World Book Day 2015: Books That Have Influenced Me

It’s World Book Day, and what better way to celebrate it than to talk about how much we love and appreciate books more so than normal? I don’t remember ever dressing up for it, but I do remember dutifully using my £1 book token on whichever titles were featured that particular year as a kid. I think I’d even try and take my siblings’ tokens just so I could get another one. I was a greedy reader. Not all of the following books changed my view of the world/influenced me drastically, some just influenced me in a small way. i.e. the way I write. But I still think that this is an essential change to note. Reading books is so so essential to growth of any kind; books help us understand the world and ourselves and I’ll be forever thankful that my parents always encouraged us to read from a very young age. So here are some of the books that have influenced me in various ways over the years.

duffySelected Poems – Carol Ann Duffy

Published in 1993 and then in 2009, this anthology brings together some of the most prominent poems from Duffy’s 5 collections: Standing Female Nude (1985), Selling Manhattan (1987), The Other Country (1990) and Mean Time (1993) and The World’s Wife (1999). This was a set text for my A-Levels, and made me learn a lot about contemporary poetry. Poetry that wasn’t Blake or Yeats or Shakespeare, which are definitely not to be dismissed, but definitely not a huge writing inspiration for a young writer. Duffy’s topics of women, feminism, childhood, identity, alienation, love, as well her humour and clever way with words really engaged me and inspired me to write more poetry. Her poetry is accessible and relate-able. Also worth reading by her when you’re going through a heartbreak or falling in love or troubled love or love in general is her collection Rapture (2005).

woolf A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf

First published in 1929, Woolf’s essay is hailed as a crucial feminist text that highlights women’s exclusion from the literary space. Woolf uses fictional characters and scenarios such as the story of Judith Shakespeare, who, despite her ambition and talent is held behind due to patriarchal views of gender roles and expectations that are placed on women. While Judith is pushed towards housework, marriage and dismissed from theaters, her less talented brother, William, is accepted and successful. The famous quote from the book, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” is one that I find myself thinking of on a regular basis. It very practically highlights the need for women to have monetary security and the independence and space to pursue creative endeavours. This is the book that formed the basis for my undergraduate dissertation, led me towards the idea of a ‘herstory’. It is a forever inspiration and a must read for young female writers such as myself: to tell stories despite the odds, despite patriarchy and societal expectations. The following quote speaks for it better than I could.

“When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.

walkerThe Colour Purple (1982) – Alice Walker

Alice Walker’s famous and award-winning epistolary novel gives us an eye opening insight into African American women and their lives in the early 1900s. Through a very gripping voice, the narrator writes letters to God, through which Alice Walker highlights the issues of race, sexuality, misogyny, rape, torture and slavery. Yet there is also a sense of huge resilience that the women in the novel have despite all their experiences. The writing can be pretty graphic but I could not put it down. Since then, I’ve pretty much developed a huge interest in African American literature and works such as this and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970) and Beloved (1987).

 

wintersonOranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) – Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson’s semi-autobiographical debut novel is about Jeanette, an adopted child brought up by a very strict Catholic mother as God’s chosen child. That is until Jeanette falls for one of the girls at camp. The novel is about the narrator’s relationship with God, religion, her mother, her identity, coming out, and her love for books and writing and how those two almost seem to save her. I had to read this as an undergrad and I totally fell in love with Winterson and her writing, devouring most of her books in no time. There was a lot to relate to, and even when there wasn’t, her writing style is what kept me hooked. It’s one of those that’s a bit of a love/hate for some people. It’s lyrical, has a rhythm to it, and is very cleverly and wittily written. Winterson writes from the heart. Every sentence is weighted and paid attention to. Her work is also almost philosophical at times when debating about God and life, and this was a huge inspiration to me. I’m afraid I fell into a Winterson coma that last year of uni!

white teeth White Teeth (1999) – Zadie Smith

I’m a 100 pages off from finishing this, which I intend to do so tonight, but with this one I feel like I’ve discovered something. Or more specifically, something has been revealed to me, as this was a recommendation from my brilliant tutor. Zadie Smith’s debut novel follows the lives of 3 different characters from 3 different cultures and is extensive, expansive, and full of humour. Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal form the unlikeliest of life-long friendships during World War 2. Years later in England, Archie attempts suicide, fails and the two are reunited. Archie has a sudden new turn in life and a second marriage to Clara Bowden, a Jamaican half his age. Zadie Smith explores the lives of these two men and their families, their children as second generation growing up with a constant culture clash against London’s background and their faith and racial identities. Zadie Smith has a fantastic humour and gets into each and every character’s mind. As someone who is always trying to write about these issues and somehow never managing to do it right, this book is an eye opener and one I would definitely form my PhD idea on if I ever got to do one!

These are just some that I’ve picked out from my Goodreads for this quick blog post. I’ve tried to vary them and there’s probably some I’ve missed out but would definitely be interested to know what everyone else’s influential books are!

Competition: Search for the next generation of Welsh Writers

Featured Image -- 781

Originally posted on Welsh Writers' Trust:

Header

Search underway for next generation of Welsh writers

Budding writers from across Wales are being invited to enter a competition to have their work published in a new anthology of the nations’ most talented young scribes.

The Welsh Writers’ Trust is teaming up with Parthian Books to publish an anthology which will include work by the winners of the Trust’s second Robin Reeves Prize for Young Writers.

The competition is open to writers between the ages of 17 and 24, who are asked to submit poetry, fiction, drama or non-fiction, either complete works or excerpts on the theme of Out of the Ashes: Overcoming Adversity. Within this topic, writers can explore the subject of moving beyond trauma, difficulties, or hardship which might be personal, social or cultural.

The winner will receive £500 and have their work published in the anthology.There will be prizes of £100 and £50 for the…

View original 510 more words

Women in Public Life

Featured Image -- 777

Originally posted on Media Diversified:

‘Women in Public Life’ a speech made by Rahila Gupta at a Feminism in London event

Author Rahila Gupta Author Rahila Gupta

Most people start with thank yous. I have to start with provisos: If one of the defining qualities of a woman in public life is instant name recognition, then all of you would be forgiven for asking Rahila – Who? I had the same reaction – when I was asked to participate in this panel – what  moi? So here I am feeling like the Great Pretender, someone who has always been more comfortable as a backroom girl, pontificating about a space to which I have only a peripheral connection.

Which brings me to my first point  about public life – visibility and our fields of vision.  The moment any one of us sticks our head above the parapet, beyond the confines of our immediate friends and family, we enter that ill-defined…

View original 1,429 more words

No one told me wanting to be a writer meant making spreadsheets

I finally got around to making my own submissions spreadsheet. There are actually many websites and places you can subscribe to that regularly email you upcoming deadlines of call for submissions, competitions, writing opportunities etc. But I think it’s good sit down and make one of your own from all those and update/prioritise it as you go along. It doesn’t take long (maybe an hour or so) and you can narrow it down even more, tailoring it according to what’s relevant to you. Because let’s face it, we can’t do it all, submit to all, write specifically for all. That would just be nuts. It is also confusing and time consuming to open a new tab for each one every single time.

My spreadsheet is mostly made up of magazines according to fiction/non fiction, essays, reviews, short fiction, new & emerging writers and generally places I like reading. It is probably key that you like reading what that magazine publishes as it enables you to gauge where and if you would fit in there, too. But that’s common sense I guess.

IMG_20150203_024346
Me and image quality don’t go well together. I also might be aiming too high for some of these.

 

I find this actually encourages me to write more; makes me realise how little I have to submit despite studying an MA the past year! It also makes me edit more, revisit old works and definitely look at them in a new light. I can asses better what is viable and what isn’t. Or so I think. It gets me a little excited and motivated too. I fear that excitement *may* fade a bit when the rejections roll in and I fall behind submissions but Rome wasn’t built in a day and without casualties or something something.

Anyway, below are also a few websites and articles that are useful for getting your weekly/monthly submissions and their Twitter links. If you want my spreadsheet, I’m happy to try and figure out a way to upload it on this blog or something, but really, you’ll probably be okay with the following websites. Would also appreciate to be told of anything I’ve missed out in the columns. Happy writing/submitting!

We We Liars by E. Lockhart and YA fiction

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Emily Jenkins) is told through Cadence Sinclair Eastman’s point of view as she tries to piece together the events leading up to a traumatic injury she suffered one summer at her grandfather’s private island. The injury causes her to have selective amnesia. From the beginning, it is established that this is a novel about families. The dysfunctional, messed up, yet extremely rich and upper class kind with one power tripping grandfather as their head. On his private island, he builds a house for each of his daughters, and this is where the family collectively spend summers together. Cadence becomes closely knit with her cousins, who are also her age, and comes to call their group the Liars. This stems from the theme of pretence, as the children are all asked by their mothers to become their grandfather’s favourite grandchild as a means of inheriting the family money.10942306_10206161463262264_9077158249769679853_o

The novel centres strongly around the themes of pretence and outer image, putting on a strong front that hides any problems or pains such as divorce or death.  The family pride themselves on being The Sinclairs, and having children that look like Sinclairs, with strong chins, perfect smiles and blond hair. So it is no wonder that Cadence finds herself unable to remember the events that occurred on ‘summer fifteen’ which left her with crippling migraine episodes, memory loss and never-ending MRI and CT-scans.

The novel begins with ease, underlined by family tensions. There is a hint towards an ‘unrequited love’ ending as she falls for the unconventional Gat, her aunt’s boyfriend’s nephew and her cousin Johnny’s friend, who comes to spend summers at the island also. Gat describes himself as ‘Heathcliff’ at one point in the novel; the outsider who will never have her grandfather’s approval. Yet the story quickly spirals deeper, taking on a foreboding and omniscient tone. The ending for me, was pretty unexpected and daring from a writing point of view!

As a narrator, Cadence is quirky, easy to like, romantic and witty. She has a clever and neat way of phrasing her views that make you smile as a reader. For example:

“For the old people in my family – Mummy, the aunties, Grandad – the accumulation of beautiful objects is a life goal. Whoever dies with the most stuff wins.”

Yet she also has a knack for using literal and hyperbolic metaphors to express her feelings:

“Then he pulled out a gun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed.”

Normally, these type of metaphors are too cliché for me, but E. Lockhart uses them sparingly and at the right moments. There’s also something about Cady’s voice that is so authentic of a teen’s that it works. The writing style is jagged and slightly disordered, to reflect the broken family theme of the story. The map of the island at the beginning made me expect a very contained, high brow narrative voice yet it is anything but. I actually swept through some comments about the book on Goodreads and found a lot of people unhappy with the writing style and line arrangement such as this:

I remember this now,

in a rush that hits me so hard I fall,

and I plunge down,

down to rocky rocky bottom, and

I can see the base of Beechwood Island

It almost feels like prose poetry and is used to describe Cadence’s toppling feelings on the page. Again, this is used sparingly! There’s also swearing, wit and mini chapters. Personally, it reminded me of how Ali Smith writes in How To Be Both (which is also fantastic), and well, generally. I found it refreshing, quite contemporary and on some levels, relatable and managed to read it in 24 hours! (Maybe 28 but you get the idea..)

It has made me want to read more young adult books that are equally traumatising, and bridge the gap between being a teenager and adult, moving away from the typical teenage angst that put me off them in the first place. The last time I read young adult fiction was probably when I was a young adult myself, which, well, hasn’t been for quite some years now. It also had something to do with going to university to study a literature degree and bridging off to explore other genres that I never even knew existed! We Were Liars actually made me want to do more research into the genre as it is now. That, and following Hot Key Books on Twitter (@HotKeyBooks) where I learnt about the book in the first place. And I’m darn glad I did.

New Year and (book) Resolution(s).

Bit late to the party, mainly because I was ill the first week on January (no, this shall not reflect my year in some superstitious way) and only logged onto my Goodreads the other day to add Ugly Ways by Tina McElroy Ansa to ‘read’ list when it instantly prompted me to set a reading goal for 2015. As someone who doesn’t quite set resolutions at the beginning of the year, I put in 50 books without giving it too much thought. I then nosed through my friends’ list and general list of people and their goals (as you do); those with 15 making me feel better and those with 100 making me feel ashamed. English student, book lover, and a wanna-be writer, reading 50 books? The horror. Sometime midway through last year I set myself a goal to read a book a week. I’m not sure if I reached it. And I’d like to read more, don’t get me wrong. But I’d also like to digest my books fully. Sometimes I drag a book on for weeks because it is helping me with my writing, or generally giving me good feelings that I want to prolong for as long as possible. Sometimes the book is itself quite long. Sometimes I skip a few days of reading.

I guess the point is that, while goals are healthy to make and push you to achieve whatever you want to achieve that year, or generally in your life, we should learn to be flexible with them too in order to avoid the pressure and endless guilt over having not done something. And I say this as someone who, as a student, constantly churned out much of their assignments nearest to deadline and therefore under pressure, and loved it. But the pressure of making resolutions at the beginning of the year has always been one I’ve never been able to get behind. Especially when it comes to reading, something which is actually meant to come with no pressure. Life is flexible, and for the foreseeable few minutes, still going. And so your goals and resolutions should be growing and being made throughout the year as opposed to the beginning of year. And for me, I’ve been pretty ready and trying to make changes in my life for quite a while now. So here’s to a continuation of that.

Thoughts on Girl Online controversy as a Creative Writing student.

Tagline: At the risk of sounding butthurt.

The internet’s been all in storm about Zoella, the makeup, YouTube vlogger whose book Girl Online sold 80,000 books in a week (something of a record in the UK book industry), but turned out to be ghostwritten by writer Siobhan Curran. I could summarise who Zoe is, what she does, how old she is, and the entire YouTube vlogging culture that she belongs to, but it would be me regurgitating well-known information that is pretty much better summarised in other articles. Neither is that the point of this post.

The problem isn’t so much that Zoe had the novel ghostwritten. It’s more that mostly throughout the process, it was led to be believed that she was writing it with the help of editors not a ghostwriter. And just to clarify, writing a novel yourself and having it edited by an editor and having a ghostwriter write your novel and then have it edited by an editor are two completely different things. I could come up with a novel plot, characters, a beginning, middle and an end by the end of today. But to actually write it and make it work is a completely separate thing. I know. It’s what my life revolves around doing. And to quote Zoe Suggs herself: “My dream has been to write a book, and I can’t believe it’s come true. Girl Online is my first novel and I’m so excited for you to read it.” When celebrities, footballers, athletes, actors release books it is understood that they had the help of a ghostwriter. Those books are also usually memoirs and autobiographies, that fall into the categories of non-fiction, rather than a fictional novel. Again, the process of writing is slightly different for both of these. But that is also not the point of this post.

What Zoe has actually done is to take her brand and sell it. As an undergrad, this is something our tutors actually advised us to do. We were told that there will be people who won’t be as skilled at writing as you, but because there will be a market for them, an audience, and through efforts of self promotion, they will get published. Now that isn’t meant to sound pretentious and snobby, but it probably does. Nor is it meant to sound butthurt. But it probably does. This is actually in defence of Zoe. I’m a makeup lover. I watch YouTube makeup vloggers. I’m even attempting to start an authentic makeup blog with friends, which clashes with the part of me that realises how inauthentic and waste of my typing hours and words that can be. Which, for someone working on their dissertation, is invaluable.

It is simply coming from someone who spends hours weekly trying to get the perfect paragraph, perfect 1000 words written, and is contemplating a PhD in the future in order to have the right environment to write and pursue having a book published and becoming a higher education lecturer, as well as an author. From someone who, despite studying Creative Writing for 4 years going onto 5, and writing throughout those years, is still reluctant to call themselves a writer and feels that she has no claim to to the title until she has gotten through masses of rejection letters from magazines and publishers and actually got to the point that she has something in print. It sounds like a cry-me-a-river tale but really, am I myself to blame for not branding/promoting myself, for not creating an audience for my writing? Yes. For not developing and writing enough material to send off to magazines? Entirely. Does a PhD, then, feel like a long way to becoming a writer when all I have to do is find a way to brand myself? Yes. But these people work hard at branding themselves via YouTube and editing videos? Go back and read the start of this paragraph.

Again though, Zoe is actually not to blame. Okay maybe to be blamed for not being entirely honest. But she is not to be blamed for what is actually the harsh reality of the publishing industry. She is not the first and won’t be the last. Her book has sold and broken records because she had the audience all set for it. That, she deserves credit for. Because that is audience generated by her work on YouTube. But would she have had time to do that and write a book in 6 months? Highly doubtful. It is simply worrying for people like myself, or people who actually have been writing all their life and have novels hidden in their drawers, to be cliched. It is also worrying for our culture. And I fully confess to being a snob at this point. But it feels like our culture is trickling down and thinning. We’re going from watching celebrities on TV to watching celebrities on YouTube and most of the time, one is no different from the other.

What can we do about it? I’m not really sure. Change the industry and how it works is easier said than done. But coming from a possibly naive, optimistic, not-fully-aware graduate/student/writer, keep tapping at those keyboards and hope to get there one day. (And Google some articles about self promotion).

Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick

I didn’t quite want to do a post on this one because it is one of those books I feel went slightly over my head, but I made myself a goal to blog more than once a month so here it is. I recently read this as research for my ever-fluctuating dissertation, and I’m actually pretty glad I did. It reminded me of what I didn’t quite want my dissertation to be like. However, that is not to be taken as a criticism towards the book itself. I picked it up after researching books that contain similar themes to Jean Rhys’ writing, without any prior knowledge of Elizabeth Hardwick herself.

“In Sleepless Nights a woman looks back on her life – the parade of people, the shifting background of place – and assembles a scrapbook of memories, reflections, portraits, letters, wishes and dreams.”  The narrator dips in and out of her memories, and narrates the lives of people she has encountered in her life from maids to men to families and even Billie Holiday in mini stories and snapshots. The parts (or chapters) seem to be divided by the people she reflects about, sometimes via letters to ‘M’. Who ‘M’ is, is unknown, though at the end of the book she does address ‘Mother’. The book is neither fiction, nor non-fiction; the narrator is and isn’t Hardwick herself, even though her name is Elizabeth and those who have better knowledge than me of Elizabeth Hardwick’s life associate many events as autobiographical. There is no plot, yet you get an urge to read it like a novel due to the writing style. There simply seems to be a need to put all the memories down on paper to store them, tell them.

“I have always, all of my life, been looking for help from a man.”

productimage-picture-sleepless-nights-48Hardwick plays on the idea of memory as unreliable. “If only one knew what to remember or pretend to remember”, remarks the narrator at the beginning. Memory is fragmented and subjective. This is by no means a neat and tidy factual memoir, if even a memoir. We know less about the narrator’s life in comparison to those she observes, and there is a great deal of observing. From noisy Canadians on trains to to the life of her homosexual roommate in New York, the book is about people and how they come in and out of our lives, and the shifts in perspective when they go from being the minor characters of our lives to the central character in their own. Hardwick creates huge empathy for the lives she tells, and the differences in living, situation and class. The book has a very distinct sense of class due to the artistic lifestyle that is depicted in different cities.

And the stories hurtle out like the thoughts that go through one’s mind on a sleepless night. Jumping from this to that in a muted haze. The writing is thought provoking, lyrical, descriptive, yet economical. In fact I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it much if it wasn’t for the writing because at times I was frustrated by the lack of plot. The book is pretty short in terms of length – about 130 pages and it has a sense of wandering to it due to the writing. Every now and then you come across a line or a paragraph that stops and makes you think and smile a little at the wording of it. For example: “Pasternak’s line: To live a life is not to cross a field. It is not to climb a mountain either.” 

I would say it is not to be approached as a text from which you should deduce great analysis and between-the-lines snapshots of Elizabeth Hardwick’s life, but simply as a collection of fragmented memories from the past. I feel like I understand it no better having gotten to the end and part of me wants to re-read it to do so. It is less about the future or the now, or the punch at the conclusion, but simply a reminiscence of a life lived. The overall tone of the book is sad. At the beginning the narrator reflects on her time and New York, saying, “I was then a “we””. This is a book about men and women’s loneliness and loss.