Weekly Wodehouse Quote

“She fitted into my biggest armchair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing armchairs tight about the hips that season.”

My Man Jeeves

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Writers are neurotic

I have heard it said – and I have tried in vain to find a quote – that writers are neurotic. That, in order to be a writer, you have to be a little bit unhinged. Writers are full of self-doubt, spend lots of time trying to find fault – and fixing – the work they have so painstakingly put together and are at the mercies of publishers, readers and critics.

Let's just take a moment and look at a nice sky in England

Let’s just take a moment and look at a nice sky in England

The last few weeks I have really truly felt like a writer. I have abandoned my book out of sheer self-loathing and self-doubt, only to pick it up a week later full of optimism and feeling that it is not such rot after all. Writing, and especially editing, a book combined with a full time job and raising two young boys has sapped the life out of me. Some days I feel on top of the world, so happy to be working with words again. But most days, when I fall down on the couch out of sheer exhaustion, I wonder whether it is all worth it. My book will never be published, it is not even the genre I would like to write more about and who am I kidding? I have had to cut and suggest rewrites for so many passages of my book that when I finally do get to make my edits on the computer, it will be an entirely different book. Better, maybe, but it is sometimes overwhelmingly disheartening to see how bad my first draft is. Although I plotted extensively, there is still a LOT I got wrong, making me wonder what on earth I was thinking in the first place, so full of confidence I could write a book. It is true that editing is the hard part of the job. It definitely is where you feel like a failure as a writer, time and time again. I just have to find the confidence, and the energy, again to continue to make my book better so that eventually I can actually be proud of it.

Book review – Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

into the darkest cornerIn September of 2012, I went to the UK BookCrossing UnConvention, a weekend of books, authors and lots of socialising. To learn more about bookcrossing, click here. One of the authors who was going to give a talk about her books was Elizabeth Haynes. I had never heard of her – she had just published her second book when she did her talk – but I got hold of her first book Into the Darkest Corner to get an idea what type of writer she is.

One of the things I found fascinating about Elizabeth Haynes is that she writes her books during NaNoWriMo. If I remember correctly, Into the Darkest Corner was her third NaNoWriMo book and she was able to get it published. Reading the book, it is not hard to see why.

Into the Darkest Corner is the story of Catherine. When we meet Catherine, she is a timid, scared woman who is extremely OCD about locking her apartment and the route she takes to work. She does not trust anyone and when Stuart moves in into the apartment above her, it disrupts her carefully constructed life.

Elizabeth Haynes makes use of flashbacks as a device to tell the reader what has happened to Catherine to make her so frightened. Every other chapter is about Catherine in the present, the next one is of Catherine in the past. It is a very effective way of getting to know what is going on, although it does take away a bit of the suspense towards the end of the story of Catherine in the past.#

Into the Darkest Corner is very gripping. In the beginning, I found Catherine very annoying with her OCD habits and her distrust of especially Stuart. However, as I got to know her past and what happened to her, I understood her behaviour much better. Elizabeth Haynes is very good in drawing the reader into Catherine’s world and making the reader experience her fear and helplessness.

Although Into the Darkest Corner is a debut novel, it does not read like one. In her talk, Elizabeth Haynes explained that she does a lot of editing and it shows. Although the middle part of the book could use a bit more tightening up – the plot could be moved forward a bit faster – it is a very good read, and one I could heartily recommend.

Book review – Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

Remember meI am not a huge fan of chick lit, but every now and then I like to just relax with a light read. Quite some time ago, I read the Shopaholic books by Sophie Kinsella and although I thought the first one was very amusing, by the time I read the third, I was thoroughly sick of the same-ness of the books. So I decided not to read more books by Sophie Kinsella. However, a couple of weeks ago I had a very stressful week and I was not in the mood to read anything heavy. Someone had sent me Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella and since I didn’t really have anything else light to read, I decided to give Sophie another chance. I was not disappointed.

Remember Me? is the story of Lexi who wakes up after a car accident having forgotten the last three years of her life. As she recovers in the hospital, she finds out to her horror that she is married. But her husband Eric is a gorgeous millionaire and Lexi looks amazing herself with new bright white, straight teeth and a body to die for. She is thrilled with her new life, but as she returns to her home and slowly integrates back into her life, she finds out that not all is great. Her friends are strangers to her and her husband is not quite as nice and caring as he seems. And when her husband’s architect tells her that they are lovers, Lexi does not know anymore who she can believe and who she can trust.

I was impressed with the research Sophie Kinsella put into amnesia, Lexi’s confusion and disorientation in her life feel very believable. The not-s0-surprising romance between Lexi and Jon is played out very well too. Sophie Kinsella keeps her readers guessing as to what happened to Lexi to make her so ambitious and power hungry and the explanation is not entirely far fetched. I still think that her friends would not treat her the way they did had been more sympathetic and better friends. I also liked the way Lexi interacts with her housekeeper and the way that “relationship” develops.

The subplot of Lexi at work was done well too. At first you don’t understand how Lexi could have risen so high as fast as she did, as she seems (and is) very much out of her depth in her job. However, towards the end when she is fed up and wants to save the department, she really pulls it together and gets her revenge in a creative way. Maybe a bit far fetched, but not completely incredible.

The things I did not like about the book were the character of Lexi’s sister. I was a bit disappointed that there was no real explanation of her problems, I sort of expected her behavioural problems to have started because Lexi started being focused on her career, and although this is never spelt out in the book, it could have been the explanation. I really liked the way the book ended and I wish Sophie Kinsella had not felt the need to add the last chapter in the book where everything is solved. Even the impossible sister with her behavioural problems has all of a sudden sorted herself out without a satisfactory reason. This is definitely a good example of a “forced happy ending” as Schnudelumpfe mentioned in the comments of my blog post about things that annoy me in books. It would have been a better book without that chapter, in my opinion.

All in all it was a very enjoyable light read, but not too dummied down. Definitely an improvement over the Shopaholic books.

In defense of Scarlett O’Hara

Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm…

I have lately read quite a few book reviews of and discussions about Gone With the Wind. My relationship with this book goes back quite a while and it is one of my favourite books. I was therefore a bit shocked to read that so many people have a very negative view of the book in general and of the heroine in particular.

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara

When I was young, not yet a teenager, my grandmother, my oma – my mom’s mother – used to roll my sister’s and my hair in little bundles, tied together with strings. She made sure the hair was damp and the strings were on tight and we were then sent off to bed. In the morning, we would have beautiful ring-lady curls, just like Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind. Oma had an edition of the book with pictures from the movie in it and she used to let us gaze at the beautiful girls with their curly hair and gorgeous dresses. The pictures were only back and white but oh, did they speak to my imagination!

Then when I was a teenager, I saw the movie for the first time. My mom saw it with me and confided in me that when she had read the book for the first time, she walked around for days feeling that something dreadful had happened, only to remember it was the ending of Gone With the Wind that had affected her so much. Considering my mom never told us much about herself as a teenager, and especially not about her emotions as a teenager, this made a great impression on me. Needless to say, I cried for days after I saw the movie for the first time.

Scarlett O'Hara at Tara

Scarlett O’Hara at Tara

All of this is to show how my relationship with this wonderful book started. I saw the pictures, saw the movie and only then did I read the book. Nowadays, I tend to read the book before I see the movie, but not so with Gone With the Wind. In my imagination, Rhett Butler had always looked like Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh was Scarlett O’Hara.

I have to say that in my first readings of Gone With the Wind I absolutely loved and adored Scarlett. I thought she was gorgeous, strong, full of life, and I aspired to be like her. Later, as I grew up and understood life a bit better, I could see her flaws. Scarlett O’Hara is as far removed from Mary Sue as a character can possible be, but for me, she is someone who is to be admired rather than admonished. And yes, I know she is a fictional character, but she is so complex and so well-written that she might as well have been a real person.

If you have not read Gone With the Wind, please mend the error of your ways and come back when you are done. Continuing to read this blog post without knowing Scarlett O’Hara would only be confusing.Critics of Scarlett say she is ego-centric, vain, spoiled and materialistic. As I said at the beginning of my post, I was shocked that some people really seemed to hate her. To dismiss her by saying she is a bad person, you have evidently not read or understood the book. Let’s take a look at the things Scarlett did in the years that are described in the book.

  • When war came to Atlanta and the city was under siege, Scarlett stayed in aunt Pitty’s house with Melanie, helping her deliver the baby even though she desperately wanted to go home. Sure, she did not think kind thoughts of Melanie, but she still did stay and helped Melanie through a very difficult child birth. When the baby was born, she drove herself, Melanie and Prissy with the baby to Tara, fighting off anyone who tried to steal the horse or wagon.
  • And when she finally came home to her beloved Tara in the hope to be embraced by her mother, in the hope that her mother would take her burden off her and give her some support and love, she found out that her mother had died and her father had gone mad. Let’s not forget she was still only a young woman at this time, almost still a girl. She didn’t fall to pieces when she found out that her mother had died, but she took charge and kept Tara running all through the war.Hollywood's Greatest Year: The Best Picture Nominees of 1939
  • During the war, and even after the war, it was Scarlett who kept Tara running, who kept food on the table and who took care of everything. If it wasn’t for her, a lot of people who have gone hungry and died and Tara would have been lost.
  • And when the war was all over and society was slowly built up again, Scarlett worked harder than anyone. She made the wood mill a successful business, fleecing the Yankees any way she could, but being good to the men in her employ. She didn’t just sit back and let others take care of her, she reinvented herself completely.

Sure, she did not recognise the good thing she had with Rhett, as she was caught up in her childish infatuation with the oh so dull Ashley. But in a way, who could blame her? She was brought up to revere perfect gentlemen like Ashley, and she had been forced to grow up very fast in extremely difficult circumstances. It is psychologically no wonder that she clung to that last remnant of her past, when the most she had to worry about was what dress to wear to the party.

In my view, Scarlett has always been a pillar of strength. She may have wanted to wail and tear her hair out and curl up in a little ball of misery, as she had plenty of reason to, but she always got up and did what needed doing. Through all the misery, hell, and disaster, she pushed her feelings aside and kept going. She never whined and never quit. She is not always a very likable character, but she is definitely admirable.

The scene that cuts me through the heart is not the scene where she vows never to be hungry again, but rather the scene where she comes home to Tara and is told that her mother died the day before. I have always viewed that as the turning point in the book, as that is the point where she knows she doesn’t have anyone to rely on anymore and she is utterly on her own.

Although, of course, the end is the most gut-wrenching part of all. Some say Scarlett got what she deserved, and a forced happy ending to this book would have ruined it, but I still think that Margaret Mitchell was particularly cruel to Scarlett.

After Rhett tells her he is leaving her, the book ends with this – I am excerpting this a bit:

She silently watched him go up the stairs, feeling that she would strangle at the pain in her throat. With the sound of his feet dying away in the upper hall was dying the last thing that mattered.

“I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.”

6 things that annoy me in books

This blog post is inspired by the forum thread Pet Peeves in Published Books on the nanowrimo.org website.

I have made a list of six trends that annoy me in books. They can be things like style, plot devices or character development. The list is ranked from very annoying to mildly irritating.

Too many irrelevant points of view (POVs)

I am not a fan of a lot of different POVs in a book. I realise that sometimes it is important to the plot to see some of the actions from another person’s point of view. Where a writer loses me as a reader is when there are too many POVs early on in the book. Especially where most of the persons whose point of view it is do not get enough “screen time” so it is hard for me as a reader to determine whether this person is even worth investing any emotion in. I recently read a book where in the first four pages of the book, six different POVs were used and I stopped reading. I am not saying that any book with more than two POVs will be put down by me prematurely, as some authors can do it very effectively – see Elizabeth George. But when it feels that most of the POVs are irrelevant, I quit.

Randomly switching POVs

A lot of different POVs are in and of itself bad enough, but what gets me annoyed as well is when the point of view switches in the middle of a paragraph. I like to know my narrator and I find it very jarring and annoying when the narrator changes in the middle of the narration. Just wait until the scene is over and then switch to another point of view. It’s much clearer that way.

Subplot taking over main plot

This is more relevant for series of books. I like reading series where the same main character features, and this works especially well in mysteries and thrillers. But when the main character’s personal life becomes more important than the mystery they are trying to solve, I stop reading the series. One example of this is Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series. I quite enjoyed them in the beginning and then I just got annoyed by Scarpetta and Lucy and all the other secondary characters I didn’t care about.

Mary Sue

Characters have to be likable for me. I have to be able to identify with them at least on some level. Mary Sues are characters (mostly female) who are absolutely 100% perfect. They are beautiful, smart, strong and never do anything wrong. They are basically the author’s dream version of her-/himself. I like characters to have at least some real flaws. I don’t like to read about superwoman, I like to read more realistic fiction.

Confusion of speaker in dialogue

I understand that as a writer, you don’t always want to litter your dialogue with “he said” “she said”. But at the same time, the reader needs to know who is speaking and unless you can make it very clear in the dialogue who is saying what, a little speaker tag would be nice. It saves me from having to go back down the dialogue muttering “he said” “she said” to myself.

Info dumping

Of course there are moments in a book when the author has to explain some things to the reader. Some authors choose to have an interaction between two characters where one character explains what needs to be explained to the other character. Other authors choose to have the character think about the explanation. Sometimes it just cannot be avoided. But what gets me are authors who have spent a lot of time researching something and who do not want to let all that research go to waste. So they dump all that information into the story, even though it has no relevance to the plot. If that happens in a book, I generally skip those parts. But an author who does this in all his or her books can be guaranteed I will pass on their next book.

So these were a few of my “pet peeves”. I try very hard to edit these out of my book, wherever I see that I made the mistake of including them. This list is very personal and what I find annoying may be a delight for other people. Join in in the comments and let me know what you find annoying in a book.