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In which I discover FanFiction…

Posted in Opinion, Personal
on August 28, 2017
writing-fanfiction

I have a confession to make.

I’ve been unfaithful to this blog.

I’ve been writing somewhere else.

And I’ve liked it.

I know it’s been radio silence here for a while – I’ve got about six half finished blogs I need to complete and upload, most of which are now hideously out of date. But I’ve actually, word count wise, written much more in my absence than I normally would here.

You see; I’ve been writing FanFiction. (Phew. That felt good to get off my chest).

And what’s more, people are actually reading it. (More than can be said for this blog!). And liking it. And commenting.

In a couple of months I’ve written 50K words of my story. (No. I’m not going to link. No, I’m not going to tell you what category it’s under. But, if you know me, you’ll probably be able to work it out/find it).

50k is somewhere between a third and half of a novel. And I’ve stuck with it, and I’m still going. I’m not saying it’s novel-worthy content – it certainly took me a few chapters to get into my stride – but it’s a start. It’s got me back into the swing of writing a little each night. It’s got me thinking about plot, characterisation, language (y’know, the fundamentals of writing). Most importantly, I’ve remembered the absolute joy I feel when I get lost in the midst of a plot.

So, I hear you ask, why FanFiction? Why not plunge straight back into the deep end again and start my attempt at a novel number 752?

Well partly, because I’ve run out of plot ideas after so many failed attempts at writing my novel, but that aside, I think FF is a fantastic tool for any aspiring writer.

There’s a discipline to FanFiction which you don’t necessarily have when you create everything yourself – particularly around characterisation. When characters already exist, have been established and have a large fan base there is a lot to live up to. The best FanFiction is able to get under the skin of characters someone else has created. There are some universes which have lots of character background to go from (think Harry Potter, or similar), but there are others where there are only a few episodes, or short books to go from – and in either case to be able to understand creations which aren’t your own is an art. Some of the stories I have read deserve to be published in their own right (of course, they can’t be, since they borrow other’s creations); but the quality of writing is so much higher than you often come across in the world of modern publishing. (*cough* ghostwritten books “by” celebrities to name just one, hideous, example).

Another aspect of FanFiction which is, somewhat, unusual is the convention of uploading a chapter as and when you have written it, rather than posting the whole fic in one go. (Of course, some authors have the discipline to write the whole thing first and then upload it in snippets, but they are better people than I). It’s a different, more immediate way of writing. And it also means that if you want to carry your readers along for the whole ride, you’ve got to be writing something pretty good. Back in the day, it was fairly common for books to be serialised (think Dickens’ Bleak House, which started off as a serial, and ran for 18 months – no wonder it’s so long and convoluted!). There’s something very freeing about being able to publish something as soon as you’ve finished it – without second guessing yourself too much. I’ve sat on beginnings of books for years because I’m too scared to show anyone. This removes all of that.

Which isn’t to say you don’t need to take care over the writing and editing…If the writing is poor (and yes, for all the good writing in FF, there is a lot which doesn’t quite cut the mustard); people aren’t going to subscribe to you, they won’t come back to keep reading – so there is an implied pressure to keep up the quality of your chapters. All of this is good – of course. I can normally tell if my writing is good or not, or if I’ve put out a weaker chapter, but having this confirmed is very useful. Ultimately, it’s what makes you a better writer.

And then, there’s the community; the people in the FanFiction world are great (at least all the ones I’ve come across). Writing can be very solitary at times – and it can be hard to write without distraction. Knowing that when you upload a new chapter people will comment, and “like” it, and post about it elsewhere is a very powerful motivational force. And what’s more, the majority of people won’t just give you a line or two saying ‘Great Chapter, I love it!’; they’ll give you a full critique, which often runs to paragraphs of them discussing your work. This is gold-dust as far as a writer is concerned, it’s such a valuable resource to be able to tap into.

Commenters don’t often have harsh criticism. They tend to focus on the positives (which is lovely for a delicate snowflake like myself) – but there is still a lot to be gained from this. You can look at the bits they like, and then if there’s anything they haven’t mentioned – or a repeatedly ignored section – then you can have a hard look at them again and work out why they don’t quite read properly. It puts onus on you, but it’s a good inbetween reviewing the work yourself and having a big-scary-editor type pull it apart. Plus encouragement is needed sometimes – to get yourself into the discipline of writing regularly, and in a style that people are receptive to, you do need a little boost here and there.

I’ve learnt more than I thought I would in my few months in the fanfiction world. I’m mostly flabbergasted that anyone would actually read my writing, and eternally grateful that they have. I think it really is the people, and their support which makes writing for it so enjoyable. I’d encourage anyone who’s suffering from a bit of writer’s block, or just wants to write something for fun for a change to give it ago. Get sucked in. Embrace the fictional worlds that others have created. Work out how to write other people’s characters and receive instant feedback. It may just be the inspiration you need to get you started on your bigger projects.

As for me? I’m enjoying it far too much to let go of my little tales. I’m in for the long haul.

The characters I wanted to be…

Posted in Books, Favourites, Opinion, Personal
on April 22, 2017
Characters I wanted to be

I’m playing around with the imagery I use for blog titles at the moment – expect to see a few different things until I settle on my look!

It’s hardly surprising that so many of us bookworms have a secret hankering to be one – or more – of the characters in the books we read. Escapism is a large reason for most of us reading after all. And for those of us with an over-active imagination (ahem) it’s all too easy to insert ourselves neatly into the story and rewrite chunks of the novel to suit our purposes (more on that later).

I remember doing this frequently throughout my childhood, and teens… and okay yes, still even now. (Hey, why be a grown up with a job and bills to pay when you can instead be some lovelorn heroine somewhere?).  So, here are some of the characters I remember wishing I was. Including all the embarrassing ones. Please don’t judge.

Anne of Green Gables

Lord knows why. She was always getting into scrapes, but I suppose she was good hearted and it mostly turned out alright for her. Apart from when she dyed her hair green. It was probably because I share in her tendency for bossiness.

Jo March AND Beth March

Okay, this probably needs some explanation. Really I wanted to be Beth, except she was a little bit boring and then there’s the whole bit where she dies. I liked the idea of everyone thinking I was good and nice and on some elevated level of moral high ground. BUT, what I really liked was Jo’s sense of adventure and trouble. I could definitely see myself having lots of fun with Laurie and being a writer like her… And in my version, there’s none of that German professor lark. She marries Laurie like she was meant to (Laurie may well have been my first crush – is that embarrassing?), lives in the lap of luxury over the road, and writes till her heart is content, whilst listening to Bethy play the piano. Seee? Much better than the original.

Lyra Belacqua

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m quite the fan of His Dark Materials. I love Lyra’s world of armoured bears, of witches, daemons, gyptians… I so wanted to be her, to have a best friend in Pan and to have the affection of Will Parry. Lyra is so cool. She’s fearless, adventurous and clever with a firm sense of right and wrong. Plus she’s really good at telling lies and I’ve always been rubbish at that. She garners respect from characters she encounters – characters who, we are made to understand, do not give their respect easily. She’s got an alethiometer which tells her anything she asks, she travels throughout different worlds, and she can do anything that she puts her mind to. Which is exactly why I used to wish and imagine myself as her all the time. Needless to say, I rewrote the ending of this one in my mind too – my version was much neater, much less literary but much more heart-warming (for those that have read the books, all I’ll say is all the worlds stay open in my head).

Bella Swan

Yeah, let’s move on sharpish from this one. I’m sure there was a reason why, as a 17 year old at an all girls’ school, I found the idea of having a sparkly vampire boyfriend attractive, but I can’t for the life of me remember why.

Darrell Rivers

Pre-aforementioned all-girls’ school. I think I was mostly attracted by the idea of midnight feasts and playing tricks. Needless to say I felt very short-changed when I arrived at mine.

Mildred Hubble 

Before Harry Potter came out, Mildred was my absolute hero. For a number of reasons – mostly, because she was the worst witch, and thus something I could identify with. She was also always scruffy looking – again I could definitely sympathise with. And she had a best friend called Maud, which seemed to me to be the most fantastically antiquated name ever (and therefore fantastic). I think I was just the teenie tiniest bit obsessed with magic too. Although curiously, I never fancied being Hermione. Funny that, eh?

Alice in Wonderland

Pretty inevitable really given my name and the fact that I live in the town where Lewis Carroll lived (probably only for five minutes, but why let that get in the way of a good tourist trap). Her adventures in Wonderland and through the looking glass were exciting, bizarre, intriguing and – well – filled with wonder. Aside from Carroll’s way with words (particularly poetry), I liked the idea that you could go exploring, talk to animals, grow big and small and escape the murderous queen of hearts.

So of these all, I think Lyra was the character I most desperately wanted to be, but Bella Swan occupied too much of my imagination too. (Cringe. Sorry. I know I’ve disappointed you all).  There were lots of other worlds that I wanted to be in, but these didn’t have characters I particularly wanted to be – such as Harry Potter, The Discworld, some of Marcus Sedgwick’s novels – perhaps that’s for another blog though.

Did you have any characters you wanted to be?

Cosy Comforts and Cuppas

Posted in Books, Personal
on March 27, 2017
the books in my room

I’ve been rubbish at blogging recently. Really rubbish. My goal of posting at least once a week has completely gone out of the window. My last update was on the 12th February. Whoops!

In my defence, I’ve been rather busy since then. I’ve moved house and job, and have (shockingly) a slightly longer commute than my previous seven and a half minutes. I’ve also had a few weekends away, had to repair my car (curse you small stones causing my window screen to crack) and generally found that my evenings seem a lot less free than they used to be. Oh, and I now live in a different county to my boyfriend – you’d have thought this might mean I have more time on my hands, but actually, it really doesn’t .

Anyway, my point is, I’ve been busy – not to mention adjusting to a different life. And while things have been settling down, all I’ve wanted to read are my cosy comfort books. They make me happy – but they don’t exactly make for good blog fodder. If I’m entirely honest, I’ve been listening to more audio books than actually reading much (well, I may as well make some use out of my commutes, eh?).  I’d feel like too much of a cheat if I tried to make out that I’d read any of them.

Anyway, I’ve come to the end of the month’s grace period that I gave myself. I’m pretty settled at work, and I’ve learnt to put up with the hardships of moving back in with my parents (temporarily), and all that I must endure in the way of having my laundry done for me, and meals cooked. It really is a hard life.

So I now have no excuse but to get my act together and start blogging again properly.  I have some ideas for upcoming blog posts that I’m really excited about. I love writing. I forget how much I love writing when I take a break from it, and as soon as I start again it all comes flooding back to me.  That probably makes me sound like a massive nerd. I probably am.

My new job doesn’t involve as much copywriting as my previous one; I’m more more concentrated on the other aspects of marketing. It’s exciting for me – and certainly pushing me out of my comfort zone a little. And because I’m writing less in my day to day job, I’m more excited about writing outside of work.

So now, sat in my old bedroom, surrounded by all my old books, I’m ready to talk literature, lifestyle and tea again, until I’m blue in the face.

Enjoy!

My Favourite Books: Part Two

Posted in Books, Favourites, Personal
on February 4, 2017
writing notes

I’ll admit it. I’ve been putting off writing the second part of this post. I am completely and utterly indecisive. I’d chosen my four obvious choices, and here comes the difficult bit. I *think* I’ve decided now; but at the point of island drop off, I do reserve the right to change my mind and demand a last minute Katie Fforde.

Without further ado…

William Shakespeare, The Complete Works (Or if I have to choose one, Hamlet)

Well, I mean, how could I not? It’s Shakespeare. I don’t think I even need to explain why I’d want to take this with me. If nothing else, than the sheer variety in the texts will keep me entertained until help is sent.

And why Hamlet in particular, I hear you ask? Okay, I don’t, but that’s not going to stop me. Hamlet is the play I have studied most extensively, so I should be able to muster a few words about it. It’s a dramatic play, but it’s also a play about language and words. Important plot details are frequently communicated to us through a character’s narration, and even things that we’ve seen on stage are then relayed to us by characters. You can’t trust anyone’s words, which gives the play layer after layer. And I really, really love words, so I think this one is particularly clever

I’ve been lucky enough to see it performed several times (my favourite, so far, being Rory Kinnear as Hamlet), and it truly is a play where a director’s interpretation can completely redesign it. Perhaps because so much action happens off stage, or perhaps because it addresses themes that remain quite topical (corrupt politicians in this day and age? I hear you ask, aghast. NEVER), but I’ve seen it re-imagined in so many different ways, and never thought ‘Hmmm, I’m not so sure about this’.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it’s the inspiration behind one of my favourite comedy sketches of all times. (Ahhh, Victoria Wood).

Favourite Quote: hmmmm…

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Eva Rice, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets

I will forever be indebted to the friend (Hi Becky!) who introduced me to this cosy, comforting, beauty of a book. It has many things in its favour: it’s set in the 1950s (a decade I’m fascinated with), around Bath and London (two of my favourite places), with an abundance of interesting characters (always a plus for a book).

To say the plot is sweet is to do it a bit of a disservice. It is sweet, there is no malice and it does seem like quite a safe world – but that’s not to say the characters don’t experience worry, heartbreak, sadness and everything else which characters are want to experience. It is the characters really, who elevate this from a book I enjoyed, to a book I’d happily be stuck on a desert island with.  Eva Rice has created a world that you want to disappear into, and characters who you want to be friends with. It’s heart-warming. Romantic. Lovely.  Harry, Charlotte, Penelope – they’re so real, so well developed, so delightful.

The only thing that irritated me the first time I read it, was that Penelope, as a student, seems to do absolutely no essays whatsoever. That just didn’t seem fair. Still, I have a feeling the whole reason I was reading it in the first place was to put off some university work that I didn’t fancy doing at the time, so I can hardly hold that against it. You do see these characters develop, and form friendships – Charlotte, for example, bursts onto the scene, seemingly the most confident girl in the world – but you soon learn that there’s so much more to her than that initial impression. So many books concentrate on plot and leave you with some rather two dimensional characters, but not this one. It’s truly refreshing.

I’m not doing a terribly good job at describing why I love this one so much, but trust me. It’s wonderful.

Favourite Quote: “There’s never any warning that something extraordinary is about to happen, is there?”

For my last two choices, I have decided to stray away slightly from the books I’ve thumbed through, and chosen ones that I have read, but not necessarily re-read. Books that I’ve enjoyed, of course, but ones which I am not quite so familiar with.

Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials

Please let me take the whole trilogy! If an edition of them all together doesn’t exist, I’ll superglue my copies together.

I read these a long time ago, and they did take me a little while to get into. They certainly weren’t like the Harry Potter series – where I was hooked almost as soon as I picked the first one up. But with a little perseverance, I found myself in love with Lyra’s world, her Oxford, the North…and so much more.

This was, in part, due to the excellent play put on at the National Theatre, which I saw just as I was really starting to appreciate these novels. It was an extraordinary production, using some of the cleverest puppetry that I’ve ever seen. Those who are familiar with the books will know that characters in Lyra’s world have daemons – representations of their souls which take on animal form – and that as children these daemons change form regularly. I don’t even know where those who staged the play started with a challenge of this magnitude, but they certainly rose to it.

Pullman, it is fair to say, wrote a children’s novel in an adult way. It is a more difficult read than many of a similar nature, and it is for that reason that these are the books that I’d want to be stuck with. I’m currently listening to the audio book (of course I am), and already I’m noticing so many nuances that went over my head as a somewhat precocious teenager. Characters face truly difficult challenges, they put themselves on the line, and you see the hard consequences of their mistakes. Alongside this of course, many wonderful things do happen to them too, but it is a very dangerous and – at times – frightening world they find themselves in. There is so much depth to these books, so many themes and issues which are addressed – and I want to have the time to really explore them properly again.

Favourite Quote: “Tell them stories. They need the truth. You must tell them true stories, and everything will be well, just tell them stories.”

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Homes

Well, if anyone is going to give me a clue about how to get off the island, it’s probably be Sherlock Holmes.

I have dived in and out of the Sherlock Holmes adventures time and time again. I studied them at university. I’m an avid Sherlock fan. After an interview in London once, I took myself off to the Sherlock Holmes museum. We even own a game called 221b Baker Street. It’s safe to say, I’m a bit of a fan.

Perhaps I’m just a bit stupid, but no matter how many of these I read, I still can’t get the answer before Holmes spells it out to me. And I suppose that’s why I want to take these books with me. I think I’d learn an awful lot – not just about detective work, but also about how to construct a story, how to plot, and plan and leave enough clues to get people giving, but not enough as to make it so obvious.

Holmes and Watson have inspired so many spin offs, and have this enduring quality that remains just as popular today as it was back in Conan Doyle’s day. They’re characters that everyone feels they know well even if they’ve not read much or any of the stories.

Plus they’re all quite short, so it might be a bit of light relief in between all the other books I’m taking with me..!

Favourite Quote: “Excellent!” I cried. “Elementary,” said he.”

(Because, as we all know, the world famous ‘Elementary my dear Watson’ quote isn’t actually in the text anywhere).

So there we go, a little later than planned. That’s my 8 books. There were some very other close contenders to this list. Terry Pratchett could easily have made up all eight choices – but I thought I needed something that wasn’t a comedic novel. Equally the Harry Potter books (I’m hoping that if stranded on a Desert Island I will still be able to recall most of the story).  Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not on here because, although a wonderful piece of literature, on balance, on a desert island, I don’t think I’d want to dwell on something so tragic.  Similarly, books like Anne Frank’s Diary, which have had a profound impact on me, just didn’t seem appropriate to bring to an island.

What would your choices be?