Saturday 18 December 2010

Curious incidents with mirrors

How often do you look in the mirror and think: my long blond hair flows over my shoulders, a little straggly at the ends but nothing a good brushing won't sort out. My eyes are wide and bright and eager, the colour of the sea on a summer's day. My skin is porcelain, beautifully clear on account of the full skin regime my mother insisted on since I was fifteen; my neck is long and elegant... etc etc

My guess is that it's not often - if ever. So why do authors invent such peculiar ways to describe their characters?

As a writer, I rarely describe what my character looks like unless it is vital to the plot. It doesn't seem relevant to me, because as a reader it jars. I've been reading Light on Snow by Anita Shreve, which has inspired these thoughts. On the whole the book was enjoyable and seemed only to have the degree of description needed to convey the plot... until she had her twelve year old narrator look at herself in a mirror in a police station staff room and describe what she saw, in much the same awkward way I did at the start of this post. It was unnecessary to the plot at that point and totally jarred with the rest of the scene, which was quite tense and serious.

I much prefer to visualise for myself what the characters look like; I think that the character of the person is more important. If, for example, my character was very vain, yes I would definitely have her look in every single mirror and describe what she saw. If a character was obsessed by another, I was probably use that as the need to describe every tiny insignificant detail because that's what the obsessed person would be seeing.

Perhaps I should try it though: I could have people checking out their features in their turned off mobile phone, the concave of a desert spoon, the highly polished surface of a High Def flat screen TV.... oh, the possibilities :-)

Until my next rant, enjoy the snow!!

Thursday 9 December 2010

Books I wish I'd written

Inspiration seems to have frozen as deeply as the weather outside, so I thought I would share a few of the books I wish I'd written (which are also some of my favourite books, so also take this list as books I recommend).

Fight Club by Chuck Palanhuick - Obviously this book was made into that film with the gorgeous Brad Pitt and incredibly talented Ed Norton. I first read the book after I watched the film, and I believe it's better. The ending makes so much more sense in the book! The prose is highly stylized and rhythmic, with the kind of repetition of words and ideas that I sometimes employ myself. It's a joy to read and very satisfying when you reach the end.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom - I've mentioned this book in other posts and also, I think, on Facebook. It's a very happy and uplifting book, which gives a new take on Heaven. The main character is a lovely old man who doesn't feel he's achieved his life's ambitions due to outisde influences such as WWII.  I'm not sure I can say much more about this book, but I highly recommend this book. I should also mention that I bought this book entirely based on the title, which makes me realise how important titles really are.

Quite Contrary by Suzannah Dunn - I found this book in a discount book shop just after I'd read an article about it where the author mentioned it was only 56,000 words long. I bought it because of its length basically, but the writing is so rounded and believable, and the dialogue rings very true.

Snake by Kate Jennings - Set in the Australian outback it charts the life of a dissatisfied couple. Again, I picked this book up because it's very short, some of the chapters are barely two or three paragraphs long, and it's good for me to know that there are some publishers who are willing to take risks with prose. Kate Jennings is a poet, first and foremost, and you can definitely tell by reading this novel. The writing flows so well and so powerfully, so many emotions are shaped with so few words.

I need something by Margaret Atwood on this list, so I'm going to chose The Robber Bride. I think this was the first Margaret Atwood book I read, then I worked backwards. Whenever I read her, I mimic her style, which is long and descriptive and flowing and veers off in so many tangents. My style mimicking her style works very badly, but it's a lesson for me in how to write more expansively. In The Robber Bride, for example, she has a character who likes to reverse her words and sentences (if I remember correctly, it's been a while since I read it) - which is a perfect devise for writing everything out twice and doubling the word count!!!!

And lastly, Paradise by Toni Morrison - I was surprised to enjoy this book, because at school I read Beloved, and found it very difficult to get past the first page without being totally confused; there was just something very peculiar about the prose that didn't agree with me. Paradise, on the other hand, did everything I love about reading about foreign countries - it toally immersed me and made even the most mundane things about daily Deep South life seem exotic. Whenever I read it I always embark on an exercise to make South East Cornwall seem exotic - I haven't achieved it yet.

That's my list. I hope you search out a couple of these, or perhaps share your favourite books with me.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

The story of Omelette

As most of you will already know - because most of you find yourself here from my Facebook page - I won 3rd Prize in the Words With Jam short story competition. It was a big surprise as I researched the magazine after I sent my entry and decided it wasn't the sort of thing they would publish. So a big thank you to Words With Jam and here's another link, in case you missed it on Facebook ---> Omelette. I am on page 47.

I thought I would share how warped my writing process is, as this story perfectly illustrates it. This was actually a very recently written story, and yes, if you haven't read it, it is about omelette. I like omelette and eat an awful lot of it, basically because I can't cook very much else, and due to my working patterns, I need a filling meal at lunchtime. So I eat omelette, and I always make it the same way. My way to vary it is to add chives instead of basil, or to add spring onion to the baked beans I always have too.

So, one day, as I was eating, I thought... 'Ooh, maybe I could write about omelette!'  See, I told you it was warped.

And now, because I'm aware that this isn't the most exciting post I've ever written, here is my perfect, tried and tested recipe for the best omelette and baked bean meal ever:

3 egg omelette, made with just eggs (no milk!), and a teaspoon of basil.
On top of this, add slices of tomato and spinach leaves
On top of that, add half a tin of baked beans, with added sweatcorn, mushrooms and spring onion
On top of that, add grated carrot and cheese.

Perfect! Enjoy your omelette!