DAY 18 – Book you most embarrassed to say you like

There is this long-standing debate amongst writers: can creativity be taught? Can you really study to become a good writer?

Many writers go for creative writing courses and the most famous authors in the world have at least a Bachelors Degree in English, so maybe there’s some significance in this fact? Then again, Stephanie Meyer has an English Degree and she can’t write for doggie poo. (Oh come on, I’m not being mean, we all know it’s true, even Stephen King said so.)

I, being the stubborn mule that I am, refuse to take any creative writing courses. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to syntax and grammar, you can never learn too much. Relevant courses relating to these will be beneficial to anyone wanting to improve their use of language. I’m talking here about actual creativity and the concept and development of ideas in the writing of that book.
My pride (or is it ego?) tells me I know what I’m doing and because I always believe I know what’s best for me, this same pride has me refusing to get any help. Or has it? And this is where I shot myself in the foot without even realizing it.
Just because you don’t physically attend a seminar on how to write a novel that doesn’t mean there aren’t any other educational sources/tools that can teach you to.

And this is where my cheeks go crimson, as I reveal hesitantly, the two books that are currently helping me on my journey.

Writing A Novel by Nigel Watts in the Teach yourself series is a bit more sophisticated than the “For Dummies” range.

I really, really like this book. I bought it when I first dabbled with the idea of writing a book but didn’t take it too seriously. But years later it has found its place on my bedside table. Even though my current work in progress is a collection of short stories, I do have a novel I started (well sort of), and after the Collection is complete I plan to get cracking with it. And when that happens I can see this book being like a Bible to me.
Despite its title, certain tips are quite general and can apply to any piece of writing and he always makes references and comparisons to short stories which really helps me in particular. There are exercises designed to get those creative juices flowing but also to aid in the writing of your book with regards to characterization, plot developments and dialogue etc.

So as much as it kills me to say I have this book in my possession, never mind actually liking it, it is a great source of comfort to me. NB. My ego is currently munching on a big fat slice of humble pie as you read this.

Another similar book I like is Write That Book Already! by Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark.

The title however is a bit misleading. Reading the cover, you assume it is a motivational piece to get you writing and overcoming dreaded writers’ block. But most of the book is actually dedicated to the aftermath of the completion of your work. Information on submitting manuscripts, dealing with agents, the marketing world and book tours are all dealt with here (Btw this is the book that gave me the idea to start a blog, and hoorah! Here we are!).
I must admit that Write That Book Already! also gave me a reality shock. If you have a fairytale view of what it takes to get published, this book will shatter all those idealistic impressions. It is humorous but brutally honest at the same time. If after reading it, you are still not deterred, then you know you are on the right path!

So now you know what arrogant, know-it-all Nisha is using to help her on her journey. Just don’t tell anyone, will you…?

NM 🙂

DAY 17 – Shortest book you ever read

I found this topic to be quite bothersome to be honest. Because I’ve read so many short stories and Victorian novellas in my lifetime, it’s hard for me to distinguish them in terms of length.

Honestly I’m too lazy to search the internet for every book I had in mind just to check if they’re considered a short story or not. It’s all very confusing to me so I’m just going to go out on a limb here and wing it, as they say. If any of the books/stories I mention below are in fact short stories, please forgive me.

Collector's Library books. Penguin Classics and Wordsworth have nothing on these guys!

When thinking about this topic, I found myself pulling out a few Collectors’ Library books I have in my possession. Obviously due to their appearance, the books give the impression of being really short. They are quite small and cute with a very small font compared to ‘normal’ size books like a Wordsworths Classic for example.
So I wondered if it would be accurate of me to compare the number of pages in a Collectors’ Library book as suppose to a Wordsworth or Penguin.
Off course it could all just be an optical illusion and in font size they might be exactly the same (see, told you it was bothersome).

Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray (Wordsworths) has a respectable 256 pages; Hound of the Baskervilles (Collectors) has 200; and Jekyll and Hyde (Collectors) a paltry 96, actually 87 if you leave out all the title pages. Despite its size, the blurb to my copy of Jekyll And Hyde refers to it as a novel. Right….

Thinking back to all the other books I’ve read but don’t own: Le Fanu’s Carmilla, I remember as being quite short but don’t ask me how many pages it is for I read it a long time ago. And should I even consider Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? I always thought it was a short story but coming in at 128 pages (Penguin), that’s way more than Jekyll and Hyde!

Whether Christmas Carol is a shortie or not, it doesn’t matter. The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is still the shortest by a long shot (ha ha, see what I did there?) and therefore today’s winner.

I suppose you want me to tell you about the book? Truth is, there’s not much to tell. EVERYBODY knows this story even if they didn’t read it.
The term ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ has become synonymous with being two-faced, so while reading the story the suspense and mystery has already been killed due to this piece of general knowledge. I have no doubt that the book’s very first audience were probably thrilled out of their gaiters in finding out who Mr. Hyde really was, and obviously this initial reaction was the precedent that set in motion the success that the book was to have.

I could go into detail of how Stevenson based his story on a real Scottish nobleman named Deacon Brodie who lived in 18th century Edinburgh but do you really want a history lesson on a Friday? No I thought not.

A piece of Classic literature in under 100 pages. Quantity does not always mean quality, Mr. Dickens..

NM 🙂

DAY 16 of 30-day Book Challenge – Longest book you ever read

And this will be the shortest post you’ll ever read. I made a promise a few months ago, never to mention Charles Dickens’ Bleak House again but now its rearing it’s big, massive head once more. Definitely the longest book I’ve ever read.

You wanna read more? Knock yourself out:

Oh Dickens! Bleaky Bleak House and the opportunistic author

A review of Bleak House Part 1

Bleak House – A Review Part 2

DAY 15 – First ‘Chapter Book’ you ever read

This is really stretching my memory. It was either a Roald Dahl, Judy Blume or Nancy Drew book, but I wouldn’t put money on any one in particular.

I remember only reading Judy Blume because all the girls in my Grade in Primary School were reading it. The fact that I initially could not remember if Judy Blume was the author or the name of a fictional character bears testimony to the lack of influence these books had on me. (She is in fact the author)
I definitely remember Roald Dahl though. Matilda in particular, had a profound effect on me as a child. The wonderful little girl who taught herself to read, could do complicated Maths sums in her head at lightning speed and who had a certain flair for telekinesis, was worthy of being hero-worshipped.
I can also picture very vividly Miss Trunchbull, her principal, who seemed the epitome of all my worst teachers combined. And that’s truly saying something because I had some pretty horrible teachers.
Growing up, Matilda was probably one of my favourite ‘big books’ (as I used to call them back then). The Witches was also another Dahl book I adored.

Nancy Drew was my introduction to detective fiction and even though, in hindsight, Nancy comes nowhere close to Miss Marple, I liked her because, off course, she was young and modern and I could relate to her back then.

The problem here is chronology. I cannot remember which book I read first. My reasoning tells me it’s Matilda as Judy Blume and Nancy Drew books are aimed at teens and I was definitely reading ‘chapter’ books before then. However this Book Challenge has me doubting my memory, which I always considered to be super-sharp. So I won’t be surprised if the first chapter book I ever read was some humble creation by an unknown author that had failed to make an impact on my memory bank.

NM 🙂

DAY 14 – Book whose main character you want to marry

I really would like to pick Sherlock Holmes because I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a crush on him. But I won’t pick him, not because I’ve spoken about him to death in this Book Challenge, but also because we all know what an emotionally unavailable misanthrope he is, with not the highest regard for the ‘fairer’ sex. Basically he isn’t marriage material.

So here goes my search for the most suitable fictional suitor (can I declare myself a polygamist and marry all of them? Is that cheating?).

Here are the candidates:

Atticus Finch – A truly wonderful man who imparts excellent wisdom to his motherless children and is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in. (Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird)

Robert Langdon – I have a thing for intellectually smart men, so give me a break. (Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code)

Mr. George Knightley – Personally I think he’s way better than Mr. Darcy, whom every girl seems to be in love with for some reason. Frankly they can all have Darcy, I’d be perfectly happy with Knightley thank you very much! (Jane Austen’s Emma)

Dr. Henry Jekyll – Okay I know this is a strange one but I did think he was quite nice, that is before he had a mid-life crisis, went a bit crazy on us, drank some poison and became a jerk and ruined in his life in the process. Idiot.
(Robert Louise Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)

Owen Archer – A dishy medieval spy/sleuth (so what if he has only one eye?). (Candace Robb’s The Lady Chapel and other Owen Archer mysteries)

And finally…

John Thornton.
Even better than Mr. Knightley methinks, but I just had one problem here. I wasn’t sure if my choosing Thornton here was based on Richard Armitage’s portrayal of him in the BBC series of North and South in 2004.

Richard Armitage with Daniela Denby-Ashe in North And South

I will now admit that a couple of years ago I had no idea who Elizabeth Gaskell was and only became aware of her after watching this series which I absolutely loved. Armitage was so darn gorgeous as Thornton that I am now beginning to wonder if I would feel the same way about the character if I had not seen the series. Note that the same can be said about Knightley (Jeremy Northam might have influenced this one) but thankfully not about Langdon.
I think Tom Hanks is kind of goofy and not at all how I pictured the Harvard symbologist to be. It’s a miracle how Hanks’ face doesn’t even come into my head when I read Dan Brown!

So would I feel the same about Thornton from reading the book without the beautiful Armitage invading my brain?
I’m not entirely sure yet, but one thing is certain. I thought he was a perfect match for Margaret Hale, therefore he’s more than good enough for me.

So based on this, I say John Thornton is the winner! Yay!

NM 🙂

DAY 13 – Book whose main character is most like you

Precious Ramotswe, Sister Fidelma, Margaret Hale, Mina Harker, Hermione Granger, Sally Lockheart…

Listed above are the fictional women I admire or identify with. So who is most like me?

The trouble here is that how we see ourselves, compared to what others see or how we would like others to see us can be completely different things.

In a nutshell what I mean is:

I wish I was cool like Precious and Fidelma (both detectives, go figure) or smart like Hermione and even though I identify more strongly with Margaret Hale, who knows? I might come across like the annoying Madame Bovary or the disturbed Carrie White. Although I certainly hope not!

In the end it is Elizabeth Gaskell’s creation Margaret Hale who wins, for character-wise she is the one heroine I see most of myself in. Having just finished North And South, I can easily recall scenes where I found myself chuckling knowingly because of something she was thinking or doing, all because it reminded me of myself.

Daniela Denby-Ashe played Margaret in the BBC series North and South (2004)

Margaret is very opinionated and stubborn but has a heart of gold with the best of intentions. Unfortunately because of her strong opinions she sometimes puts her foot in it and I notice that she loves to argue about almost everything if given the chance! (Sounds a lot like someone I know).

Margaret also has an incredibly heavy conscience. For me, this was her most relatable trait. Even when she knows she has done nothing wrong but is falsely accused, her conscience eats away at her like a flesh-eating bug. She bears the burden of these accusations for the sake of family, proving her loyalty and selflessness. In fact, it hurt me to see how she always puts the feelings of others before her own. She’s always modifying her outward behavior just so others will not be burdened by the pain she feels.
I love her fiery temper. This is when you see her at her best. Her temper is not destructive but she gives as good as she gets, startling her opponent in the process. I found myself punching the air in triumph when she gave it to that old bat Mrs. Thornton.
There were other little idiosyncrasies I found in common with Margaret, like her preference for male company. At the Thorntons’ dinner party,

It was dull for Margaret after dinner. She was glad when the gentlemen came, not because she caught her father’s eye to brighten her sleepness up; but because she could listen to something larger and grander than the petty interests which the ladies had been talking about.

This reminds me of me as a teenager when, at any function, I would prefer sticking close to my Dad and the rest of the men who would discuss sport or other exciting topics with me as if I were a grown man. I hated being stuck with all the ladies, who did nothing but talk about their children or grandchildren. Eeurgh!!

So that’s Margaret Hale. And that’s me. 🙂

If some of the women I mentioned above seem foreign to you, I draw your attention to the following books:

The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. Set in rural Botswana, Precious Ramotswe is a woman ahead of her time. This has already been made into a TV series with the wonderful Jill Scott in the lead.

Jill Scott as Precious Ramotswe

Whispers of the Dead by Peter Tremayne. If you love anything to do with Celtic Heritage you have to read the exploits of Fidelma of Cashel as she solves crimes in her capacity as a lawyer in 7th century Ireland.

Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman. YA Fiction. Pullman does well in recreating Victorian London and in creating an endearing character in Sally Lockheart.

Dracula by Bram Stoker. Mina Harker nee Murray is the only character in the book, apart from Van Helsing, who has any real balls. She makes her husband look like a peach trifle.

Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. If you are ever up against big, bad Voldy, Hermione is one little witchy you would definitely want on your side!

NM 🙂

Day 12 – Book that is most like your life

Book that is most like my life? The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

Ha ha, okay now I’m just being silly. But then again I think this topic is quite silly.

Searching for the Holy Grail. You'll have better luck looking for horcruxes, mate.

Unless you’ve written an autobiography I can’t see how any book can resemble your life. Sure, there might be a theme that you recognize or a character you identify with, but the whole book resembling your own existence? Come on.

Maybe I’m wrong; if there is a book you’ve read and you think it parallels your own life, please let me know, I would love to hear about it.

There is a reason I mentioned the Da Vinci Code however. The quest for knowledge; a deeper understanding of human nature and cultural beliefs, and just a general search for the truth are concepts I constantly grapple with on a daily basis. But that’s as far as the similarities between me and Robert Langdon go. No secret societies, car chases through Paris, albino killers and earth-shattering conspiracies here, I’m afraid.

NM 🙂

Ps. Since I’ve been such a good girl, posting everyday for over 2 weeks, I’ve decided to give myself and my subscribers’ inboxes a day off. Next post will be on Monday. Have a good weekend peeps!

Day 10 and Day 11 of 30-day Book Challenge

Okay I’m breaking the rules here and including two days in one, for the simple reason that I don’t think a single post for each of the below is necessary.

Book that changed my life?

I thought long and hard about this and the truth is, there is no single book that has changed my life. Every book I have ever read has influenced me or my writing in some way or the other. Unless its absolute crap off course. But then, even The Ghosts of Sleath made an impact on me that was monumental.

Favourite Book from your favourite author?

My answer to this I have already covered in Day 1. Arthur Conan Doyle is my favourite author and it stands to reason that my favourite book of his would be Hound of the Baskervilles.

So its two for the price of one- sometimes a bargain means a compromise in quality. Sorry!

NM 🙂

Ps. for the full list of the 30-day Book Challenge click here.

Day 09 – Book that makes you sick

Three books came to mind here.

At first I thought of Nabokov’s Lolita. The main character Humbert with his antisocial tendencies is quite deplorable. His intellectual, quiet and genteel demeanor makes his actions all the more sickening.
Ironically, I actually enjoyed Nabokov’s writing style. Lolita is written in the first person, a style I prefer when reading and writing. I found the book very easy to read and it was probably because of this that I managed it to finish it.
I realized that Lolita, as controversial as its contents are, could not be that bad when compared to the following books:

At least I finished Lolita. I couldn’t get even half way through either of the above books. I have no idea how they end and frankly I don’t care.
If you have seen the movie American Psycho with Christian Bale in the lead then you’ll have an idea what the book is about. Call it the original Dexter if you like.

As for Rhinehart (I think this is a pseudonym), The Dice Man didn’t exactly have a bad plot. In fact the theme was quite genius. It’s about a psychiatrist who decides one day that he will make all his decisions based on the roll of the dice. Sounds very exciting but unfortunately I did not get as far as the eventual dice-throwing.
In the beginning of the book you get to meet some of the psychiatrist’s patients. We get to hear some pretty revealing information about their lives, which is fine. But when one patient happens to be a narcissistic, sociopathic serial rapist, its where I drew the line. And because of the doctor-patient confidentiality clause, the shrink cannot report this man to the police and has to contend with fresh details every session about the women he has raped for the week. As you can guess, reading this made me feel quite ill.

The Dice man is apparently a very famous book, having inspired many films and other novels, and even a few musicians.
It’s definitely not my cup of herbal tea however, and neither is American Psycho.

DAY 08 of Book Challenge – Book that scares you

Now you would think I’d be in my element right now, being a horror addict and everything but initially I found this very difficult.

My first thought was to choose M.R James’ Collected Ghost Stories. There is a reason why he’s considered England’s King of the Ghost story. This collection contains some of the scariest short stories I’ve ever read. But I’m assuming however that this topic means I have to pick an actual novel per se.

After thinking a bit, I considered Karen Maitland’s Company Of Liars and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian but in retrospect, these were bland considerations.
I also nearly chose Poe’s The Pit And The Pendulum which I read when I was in school and which had a decidedly macabre effect on my young mind, only to be reminded that it was in fact a short story as well.
I ran through all the Stephen King, John Connelly, Peter Straub and Dean Koontz books I’ve read in my lifetime and I came to only one conclusion. Some books are called classics for a reason. Even while thinking about all these other great horror novels, Bram Stoker’s Dracula just did not want to leave me alone. I did not want to consider it initially for fear of appearing too mainstream and superficial but it kept invading my thoughts like how the Count kept intruding on Mina’s.
Throughout my life, I have read so many different editions of Dracula- a children’s’ version (yes it does exist), many abridged versions, all down to my very own full-length Penguin Classics copy.

Dracula by Bram Stoker, after fighting very valiantly in my mind, has officially taken its place as my No.1 scariest book.

So is it really scary? Or is this one of those cases where we have to make provisions for the conservative Victorian mindset and take the very first audience’s reaction into consideration rather than our own?
I might be bias here but flippin’ hell, you can bet your holy rose water it’s scary!
I will admit that there are some Dickensian instances where the prose goes on a little ramble (I wonder if those Victorians really did write that superfluously in their journals?).

Gary Oldman, my favourite Dracula

There are many singular moments that make up for it however. The scariest scene ever for me, from ANY book in fact, is the one where Jonathan Harker is waiting at the Borgo pass for the special carriage to take him to the Castle.
No movie version of Dracula has ever come close to the book in capturing the terror and fear of this scene in my opinion.

There are other notable passages but I could be here all day.

I hope everybody will start to understand my aversion to modern vampire fiction now. After reading Dracula, you really can’t take the likes of Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyer seriously anymore. Well I can’t anyway.