Freedom! Dystopia. &  Normal Service Resumes

So, Sunday was thesis deadline day, I managed to hand it in on Friday and took a few days off to recover! Now I am back and will be updating a bit more regularly. Here is a bit on my thesis and the writing of it:

Thesis 1

The final week = edit, edit, editing!


Writing the thesis was a pretty interesting process, I have never written such a long piece of non-fiction before. My subject was freedom in dystopian literature – specifically Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The basic premise being that though dystopian literature by definition is a reaction to the contemporaneous world of the author, it retains relevance and understanding through the ever present themes of freedom, free will and liberty.

Of course I have written a lot of papers over my studies but I think the reason I enjoyed the process as much as I did is because I love the books so much. The first part of the process, as with any paper I write (after reading the novels, of course) is research, research and more research. This is normally the most tiresome part, though I love the literature and getting a more in depth perspective on it some of the writing on it can be shall we say…pretty dry! But with these novels I thoroughly enjoyed this, being able to really pick apart the books and get down to such a detailed level, and having such a large word count to meet, meant no constraints on my research. So often I have to curtail my research and narrow my focus so much more as the paper required is so short, here I didn’t need to do that and I was in my element…!

For a lot of people these books are so bleak and dark that they cannot understand my passion for them, firstly, Nineteen Eighty-Four The Handmaid’s Tale particularly are just so well written that even with such depressing subject matter they are worth reading. And secondly for me, it is this presence of hope which makes the books worthwhile.

Thesis 2

Submission Time!

If the books were truly so dark, why would freedom, and the pursuit of freedom always be so present as a theme? Yes, these attempts to gain freedom, more often than not, fail. But someone tried, someone hoped enough, even in such bleak prospects, that freedom could be gained. The authors write these books as a prophetic warning, a warning which would not be worth giving if there was no hope of freedom from the chosen constraints was possible.


Nineteen Eighty-Four is probably my all time favourite book, with one of the best opening lines, and most heart wrenching endings in literature. If you haven’t read it, what have you been doing? Prepare yourself for that ending though…every time I get there it is like a knife through the heart.


“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen…” – George Orwell

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that certain novels are classics

Enter any book store, physical or digital, and you will inevitably find the classics section. A section in which you always know exactly what you will find. The Bronte’s, Austen, Lawrence, Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Eliot, Hardy and so on. There is little variation, and little change or forward momentum, there may be a modern classics section also, but you are unlikely to see these books integrated with each other. (In light of this, no list, if you want to find the classics I’ve told you where they are, off you go!)

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Some Classics

So why then do these classics remain ‘classic’? What is it about them which renders them classic reading, go to teaching tools, go to inspiration?

First of all, and I suppose somewhat obviously, if they were rubbish, we just wouldn’t still be reading them. No book remains clearly in the public consciousness for 100, 200, 300, or many more years, if it isn’t worth reading. If you meet a fan of literature, even if their tastes lie in a more modern genre or style of writing, it is highly unlikely they will not have read/know in depth at least a good few classics. Myself for example, science fiction, fantasy, dystopia nut, will be found, multiple times a year holding a Dickens or Austen novel in my hand.

Next up, it is a cultural thing. If you miss out on the classics, you miss out on a lot of things, they are referenced in so many places and in so many ways. I was recently watching the TV show White Collar in which a main character Mozzie, makes constant little reference to moments, characters etc from literature that you could, of course, survive not knowing, but that add just a little something extra when you’re aware of them. And this is just one recent example I can think of, I often find myself using a quote or reference to a classic novel in everyday conversation. So to miss them would mean missing out.

Next, and on a similar note, to learn where some ideas and concepts we know grew up, or even in some cases began. There are only so many narratives out there, (there are millions of things which can be done with them, but really ideas are finite) anyone who has studied literature will have had the joy of studying something like, the Monomyth, or the hero’s journey, the quest narrative structure.

Monomyth.png

The Monomyth

 

Though something like this is only a guide and not every narrative with a quest or adventure fits it exactly it is still a useful tool. And what it shows us is that by reading the classics we can see the origin of certain narratives and ideas, and see how they have been adapted and co-opted into newer literature. And whilst it is not necessary to know these things in order to enjoy a modern novel, it adds an extra layer. It is always fun to spot where an idea has come from, and reading modern rewrites and seeing what they retain and what they lose is always an interesting activity. An example would be Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, described by the author as an homage to E.M.Forster’s Howards End. Personally I much prefer the original, but that’s preference and everyone is different, but reading both and attempting to match up characters and themes, and see where they join or divulge is a useful exercise not just in literature but in understanding our changing times, attitudes, concerns, and cultures.

On beauty

On a personal level, for comfort, you know what you’re going to get. With regard to my above statement that I will often be found with a novel by Dickens or Austen in my hand, I am almost always re-reading. Though I do not claim to have read all the classics, in fact there are many on my list that I really need to get to, (Anna Karenina how have I not read you?!) but there is something quite comforting about returning to a classic novel you know and love. A lot of this is to do with many of the reasons above, the way literature permeates and underlies much of our culture, its unchanging nature means you always know what you’re going to get. It does what it says on the tin!

Linked to these last two ideas, to make us better writers, understanding what has gone before, what has been done, what can be done, makes us a better writer. They fuel ideas in our minds, and further being able to make similar allusions and references to these things in our own works, makes them better. It adds depth and resonance and an extra layer. And whilst we’re on the subject of making us better writers, they are well written. This is not to say that modern novels aren’t, but in a world of self-publishing and vanity publishing, there is a lot of rubbish out there. I am absolutely all for the publishing revolution, allowing wonderful undiscovered talents who would never get a chance to share their voice, to shine. But in a world with so so many books reaching the market, it can be hard to find something truly good, well written and worth the read. In times passed it was much harder to get to the point of publication, and often times women had to use a nom de plume in order to ever reach that stage. The Bronte’s as Currer, Acton, and Ellis Bell, and George Eliot being Mary Ann Evans by birth. If it made it far enough to reach publication, it had to be good!

They’re easily accessible, this one is quite simple. I have a lot of classics, I have multiple copies of multiple classics, and so many of them cost me very little. I buy them second hand at charity shops, and specialised charity shops selling only books, I get a book, and some money goes to charity, what’s not to love!

Classics2

Just a few of my charity shop finds…

And finally, to return to the first point, because we love them! They are classics, because we love them, and we love them because they are classic. And though we may not love each and every one of them (looking at you Villette), there is a reason they remain so collectively in our consciousness, they are worth the read!

Classics1

Ah those halcyon days, a walk down memory lane

Looking back to my childhood reading, there are certain books which I remember reading so vividly. Whilst I may not remember the text, or narrative in the greatest detail, I remember the reading experience, or some detail profoundly. The feeling that these books created in me, and how they shaped me as a reader. So I am going on a nostalgia kick to look at the books that made me the reader I am today.

I definitely believe my positive experiences of reading at a young age shaped, and continue to shape, me as a reader.

Carrie’s War – Nina Bawden

In all honesty I think perhaps one of the main reasons I loved reading this, and remember it so warmly is because it was set in my homeland of Wales. At that age being able to identify with the narrative and where it was set was definitely a plus point. Though it was set around WWII, and Carrie and her brother (Nick??) were evacuees, I don’t think I really understood the darker themes of the book. I saw it as far more of an adventure narrative and imagined finding some dark, ‘cursed’ place like Druid’s Bottom to explore.

Either way, I definitively remember reading it, the class I was in, the age etc, I had just moved house and school so perhaps, being a time of such upheaval, is why the memory remains so clear.


George’s Marvellous Medicine – Roald Dahl

Marvellous

This one is very simple. I wanted to make a medicine!! My Nan collected the tokens on Weetabix boxes (anyone else remember these promotions?) and sent off for the free books/toys etc, one series was Roald Dahl’s books. I remember reading this one and thinking how much I’d love make my own, multicoloured, magical potion/medicine. There was no one I had a desire to use it on, but I certainly wanted to go through the process.

You really cannot go wrong with Dahl.

I’d imagine all the things around the house I could use, forbidden things, off limits things, fantastic things, smelly things. How the potion would look, the colour changes, the plumes of smoke, and what powers it might possess, what child didn’t want to do this?!


Children of the Dust – Louise Lawrence

I distinctly remember the narrative structure, I don’t think I had previously read something with such a complex format. Multiple narratives, following different members of a family across the generations. Set amidst nuclear war, its immediate and long term aftermath, again we see some deep themes at work, death, destruction and despair, nothing is off limits.

This would have been the first dystopian novel I ever read, a novel dealing with the what if questions, and I think this should probably be credited with my continuing love of dystopian literature. 

It was complex and deep but overall there was a feeling of hope. And still almost always, no matter how dark a dystopia is, I cannot help but find that faint glimmer of hope.


Scribbleboy – Philip Ridley

I got this one from the local library and honestly I chose it for the cover;

scribbleboy.jpg

SO MANY COLOURS!!

I loved this novel, and the ‘big reveal’ as a young girl was perfect. Nothing deep or profound but fun and fantastic, I borrowed it multiple times. I absolutely loved going to the library, borrowing the maximum allowance of books and the excitement of heading home to read them, it seems a shame so many kids miss out on this experience now.


The Babysitter – R.L.Stine

Another library book. This was in the point horror series (who else remembers all the different point books? point romance was another!), and wasn’t in the children’s section, but the ‘teen’ section. I remember being so excited to be able to borrow these books, though I think I was probably pre-teen perhaps 11/12.

A babysitter receiving threatening letters, who begins to fear the father of the family for whom she works…

Here are some other classics:

I think with these it was mostly how grown up I felt to be taking ‘teen’ books from the library, horror, murder and thrills. I have great memories of so many of these books!


There are various reasons specific books stick out so vividly in my memory, the narrative, the period of time, the way I felt reading them. For me one of the most important things in books for children, was that I wasn’t patronised. I loved to read and had done so from a young age, it was nice to be confronted with complex, often dark, themes and narratives. But sometimes it was fun just to escape into a total fantasy world!

This was a fun exercise in nostalgia! What do you remember reading most vividly from your childhood or teenage years?

Books to help you fall in love…with reading!

Yesterday, I read this blogpost about films:

https://keatonbaynesfilm.wordpress.com/2016/02/10/a-top-10/

The author discusses a list he gave to a friend to help them get into films. And it got me thinking, I know a lot of people who do not read outside of what it necessary for their work or studies, so what would I recommend to them to get them reading?

Much like the original post, this is list may include some of my favourites, but is more intended to cover a scope of different genres, linguistic styles and stylistic choices and narratives in the hope that anyone could find something they’d love which may bring them to reading. In fact, some will be novels that I most definitely did not like, but that are wonderful examples of what can be done and which though they may not be my preferred reading I appreciate artistically and know are loved by many.

  1. If on a Cold Winter’s Night a Traveler – Italo Calvino – 1979
  2. The Accidental – Ali Smith – 2005
  3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte – 1847
  4. Tess of the D’urbervilles  – Thomas Hardy – 1892
  5. Dracula – Bram Stoker – 1897
  6. Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell – 1949
  7. American Gods – Neil Gaiman – 2001
  8. On Beauty – Zadie Smith – 2005
  9. Dawn – Octavia E. Butler – 1987 (Part of Lilith’s Brood or Xenogenesis Trilogy, both names for same trilogy)
  10. His Dark Materials (tilogy) –Philip Pullman – 1995
  11. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams – 1979
  12. Beloved – Toni Morrison – 1987
  13. It – Stephen King – 1986
  14. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding – 1996
  15. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck – 1937
  16. The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger – 1951

 

Some romance, comedy, realism, fantasy, science fiction, horror…a few of each in the hope that anyone who does not read, can hopefully find something that might convince them to read more. As well as various genres, different writing styles and ways of presenting narratives that will hopefully open people’s minds to what books can be.

I won’t tell you why I have chosen each as I don’t want to influence people who don’t read, but give some a go, learn to love reading!

 

Why do I read? Why do I write?

Since taking part in my university’s student led conference on the theme, ‘What do we read? Why do we read?’ at which I presented on the subject of dystopian literature and why we read it. I have been thinking about why I read, and write, and where the love for both came from.

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For me, I always wrote, I had a typewriter for Christmas at the age of 4 or 5 and absolutely loved it, and loved writing, later at the age of perhaps 12 I remember being at the word processor writing ‘books’ for my mum. I remember 2 prominently one called the GORDY’s about a chimera like race, with each letter representing a different animal, sadly I do not remember which animals. The other was a story about a group of teenagers camping on a river side cliff, one dies but is saved by the river goddess, only on the premise they return every anniversary and make a replacement sacrifice. Yeah, I may not have been the most normal of kids, but I loved to write, always.

Reading for pleasure, was also, always there, but the studying of literature, the deeper love of dissecting literature, getting more from it, that came later, I can almost pinpoint the moment.  At the age of 16, studying literature for my A-Levels, I first read Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ And I fell in love with reading, I realised that reading, and so writing, could be so much more, it could do so much. It could say so much more, it was not only an escape, a fantasy to go to, another world to inhabit. But it could inhabit my own world, the real world, and help me to question and learn and discover things I might never have thought of before.

handmaids

And so now I prepare to write my thesis on dystopian literature, because it is the literature that showed me there could be more, that I could question the world through writing. It is the writing I wish I could create. A way to challenge the world, to challenge the control and censorship all around us, to challenge religion and politics, and sometimes, that feels more important now, than ever.

To Welsh, Or Not To Welsh?

That is the question!  So I am in the research stages of my attempt at a novel and am researching Welsh mythology. Ghosts, goblins, ghouls and witches etc.  Now I am having my first….well first major writing related dilemma, to use Welsh or not.

Now to begin I must admit, to my eternal shame, I do not speak Welsh, I can read/say the most basic of things and normally fathom how a word should be pronounced but that is about it. Thanks to a national curriculum requirement of a single 50 minute lesson once every two weeks! Shockingly this is not enough to make you fluent.

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Now to the dilemma, I would like to use Welsh in my novel.  Not a lot, but a little. I don’t fully know what will be in the novel or not yet as I am currently researching still but I am finding a lot of creatures, witches, ghosts, fairies, etc. that exist in many mythologies but with Welsh versions and names.  Though I doubt that one, this will ever be published, and two, it would sell enough for it to be an issue, there is a feeling of…what if?! What if it did do well?  Would the fact that people wouldn’t know how to pronounce these things when they read them matter?  Dilemmas, dilemmas. 

I of course, have time to think about this as I write but if anyone has thoughts?

Do I use the terms and history of the Welsh versions?  Use the Welsh terms and explain them in relation to their English language counterparts? Or just use the most recognisable term?

They Call It The Writing Bug….

Writing - auctionnewsnetwork….And boy are they right!

A few days ago the writing bug hit, it has been years since I wrote any fiction, I’ve done the odd bit of scrabbling silly ideas down but nothing has ever really taken form.  Not even short stories.  But the bug has hit and hit hard, I am lying in bed planning and mapping out narratives, trying different narrative forms, fleshing out characters, naming characters (I always find that bit so hard!) I do not necessarily believe the project I have just begun will come to fruition but I am feeling positive.

So what caused lightning to suddenly strike after possibly 5 or more years of fictional silence?! I honestly have no idea, so many writers, I believe Stephen King to be one, say that the most important part to becoming a writer is to read.  Perhaps that’s what it is, I have read voraciously of late, July alone I think was around 10 or 11 novels.

Well whatever has caused it I am excited, I immediately began to write, I didn’t have anything in mind as I began just the urge to write.  I am now stopping that, as I am already 3 drafts in to the first 3 pages and I am doing that which I never do, PLANNING!  A story outline, character outline, and I am so enthusiastic to be writing that even this is a joy to be doing!  And next research, on Welsh Mythology, which will be super fun in itself.

Skull - Metmuseum

So, what am I writing I hear you yell?! (In my dreams haha!) I am writing a Fantasy Mystery Novel (not aiming too high after so many years of silence) set in rural Wales.  Lately I have read a lot of detective and mystery fiction, which I never have really before and also a lot of urban fantasy.  I had thought often about writing urban fantasy, but I am a country girl (dammit now I have Primal Scream stuck in my head), and I could never do a city, real or fictional justice.  I love the city, and living in the city, but I feel like I can portray the countryside so much better.  As such I invented (possibly) Rural Fantasy, same as Urban, real life, real world (ish) setting but with fantastic and magical life existing alongside the mundane.

Maybe it will all come to nothing, but I have only written in recent years by forcing myself, and nothing has felt authentic, or real, or worth sharing, finally inspiration is coming without having to try super hard.  I feel like I am writing something that I can write, that I can do well and this is a new feeling, or one I haven’t had for a long time.

I well and truly have the BUG!!