between panels in graphic novels in comics. There is so much that goes on in this gap. We’re expected as readers, to understand and to work out what is going on – what’s been left unsaid. Epistolary devices are the exact same. So often it’s what is not said that’s important, rather than the simple facts described by the characters.

So We Have Our Constraints, Let’s Get Writing!

I’ve also always loved first person narrations – even before the MA it was my go-to POV when writing; so my course tutor and I spent some time trying to work out how I could use it for my novel and answer those pesky conditions of narration, until we hit on it: essentially I would tell the story backwards and use a ‘confession’ or letter in order to do it.

So I had my device and I had all my constraints: time to get started.

I have to admit it took me at least a month of trying to write this before my tutor (the amazing Sam Boyce) pointed out something that should be obvious: what was happening to Rosa while she was telling this story? So that’s how the present day tense and plot-line came into being. Of course things would be happening while she tried to write her “confession” of course time is passing, and of course she will mention current events in this letter.

How did I juggle these different timelines I hear you ask? Well, as it turns out I found it a bit confusing by the end. This is where editing will come in to play!

I now have supplies to replot! Using a trick I was taught on the MA. I will be using different coloured post-it notes for different timelines/plot points so I can quickly and easily see where everything is and how it’s working!

Also since Rosa is really the only character with a voice**** it was really important to get the rhythm and the tone of her voice perfect. We also see every other character through her eyes – through her bias. I still spent some time working out the different registers**** for each character then worked out how that would get changed through Rosa’s narration.

Another important preparatory task was building up each character’s motivation and characterisation that can then get fed through the filter of Rosa’s words. Otherwise they will all be one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs just there to push Rosa’s story along. I needed to see each character as if they were the MC of their own story and then incorporate it into Rosa’s story.

I also decided to add another level of difficulty because I do in fact hate myself: Rosa is a second generation Russian immigrant and during her confession she often switches into telling the story or commenting on the events in Russian. This means I actually had to write it in Russian.

I tell you, in writing this novel fun was had by all.

And so, I have now reached the point in my blog post where I can’t quite remember why I wanted to start it in the first place. This happens frequently.

As much as I love reading epistolary novel I am now faced with editing one. I finished my first re-read about a week ago and now I am about to start my first round of edits. Right now it’s the macro stuff: the continuity, the correct characterisation; themes; plot lines (so many tenses) and most importantly that I’m actually telling the story I meant to tell.

After that I get to read the whole thing again, trying to see if I managed to do what I meant to do with my first edit. And round and round it goes until I get down to the micro-level stuff – like spelling and grammar; names etc. and until I finally feel ready to give it to beta readers – so that someone other than me can read my words. Then another couple rounds of edits in response to what my beta readers have said. Then it’s onto the scary idea of writing a synopsis and querying agents.

The Rambling Continues…

I hope that this post has at least been interesting if not always wholly coherent (much like my novel, I guess!) I’ve tried to both explain why I love epistolary novels so much and how difficult it is to actually write one. I’ve also tried to explain some of the terms I’ve so often ranted about in book reviews and other posts.

But I guess until next time…

See you in the future!

*Main character – often in writing or publishing circles people shorten it to MC for ease.

**a very common writing expression to describe dialogue describing something about the world that both characters would already know or understand; for example two brothers discussing their mother may say: “As you know, Bob when our mother died last month, she didn’t leave a will.” Why would the character explain this to the other character? Unless your character is describing something that ‘Bob’ reasonably wouldn’t know.

***Point Of View – often in writing or publishing circles it’s shortened to POV for simplicity.

****basically how the character tells the story; it’s how they see the world, the lens through which we are told things by them.

*****A term I haven’t really seen outside of the MA. It’s similar to a character’s voice as it shows the world through the lens of the character’s knowledge and experience but it’s almost another level up. With register we talk about rhythm and tone: how the character tells the story is just as important as why. The character’s life experience, education etc. will impact how they tell the story, the language they use. A register shift can be a shift in the language used because the character is describing an event that makes them particularly angry or sad, a shift away from their normal language. If we have an unreliable narrator who is lying to the reader, register can also be used to tell the reader this without changing the narrator or out and out telling the reader they are lying.

Words In Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

5 stars

20200215_132907

Spoilers ahead!

Guys! This is a whole book that not only uses the epistolary format; they have a whole aspect of the plot focused on letters and how important they are to people; how they can shape people lives and memories. How could I not love a novel like this?

Also again it’s a book dealing with grief and the relationship between siblings. It’s almost like it was written specifically for me. This is I think maybe the fourth book I’ve read this year where the relationship between siblings is one of the main story threads of the book and I love it.

I’ve probably mentioned one or two times before but I have a brother; he’s two years older than me and he annoys me so much but I love him so much more.

I spent quite a lot of this book thinking about what my reaction would be if I were in Rachel’s shoes. If he died and I was offered some kind of magical space that I could pretend he was still there, would I take it? Or would I try to be as open and public about it as I try to be about other areas of my life? Not for pity but maybe as a way to understand things, a way for me to grasp the enormity of how my life would’ve ended with him, would’ve been changed and reborn.

One of my pet hates is to buy a second-hand book and find it’s been written in and marked up and changed but I also think that’s what could be so beautiful about the Letters Library. That those notes can be cherished as glimpses into someone else’s life; as Rachel would say they can be the transmutation of memories. It’s a library of people.

We all know how much I love epistolary novels and I loved that Crowley managed to tell multiple stories and love affairs in a single book, using this technique. It’s one of the reasons I love this device so much: it’s telling the stories between the lines. What happens in the gaps is the important bit.

So it’s not just a love story of two best friends. It’s not just the despair of two ex-lovers, or a new doomed almost romance between two people whose identities are secret; or the budding friendships and stumbles of love. It’s all of that in just 288 pages and it’s beautiful.

Ok enough gushing about the device and onto the plot!

Henry was wonderful. Yes he was a complete idiot when it came to Amy and was entirely clueless about Rachel. It might just be me but I was really annoyed by Henry’s assumption that Rachel has just forgotten him or doesn’t miss him after moving away because she stops writing back to his emails. But I loved how he thought in books; how poems could become such monumental things; like how he starting quoting poetry and singing lyrics when he was drunk. I loved his love for George – that he would try again and again, regardless how badly things went to see her happy. I love that he saw his life in terms of the bookshop, his relationship to his parents was tied to books – the books like Great Expectations that forms his views on his parents relationship (notes from his mum and dad were left to each other in the Letters Library; his relationship to his whole family is told in books – how they discuss them at Friday night dinners.

George was brilliant too – I was so heartbroken when I realised she had been writing to Cal. That they had fallen in love and she was finally able to let herself be vulnerable only to be met with the pain and grief of losing them. It was heart-breaking waiting for Cal’s final letter; waiting for when Rachel and George would learn the truth of each other and waiting to see how Rachel would finally break the news to George.

I was secretly hoping for a happy ending that somehow the bookshop would be magically saved at the end – maybe Fredrick would buy it out or something but there did seem to be a nice resolution to everything. I have to say though that Michael just deciding he’d bugger off and go travelling for a while not even considering his kids – what if they didn’t want to live with Sophia? – was a bit of a dick move.

This sounds like me just listing all the characters I loved but I thought Rachel was so well done. As I said at the beginning of the post I can’t imagine losing my brother. I think it was handled really well – Rachel was trying to find her way through her grief; find her way through being back home with people who used to know her. Obviously an easy way through for her would be to be angry, to push everyone away, and to lie to everyone.

All in all I really, really liked this book. I absolutely adore epistolary novels and I loved a book full of books. I went in to this book not really knowing much of what to expect other than the device; it had siblings; it had explorations of grief and it had letters – pretty awesome.

See you in the future! ♥

Afterimage – Naomi Hughes Review

Afterimage by Naomi Hughes

5 Stars (and some more…)

20200214_110434

Figuring out the genre AFTER I started reading (yes this was a bad attempt at a bad pun)

As always this review is going to contain spoilers.

I follow Naomi on twitter and had been lusting after this book for a long time. Despite reading the blurb and following Naomi I honestly had no idea what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect a sci-fi adventure. I know I know, the blurb on Goodreads actually says “In a race where the fabric of time and space is at stake, they must figure out who caused the explosion before the culprit comes back to finish Camryn―and her city―off for good.” I should’ve known but whatever. I saw that there was a possible ghost and grief/death so I went for it.

I loved this book. I loved Camryn’s complicated relationship with Kyle. I loved the representation of panic disorders and issues of anxiety. I loved the little loving nods to all the various sci-fi shows and films that Hughes loves (I love a lot of them too, to be honest).

I liked that she was clear how debilitating anxiety can be but it is still possible to function and that even after dealing with huge events the anxiety and dark thoughts can still be there, it’s just finding a different way of dealing with that anxiety.

I used to find making phone calls unbelievably stressful. I know this is a common problem for people so you might not be surprised by this. I often found it so hard that if I couldn’t email or maybe text I would just not engage and lose out on certain opportunities or wouldn’t get support I needed but could only get access to on the phone.  I have found ways around it. I still struggle with it at times but I have techniques and ways of dealing with it now. I can use the phone now; this helps my life immensely. The anxiety is still there, it still causes problems but I can deal with it. That particular part of my anxiety is manageable.

I love Kyle. Many of you will know I’m currently doing a re-read and first edit of my own novel that has a really important sibling relationship itself so it was really great to read this sibling relationship.

I loved that in a way, Cam was dealing with the loss of Kyle before she ever really lost him. For Cam, the fact that Kyle isn’t really there during her hospital stay and recovery; it feels like she’s lost him already. Of course, she doesn’t know the whole story at that point in terms of her Mom being a suspect but it doesn’t stop her feelings of loss and betrayal being real in the moment.

As you all know by now I tend to cry at any book I read – it’s actually rarer that I don’t cry as opposed to when I do. So of course it’s not surprising that I cried. I loved Kyle from the start; I loved how much he loved Camryn regardless of everything. I loved how similar he was regardless of any timeline. I was sobbing the second time he died. When Cam got to hold him and see him slip away. When he showed how much he loved her in that tiny little exchange when they’re both covered in blood. I especially love his last words of the book, not even looking at Cam – and it would seem without caring until:

“If you break her heart, I’ll kill you,” Kyle calls lazily

Kyle is by far my favourite character of this book.

The way Naomi managed to merge issues of anxiety with Cam dealing with the grief of her mum, then Kyle’s death is really wonderful. Where does the trauma of a mental illness end and the trauma of losing a parent or sibling begin?

Yes, as it turns out this is a sci-fi novel, written by someone who is clearly a sci-fi fan herself. But it’s so much more too. It’s falling in love; it’s losing everyone who makes you, you; it’s finding them again; it’s dealing with your own mind and what happens when your own body betrays you.

Put simply, I loved it. Go read this book.

See you in the future! ♥

We Are Enough

Feel Good Movies for a Rough Time Ahead

Just a note, there will be spoilers in this post!

1st February 2020. That’s the date I decided to finally start my reread of Rosa’s story; which marks the start of my editing journey. I have to admit I am absolutely terrified. It’s taken me over 3 years to write and I haven’t read any of it since the end of 2017.

So much has happened in those 3 years; and I guess, I know how much of myself I’ve put into those pages. Yes, of course it’s fiction. I know and totally understand that Rosa’s journey is different from mine but I also know that I put a lot of my life into hers: she has two wonderful parents and an incredible big brother; all of whom love her. Although not literally, we both went through trauma and difficult times – the question is, how much of my trauma did I give her? What am I really going to read, Rosa’s trauma or mine?

That however, is not the point of this post. Today I wanted to look at some of the ways we make ourselves feel better; more specifically the films we watch to cheer ourselves up.

We all have them. The films that we turn to when life feels too hard; when we’ve just had a hard day – basically when we need to warm and fuzzy inside, as I’ve heard my Welsh friends say quite often it’s the film we turn to when all we want in the world is a Cwtch (don’t worry, I’ve linked to a translation for non-welsh users.)

For me, that film is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind directed by Michel Gondry. In fact I love it so much, I decided to analyse it for a Studying Film essay while an undergraduate – I rewatched the same scenes so often for the analysis, I kind of broke my DVD. I know that a lot of you might be confused by this choice. Isn’t it the story of the break-up of a relationship? Isn’t it often described as seeing what happens 6 months after the happily ever after? And maybe it is.

MV5BMTY4NzcwODg3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTEwOTMyMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_

The film shows many different stages of a relationship: The excited high of flirtation between Stan and Mary; the heartfelt fumbling and awkwardness of Patrick and Clementine. OK so that’s ignoring the fact that Patrick kind of stalks her – maybe it’s better look at the heartfelt fumbling of the start of Joel and Clementine’s relationships. We even see the anger, lack of trust and resentment bubbling under the surface of the marriages of Rob and Carrie or Dr and Mrs Mierzwiak.

But after everything that Joel and Clementine go through in the film they still decide to try because, even after hearing all the hurtful things they say about each other (and felt by the end of their relationship) they still see something in each other. They still see the happiness they once felt together. And for the moment, that’s enough to try.

I’ve always really loved that ending. It always makes me feel better about things; it makes me think that sometimes it’s enough to just try. That sometimes that’s all you need.

So maybe I won’t ever get a cure but waking up each day is enough.

Maybe I’ll never get better enough to go back to just a walking stick, and my crutches will always be part of me but decorating them and making them mine is enough.

Maybe I’ll never feel well enough that I can stop relying on antidepressants to even out my moods; but maybe I’ll find ways to compliment them; maybe the mindfulness and meditation techniques I’m learning will be enough.

Maybe I’ll never get Rosa’s story published; maybe it’ll sit in a folder on my computer gathering dust for years to come but maybe just feeling O.K. to read it again is enough. Maybe finishing her story; finishing my story of the last 3 years is enough.

Maybe I’m enough.

See you in the future ♥