The Liebster Award

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When I first started blogging, I wasn’t aware that there were such things as blogging awards, but apparently there are- and I’m chuffed to have been nominated for one thanks to the lovely and very interesting Yasmine over at http://ymulholland.wordpress.com.

For those of you who don’t know, blogging awards are a really great way of gaining exposure for relatively new bloggers, enabling them to reach new audiences of like-minded individuals. If you get nominated for the Liebster Award, all you have to do is follow the rules below:

·       Thank the blogger that nominated you and share a link back to their blog.

·       Display the award on your blog.

·       List 11 facts about yourself.

·       Answer 11 questions chosen by the blogger that nominated you.

·      Think of 11 new questions to ask your nominees.

·       Nominate 5-11 blogs that you think deserve the award and who have less than 1,000  followers. You can nominate blogs that have already received the award, but you can’t renominate the blog that nominated you.

·        Inform nominees of the award

11 Facts About Myself

  1. Growing up in a family of Huddersfield Town supporters meant that I used to have a season ticket when I was a child. I haven’t been for about 10 years, but I do still enjoy watching the odd football match- it’s the only sport I actually like!
  2.  I love animals and get really attached to pets. Although I was brought up to be a carnivore, I was also taught that all living things deserve to be treated with love and respect. When my 19 year old goldfish died I cried like a baby.
  3. I’ve always been really intrigued by magic and the supernatural. When I was a teenager, me and my best friend used to do spells, and my mum, brother, and I like to talk about anything relating to the supernatural.
  4.  I tried to be a vegetarian once, but failed- I just felt ill all the time! So now I eat chicken and fish. My dairy intake is also quite limited as I have a mild lactose intolerance.
  5. I’m a really emotional person and cry at everything- books, films (even Disney!), music, adverts…
  6.  I LOVE dancing, as I’m sure anyone who’s seen me on a night out will testify.    After reading it’s my favourite thing to do.
  7. I barely wear any make-up anyway, but I try to only buy cosmetics that are BUAV approved (not tested on animals). This can be quite difficult!
  8.  People always mention what a happy, positive person I am, but I can be really moody and stroppy when I want to be…generally when people don’t understand my need to be alone!
  9.  I’m not at all motivated by money- and I don’t have a lot of respect for people who are.
  10. Some of my favourite words are ‘rapture’, ‘melancholy’, ‘effervescent’, and ‘mellifluous’.
  11. I used to be obsessed with Emily Bronte and went through a phase of thinking I was her in a past life!  

11    Questions From http://ymulholland.wordpress.com :

  1. What was your favourite book as a child/teen?

My favourite books were The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and Little Women, both of which I used to read on an annual basis. The magical elements of Narnia captivated my imagination and I really wanted an Aslan of my own. I loved Little Women so much because I identified with Jo March. Like me, she loved books and writing and didn’t really care what anyone thought about her. Both books still have the power to reduce me to tears!

  1. Who is/are your favourite author/s?

There are so many brilliant authors out there, but I generally sway towards those who have quite a poetic or exuberant writing style, like Ben Okri and Angela Carter, or those who write about the fragility and complexity of relationships, like Amy Tan, Kate Atkinson, Maggie O’Farrell, or Joanne Harris. I’m definitely not a style over substance person, but a writer’s prose style can make or break a book for me.

  1. Which book, or books, has had the most influence or impact on you?

Many books have had a big impact on me, but, in recent years, I’d say Kate Atkinson’s Behind The Scenes At The Museum really resonated with me in a way that I’d never experienced before. Besides being funny, poignant and intensely readable, it made me reflect on my own maternal family history, and made me think about writing my own family members into history so that they don’t become ‘lost in time’.

  1. What is your favourite literary era/time period?

I really enjoy gothic fiction, so the whole period of Victorian literature is wonderful. The idea that there was so much passion, superstition, and fear of social change lingering underneath/behind the stiff corsets and upper lips of the 1800s fascinates me!

  1. How would you describe yourself as a reader?

Involved. I find it difficult to extricate myself from what is going on and think of characters as friends (I also have real friends…honestly!). I often feel quite drained from all the emotion that I invest in books.

  1. What is the worst book you have ever read?

I really can’t think of one. By now, I think I’m quite a discerning reader- if I don’t like the look of it, I don’t read it! I’m sure they’re very enjoyable to some people, but I could never read the type of books that perpetuate the myth that women are only interested in clothes, makeup, and men. Books generally have to have some substance- some social, political, or literary value- for me to read them.

  1. Why did you start blogging about books?

I needed a creative outlet, so I decided to start blogging about all the things that I love or am interested in- though it seems to have become pretty literature-concentrated! Writing about literature at MA level was fab, but you have to remain fairly neutral; feelings and opinions aren’t relevant unless they contribute to an academic theory/debate. I wanted to write about books in a way that everyone who loves literature could relate to.

  1. What is the most rewarding or challenging aspect of blogging?

It’s always great when someone says that you’ve inspired them to read something, but, if I’m honest, I just enjoy the writing process- it’s so cathartic.

  1. Can you pinpoint the exact moment where you discovered your love of/interest in books?

I think I was born to love stories and reading! Apparently as a baby I used to pick up the newspaper and babble away to myself as if I was reading it. It’s quite strange actually; nobody else in my family likes books- I’m the anomaly!

  1. How often do you read, and for how long?

I try to read a little bit every day, even if it’s only a poem or two on the bus, but it’s very difficult to do when you have a job, active social life, and lots of other interests! Once I’ve started a book I tend to plough through it quite quickly. I can read a book in a few hours if I put my mind to it.

  1. Do you watch TV/movie adaptations of books, if so what is your favourite adaptation and why?

Although I always endeavour to read the book first, I do love a good adaptation! It’s great to be able to see the visual representation of someone else’s imagination, even when it isn’t always consistent with the book. As a period drama lover, the film version of Sense and Sensibility starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet is a particular favourite of mine, but I’ll happily watch any.

 My 11 Questions For Nominees

  1. If you could be any literary character, which one would you be and why?
  2. What’s your favourite opening line to a book?
  3. Which fictional character would you marry and why?
  4. What’s the most emotionally draining book you’ve ever read?
  5. If you could have written any book, which would it be and why?
  6. Which book would you adapt for the big screen and which actors would you choose to star in it?
  7. Who is your literary idol?
  8. If you could have a dinner party with five writers, dead or alive, who would you choose?
  9. Which fictional world would you like to live in?
  10. What do you enjoy most about reading?
  11. What three books would you take on a desert island?

Nominees

If you enjoy reading about all things book-related, check out these blogs:

The Literary Bunny http://christinarosendahl.wordpress.com

Too Fond  http://toofond.wordpress.com

What Amy Read Next http://raininglilies.wordpress.com

Blunts Book Blog  http://bluntsbookblog.wordpress.com

The Literary Sisters http://theliterarysisters.wordpress.com

 

30 Before 30: The Famished Road

Famished Road1991 Ben Okri The Famished Road

Ben Okri is the literary love of my life, but The Famished Road can definitely be likened to a literary version of Marmite.

Fusing the domestic with the political through an amalgamation of African myth and a postcolonial world of poverty, Okri has never failed to mesmerise me with his intensely poetic and visionary writing style. In his 1991 Booker Prize winning postmodern novel The Famished Road I felt like Okri had cast an enchantment from the very first page, drawing me into the chaotic world of the African spirit-child Azaro with the lush opulence of his words. Some people may find the arcane density of his writing difficult to follow, but, as this passage hopefully illustrates, the style he employs has the quality of myth, and seems to be used as a means of highlighting the western reader’s entrance into a culture where oral tales form the basis of everyday existence:

‘ In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was once a river, it was always hungry.

In that land of beginnings spirits mingled with the unborn…There was much feasting playing, and sorrowing. We feasted much because of the beautiful terrors of eternity. We played much because we were always free. And we sorrowed much because there were always those amongst us who had just returned from the world of the Living…’

The Famished Road explores the many elements of life in an African (probably Nigerian) ghetto- poverty, love, injustice, violence, and hunger- through the eyes of a boy who has abandoned his spirit companions to remain in the world of the living. Despite their endeavours to lure him back to their world, Azaro roots himself in a life of suffering, enduring the eternal threats of famine and death to remain with the people he loves.

The novel has been criticised for being repetitive and I must confess that it is. Azaro’s father, a character whose courage I admire but whose temper I don’t, seems to fly into a rage in virtually every chapter, yet his anger always abates before anything too serious occurs. Whilst these violent outbursts can get quite boring, they are, in my opinion, intended to be an accurate reflection of the monotony and futility of life in an African compound, where people are faced with the same struggles and injustices day after day after day.

Far from being predictable, however, there are instances in the book where you’re not quite sure what is happening. Okri blends the spirit world with the world of the living so well that you are often unsure who is alive and who is dead, or what is real and what is fantasy. Although this can be confusing, it allows you to see Okri’s world from the perspective of an African child and contributes to the sense of political and social chaos that permeates the entire novel.

Ben-Okri

At five hundred and seventy four pages long, I can understand why some people put it down long before the end; at times, it really did feel like a labour of love. What propelled me to continue reading it, besides my complete adoration of his prose style, was the fact that this book, a winner of a prestigious Western literary award, was not written by a European, but by a black Nigerian man- someone who is more qualified than most to give a distinctly black African perspective of and insight into the black African condition.

If I’m being honest, this is the sort of book that many people will detest. If you’re not very literary/philosophical and have no patience, I can almost guarantee that you will hate it. But if, like me, you enjoy the challenge of a highly literary read that will continue to provoke thought (and probably confuse you!) long after you’ve read it, The Famished Road will provide you with all the mental and spiritual nourishment you need.

And then some.

Places For Book Lovers

Maintaining my blog has been a challenge in itself lately; there seem to have been so many things going on in my life recently, from juggling two jobs to going on various weekends away! There will always be time for books, however, so I’m continuing to plough through my 30 Before 30 Challenge. It’s progressing more slowly than I originally envisaged due to so many other commitments, but that’s just life unfortunately!

As it’s World Book Day on Thursday and I’m only halfway through my current book, I thought I’d take a break from discussing actual books to share some of the best places I think that a book lover can visit, both physically and virtually. Here’s my top five:

            Sites of Literary Interest

Wherever you live, there’s bound to be a place of literary interest within a reasonably commutable distance (unless you live in the middle of the Amazon rainforest!). In the UK there are hoardes of amazing places that have a literary connection. As a Yorkshire girl, my favourite literary pilgrimage destination has always been Haworth, the home of the Brontes. Non-drivers might find it a bit difficult to get to as it doesn’t have a train station (though there is a steam train that runs through it in the summer months), but I’m sure any true pilgrim would be more than willing to sit for hours on trains and buses to get there!

HaworthHaworth Parsonage

Besides infusing me with literary awe, my annual trip to the picturesque village of Haworth is lovely simply because it’s a gorgeous place to visit- a typically quaint English town of cobbled streets, cute tearooms, and quirky little shops situated in the midst of a dramatic rural landscape. I would definitely recommend it to any book lover, but if Haworth is a bit far for you to travel to, find a more local site of literary interest.

            Online Literary Gift Companies

Despite my constant assertion that I’m a technophobe and wish that I lived in the pre-digital age, I have to admit that, like most people, I rely on my computer for everything. One thing that I particularly love about the Internet is how you can spend hours researching things that you’re interested in and stumble across so many things you would never have found without it! Recently discovered websites that any book lover will adore include www.literarygiftcompany.com , www.bookishengland.co.uk and www.bookishly.co.uk. All contain wonderful literature-related gifts, such as jewellery, cards and prints that will make you think you’re in book heaven!

One day I intend to adorn my walls with book related prints, but as I currently have no wall space to decorate, I’ll have to do it virtually instead, using a print from Bookishly:

We are such stuff...

            Independent/Secondhand Bookshops

In a world of Amazon and Kindles, independent and secondhand bookshops are a dying breed. For me personally, part of the pleasure of the reading process lies in visiting quirky bookshops, hunting out musty old books, and revelling in the ‘bookish’ atmosphere. I appreciate that not all book lovers feel like this, and that some of my friends think I’m a bit odd when I start talking about the feel and smell of old books, but I do think it’s important to support independent second hand bookshops as much as we can, many of which provide an interesting alternative experience to the homogeneity of chain and online stores.

Of all the bookshops in all the towns in all the world (to misquote Casablanca), the most amazing one I’ve ever visited is Shakespeare and Company in Paris. I’m not going to lie- this is partly because of the name and the fact that it’s situated in Paris, my favourite city. Besides this, however, the shop has a piano, a typewriter, and a gorgeous quote on the wall, and apparently gives free lodging to aspiring writers in exchange for them working in the shop! If only I was more proficient in French…

Shakespeare & CoShakespeare & Co3

            Your Local Library

Like independent bookshops, libraries are also becoming increasingly redundant in the face of growing online book sales/downloads, yet they provide so much more than just books. As the venue for many adult workshops/educational activities for kids, libraries are a valuable part of the community- a place where anyone can go, regardless of class, age, ethnic origin, or employment status. By supporting your local library, you not only get to borrow books for free, but also show that you recognise the service that libraries offer as an important contribution to the local community.

            Theatre

We’ve all seen film adaptations of books, but how many people have actually seen a theatrical adaptation? Visiting the theatre to see a play/stage version of a piece of literature is one of my favourite things to do, and, despite what people might think, it isn’t solely the pursuit of the middle classes. Anyone can go to the theatre and enjoy it; you just need enthusiasm and an open mind! Whether you agree with someone’s artistic interpretation or not, seeing someone else’s imagination brought to life on stage is really interesting and often gives you a deeper insight into the book.

At the moment, I’m a massive fan of dance adaptations, particularly those by Northern Ballet, a UK based contemporary ballet company. If you enjoy dance/creative expression, I’m sure you’ll agree that their versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Great Gatsby are utterly spectacular!

Thanks for reading, and have a bookishly good World Book Day!

30 Before 30: Jamaica Inn

Jam Inn Jamaica_Inn_novel

When I first heard Tori Amos sing of pirates, trust, and cliffs of rock in her song ‘Jamaica Inn’ from The Beekeeper album, I was instantly filled with a desire to read Daphne Du Maurier’s book of the same name. Though I knew very little about the book, other than that it was based on the history of a centuries old inn on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, I’d heard many glowing reviews of it. Imagining a dark tale of gothic romance, I was pleased to discover (about eight years later!) that my theory was correct. From the first page I was completely enthralled, swept into the bleak and desolate nineteenth century landscape of the Cornish moors and the literary territory of the gothic novel through Du Maurier’s use of compelling imagery.  Descriptions of the ‘granite sky and a mizzling rain’ and a coach ‘rocking between the high wheels like a drunken man’ propelled me into a story of darkly dramatic proportions, immediately creating the tone of gothic intrigue that permeates the entire novel.

tamos

To summarise, Jamaica Inn is the story of a young woman, Mary Yellan, who obediently complies with her dying mother’s wish that she goes to live with her Aunt Patience and her husband, the landlord of Jamaica Inn, after her death. Arriving to find that her once happy Aunt Patience has become a nervous and almost childlike woman, scared of her violent husband, and that Jamaica Inn is a place feared by the locals, Mary begins to suspect that something is amiss. Unable to depend on her feeble aunt, Mary determines to discover the secrets of Jamaica Inn and her uncle, Joss Merlyn, but soon finds that it is impossible to bear the terrible burden alone. Finding herself drawn to two very different men, Joss’ brother Jem, a magnetic but roguish horse thief, and Francis Davey, a strange and distant vicar, Mary must decide who to trust as events begin to unfold outside of her control.

Besides some beautifully atmospheric descriptions that make the novel immensely readable, what I loved most about Jamaica Inn was Du Maurier’s characterisation of its central protagonist, Mary Yellan. Spirited and courageous, Mary is an extremely likeable character- in fact, I’d even go as far as saying that she is my new favourite fictional heroine (though I still love Elizabeth Bennett)! As someone who has been raised on a working farm, she is hardy and practical, preferring the idea of independently running a farm to the notion of marriage. Moreover, she seems to understand, beyond the conventions of the age in which she lives, the restrictions that are imposed on most married women, recognising her Aunt Patience as an embodiment of the married woman’s metamorphosis from autonomous individual to voiceless shadow of her former self. That is not to say that she is strictly anti-men, however. Despite her revulsion for her uncle’s treatment of her Aunt Patience, Mary understands and experiences desire and the complications that arise from it. Although she enjoys solitary wanderings and relishes the idea of returning to her former home to live a life of independence, Mary’s ambivalent feelings towards the mysterious Jem Merlyn mark her out as a character of complexity. The reader is never quite sure what she will do next, yet there is no doubt that Mary Yellan will continue to remain true to herself, executing her plans with good judgement, resolve and integrity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mary Yellan is not the only complex character in the book, however. In Joss Merlyn, Du Maurier carves out an extremely flawed character- who is both detestable and fascinating at the same time. Finding myself sympathising with Joss on more than one occasion, I viewed him as an alternative Heathcliff. Whereas Emily Bronte’s Heathcliff denies his roots to climb the social ladder, ultimately becoming a self-made man, Joss seems to use his as a justification for his depraved behaviour, blaming his father and grandfather’s genetic influence for his own misdemeanours on his path to self-destruction. Though he is guilty of heinous crimes, Joss’ humanity emerges through drunken revelations and the dreams that haunt him, reminding the reader that, despite his seemingly evil personality, he is, after all, merely human. I don’t think anyone could describe Joss Merlyn as a likeable character, yet I found that there is something quite pitiful about this ‘great husk of a man’  which almost helps to mitigate the severity of his crimes.

To say that Du Maurier’s novel isn’t predictable would be untrue; I was able to guess some of the outcomes halfway through the book. This never diminished the enjoyment of Jamaica Inn for me, however, as I was far more interested in the psychology of the characters than the actual plot. Whilst many readers have drawn comparisons with Du Maurier’s most famous work, Rebecca, suggesting that Jamaica Inn is a much weaker novel, I personally found Jamaica Inn to be a much more enthralling read. With all the elements of a traditional Gothic novel, including a suitably dreary landscape and the archetypal Gothic building, Du Maurier’s story never failed to excite me. In fact, if I didn’t still have another 24 books to read, I’d start reading it again!

Now that I at least partly understand Tori Amos’ song, I think it may be time to plan a literary pilgrimage to the real Jamaica Inn so that I can truly understand its significance in Cornish and cultural history. Hopefully there’ll be no bands of criminals to contend with, but, like Mary Yellan, I’d be more than happy to stumble upon a real-life Jem Merlyn!

jamaicainn

30 Before 30: Murder on the Orient Express

murderorientexpress

As my brain was still swirling with post-Satanic Verses thought last weekend, I decided that it was time to relieve my mind of confusion and read something much lighter! Although a murder mystery novel is hardly ‘light’ in terms of subject matter, Christie’s writing style is so simple and methodical that Murder on the Orient Express was immensely readable from the start. When I was a child, I loved the Famous Five and Nancy Drew books, so I had no doubt that I would find this equally compelling. Journeying to Manchester to celebrate my friend’s 30th birthday gave me plenty of time to read, so I began it on the train, then became so absorbed in it that, after checking into my hotel, I ended up going to the Cornerhouse café to read more whilst waiting for the rest of the party people to arrive. If you ask me, a good brew and a book are always a winning combination (even if that does make me sound like an OAP!).

The basic plot of Murder on the Orient Express, written in 1934, is as follows: Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective, is hurrying home from Syria after a telegram notifies him that there’s been an important development in a case he’s been working on. When the train he is travelling on (the Orient Express) becomes stuck in a snow drift and the man in the compartment next to Poirot is found dead, having been stabbed numerous times, Poirot must attempt to solve the murder mystery with the help of only two others: his old friend, Monsiuer Bouc, a director of the train company, and a Greek doctor, Dr Constantine. Narrowing the suspects down to the other passengers in his carriage, Poirot employs logical methods to ultimately deduce the identity of the murderer, interviewing each of the suspects, listing the evidence, and discussing his theories with his friends at regular intervals.

Hercule Poirot

What I found particularly interesting about this book was the use of negative stereotypes about race in the formulation of theories, particularly stereotypes of the English. On numerous occasions throughout the book, characters describe the English as cold, reserved, unapproachable and incapable of feeling, with Poirot’s first encounter with English people on the train resulting in his observation that ‘True to their nationality, the two English people were not chatty.’ Later on, I was amused by the assertion that the crime of stabbing someone multiple times was uncharacteristic of an unfeeling English person, but seemed more likely to be the crime of an Italian due to their passionate natures! Christie’s constant use of stereotypes are clearly a device to escalate the complexity of the plot and mislead the reader into making assumptions about characters. Whilst these generalisations are consistent with old-fashioned ideas about race, I doubt that modern crime writers would allow their detectives to think/voice such blatant racial stereotypes nowadays however!

orient_cast

Although the novel isn’t scary, I did get a little jumpy when reading it at the hotel before my roomie arrived. Every little noise outside seemed amplified, and I became very conscious that, like the passengers on the Orient Express, I was in a little room on a corridor full of strangers who could potentially be murderers! A bit of nervous agitation can only be a good sign in a crime novel, however, reflecting how convincing and absorbing the plot is. Christie’s writing style may be quite simple, but it suits the genre of the book, allowing the reader to focus on the happenings on-board the Orient Express and attempt to come to their own conclusions about the identity of the killer. I am pleased to say that, with the help of a diagram of the carriage layout and constant repetition of the evidence, I correctly guessed who the killer was about forty or fifty pages from the novel’s end. Without going into too much detail, the ending is very interesting, provoking the reader to question the effectiveness of the justice system and ponder upon issues of ethics and morality.

Ultimately, I’d describe Murder on the Orient Express as a vastly enjoyable read that works the brain without overworking it. On the basis of this book, I will definitely be reading another story about the Belgian detective, and may even watch the TV adaptation too (previously I’ve only ever seen snippets of it)! What’s more, I think I may read some modern crime novels; Agatha Christie and Poirot seem to have given me a hunger for murder mysteries!

Published Poetry: Paper Girl

The new writer 2

It’s not very often that I have the opportunity to publish two blog posts in one week, and this week has probably been busier than most! As I’ve settled down to recover from all the chaos however, I thought I’d write a short post to share my most recently published poem, which I received a copy of on Friday. Exciting times!

I’m particularly proud of this poem as it’s something I wrote for my university portfolio eight years ago, but which only got accepted for publication by The New Writer after I’d made a couple of vocabulary changes to it. I think the moral of this story is that sometimes perseverance pays!

Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Paper Girl

If I were a tree,

gnarled and shrunken with misery,

you would have felled me long ago,

slicing me into your paper girl, my rings of beauty

lost in the monotony of this:

 

 

a blank page.

 

When was it that love became a mere noun,

reiterated

time and time again

in the branches

of a tree

bearing no fruit?