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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Bit By Bit, Putting It Together

It's scary, this PhD lark, isn't it? While I wait for something beyond my control to click into place, I'm beavering away at my thesis and, in all immodest honesty, not finding it half as bad as I thought it was. The bits are all there. They need polishing and, in a few cases, joining up so you can't see the creases but, on the whole, it's looking very thesis-shaped.

The main thing I've been doing lately is analysing my thesis by paragraph, making sure that each paragraph has an argument and leads onto the next etc. Now, I know I borrowed this idea from someone and I can't remember who - that's what four years of a PhD does to your brain! If anyone has any clue, let me know because it's incredibly useful and I'd like to credit them.

I'm also attacking those place holder subheadings I've been avoiding for years - and that's before I even get on to significant chapter titles. Have I mentioned I hate titles? Not this month on this blog, I'm sure.

Then there's the little monster scratching in the corner - the conclusion. At the moment, it's the size of a friendly household rat. He's perfectly happy over there, he's not angsty, he doesn't feel I'm neglecting him and he's pretty sure I'll make a good attempt at it. However, if I keep him waiting, he'll mutate. Imagine a thirty-foot rat towering over little old me. Let's try and evade that possibility, shall we?

And continue, bit by bit, putting it together...

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Short Story Publication - Aldgate Echoes

It's nice to finally be able to share with you that I was shortlisted in Saga Magazine's ghost story competition and was then lucky enough to be one of the 15 shortlisted entries to be published in their anthology.

Like the publication of my other story this year, "Aldgate Echoes" is a piece I wrote a while ago and reworked for submission to this competition. I still have vivid recollections of the story coming to me while I was walking through a desolate London with a friend. Moments like that are moments writers wish we could bottle!

I'm very proud to be part of this anthology, though keeping the news to only a few select friends until I could be sure was tricky. I found out I'd been shortlisted while I was, ironically enough, back in London for a conference and I was on my birthday trip when I found out I was being published. I like that kind of symmetry - and so does Shamrock!

So the current price on Kindle is £0.51, not shabby for a short story collection. You can buy it here and let me know if you like it!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Classic Film Review: The Lady Vanishes (1938)

The Lady Vanishes tells the story of Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) and her fellow bunch of travellers who are stranded overnight in an inn before their train gets started the next day. Before she gets on the train, Iris has an accident and is looked after by Miss Froy (May Whitty). After a nap, Iris wakes and discovers Miss Froy has vanished and none of her fellow passengers claim to remember her. Iris reluctantly enlists the help of Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) and they try to unravel the mystery of Miss Froy's disappearance. The cast includes Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as the cricket-mad Charters and Caldicott, Paul Lukas as Dr. Hartz and Cecil Parker as Mr Todhunter.

This is the third version of this story I've now seen. I reviewed the 1979 film starring Angela Lansbury last year and, though I watched the 2013 television adaptation, I didn't review it. However, Hitchcock's interpretation of the story is delicious and outstrips the others, no question. It's atmospheric and witty without being overblown. The scenes on the train, particularly, are well-executed despite the confined space.

The cast is practically faultless. Michael Redgrave's first appearances as the irritating Gilbert in the hotel felt like a flamboyant sideshow, but once they settled into their double-act 'Sherlock Holmes and Watson' personalities on the train, the relationship between him and Iris was one of the highlights of the film. In addition, Radford and Wayne are excellent in their supporting roles and everyone down to the nun played by Catherine Lacey fulfil their parts properly.

After seeing three versions, it's very difficult to come to the story fresh but it still kept my attention for the most part, mainly due to Margaret Lockwood as the heroine. It's a completely different role to to her partnership with Redgrave in The Stars Look Down (1940, reviewed here) and, as such, demonstrates the versatility of both. Their chemistry sees the film through with able support from everybody else.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2014: Once More Unto the Breach

I'm crazy. I mean, this is common knowledge and everything but it's being reiterated by the fact I'm actually attempting NaNoWriMo this year. I'm (hopefully, don't press for details for this) submitting my thesis in the next two months which (again, hopefully) means running around like a headless chicken making sure everything in it is damn near perfect. Much of this headless-chicken activity will (theoretically, again with the not asking) be taking place in November. So why the hell am I contemplating throwing NaNoWriMo into the mix?

Well, for starters, I've got an idea. When I wrote my usual list of 2014 goals, I said that there was an idea only I could write. I still believe that and, over the months, it's solidified. Instead of the abstract prospect, it's now rooted in a place and my second protagonist came to me with a flash. It's going to be difficult to write but I think I'll feel better for it.

There are other reasons I'm determined to participate. I love the online camaraderie that goes with it and I relish pushing myself to reach the 50,000 goal. In addition, I need to push myself in other ways this year, hopefully attending the write-ins properly instead of just hiding in a corner. Plus, I think the distraction of NaNo in the evenings after arguing with my thesis all day will prove beneficial. At least my novel is under my control... Until the characters take over anyway.

So what can I tell you about my NaNoWriMo novel for 2014? It's typical me so lesbian romance with twists and turns and it's set in a residential care home. That's all I dare share.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Classic Film Review: Swing Time (1936)

Swing Time tells the story of Lucky Garnett (Fred Astaire), a dancer who is forced to leave his fiancĂ©e Margaret (Betty Furness) to go out and raise $25,000 so that her father will let him marry her. When he and his friend Pop (Victor Moore) get to New York, they encounter dance instructor Penny Carroll (Ginger Rogers). Lucky tricks Penny into 'teaching' him to dance and they have the potential to be successful but conductor Ricky Romero (Georges Metaxa) wants Penny for himself and Lucky realises he's getting far too close when he should be itching to go home and marry Margaret. The wonderful Helen Broderick rounds out the main cast as Mabel.

I absolutely adored this film. It's rare that a musical of this era has numbers which are not only entertaining but also further the plot and characters. The score by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields is exquisite, including such gems as 'Pick Yourself Up' when Penny's trying to teach Lucky how to dance and 'A Fine Romance' when they're trying to resist each other in a gorgeous snow scene. Astaire's rendition of 'The Way You Look Tonight' is sweet, enjoyable for its sentiments and not the strength of his singing voice. The pinnacle of this film, though, is the majestic 'Never Gonna Dance' near the end. It not only serves as a visual representation of Lucky and Penny's romance, from their first walk around the dance floor to the Penny's walking away, but it's also a deeply sensual and passionate representation of love as a whole. I could easily watch it for hours and those dozens of takes it took to produce such brilliance was well worth Ginger's poor bleeding feet.

There are plenty of comic moments in this one, plenty coming from Victor Moore and Helen Broderick as Pop and Mabel. I enjoyed Broderick in the generally lacklustre The Bride Walks Out (also 1936, reviewed here) and she reasserts her comedic credentials in this one. In addition, Astaire and Rogers bounce off each other so well that every one of their scenes in a delight, from Lucky's first pursuit of Penny down the street to retrieve his lucky quarter to the finale. The plot, though light, is at least coherent and there are several link backs and pointers that demonstrate that the film was conceived as a whole, for example the trouser gag which begins and ends the story. Perhaps there was too much focus on Lucky's friends at the beginning, but once he got to New York, all that was forgotten.

Ultimately, if a film makes me smile just thinking about it then it's a good one. I haven't stopped smiling while I've been writing this review so take that as your recommendation.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Book Review: Love Alters ed. Emma Donoghue

Love Alters: Lesbian Stories, previously released as The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Short Stories, includes 29 stories split into the categories of 'Child's Play', 'Present Tense', 'Family Values', 'Past Times' and 'Possibilities'. These rough categories allow for some distinction as you go through the book but, really, the stories are generally wildly different to each other. It draws together authors from across the world with some brilliant stories, both heartbreaking and humorous, which analyse the finer points of life. The overarching banner may be 'lesbian short stories' but there's far more to this collection than that.

There are two stories that stick in my mind. The first, 'Self-Deliverance' by Elise D'Haene, is a checklist compiled by a dying man, Teddy, and his two friends, Alf and Ginnie. Meandering back and forth, D'Haene creates a story that's both rooted in the immediate problem yet tells you all you need to know about the characters. The second story, 'Did'ja Ever Hear of a Goolieguy?' by Anne Cameron follows a woman fleeing from her suffocating life with her partner who travels back home. Part myth, part reality, this one really struck me for reasons I can't define. Perhaps it was only that everything the narrator experiences is a thought-provoking metaphor for something else.

The 'Past Times' section throws up some interesting work. 'The Catherine Trilogy' by Ingrid MacDonald, the longest piece in the book, follows the life of a woman who passes her life as a man in 18th century Europe. I was hooked by the first part, endured the second and enjoyed the third, though I see the need for all of them. Also in this section was 'The Burning Times' by Sara Maitland, a potent tale of jealousy in the time of witchcraft trials, Emma Donoghue's 'The Tale of the Kiss' which tells of another 'witch' in a cave and the captivating 'The Woman Who Loved the Moon', a story that defies simple analysis.

Of course, there were stories in this collection that didn't take my fancy as much but I found something in most of them to appreciate. For example, Madelyn Arnold's 'See You in the Movies', about a woman going on a trip with her new partner and kids, made me laugh out loud while Dorothy Allison's 'River of Names' is a haunting look at the tragedies around one woman which she tries to share with her partner. Finally, one of the early stories 'Pamelump' is similarly thought-provoking, as it examines a girl and her disabled friend, utilising the simplicity of children to analyse very adult notions.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed this collection. I don't think anybody would love all of these eclectic stories but that just means there's something in it for everyone.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Let's Start at the Very Beginning...

I hope that title put 'Do Re Mi' in your head. It was rather intended to. Though this post isn't about musicals, it's about writing (for a change!). 

I've gone back to working on 'Lily', the first novel I completed. While the document is labelled 'Fifth Draft' there was an aborted attempt way back in the day so it's more like the sixth. Instead of going through it with a luminous pen, though, I'm typing the whole thing out from scratch. I generally do that with second drafts because there's so much to change but at this point it might seem a little silly, like giving myself far more work to do than I need to. 

However, it has the benefit of making me think things over. My sentence structure's evolved a lot since I last toyed with the novel and I'm more confident generally. There are some additional plot aspects I'm trying to weave in as I go but I wanted to make sure as much as possible had been looked over critically. I want this novel to be the best it can be, after all. 

So it's a lot of work and it doesn't end here. I plan on another pass through once I've finished this to check and improve syntax and grammar then I want to read the whole thing aloud. I'm not sure how long all this will take but I have other projects to intersperse with this one - many other projects. Not to mention that PhD which is taking up a good proportion of my time at the moment. I'm only really allowing myself to work on the novel after nine o'clock at night which means, of course, that some nights I just can't bring myself to. Which is fine. I've got my priorities and my PhD is top of that list, no question. But I've always been a multi-tasker. 

My inclination is to get this draft finished so that I can focus my attention on NaNoWriMo in November. Perhaps that isn't realistic but I'm going to give it a go. Because, really, I've got the words on the page, it's just a case of mixing them all up to make a novel. Right, Maria?