The Fault in Our Stars

My next blog entry was going to be about Simon Mason and his wonderful story-like way of guest lecturing. But then I was completely and utterly emotionally destroyed by John Green and The Fault in Our Stars.

I’d thought about reading it for a while, almost bought it and then didn’t, wasn’t sure whether it was something I would be into and then succumbed yesterday. I finished it today.

I would like to start this (and I realise that this is not the beginning really) by saying that I do not cry at books and that recently I have fervently taken to not-crying at real-life emotional situations. I cried at this. I would like to say that it was perhaps because I am grieving and have been grieving but I feel that in saying it I would be doing a disservice to the book. So I won’t. I cried at this book because it was worth crying at. And I think that it was something that I needed to read at this point in my life.

I am thankful for this book.

The novel follows Hazel Grace Lancaster, a cancer patient, as she gets to know and grows to love Augustus Waters who she meets at a support group. From the blurb, I knew it was going to be at least a little bit upsetting (not to mention the snatches of reaction I’ve seen on both Facebook and Tumblr), I’ve read upsetting books before and it’s been tough, getting attached to characters who you know may not have a happy ending, but it’s always been a case of read, finish and move on. The Fault in Our Stars was different, there were tears and when I thought it might be getting a little bit better more tears took their place.

When it ended, I felt a little bit like Hazel with An Imperial Affliction. I still feel a little bit like that. I want to know what happened to everyone else. I want to know a lot of things, I won’t list them here because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who might not have read it. But it’s definitely left me thinking. I find myself imagining what might be going on now, as if they’re not characters but real people with real lives. In a way they are, there are real people going through situations much like Hazel’s and now I’m thinking about them.

For me, that is one of the signs of a good book. A book that not only leaves you thinking about its characters but about people you’ve never met and may never meet.

I am going to read it again. Not just yet but soon. Until then it will sit with me and I will think about it, then try not to think about it, then inevitably think about it again.

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Children’s literature: Fairyland and the Enticement of Travelling to Another World

The capitalisation is for emphasis, I feel I should point that out before I begin.

Fairyland

I have recently finished reading Catherynne M. Valente’s current Fairyland books, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making  and its sequel The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and led the Revels there; I was sucked into them to the extent that, even though I had other books to read, between finishing the first one and the release of the second I could not read another book. I was so involved in Fairyland that I had to read the next one before I read anything else. And so I pre-ordered the sequel and squealed in excitement when it arrived.

I really enjoy these books.

Not many series that I have read recently have concrete endings to each of their titles so I was pleasantly surprised after reading the first and learning that it did, in fact, end. The same is true of the second. But that is not the point of this entry, neither is fawning over these books. Well, maybe it is a little bit.

It is in reading these books, and beginning the book I am reading currently, that I realised something about myself (and perhaps about children/young adults and publishing along with it). After my frolic through Fairyland, I picked up China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun and I am completely in love with that too. It was in my love of that and my ideas for my Major Project (which were also floating around at the time) when a thought struck: my favourite books, and even films, are mostly about unsuspecting men/women/children (but mostly children) being swept away and taken somewhere else, somewhere fantastical.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandThrough the Looking Glass, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, StardustCoraline, C.S.Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan, L.Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart Trilogy, John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things. 

LabyrinthPan’s LabyrinthMirrorMaskSpirited AwayHowl’s Moving Castle, Ink, The 10th KingdomAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland (in all of its screen incarnations, though I’ve not yet seen them all, but particularly the National Ballet version, at the moment), the list could go on.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

My reading (and film-watching) life is immersed in tales of ordinary (or seemingly ordinary) people being taken to wondrous places. It’s an archetype which never fails to impress and inspire me. Why? It’s nice to imagine that things like that can happen to normal people, though, saying that all of the characters are in some way ‘chosen’, except perhaps Deeba in Un Lun Dun who ends up where she is out of loyalty to her friend (or possibly being too scared of going back home in the dark…). So maybe it’s nice to imagine that you could be chosen if being chosen and taken to some magical place was a thing which existed.

It seems to work for publishers too, there is so much that can be done with these stories that it’s hard to find fault in the release of a new one. The fact that it took me so long to realise my very obvious reading trend is credit to the ability of authors to make them unique (I am 2 months shy of 22 and have been reading for most of my life). With the sheer number of such stories, it’s clear that children like them too. What’s better than to imagine you’ve been pulled into an adventure by a wind in a dashing green jacket or that you’ve wished your brother be taken away by the Goblin King (even if you later realise that it wasn’t the best idea to do so)?

The Book of Lost Things

These are stories which don’t become boring and, while it’s a trend, they’re nothing like the paranormal boom of the last few years. These are slow things, steady things, pushing themselves forward until they’re in exactly the right place on the bookshelf for little (and not-so-little) hands to reach.

In the spirit of sharing (in which this spirit is selfish and one-sided, he has no left half, it’s very strange), if anyone has any favourite books, films or tv shows with similar themes, leave a comment! And with that, I flee to have my own adventure, which involves making my throat feel better by drinking orange squash. It’s not going to work but I’m going to enjoy it anyway.

Major Project Musings: Folklore (and a rediscovery of reading)

Since writing my last post, I have now finished The Night Circus and succumbed and read Insurgent too (yes, I read fiction absurdly fast even if it is just on bus journeys* to and from OICPS and Berghahn Books, where I intern – the book was wonderful, by the way) and am now researching for possibilities for my Major Project. For those among anyone reading who might be OICPS students, I had an epiphany while trying to sleep a few nights ago – do not panic, I am pretty sure we don’t need to be planning yet; thinking, probably.

Without having emailed one of my lecturers, I would not be doing what I am doing right now. It would not have entered my mind. I am so glad I sent that email and I am so glad I got the response that I did.** Currently, around writing this blog post, I am immersing myself in Folklore, something which I have always been interested in but have never really delved into properly; I have never really explored many cultures.

I am currently asking myself why. The stories I have discovered this evening are brilliant, and so very different from the ones I am accustomed to even though they do all have the same basic archetypes hidden beneath them. I could go into some lengthy analysis and bow and scrape about how wonderful they are but I promised myself this would be a short blog post so there will be more on folklore, mythology, legends and the cultures they come from later, as the project progresses should I chose to go down this route. (I probably will; it’s this or Lord Dusany, I am almost certain – even if it is completely different to the idea I envisioned earlier.) There shall be no gushing today.

There is something I have learned, over the past few weeks of reading while I travel: I have missed reading and I am so glad to have made it a regular part of my life again instead of doing snatches of reading in the small moments I could steal away from other activities (read: internships, university and etc).

Bring me words.

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* I spend around 6 and 3/4 hours on buses every week.
** Vague and unhelpful, I know.

The Circus Appeal and the Importance of the Internet

Ever since we got the internet in our house and we were stuck with a dial-up connection, I’ve been reading stories online. I tried to read fan fiction but never really found the appeal (with two exceptions, a Spirited Away trilogy by Velf and a despicably evil Labyrinth piece by Subtilior, which goes by the name of Erlkönig), I even tried writing some. I still get emails from Fanfiction.net telling me that people have been commenting on that shame of a story, asking me to update even thought it hasn’t been updated in at least five years. It will never be updated.

But that is not the point.

My readings first started on Quizilla, where I read young adult fantasies. Then Quizilla became a haven of real-people fan fiction and I couldn’t stay there, the writing went somewhat down hill as all of the more popular writers migrated elsewhere and I followed. Mibba was next. After some searching, I have discovered that my profile is still there despite the much changed design of the website. None of my fiction is there, however. I am almost certain I deleted it before I abandoned the website for brighter horizons. What is there is a tiny blog entry in which I use the word ‘ponderation’. I do not remember much of my time on Mibba, it didn’t really stick. I don’t think I read anything remarkable.

Throughout this time I was dabbling on Fictionpress but there was so much on that site that I couldn’t really find anything that appealed; there was one story, I forget the name now (it has been a long time since I lost the link from my favourites*), which kept pulling me back to read it again and again. Delightfully original and definitely something I would buy if it were published. The writing was of excellent quality, better than I had seen before. With the internet there are no editors – well, that is not strictly true, more true would be to say that there is little quality control, anyone can upload anything and there are no rules as to how good the writing has to be. While this is good, it gives platform to those who otherwise would not be published anywhere, it also hampers enjoyment and perhaps undermines the importance of good, well-written prose. Of course, there are published novels that do this as well but again, that is not the point and I don’t think I should let myself rant about it right here in this blog post.

So, moving on from Quizilla and Mibba and Fictionpress now there is Wattpad. I frequented it regularly for a while, soaking up more fantasies and more writings but, even there, I found more stories that I couldn’t read than stories that I could. There were a few gems, some of which, like the story on Fictionpress, I still go back to read. As I’m a member and during my active days followed a few choice authors, I still get emails telling me who has updated what, which brings me to yesterday.

Yesterday, before I sat down to do my own writing (I took my own advice, see below post, and it really did help – such a good writing day! Ahem.), I checked my hotmail and for some reason decided to open one of my many Wattpad emails. Something I haven’t done for a long time. I am so glad I did.

Finvarra's Circus by Monica SanzSaid email introduced me to Finvarra’s Circus; despite my rather intense clown-fear, circus stories intrigue me. To me the circus is like something out of another realm which pops into ours every so often to give us a taste of what could be. (It is an aim of mine to see an oriental circus, one without the conventional clowns.) Myself and my creative partner-in-crime, Dress.Simple, are slowly creating our own circus. More on that later, when we embark on the next character, whoever that might be.

I was caught.

I knew DistantDreamer, as she is known on Wattpad, was an author that I appreciated. It had been at least a year since I had read one of her works and if I liked it then I would definitely like it now. I was right. Finvarra’s Circus is wonderful. It has a familiar archetype but a brilliant taste of originality especially with the use of Machina, who, I am happy to say, had/has a vivid picture in my mind. I felt what the characters felt and I saw what they saw. The story isn’t finished and while I tend to prefer reading a story once it is complete to avoid having to wait to find out what happens (impatience is my curse) I couldn’t help myself. I read all of the available parts and am now waiting eagerly for the next one.

I’ve not had an internet read grab me this tightly for a while so it is refreshing to have it. It’s something I would publish and I would buy if published. There is a certain power in posting work on the internet. There is little limit to the amount of people that can see it and this story has been seen by a lot of people. I hope it gets seen by more.

For the book world, the internet is magic. The internet allows authors to connect with their readers, readers can comment on chapters and authors can reply. This can be a blessing and a curse, there will always be bad comments. But there will always be good comments too, with any work, it is nice to feel it is appreciated. Tumblr is also a good tool for this purpose, more published authors are making accounts and communicating with their readers through the ask function. The internet is making the bridge between the author and their fan-base smaller and that can only be a good thing. Authors can market their works while sat on their sofas, surrounded by whatever messes they might make. (Not that all authors are messy, of course.)

Taking a leap back a few paragraphs, back to the circus and the wonders therein, my next read, between new chapters of the above, is to be Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and my next book purchase (when I can afford it and if I can resist the pull of Roth’s Insurgent until closer to the release date of the third book) will be de Quidt’s The Toymaker. After that, I am not sure. I need more circus-based fiction. Preferably of the young adult persuasion.

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*10/10/12: I have since found the author of said story and it has sadly been taken off of the internet.