Read, read, read your books…

This week has mostly been about reading.  Some writing has occurred, but lately, I have just been stumbling from deadline to deadline scribbling away furiously in notebooks and typing like a demon possessed.

All these assessments left scant reading time.  Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh was the first book I finished, from my ever-burgeoning pile.  I was duty bound, after a suggestion that I not bother and just ‘wing’ my review piece.  The ‘honest injun’ in me could not live with that.  I often struggle with a book, film or music album, but I rarely give up entirely.  I like to give other’s creations some grace and try to find a positive.  You never know when you might need it yourself.

Eileen Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen made me want to give up half way through, so I shelved her for a bit.  I found it repetitive, and the novel was becoming monotonous.  You know you are nearing the end of your tether when you have to restrain yourself from shouting ‘OH JUST GET ON WITH IT’ at the pages –  on a packed train, no less.

I am glad that I persevered.  My cockiness of ‘I know what is going to happen anyway’ wasn’t entirely justified,  my ego was delivered a little surprise twist.  Eileen isn’t the kind of novel I’m used to reading, so I am giving myself a wee pat on the back.  If I want to push boundaries with my writing, then I have to be willing to do the same with my reading. It is all yin and yang, innit?

After having flung Eileen to the side with a sigh of relief, I could hardly wait to get my teeth into ‘Scar Culture‘ by Toni Davidson.  Kirsty recommended this to me during one of my tutorials.  I just started it and am halfway through already.  I can hardly put it down.  It is a horrifying, yet fascinating novel and I love the way it is written, all fucked-up and jarring in snapshots and using grim, real subject matter.  I can see why it was recommended to me, it is right up my dark, weird and twisted street.  I won’t bang on about it too much, because I’m not finished yet and I’m not fond of forming half baked opinions.  I like to make informed and considered judgements on these matters, who knows, I may hate it by the end, although that seems unlikely after the electrifying kick start.

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I’ve also been reading other classmates work and sharing mine.  I was a little nervous, as my work reaches into dark places that most people don’t want to see.  These things are demanding to be written, and I must obey.  As an earlier blog title proclaims, I have no control over what comes out, my writing is as random as the nonsense that goes on inside my head.  I fell asleep early the other night, forgetting to take my make up off and woke up at mental o’ clock with a poem about potatoes going round and round in my head.  It was particularly insistent that I write it all down.  So I did, and went back to bed two hours later with black eyes and fingers covered in blue ink.  This is not the ‘wood cabin, maroon cardigan, candles, log fire and old typewriter’ glamour of the writer’s life I had envisaged for myself.

black eye jojo

I digress.  The point that I wanted to make about sharing work is how valuable the process is.  Fear accompanies everything I do, so trusting someone with my writing is a HUGE deal for me, but the rewards are worth it.  And nobody has run screaming from me…yet.  In all seriousness, I’m learning that writing and refining that writing are two separate things.  A fresh perspective enhances your original piece, and even the most self sufficient of us need a little help, to become what we are truly meant to be.

 

 

History and Wisdom

Hi everyone,

I had a really great chat with Kirsty Gunn last week, we went over my plans for the end of module portfolio and she really got me thinking about my writing. One of the things she pointed out, that I really needed to hear, was that my chosen genre of fantasy is definitely one written at a marathon pace rather than a sprint. Hopefully, that will be enough to stop that little voice in my head shouting, “you should have gotten nine million words done by now, write, write, write!” And she also gave me a great idea for some technically-not-procrastinating work, which admittedly I very rarely need help to find, the idea is to write a faux history book for my fantasy setting. Write from the point of view of a historian many years later and really explore what parts of it all would be remembered and what would be lost. I really love that, and it would be especially helpful as I am writing numerous epigraphs for chapter starts and scene changes. Plus it would probably be a good way to finally settle on what I want to happen. I have tried to outline it before, I swear, it’s just everytime I do I come up with something new to add in.

I’m getting my way through Helen Scales’ “Spirals in Time” at the moment. It’s a really interesting and well-written look at shellfish and their evolution. And yes, I realise that this does not seem like something interesting, but I’m enjoying it and learning a lot. I also have  to admit something rather bad – I totally picked the book up because of its beautiful cover. Which is of course the exact opposite of what we are told to do, but it seems to have worked out this time. Sometimes good books have good covers too!

Anyway I think that will be all this week, my wisdom teeth have made an unwelcome resurgance and I would really love to know why we have them at all. Is it too much to ask that they could just spontaneously disappear?

See you next time,

Kirsty

The World Seems To Be Recommending Dystopian Reading

Hello all,

This week the news would inspire anyone into writing a dystopian novel and I’m afraid what I’ve been reading isn’t doing much to counter it.

An article that recently caught my attention was on a paper about ants that have created a colony in a disused nuclear weapons bunker in Poland. It turns out that they fall down a ventilation pipe from a more standard colony on the surface and once down there they cannot escape. They then make do the best they can in an entirely dark environment with minimal food and a temperature that doesn’t make it very far up the thermometer. The description is fantastic in both the article and the paper itself, it talks about the inches thick ant cemetery that borders the colony and the mystery of what exactly they manage to survive on. I’m sure this could be used as a metaphor in any number of novels and stories, in fact even the article acknowledges that the paper “reads like a dystopian novel from the 1970s”. You can read the article and get links to the paper itself at  http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/09/bizarre-ant-colony-discovered-in-an-abandoned-polish-nuclear-weapons-bunker/

 

One of the reasons it seemed to grab me was because I recently started reading “Constellation” by Adrien Bosc, winner of The Académie Française Prize. It is a biography of the forty eight people who died in a plane crash in 1949. So the idea of falling from one existence to another has been on my mind a bit this week. But then it’s a story seed that I imagine has grown into many trees over the years and I can’t imagine that it comes from a source that will have a famine any time soon.

 

I’ve also decided to have a bit of a reread of some Shakespeare plays, starting this week with “The Tempest”. Not the whole thing unfortunately, not yet anyway, but enough to remember how much I wanted to set Ariel free on my first reading of it. Next up should be a certain Scottish Play, but I’m tempted to save that for Halloween and instead skip to “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. At the moment the idea of mischievous faeries causing trouble seems a lot better than the idea that everything that’s happening right now is a purely human happenstance.

 

I told everyone last week about how I do a little “Dungeons and Dragons” and that seems to have caught people’s attention! Well believe me I am very happy to talk about it. D&D has pulled me in at the moment as it gives me the chance to build a world, populate it with characters and then dump my friends and family in it. It’s very performative, not only do I have to show my friends what’s been occupying my time, but I also have to describe the characters and settings, speak for the characters and sometimes use silly voices for those characters. You lose any preciousness fast, it’s very easy to see a beautifully planned piece of work go completely off the rails because someone decides to ignore the cross roads entirely and go hiking instead. Also, as I don’t want to kill off my characters too quickly I have to keep the foes to within allowed parameters. Much less hand waving of the Deus Ex Machina style is allowed when there are other people who can see the rules. I’m still learning to navigate those rules, but I think I’m getting better. Obviously I would recommend D&D to anyone that has the time and the chance to play it, but another narrative rich game I would point out to any readers looking for something to play is “Fallen London” which you can play online for free. The writing is great and the setting is wonderfully deep and rich.

 

I’m afraid I must leave you now, so good bye and I’ll see you next week,

Kirsty Mackay

Today, I finished…

We read an extract from Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter in class.  The words leapt from the page and slapped my face.  ‘Read me, read me! You know this!’ they cried.

I bought the book.

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I started reading.

I cried, several times.  I laughed, so loud on the train that people were staring at me.  I did their thinking for them.  ‘Look at that sick weirdo, reading a book about grief and laughing. Tut, tut, tsk tsk.’  I smiled and kept on reading, lost in the words and the feelings once more.

I finished the book today.

I am afraid to write about it.  I am not ready.  I look at Facebook.  I make a cup of hot, sweet tea – writer’s fuel, that is.  I look at Facebook again, mindlessly scrolling up and down, minutes dissolving into the ether of useless information.

I finished the book today.  My blog post is due tomorrow.   I must begin writing.  Just write.

Music will help.  I make a playlist.  I take a photograph of the book for the blog.  Break up the text with pictures.  I capture another image, of the book I have finished on top of the other books I have yet to finish, but would find easier to write about.

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It is 10.47 am and I haven’t eaten a thing.  I grudgingly make brunch, accompanied by yet another cup of tea. I look at the writing table I have set up.  Maybe I should hand write it first I muse, and rummage around for my notebook and pen.  Is everyone’s writing process like this?  Maybe there’s an image for that?  I google ‘the writing process’.

Writers pie chart

Twitter distracts me further.  I throw my phone down on the table in frustration and consider taking a hammer to it.  Instead, I pick up my pen and finally begin to write.

So, here we are.  I finished the book today.

Max Porter artfully uses dark humour in his description of looking out from a maelstrom of grief, setting the scene with a series of detached observations.  I have been a central character in that parade, surrounded by family, close friends, part-time friends, strangers, wannabe friends, and drama-by-proxy addicts, tripping over themselves to dole out advice or share personal experiences that have, frankly, fuck-all to do with anything you are feeling.

Porter shares the circus of it all with stark honesty, harnessing the spaced out feelings of the first few days perfectly. Grieving feels like being ripped out of your own life and plonked on an empty stage in an empty theatre, to star in an absurd play.  The audience float around outside the theatre, whilst the you that everyone sees smiles weakly, nods, croaks thanks.  The unseen, simultaneous roles of you respond quite differently, often with a great deal of swearing and, an occasional punch in the face.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers is a fractured account of shared experiences written from multiple perspectives in a myriad of ways.  The writing style achieves the feeling of making complete sense, whilst making no sense at all.   Crow, our antagonist and hero rolled into one is invited in, yet invades the remains of this family.  Throughout the narrative, Crow hops and darts around the boys and the father, tormenting and saving, hurting and healing.  He pecks at the darkest parts of humanity and is the father, the boys, grief, anger, hope, the past, the future  – a black mirror in which to view ourselves as we truly are.  I found this book easy to read, drinking in all its darkness and light.  Heartfelt honesty and clever imagery paints an emotive masterpiece that is accessible to all, whether you have been cast in the death show or not.  You may finish this book, but it will not be finished with you.

Books end.  Grief does not.  I finished my blog post.

ENDS

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I’m an Aberdonian in Dundee…

Fit like?  I am Jo, native Aberdonian, former teuchter and adopted Glaswegian.  I also have blue hair.  I’m the scary one that spends a great deal of time trying not to swear (as much) in class.  I have always been a writer.  Since I was a kid, my nose was either buried in a book or I was scribbling furiously in notebooks –  in between catching tadpoles and fighting with boys.

My all-time favourite book is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  I was spellbound by Roald Dahl’s imaginative storytelling, absurd hilarity and wonderful hyper-real characters.  I read George’s Marvellous Medicine countless times, along with The Twits, using the world of fantasy and magic as an escape from the real world.

I read a short story called ‘The Pedestrian’ by Ray Bradbury and went on to trawl my way through everything he ever penned, but I have a special fondness for Something Wicked This Way Comes.  If you haven’t partaken already, I insist that you do.  From then on, my love affair with weirdness and wonder has done nothing but mushroom, bordering on the obsessive.  I drooled over books that had a series of three or more, becoming a sucker for Science Fiction and Fantasy. I devoured titles by Douglas Adams, Phillip K Dick, Terry Pratchett, David Eddings, JRR Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, Robert Jordan, Stephen Donaldson and a whole host of others.  I love the anticipation of being sucked into another world.

I’m not what you would call ‘well read’, and feel a little intimidated by the academic parts of the class.  I just read what I like.  I was possessed by George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and its relevance to the present day continues to astound me.  I own a giant, ever growing book pile which includes one huge book containing seven George Orwell novels.  I will finish it one day, but something new always gets added to the pile.  I accepted a long time ago that I’ll never be ‘done’ reading.  There are simply too many great books, there is no finish line for me.

I adore the strange and unusual, so when a friend suggested that I read Kurt Vonnegut, I selected Slaughterhouse Five.  I was not disappointed.  I love stories that fling your brain around in a knapsack and chuck it at a brick wall, so that half way through the book, you are going ‘eh? Fits this aboot?’ and by the end of the book you are still not really sure because it is all up for debate.  Slaughterhouse Five did that to me and I am insanely (literally) looking forward to reading more of his work.  I am not a fan of sugary ‘new equilibrium’ Hollywood endings.

I recently finished The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.  I was really disappointed and quite annoyed, because it took me ages to finish.  I really struggled with it.  My high expectations that it might give me some answers about my own grieving process were not met in the slightest.

I am currently reading two books (I have a terrible habit of reading several books at once) The Grief Club by Melody Beattie – not what I would usually read, but on advice I gave it a whirl.  One chapter at a time is all I can do, but I am getting lots of healing from it despite the slow going.  The other book I am reading at the moment is The Zen Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury – a superb collection of essays and short stories about his writing processes.  I am practically overdosing on inspiration despite being just halfway through. It inspired me to find this course.

What do I want out of this year?  I want to scream in the face of fear, write anyway and become my own Ray Bradbury, a writing rebel with pen poised, ready to break all the rules.

book pile