The Reader Writer – Has officially launched! My blog will be moving here, please come take a look and get in touch via the new site if you have any guest blogging opportunities for me.
The Reader Writer – Has officially launched! My blog will be moving here, please come take a look and get in touch via the new site if you have any guest blogging opportunities for me.
In honour of Valentine’s Day lets take a look at some literary lovers. Love, as a mysterious thing, so hard to describe is widely pondered throughout literature. There is a wealth of it to be found in, unrequited love, tragic love, young love, perfect love, confusing love, indescribable love. So here is a look at some romantic couplings, some obvious but hey…all you need is love!
1. Romeo and Juliet
A classic to begin, what is left to be said about Shakespeare’s ultimate star crossed lovers? Households at war, naive love, tragedy, and loss. Still as beautiful and tragic as it was when it was written, there is a reason they are still held up as the pinnacle of romantic love. Even if their being teenagers makes it a bit creepy to the modern mind!
Best moment – A long one!
Juliet. Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate-tree:
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.
Romeo. It was the lark, the herald of the morn,
No nightingale: look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east:
Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
I must be gone and live, or stay and die.
Juliet. Yon light is not day-light, I know it, I:
It is some meteor that the sun exhales,
To be to thee this night a torch-bearer,
And light thee on thy way to Mantua:
Therefore stay yet; thou need’st not to be gone.
Romeo. Let me be ta’en, let me be put to death;
I am content, so thou wilt have it so.
I’ll say yon grey is not the morning’s eye,
‘Tis but the pale reflex of Cynthia’s brow;
Nor that is not the lark, whose notes do beat
The vaulty heaven so high above our heads:
I have more care to stay than will to go:
Come, death, and welcome! Juliet wills it so.
How is’t, my soul? let’s talk; it is not day.
2. Catherine Barkley and Lieutenant Frederic Henry
Ernest Hemingway might not be the obvious choice when it comes to love, but Frederic and Catherine’s war torn romance, another tragedy (what does this say about me that so far all my choices are tragedies?!) is so beautifully sad and desperate. The need to cling to something, anything, just to make it through the utter annihilation of WWI is utterly heartbreaking. And try getting to the ending and not sobbing your eyes out.
Best moment – a moment which epitomizes the clinging desperation of their love
“Will you be away a long time?” Catherine asked. She looked lovely in bed. “Would you hand me the brush?”
I watched her brushing her hair, holding her head so the weight of her hair all came on one side. It was dark outside and the light over the head of the bed shone on her hair and her neck and her shoulders. I went over and kissed her and held her hand with the brush and her head fell back on the pillow. I kissed her neck and shoulders. I felt faint with loving her so much.
“I don’t want to go away.”
“I don’t want you to go away.”
“I won’t go then.”
“Yes. Go. It’s only for a little while and then you’ll come back.”
“We’ll have dinner up here.”
“Hurry and come back.”
3. Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy
Another classic but Austen’s literary lovers in Pride and Prejudice and their journey to love is wonderful. The errors, the pride, the prejudice, and of course, the happy ending.
Best moment – Darcy declares his love (doesn’t hurt to picture Colin Firth saying it either!)
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed, and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority — of its being a degradation — of the family obstacles which judgement had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.
4. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester
I know, I know, another classic, I am obviously a complete sap for the classics, sigh! Jane overcomes so much, and despite her utter heartbreak at the hand of Rochester, eventually returns to him, blinded in the rotting corpse of what once was Thornfield Hall. But she returns to him and they live happily ever after…well it is Bronte after all, it isn’t going to be all sunshine and roses!
“I have for the first time found what I can truly love–I have found you. You are my sympathy–my better self–my good angel. I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wrap my existence about you, and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.”
5. Wesley and Buttercup
Fairytale romance, utterly hilarious, and a cast of fantastic characters rounding out the wonderful The Princess Bride.
Best moment – there really can be only one, Wesley’s coded declaration of love
“As you wish.”
That was all he ever answered. “As you wish.” Fetch that, Farm Boy. “As you wish.” Dry this, Farm Boy. “As you wish.”
6. Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar
A forbidden love set among the vast sweeping landscapes of Wyoming’s Brokeback Mountain. Tragic, raw, and beautiful, another one to read if you don’t mind shedding a tear or a thousand. A moment has never broken my heart like this one can…a final act of love, when it is already too late.
The shirt seemed heavy until he saw there was another shirt inside it, the sleeve’s carefully worked down into Jack’s sleeves. It was his own plaid shirt, lost, he’d thought, long ago in some damn laundry, his dirty shirt, the pocket ripped, buttons missing, stolen by Jack and hidden here inside Jack’s own, two skins, one inside the other, the pair like two in one. He pressed his face into the fabric and breathed in slowly through his mouth and nose, hoping for the faintest smoke and mountain sage and salty sweet stink of Jack but there was no real scent, only the memory of it, the imagined power of Brokeback Mountain of which nothing was left but what he held in his hands.
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:
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.
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.
This blog started out as a way to get me writing, writing anything at all, and as it turns out I’ve really enjoyed it. I never really had a plan on what I’d write about or anything like that and I’d just post whatever came to mind as it came to mind. As time has gone on my posts seem to have diversified into a variety of categories, so this week (after much fiddling) I have added categories for different types of posts, so that if there is a particular type of post you enjoy, you’ll always know where to find it.
I’m never really sure what people enjoy most, so have a read of the categories, and what they are, and let me know what types of posts you enjoy and if you have any you’d like to see more or less of, even any specific ideas if you’d like a post on it! Thanks!
In Depth/Literary Criticism
As you might expect, this is where you will find the lengthier, in depth explorations of books and writing. Whether on character, genre, or an examination of a specific theme, this is where you’ll find it. This is probably my favourite thing to post, but they take a lot longer to plan and write, so I end up putting them off until I have time often!
Fun (& Fiction)
Here you’ll find listicles, quotes, and some slightly less in depth stuff…along with very occasional forays into fiction – maybe I’ll be brave enough to do more of this one day!.
No explanation required! Up until now reviews have mostly been within a longer article, but I’m trying out doing them in a lengthier, standalone format.
Just blog updates, hiatuses, nothing too thrilling here!
So, feel free to let me know any thoughts you might have, what sort of posts you enjoy, and what you don’t, I’d love any feedback!
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!)
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.
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 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!
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!
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
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;
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?
So this is is…time to be brave. For the first time ever. Sharing my writing. Sharing some fiction.
This is the roughest of rough drafts, and a very small excerpt from the beginning of what I intend to be a much longer piece.
I’d love feedback, any and all, it has been a long time since I have written and this is very scary, so I am very happy to be criticised, as long as it is constructive, and it possible at all nice.
The In Between Forest
“Oh God. No. Not now.” Of course, I hadn’t planned for this shit, not today, well at least not now, but I had clearly fallen asleep on the sofa. If I had known I was going to nod off I would have changed my clothes. I’d had a shower when I got in and settled into some pj’s to watch some TV for the evening. And now I am in the fucking woods, wearing pink shorts, a ratty old t-shirt and fluffy Christmas socks. Wonderful. Normally I get into some outdoor clothes before sleep. Yes that’s right, I sleep in a t-shirt, sweater, camo trousers, wool socks and hiking boots, holding a wax jacket in one hand, with the strap of a backpack wrapped around the other arm. It is quite a feat that I sleep at all really.
Do you ever get that deep falling sensation, dragging your insides to the depths when you’re unconscious with sleep. You wake. A wave of nausea grasping your insides, you’re covered in goosebumps, your heart is racing, you can feel the pressure of your pulse in your throat, close to asphyxiating you, sweat drips down the nape of your neck and you can barely breathe, and you begin to wonder where you are? You’re momentarily confused as you re-acclimatise to the real world, leaving the dream world’s you have visited far behind, just a shadow on the edge of your consciousness. Have you really been anywhere? Was it real? Are you still in the same place that you were when you fell asleep? You’re unsure what is real, and what is not anymore.
Well not for the first time, I actually had woken up somewhere entirely different to where I had gone to sleep. I am still trying to find out why, why this happened to me, did I cause it? was I always like this? When I fall into a deep sleep, and that falling sensation begins to grip my insides and attempt to tear them from me, I know I am leaving my world. Not my physical world, but my time and place in the world.
This is the third time it has happened, the first, I was positive it was a dream, I curled up under the roots of a tree in the forest in which I had awakened, closed my eyes and returned to sleep, this took me home. I awoke, positive that it had all been a dream, I found some dried brown leaves stuck to my sleep socks, but it was late autumn, they blew in almost constantly when I left or entered my apartment, and could easily become stuck to the wool. I thought nothing of it. Then it happened again, I arrived to the exact spot as before, of course I again believed it to be unreal, I explored a little in the lush dream forest, and again I eventually settled to sleep and awoke, sweating and breathing audibly but in my own bed.
Then I had gotten up to go to the bathroom, I always had to go to the bathroom if I awoke in the early hours, I looked in the mirror as I washed my hands and saw a small cut across my cheek, below my eye. It was deep, and still bleeding a little but nothing to worry about, but it had not been there when I had fallen asleep. And I remembered, I’d caught it, on a branch, in my dream?! I had really been there? In a forest? But where, why… oh no, acid began to pool in my throat, and I expelled vast luminous bile across the mirror, not even making it to the toilet basin.
I stood bewildered, staring at the gash across my cheek, the mirror streaking my face a putrid green, trying to understand, I was obviously mistaken, still asleep, or not fully awake yet, or unwell, something, anything. Insane? I must have passed out or collapsed I’m not really sure, but I awoke, in a pool of my own vomit, on the bathroom floor, sometime later. I reached up, the cut was still there, and sore, clearly a little bruised, it was real, it was all real. I looked down at my socks, caked in mud, the forest had been damp this time. My mind began to spin and spiral, the acid was rising again, “breathe!” Deep breath, deep breath, holding my head against the cold porcelain wall tiles. And it passed, the wave of nausea calmed. “Clean up, clean up, and think.”
I thought, for days I thought, thinking, wondering, turning it over, thinking, over thinking.
And what did I come up with, nothing, nothing. This was all a week or two ago and I have been almost entirely afraid to sleep since, permanently sporting the aforementioned outfit in bed in preparation, the backpack filled with essentials I may require. Because next time I went there, I was determined to find out why, or where, or when, anything. But of course, after a rare day out of my home office, researching and in meetings, I had arrived home exhausted and fallen asleep with no preparation. And now I was here, unready. To sleep and return with my prepared belongings, to risk not finding my way back. Or to attempt to find what I could now, in case this was my last chance.
So, this is where you find me, in the woods. The dream forest, the real dream forest, the in between forest, in my pyjamas.