Tag Archives: reading

My 100th Post: The Best Of Blog Tour

This is my 100th post, and so I have decided to try and get 100 views to my blog today!  I have been failing to have much traffic lately, barely a handful of viewers per post, which means that even my dear friends and family may not be reading anymore.  It’s ok, I still love you – but I want you back!

The goal of 100 views is perhaps a too high, since so far the only post of mine which has gotten close to that was my Eurovision post on Conchita Wurst, and that got 90 views that day.  And that was only because of random people who had searched for the busty Polish girls and instead got my post.  Sorry, fellas.

So I’m going to have to try really hard to get people interested in the nonsense I spew forth from my keyboard.  Let’s just consider this post a Best Of Blog tour, in the hopes that at least some of what I write is appealing to the general public.

Every post you read gets me one step closer to 100!  So click away!!  Read, enjoy, or roll your eyes and look at pictures of hilarious animals instead.  Just do it after you click.

So perhaps you’re reading this because you like writing, and that is what this blog is supposed to be about.  Maybe you want to read topical posts like Worldbuilding with my discussion of Ursula Le Guin’s awesomeness or The Mirror of Fantastic Vanity in which I call out Neil Gaiman.

Or maybe you, like myself, struggle with finger-stalling brain-demons and would appreciate Mental Bran Flakes.

Perhaps, instead, you’re only here because I have Facebook press-ganged you into it, or a friend of a friend has posted this link.  In that case, maybe you’d rather read something random and potentially humourous like The Spider and the Flute: a sleep-deprivation-inspired tale of arachnid tragedy about which critics, by which I mean the only person who commented (looking at you, md456), have proclaimed: “I have not felt this sympathetic for a spider since Charlotte’s Web.” Or maybe Hobbies, or “the tale of the boob coaster” where I had an R-rated yarn-craft disaster.

Are you one of my falconry friends?  Or have a passing interest in things raptorial?  How about A Falconry Rant where I bitch about the ignorant masses at my old job as a display falconer, The Austringer’s Lament where I wax lyrically about the hunt, or There’s No Such Thing as a Stupid Question – No Wait, There is where I give up on people in general as having common sense at all.

Maybe you’ve read all these before because you’re my mother and read everything I ever post (I love you!), or maybe you’ve never read any of them and have a new-found appreciation or concern for my mental state.  Whatever the case, thank you for taking the time to read what I write.

This will also be a test of how far this platform reaches.  I have decided that the avenue of self-publishing is the only way for a new writer to break into the industry currently, as much as I long to one day hold one of my books in solid printed paper.  So without the weight of a traditional publisher behind me I will be needing to do all my own marketing and advertising, and that’s the real reason I created this blog.  An author needs to be in charge of her own online presence and so this kind of self-advertisement, however uncomfortable it makes me, is part of the game.

So read, my pretties, read!

Hipster Collie Approves

The Power of Names: A Rambling Post

I told myself I was going to write today.  Actually, I told myself I was going to write on Wednesday since I had the day off.  In typical fashion, this has not happened.  Today I went as far as open a blank document, and have it sit next to me, accusing me with its blankness since about 9ish this morning.

This is going well, obviously.

However, even if I’m not writing I’m at least reading.  I just finished rereading the Earthsea Quartet by my hero Ursula Le Guin.  And then I moved on to C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew which took all of an hour-ish to read.
The combination of the two has done funny things to my head, but the most obvious side-effect was  that I went rushing to the Husband’s Bible and found this quote which I knew I remembered from a decade or more ago, back when I was a good little Jewish girl in Hebrew school:

So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. [Genesis 2.19]

From Earthsea I came away with the intense belief in the power of names, and from The Magician’s Nephew I was awash in Genesis allegory.  Little wonder I had to connect the two.

Naming has always been associated with power, with domination, and fantasy often likes to use that as the pretext for magic.  Man named the creatures; they did not name themselves. We name children, pets, each other.  But names are external, coming from sources outwith the name-bearer; the namer has that power, not the named.

It’s not hard to see why we’ve been obsessed with the power of names for centuries.

I often feel as though fantasy reaches back towards established mythology as authors seek to bring in familiar ideas into unfamiliar terrain.  To justify the fantastic as something solid, realistic if not real.  So there we find the biblical allegory, the use of creation myths and heroic sagas.  And the same way that scholars can keep writing new treatises on these centuries-old traditions, so can authors bring new life and new perspective.

But I’m still seeking that nonexistent Unique Idea, though I should know better.

If a Book Sucks in the Forest; Is Writing Worthwhile If No One Reads It?

Admittedly it’s been about a bazillion years since my last post, long enough ago that many of you probably forgot who I am.  But nonetheless here I am, hoping that through my incoherent ramblings I might accidentally say something meaningful to a small, dwindling crowd of transient tag-surfers, Facebook friends, and Twitter tweeters.  Or maybe no one at all – at this point, I might have lost my readership through abject neglect!  Which brings me to the question of this post:

Like the tree falling in the forest which no one can hear, is writing worthwhile if no one reads it?

There are legion after legion of amateur writers scattered about the globe, writing for their own pleasure, triumph and posterity.  And their goal, almost universally, is one thing:

GETTING PUBLISHED.

Dreams of fame, fortune, and multiple houses on multiple continents may dance in their heads – writers are only human after all – but most of all it’s the idea of hundreds, if not thousands or even millions, of strangers picking up their book and being affected by it somehow.  We want that crystal-clear justification for our existence which comes from someone else telling you how great you are.  That your stories put into words the things they wanted to say for so long, but couldn’t.

I had a moment like that last week, reading a book and thinking, I should have written this!  It was exactly the sort of story I always wanted to tell, and the author told it impeccably.  This was Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, and I recommend it to everyone, even non-fantasy readers.  His prose is something to behold.

It was night again.  The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking.  If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves.  If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamour one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night.  If there had been music … but no, of course there was no music.  In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.

It manages to be elegant and meaningful without being snobbish about it, in the way modern descriptive-heavy literary fiction can get.  It’s inclusively eloquent, not eloquence designed purely to show off or make it clear how low and vulgar you, the audience, are.  And it’s a narrative within a narrative, something more stylistically interesting than typical sword-and-sorcery novels.

And it makes fun of its own genre.  Brilliantly so.

‘[…]The truth is this: I wasn’t living in a story.’

‘I don’t think I’m understanding you, Reshi,’ Bast said, puzzled.

‘Think of all the stories you’ve heard, Bast.  You have a young boy, the hero.  His parents are killed.  He sets out for vengeance.  What happens next?’

Bast hesitated, his expression puzzled.  Chronicler answered the question instead.  ‘He finds help.  A clever talking squirrel.  An old drunken swordsman.  A mad hermit in the woods.  That sort of thing.’

Kvothe nodded.  ‘Exactly!  He finds the mad hermit in the woods, proves himself worthy, and learns the names of all things, just like Taborlin the Great.  Then with all these powerful magics at his beck and call, what does he do?’

Chronicler shrugged.  ‘He finds the villains and kills them.’

‘Of course,’ Kvothe said grandly.  ‘Clean, quick, and easy as lying.  We know how it ends practically before it starts.  That’s why stories appeal to us.  They give us the clarity and simplicity our real lives lack.’

This fantasy story stays true to all the elements and themes I ever wanted to explore in Cobault or anything else I’ve written: names having power, unique narrative structure, and above all to treat a fantasy story with all the realism and complexity of real life.  Reading it has inspired me, challenged me to take this example and become better than that which I idolise.

And so The Name of the Wind is a book that has touched me, something that would have never happened if it hadn’t been made possible by publishing and distribution.  A story that no one has read is like Schrodinger’s cat – its state is unknown.  Brilliance and meaning lie in the mind of the reader.  The author is too biased, too close, to know what he/she has created.  Objectivity is needed.

But even if your story’s distribution is limited to close friends, family and a few strangers on the internet, what pleases you more than anything is someone telling you how much they enjoyed reading your work.  And I think that’s what most of us write for, above and beyond fame, fortune, and houses.

However, if your writing is well and truly terrible, maybe it’s just as well if it sucks in the forest with no one around to hear it.

Since When Does “Enthusiasm” Mean “Google Image Search”?

So I basically decided that in lieu of other serious employment prospects, I’m going to be earning my way entering every single writing competition with a cash prize that I can find.  Better than throwing my money away on lottery tickets, for sure!  And I get to practice various writing techniques and styles, and use different themes and story lengths as defined by each respective set of rules.

Through this search I found the Book Drum Tournament, which at first glance seemed like once such likely competition, only focused on reviewing previously published works instead of producing creative writing.

“Huh,” I thought, “a chance to work on my critical thinking skills.  Not a bad idea.”  But then I look closer, read the examples as listed under the “Books” tab.

Not a single bit of critical thinking among them.

What I had first assumed would be a set of independently-written Cliff’s Notes is in fact nothing more than a glorified glossary to each work.  The “bookmarks” section of each book, instead of highlighting the important themes and nuances, merely seeks to define and illustrate references to places, people and popular culture.

Book Drum claims that its competition is one “in which book lovers from Australia to Zambia can delve deep into a favourite book and, by building an illustrated profile, share their enthusiasm for it with the rest of the world.”

No.  They share their ability to use Google Image Search and Wikipedia.

If I wanted to share my enthusiasm for a book, this is exactly not how I’d do it, as a creative person.  To me, this is nothing more than a website for schoolkids to go on and cheat their way out of reading novels assigned to them.

And then those kids will fail, because they will have missed every single important thing about that book.

Ridiculous.

So, even though the prize money is good, I’m not endorsing that.  My moral outrage won’t allow it.

20,000 League Tables Under The Sea

Today I bought a secondhand copy of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea at a charity shop in St. Andrews.  The store had two copies: one slightly cheaper volume from the sixties, and one newer reprint, schnazzed up with colour illustrations.   But there was something that caught my eye – there was a noticeable difference in the story itself in the newer reprint, changing the way the text looked by making it less dense while also removing quotations and bracketed explanations.  Ultimately I decided to buy the older version, small enough to fit in my purse and £1 cheaper counts for a lot, without really thinking about the implications of the difference between the two.

Now I’m thinking it through a lot more.

I was watching Newsnight Scotland last night, and they talked about the report that Scottish education isn’t improving despite various reforms over the past decade.  One of the specifics they discussed was reading and how students don’t read for enjoyment and it’s affecting performance in that subject because they just don’t want to.

This makes me at once both sad and angry.

I’m sure there are kids who still like to read, but they’re a rare minority; even when I grew up I remember my classmates boasting about how little they read as if it were something to be proud of.  Nerds like me who read for pleasure were teased somewhat ridiculously.  “OMG why do you bring a different novel to school everyday?  You’re so weeiird!”   Um, yeah.  Good one.

Newsnight Scotland continued to discuss the problem that the largest percentage of reading done in schools is from textbooks.  This means that to these children reading mostly consists of blocks of dry text, perhaps divided up by graphs or diagrams.  Of course they don’t learn to enjoy it with that as their idea of reading.  And not only are they not learning to enjoy it, they’re not even learning how to handle reading dense paragraphs and complex sentences of the sort you’d find in a challenging classic novel.  And then if they’re assigned one in an English class they’ll be approaching it with no preparation for how to absorb that kind of literary material, and certainly no reason to think that it could be fun to do so.

I’m now seeing more clearly why this newer copy of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea chose to change the layout of the page and the very wording of the story. And I can’t condone it.  If we decide that all classic literature has to be turned into simpler, colourful versions of the original text in order for children to even begin to pick up that book, well we’ve just put the final nail in the coffin in that issue. If it has to be made easier, then we’re failing to truly educate those children. How will they ever learn that persevering with something dense and complex will lead to a better understanding, and even more ultimate enjoyment, of the story?

Simply, they won’t.

I think the way to initiate a new perspective on reading in primary and secondary schools is to teach novels!  Sure, let’s integrate Harry Potter into the curriculum!  Why the hell not?  If it gets kids to interact with the written word, to begin to think critically about it, it can only be a good thing.