Beckster got me tagged!


Becky tagged me last month for some awesome questions, and I was more than happy to answer them. I won’t be setting new questions or tagging anyone but feel free to answer the ones below if you wish. If you’re a bibliophile like Beckster I’m sure you’d want to and I would love to see your responses…

1.) Which book do you think should be adapted into a film that hasn’t been already?
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (the last time I checked Sony bought the rights to the movie but it’s still in production). If this doesn’t count, then I choose Company of Liars by Karen Maitland.

2.) Which classic are you too scared to read/keep putting off? (E.g. War and Peace.)
Alexandre Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo(scared) and a few Dickens books(putting off for no real reason, really)

3.) Sam or Dean Winchester? (Supernatural)
Dean (He’s Jensen Ackles right?).

4.) Do you think the paperback will become extinct and be fully replaced with the Kindle?
I certainly hope not.

5.) Have you ever had an experience with the paranormal? E.g Ghosts, aliens etc.
Nope. Despite my former active efforts to look for them 😉

6.) Your least favourite genre to read?
Sci-fi or Romance

7.) Who’s biography would you consider reading?
Really want to read Portia de Rossi’s Unbearable Lightness

8.) The best birthday present you’ve ever had?
My brother took me to see Oasis live in Manchester for my 20th birthday(eons ago)

9.) Your opinion on 50 Shades of Grey? (Whether you have read it or not.)
Haven’t read it yet, but I want to. I don’t like giving opinions on books I haven’t attempted to read.

10.) Your favourite place to read? In bed.

11.) Which books from present day do you think has the potential to become a classic 50/100 years down the line?
I think it depends on what the socio-political scene would be like in 50-100 years time. If there are any books written now that reflect that scene or are considered relevant, then they will definitely be earmarked as ‘classics.’

NM 🙂

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Why I shall be avoiding every author’s swansong from now on.


Reading-wise this hasn’t been a very good year for me. Even though my To-Be-Read List is considerably lighter than it was six months ago, 3 books especially, stand out for having proved big disappointments.

One was legitimately awful while the other two were not bad, but only proved dissatisfying because my expectations of them were so high. I think the disappointments were harder to take considering that all those three books were written by some of my favourite authors. (I had made my choices based on this fact)

One of them being Bram Stoker. As creator of one of the most famous horror novels ever, I thought it worth my while to give another one of his books my attention.

When I say that Lair Of The White Worm was ‘legitimately awful’, I say it with confidence only because I know I’m not being critical. While reading it, I came across far too many WTF moments. Apart from the errors and numerous inconsistencies, some of the scenes, imagery and subplots were so crazy and surreal that the story started to take on farcical proportions. I was left scratching my head as I read of supernatural kite-flying and weird hypnotic mind battles. Not what I expected from the author of Dracula. Even literary scholars have commented negatively on it, so I know I’m not the only one who feels this way about this novel.

However, I will admit, the same cannot be said for the OTHER two books that I read. Both works were critically acclaimed and one of them was highly recommended by people, whose opinions I rate very highly. Therefore I will not mention those two books and conclude that my disappointment with them stem from my own personal tastes rather than any flaws in the works themselves.

However, a strange coincidence revealed itself to me later on.

I’ll point out that all three books are very different in terms of genre, writing style and storylines etc. but they all happened to have one major thing in common: they were the last books these three authors had written before their deaths.  (Mindblown? No? Oh alright…)

On further investigation, I found out some pretty interesting information.

  •  The one unmentionable novel was not yet finished when the author suddenly passed away. The last few chapters were completed by another writer.
  • It is said that Bram Stoker died of syphilis in 1912. By the time he had finished Lair Of The White Worm in 1911, the disease had already reached the advanced stages. Mentally, Syphilis can be characterized by symptoms such as confusion, dementia, delirium and severe depression.

Well this certainly explains all the craziness in the novel!

In view of this new information, my sympathetic side was quick to pardon Mr. Stoker for this literary disaster. But this got me thinking. Should the background knowledge we have about an author affect the way we view their works? Should we allow sympathy to affect our judgement and objectivity? I know of people who refuse to even look at the book sleeve with the author’s bio when they purchase books, choosing to let the work stand on its own.

I’m the opposite however. I like reading up on the backgrounds and interests of the various writers whose works I read. It’s natural curiosity on my part to do so. But what do you think? If you read a book you thought was really bad but realised that the author was seriously ill when he/she wrote it, would you still be critical of it? Or do you think this information would help you to understand the story better?

Also have you ever thought about your WIP and wondered what would become of it if you ever passed away prematurely? A terribly morbid thought I know, but I mean, our stories are like our babies in a way. I assume you would not want it to be forgotten? Would you wish for someone to complete it and attempt to get it published?

And as for my reading luck, as sympathetic as I am towards authors and their personal sufferings, I am now dying to read a novel I know I will enjoy and these three books have now made me very superstitious. As a result I have since struck Dickens’ Mystery of Edwin Drood of my TBR list. No more literary swansongs for me, thank you very much.

NM 🙂

The Name Game…once again.


Now I’ve written about names before and the thought we put into choosing appellations for our main characters. The topic has crept up on me once again yet with a slightly different dilemma of sorts this time.

Some of the most memorable literary main characters we know are usually the ones with the most unusual names: Heathcliff, Sherlock, D’artagnon, Atticus, Lestat or any Dickens’ character for that matter. Many will argue that the peculiarity of these names has contributed to these fictional creations becoming legends of literature.

But as a writer have you ever been tempted to christen a character (main or not) after another literary character, especially one with an unusual name that many would recognize?

Many famous authors have done it. Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye mentions three sisters named Miranda, Perdita and Cordelia; many of JK Rowling’s characters have famous literary namesakes-Mrs. Norris(Filch’s cat) was named after a character in Mansfield Park by Jane Austen whereas ‘Hermione’ was also taken from Shakespeare. In Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, there’s a modern character called ‘Clarrissa’. Since the story was about Virginia Woolf and her writing of Mrs. Dalloway, the name ‘Clarrissa’ was clearly referential but I actually thought it was a bit too obvious. Bringing me to another point:  is it lame to make reference to the original namesake in any form or way?

I was looking at a story I had started writing years ago but which I haven’t completed. Reading through it, I had a good laugh when I came upon the introduction of a particular character. He was a policeman and I had dubbed him …’Ichabod.’

(Yes, I’ll give you a second to laugh/muse about this)

(You’re done? May I proceed? Thank you)

Unfortunately my Ichabod looks nothing like this…

Now if you’re one of those who have heard this name before, I’m willing to bet my life that on reading that, your immediate thoughts turned to a certain skull-deficient horseman of popular Dutch-American myth.

It is very difficult to hear the name ‘Ichabod’ and NOT think of Sleepy Hollow. Knowing this, I envisioned a potential reader screaming, “Hey! She stole that from Washington Irving!!!!”

 So I decided to give myself a leg up and point out the obvious by stating in the narrative that (my) Ichabod’s father was a big Irving fan! Is it lame? Should I just give up on this whole malarkey and call my policeman ‘John’ instead?

…but thankfully, not like this dude either.

I would like to state in my defence that the name actually suits my character although I can’t explain why. He looks nothing like Johnny Depp and he certainly doesn’t resemble a skinny, hook-nosed bird!

Of course my opinion alone doesn’t matter, what do you think? Would you get excited if you were reading a modern book and came across the namesake of a famous fictional figure?

And I know I’ve asked this question before in a previous post but how do you writers go about choosing names for your MC? Do you go for the unusual or do you opt for something more ‘common’?

NM 🙂

Images

1. Still from Sleepy Hollow(Tim Burton) taken from www.killermovies.com

2. Still from Legend of Sleepy Hollow(Disney) taken from http://www.chroniquedisney.fr

The ‘R’ word in Classic Literature


This post is a short one, posed more as a question to you, and which concerns a somewhat sensitive topic…

Now you’ve probably gathered how much I love the Classics. Anything pre-20th century is most likely to end up on my reading list.
However there is a trend I noticed amongst most Classic books that initially used to horrify me but which I now seem to take for granted because of its prevalence.
I’m talking about racism. Racial supremacy is all too inherent in the writings of Classic Literature. In some cases it’s blatant but mostly, it’s subtle. But it’s still noticeable.

What I want to know is, especially if you love the Classics: how do YOU react when you read, say a piece of fiction by a Victorian writer with clear racist undertones in the text? Does it upset you? Or do you take it with a pinch of salt?
As a person of colour myself, I used to be angry but now I find it quite amusing(in a disturbing sort of way). I always remind myself that writers are only human beings. And human beings are to a greater extent products of their environment. And any piece of fiction is a reflection of a writer’s thoughts and feelings. Therefore those feelings are reflective of the prevailing attitudes of the era in which the book was written. Since the Classics were written in times where racial supremacy was not only the norm but also accepted thinking, I tend to consider this when reading an old book.

I did wonder though, how others reacted to this. So, over to you, tell me your thoughts…

NM 🙂

The Most Famous Night in the History of Horror


In the summer of 1816, a couple holidayed with their friends at Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The man, Percy, despite being married to another woman, fell in love with a girl named Mary and the two lovers eloped to the Europe subcontinent together. They were joined at Lake Geneva by their friend Gordon and his personal physician John.

The Villa Diodati, near Lake Geneva. Image permitted courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Swiss summer that year was a wet one and one night, all four companions found themselves in front of a cozy fire in Gordon’s private villa. Outside, an angry tempest provided the perfect backdrop for the reading of ghost stories. Their reading list for the night consisted of various German stories from a book called ‘Tales Of The Dead’.
As the night progressed Gordon came up with an idea.

“We will each write a ghost story,” he suggested imperatively.
Thus began a competition to see who could come up with the scariest tale. The rest of their holiday seemed dedicated to this endeavour.

Percy started a story based on his childhood experiences but with his forte being poetry, he struggled with straightforward prose and failed to complete his tale. Gordon also failed to complete his story about a vampire and John’s efforts, constituting a “skull-like” ghost bride who takes revenge on her faithless groom, failed to impress and he was forced to abandon his creation as well (The good doctor was, however, very impressed with Gordon’s blood-sucking character and intended to write a novel based on this vampire, which he subsequently did).

18-year-old Mary struggled to produce anything at first.
But having recently suffered the loss of her first child and having to listen to discussions about galvanism between the 3 men, the Muses soon took over and Mary wrote a reanimation tale about a monster so chilling and macabre, that when she eventually submitted it to a publisher in 1817, they could not believe a woman wrote it.

Mary named her novella ‘The Modern Prometheus’ but later changed it.
Frankenstein, as it’s now known, is considered a classic masterpiece and according to some, gave birth to a new genre – science fiction.

As some of you have probably guessed, the characters in my little story above were none other than Mary Wolstoncraft Godwin, her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Dr. John Polidori and Gordon was none other than Mr. Controversial himself- Lord Byron.

When I first read about this I was completely fascinated. I love reading about how authors got inspiration for their famous novels. But what made this event at Lord Byron’s Villa Diodati even more remarkable was that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was not the only horror classic that owes its existence to that historic night.

As I mentioned, John Polidori was very impressed with the vampire character that Byron had created. And even though the doctor’s story proved a flop, he later wrote a novel called ‘The Vampyre’ (1819) based on Byron’s creation.
The novel’s main character Lord Ruthven is considered by some websites and literary scholars to be the first aristocratic vampire in English fiction.
More than 70 years later, an Irish author named Abraham Stoker would write a ground-breaking novel whose main character is now deeply embedded in the psyche of popular culture. Stoker listed Lord Ruthven as inspiration for this very character. Few people I think would dare disagree with me if I said Dracula, even after a century, is still the most famous vampire novel ever written.

How is it that one night, one prompt from a competitive literary genius like Byron, one night spent by the fireplace could give birth to a horror classic and also indirectly inspire another?
This question intrigued me, so much so, that I went on a studious quest to recreate that memorable evening (in my head of course). Unfortunately, there are so many different versions of what happened that night in Lake Geneva and in the subsequent days and months that followed, that I almost became frustrated with the lack of consistency.
Luckily my copy of Frankenstein (OneWorldClassics) contained an Introduction written by Mary herself, chronicling (albeit vaguely) her experiences of that night (my little retelling at the beginning of this post is based on her account).

So what does it take to inspire a great horror novel? Or any great novel for that matter?

Is nature important? Atmospheric mood and the natural elements seem to have played a key part in Frankenstein. And the influence of Switzerland’s natural beauty is clearly evident in Mary Shelley’s writing.

Image of the original Frankenstein manuscript, with scribbles/outtakes by Percy Shelley

Maybe pedigree plays a part? Both Mary’s parents happened to be distinguished writers in their own right. Or just maybe that age-old advice about surrounding yourself with the right type of people rings true?
Percy Shelley and Lord Byron were both considered poetic geniuses. Byron had already played his part in the creation of Frankenstein by prompting the creativity in his friends, and Percy, not only proofread and edited the first draft of Frankenstein but also supported and encouraged his wife with her writing career up until his death(like any good literary husband should!).
Maybe it’s a combination of all these factors that results in the telling of a great ‘ghost’ story. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking anything away from Mary herself. There was no doubt that she had talent and was hailed in even higher esteem than her husband and colleagues but inspiration has to come from somewhere. Something magical happened that night in Lake Geneva which cannot be explained.
If not, then is it just one big coincidence that two of the greatest horror novels ever written find themselves linked by a situation as innocuous as four friends sitting around a fire telling ghost stories? I leave you to decide for yourselves.

Whatever the case may be however, if you are a writer or in a creative profession, I hope inspiration comes to you, situations favour you and luck finds you in all your endeavours.

Happy writing!

NM 🙂

References:

– Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Author’s Introduction to the Standard Novels Edition. OneWorld Classics. 1818 (last ed. 2008).

John Polidori and the Vampyre Byron

Folkroots: Vampires in Folklore and Literature by Theodora Goss

DAY 29 – Book you are currently reading


The two books I’m currently reading are Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford and O. Henry’s 100 Selected Stories.

I have to confess that I haven’t done much reading in the past couple of weeks, so even though Cranford is a tiny book, I’m taking longer than is necessary to finish it.

This should not be a reflection on the book however. It’s a delightful little novel and surprisingly modern for a book written in 1851. Well it’s not exactly a typical novel. Instead of a linear storyline centered on one main plot, the book is actually a collection of anecdotes about the English town of Cranford and its inhabitants.
I love Gaskell’s quirky sense of humour and her subtle dig at the attitudes and snobbery of the Cranford elite. I’m also very fascinated by the narrator-who remains unnamed, and who provides an objective and refreshing viewpoint on the events that take place in Cranford. Her viewpoints would not seem out of place in the 21st century. Given the nature of how this book is written, I’m interested to see how it ends and if there is actually a hidden storyline waiting to unfold.

There is no doubt that O. Henry (real name William Sydney Porter) is a very gifted short story writer. The stories in this collection are set in the United States with particular focus on the American family and its domicile. O. Henry lived during the turn of the 20th century so his stories are reflective of that period.

I must admit that I find it strange to read this book. I’m so used to reading M.R James, Saki, Edgar Allan Poe and Guy de Maupassant that to read a collection of tales that contains absolutely NO supernatural elements is unfamiliar territory to me.
I am enjoying it however and it’s giving me plenty of food for thought. I feel tempted now to write a non-horror short story just for the sake of it. I don’t hold much hope for it though, only because I don’t trust myself. I might just sneak a succubus into the story when no-one’s looking!

DAY 26 and 27 – Favourite fiction and non-fiction book


Favourite Fiction Book

I’m including 2 days in one again because I find Day 27’s favourite fiction book obsolete. If your favourite book ever, happens to be a novel like Hound of the Baskervilles, then it stands to reason that it would also be your favourite fiction book.

DAY 26 – Favourite Non-fiction book

Now here’s something you might not know about me. There was a stage in my life when I barely read any fictional novels. It wasn’t out of choice, I just seemed to be drawn to non-fiction books. Any book dealing with unsolved mysteries, history and legends was my weakness. I still have this inclination but it’s only in the last 3 years, ever since I started writing, that I rediscovered the joys of fiction books. I still prowl the history and esoteric sections of the library and bookstores however, so therefore choosing a favourite work of non-fiction is a bit of a challenge for me.

Holy Blood and Holy Grail by Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh is a book I quite enjoyed but it is somewhat erudite and tedious and I sometimes found it difficult to follow the authors’ arguments. I absolutely loved The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. It’s about the cholera epidemic in London in 1854 and is a very exciting and well-written book.
There are many others I enjoyed, including all those Reader’s Digest’s coffee table-type books- Facts and Fallacies, Great Mysteries of the Past etc. But if I am absolutely forced to choose a winner here, then I’m going with The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow. I base my choice on my belief that it is the book with the least flaws in terms of dispensing of information.

The Complete Jack the Ripper is by far the best book ever written on the Ripper mystery-I should know, I’ve read a lot of them!

It seems pretty evident that nobody knows more about the famous murders than Rumbelow. Every single person ever considered as a suspect (and there were many of them) is mentioned in his book and each suspect’s case is carefully considered and argued brilliantly. Ironically the one problem with Rumbelow’s work happens to be the one thing that also sets it apart from the other Ripper books. He makes no real effort to provide his take on the mystery whereas all the other books always seem in favour of at least one suspect. He keeps absolutely mum about his own suspicions which can be a difficult thing to do for a non-fiction writer. He lays out the suspects before you as if in a line-up (he does however place slightly more emphasis on the more popular candidates) and traces each one’s movements during the time of each killing.

Rumbelow’s aim is clearly for you to make up your own mind but in the end you are left more confused as to the Ripper’s identity than ever before. Maybe the brilliance of this book lies in this fact, which is probably why I love it so much. Too often you find the thoughts and opinions of an author filtering through what is supposed to be an objective piece of work.

There is another reason I love this book. If you’re a fan of Victorian Literature like me (especially Dickens), you will find Rumbelow’s mouthwatering depiction of London in 1888 to die for! Trust me, if you read it, you’ll be tempted to write a Victorian murder mystery. Sometimes the best stories for inspiration really are the true life ones!

NM 🙂