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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

My Favourite Books of 2013

Picking five favourites out of my list of collected book reviews for 2013 was much easier this year than it was last. I struggled last year, having read so many good books that my head burst with them. This year a certain few rose to the top and, while there were about eight that deserved a place, narrowing it down wasn't too tricky. So here we are! Something interesting to note is that all these books were read in the early months of the year - they must be potent to all survive and be on this list.

Tom-All-Alone's by Lynn Shepherd

A very clever book that draws on Bleak House by Charles Dickens and centres on Charles Maddox, a private detective, who is employed by the infamous Edward Tulkinghorn. An excellent book I want to read again soon. My full review can be found here.

Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise by Sam Irvin

I didn't read much non-fiction in 2013 but this biography was brilliant. Thompson was an incredibly talented yet self-destructive individual who was at the centre of Hollywood but very rarely in the public eye. The what-ifs of her story are so tantalising. My full review can be found here.

Elijah's Mermaid by Essie Fox

I realise this is the second year in a row Essie Fox has made it into my favourites list and I make no apology for that - Elijah's Mermaid is an entrancing book. It follows Pearl, a web-toed 'mermaid' who has lived her life in a brothel and Lily and Elijah Lamb, twins who live with their grandfather. Much more than that would be spoiling it so I'll say no more. My full review can be found here.

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

This is an incredibly dark book centred on a group of survivors in a lifeboat whose hopes of being rescued are slim and rely on the capacity of the boat being diminished. What follows is an excellent tale relayed by an unreliable narrator. This is probably the book that stayed with me longest once I'd put it down. My full review can be read here.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

Reading Anne Bronte for the first time made me realise that she is my favourite Bronte, no question. This book, although quietly understated, deals with themes far ahead of its time. A woman, married to a drunkard and an adulterer, leaves her home in order to protect her son. The narrator, Gilbert Markham, falls in love with her, giving rise to an incredibly complex situation. A brilliant book in my view. My full review can be found here 

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Reading Challenge: TBR Challenge

This challenge is hosted by Roof Beam Reader over here. The goal is to read twelve books from your To Be Read pile that have been there for over a year. My TBR pile is overflowing so there were plenty to choose from. These are the twelve I settled on:

  1. The Art of Fiction by David Lodge
  2. Die a Dry Death by Greta van der Rol
  3. Author, Author by David Lodge
  4. The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell
  5. Room by Emma Donoghue
  6. Radclyffe Hall: A Woman Called John by Sally Cline
  7. London Fields by Martin Amis
  8. London Lore by Steve Roud
  9. Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by The Countess of Carnarvon
  10. Quicksand & Passing by Nella Larsen
  11. Mutants by Armand Marie Leroi
  12. The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders

I think there's a decent mix of fiction and non-fiction there, with six of each. I certainly need to read more non-fiction in 2014 and this is a good start. All of these books are literally dusty, definitely been on my table a while waiting for me to get to them. Here's hoping I do!

Reading Challenge: Chunkster Challenge

This challenge is hosted by Vasilly over here. There are no set levels for participation but you have to set your own number of books ahead of time and try and stick to it. A 'chunkster' counts as more than 450 pages in this challenge and e-books are allowed. It also says you don't have to list your books in advance but I know me - if I don't make a list and stick to it, I won't complete the challenge. I'm only going with five 'chunksters' for this. It might not seem a lot but it adds up to over 2200 pages so it doesn't sound that shabby. These are the five books:

  1. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell (464 pages)
  2. Shirley by Charlotte Bronte (608 pages)
  3. Kate: The Woman Who Was Katharine Hepburn by William J. Mann (532 pages)
  4. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens (530 pages)
  5. Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope (708 pages)

Poor Katharine Hepburn is a bit of an anomaly there, isn't she? But I have a sneaking suspicion that'll be my favourite from this list, although I have decent hopes for Mary Barton. Can You Forgive Her? will be my first Trollope so we'll see how that one plays out. Hopefully it'll all be cool... And porkies are flying past the window. 

Monday, 23 December 2013

Watchalong: Merrily We Roll Along

Yesterday, I eagerly downloaded the Digital Theatre recording of Merrily We Roll Along (the one that was shown in cinemas a few months ago) and participated in the watchalong that began at 5:00 pm. For the next couple of hours I devoted myself half to the screen and half to the #MerrilyOnScreen hashtag on Twitter and you know what? It was brilliant.

I saw this production in London in July and then saw it in cinemas too. However, the beautiful thing about Merrily is that it doesn't get old. The more you watch it, because of the fact it runs backwards, the more you understand it and the more you can pick up from it. What helps, of course, is that the central performances from Mark Umbers, Jenna Russell and Damian Humbley are fantastic, and the supporting cast are brilliant too. Everyone makes you care about their characters, even when they're horrible human beings - yes, Josefina Gabrielle as Gussie, I'm looking at you.

What was so enjoyable about yesterday was the sense of community. Someone tweeted that we had the ability to fall apart because we weren't in public but, really, we kinda were. It's just that we were with truly like-minded company and not with people just after a night out in the West End or at the cinema. The chronology of Merrily also makes it a perfect musical for discussion. Even when we knew what was going to happen because we'd already seen it, we're willing it not to. For example, one of my tweets:
I got steadily more emotionally involved as the show went on - by the reprise of 'Not a Day Goes By' I was a gibbering wreck.
The delight of the third viewing was picking up on things I hadn't noticed before. For example, when Frank first meets Beth in 'Opening Doors' and Mary's watching them:
I can't articulate how good this show is. Now it's available for rent or purchase on Digital Theatre, I'd heartily recommend it. The songs are gorgeous but only really make sense in the context you see them. For example, on this third time around, 'Like It Was' in the first act got to me because I knew how things went.
There was a nice little discussion going on about whether Frank's life would've turned out differently if he had married Mary instead of Beth - would he still have gone off with Gussie, which was the bit that broke everything? I say that he wouldn't. Mary said it herself at opening night - sometimes you don't have to trust them and you need to keep an eye on them instead. I think that would've stuck. But maybe I'm just a romantic at heart.

If you want to take a look at the Storify for the watchalong, it's here. I'll leave you with one of the (many) beautiful lines Mary has throughout the show:

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Classic Film Review: Ann Vickers (1933)

Ann Vickers stars Irene Dunne as the title character, a social worker who falls pregnant following a dalliance with an officer about to go off to war. With the help of her aunt, Malvina (Edna May Oliver), she procures an abortion (though this is never explicitly stated) then throws herself into prison reformatory work. She becomes very successful but meets Barney Dolphin (Walter Huston), a married judge whose complex past may be her downfall once again.

I felt the film was too short for everything it tried to include. You got a lengthy set-up between Ann and Captain Resnick (Bruce Cabot), only for it to be merely the catalyst that throws her into prison reform. Her experiences observing the women are potent but they're glossed over far too easily. My opinion was that a few more intimate conversations with the prisoners would've been more helpful than the scenes in the background while a distressed Ann watches. However, this was 1933 so the reticence has context. Ann's affair with Barney is handled more openly, although the romance between them does feel rushed, as much of the film does.

Irene Dunne's performance is, as usual, superb. She handles the scenes after Resnick's betrayal well and you do get a sense of the character developing and maturing as the film progresses. However, my favourite scenes were the ones between Irene Dunne and Edna May Oliver as Malvina, though that may be because this is the second Oliver film I've reviewed this week. The evident warmth in their relationship offset the somewhat shallow relationships Ann has with the male characters.

Overall, I found this film undeniably rushed, detrimentally so. Too much time was spent building up characters who later played no or very little part in proceedings and the central romance didn't feel authentic at all. However, Irene Dunne is excellent in the role, particularly in the scenes following the abortion and when she is forced to make a big decision about her job later on. There are some twists, yes, but nothing you wouldn't expect if you were paying attention. A little formulaic, perhaps, but entertaining nonetheless.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Work Diary Gone Awry

Back in July, I wrote about the benefits of the work diary I'd been using for a year at that point. I'd found that it made me feel like I'd accomplished something and keeping track of the various projects I was working on allowed me to see which ones I was neglecting. Amusingly, however, in recent weeks it's been the diary itself that has been neglected.

You see, November was a tad hectic. I explained about my other November commitments alongside NaNoWriNo at the end of October and, to be perfectly honest, it all ended up being much worse than I'd anticipated. This year has quite possibly been one of my worst and November was the iceberg that sank me.

My last decent work diary entry was on 31st October: 'Wrote 800 words of Downton essay'. For the next two weeks there are spasmodic references to work accomplished but with no detail - I say I worked on my thesis, for instance, but don't say how many words I got down on paper or whether I was editing or crying over the laptop. Not much of a reference tool for how much work I'd done. Since 14th November I haven't documented a single thing. I think my head was in too much of a whirl.

I was juggling essay edits with my firm determination to complete NaNoWriMo and a thesis chapter that was intent - and still is, I think - on not fitting together properly. In addition, some personal problems finally got the better of me and I spent much of late November in a haze. I woke up, tried to cope with whatever my inbox was throwing at me, worked until my brain gave up then collapsed in a heap. It's possibly no surprise that as soon as my final, final, final essay rewrites were done I succumbed to that monster cold that's been going around. I'm still not completely better now, which is a mark of how hard something had to hit me in order to force me to slow down. There's a lesson in there somewhere but I'm not sure it's one I'm ready to learn.

So what of the work diary? I'll try and pick it up again in January, though I'm not sure if I'll be successful. If I get back to the point where I'm too all over the place to document what I'm doing then I fear 2014 may be as tricky as 2013 has been. And that, dear reader, is a frightening prospect.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Classic Film Review: Murder on a Honeymoon (1935)

 Murder on a Honeymoon is the third in a series about amateur sleuth Hildegarde Withers and is the last of the films to star Edna May Oliver as the protagonist (I previously reviewed Penguin Pool Murder, 1932, here). Miss Withers is travelling to Catalina Island on a small plane with a few other passengers but when it arrives at its destination one passenger doesn't disembark - he's dead. Learning that the dead man was an informant against a gangster, Miss Withers' old sidekick, Inspector Piper (James Gleason), hops on a boat to help her out of what could be a sticky situation. There are plenty of twists and turns and some serious peril for our heroes in this one.

As with Penguin Pool Murder, I thought this was just wonderful. Edna May Oliver and James Gleason bounce off each other perfectly, with the mutual affection between Miss Withers and Inspector Piper coming through in their own grouchy ways. The characterisation of these two is ideal. Piper isn't the brightest and he also tends to rush into things whereas Miss Withers will hold her tongue and watch from a distance. Even so, her beliefs do put the pair of them in danger towards the end of the film and, even before that, she ends up tied up in a closet for getting too close to the truth. Although I had no real fear either character would be killed, there was the sense that some damage could easily be done in the final scenes.

The supporting cast is mostly unremarkable, with Lola Lane as Phyllis La Font probably the best of the bunch. There's a heavy reliance on stereotypes with the island doctor and police officer but since they're incidental characters it doesn't really impede the film much. The focus is on Miss Withers and her friendship with Piper as they solve the murder.

I can't help but think it's a pity this was Oliver's last portrayal of Miss Withers. The potent partnership between her and Gleason could've lasted a long time.

Monday, 16 December 2013

RIP Joan Fontaine

With all the discussion of Peter O'Toole's death, announced yesterday, it would be easy for the death of another Hollywood star to go unnoticed. The wonderful Joan Fontaine died yesterday aged 96, a brilliant age, perhaps, but why did I still get the feeling she'd been taken too soon? The Hollywood stars of the 40s and 50s that I adore are so fresh in my memory that it's still a shock when one of them dies and Joan has become one of my favourites.

The first film I saw her in was A Damsel in Distress (1937) with Fred Astaire. It was an odd film with a screen play by PG Wodehouse and songs by the Gershwins but, while Astaire's charm and dancing ability was ever present, I was more interested in his beautiful colleague. Although not Astaire's usual kind of co-star, there was something about her that pulled me in: maybe the eyes, maybe the smile, maybe just the sense that I was to see her in better things - which I did.

I've since reviewed three of her films on here: Rebecca (1940), Jane Eyre (1943) and Born to Be Bad (1950). In the last of these, she plays a manipulative woman determined to outsmart those around her to get what she wants. It wasn't the kind of role I'd come to associate with her but she pulled it off remarkably well, revealing another layer to an excellent actress. However, she's at her absolute best in Rebecca, engaging throughout and a brilliant co-star to the titan Laurence Olivier. If there's one film I think she'll be remembered for, it's Rebecca, and rightly so.

There are many more Fontaine films out there for me to discover and enjoy. Hours of pleasure from an actress I don't think has been properly appreciated in recent years. Maybe her death'll change that. RIP Joan and thanks for the wonderful legacy.

Friday, 13 December 2013

My Musical Memories

I got to thinking, as I was not sleeping in the early hours of the morning, what a huge impact musicals, their songs and their stars, have had on my life. A lot my memories are tangled up with particular songs, albums are connected with specific moments in time, some good, some bad. I felt like sharing. This is practically chronological, though there are some jumps.

I remember seeing the stage show of Singin' in the Rain not long after I started secondary school, sitting in the third row and getting wet at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It took a long time for me to 'condescend' to see the film. What a mistake that was.

I remember buying the Summer Holiday cast album on CD, bringing it home and my mum demonstrating how to dance along to 'Foot Tapper', one of my final positive memories of her.

I remember the triumvirate of albums that sustained me for what felt like an age but was a mere few months - film cast recordings of The Sound of Music and Grease and the Michael Ball production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I loved the song 'Teamwork' in the latter and miss it since my CD broke and I haven't been able to replace it. 

I remember nearly breaking my ankle jumping over a sofa at a friend's house while listening to The Sound of Music. The friends were in another room, away from my racket. I realised in that moment I didn't belong anywhere near them.

I remember ordering The Harvey Girls on VHS having once seen it on television. It arrived at my Grandma White's house and I told her she could watch it. Jealous, and having had a row with yet another friend I shouldn't have been friends with, I was walking around Wrenthorpe and I called her. She told me she was up to 'It's a Great Big World' and the idea of being with 'friends' when I could be watching that beautiful scene instead made me indescribably sad.

I remember skipping college to watch Pal Joey. And On the Town. Maybe that's something to blame Frank Sinatra for.

I remember buying a book on MGM musicals and taking it to college so I didn't have to talk to anyone all day.

I remember doing an A-Level language project on musical songs in the 1940s and 60s. It stank.

I remember terrorising the neighbours with the Thoroughly Modern Millie Broadway cast recording with Sutton Foster. While dancing along to 'Forget About the Boy' I jumped on a chair and it fell over, sending us both crashing to the floor. Lesson not exactly learned.

I remember persuading my Grandma Brown to buy me three films for £20 in HMV - Singin' in the Rain, Little Shop of Horrors and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. She thought I selected the last one just to make up the three so I took my laptop round to her house and made her watch it - she soon changed her mind. Then there was me dancing the 'Barn Dance' along the corridor in that bungalow, scaring the life out of both my grandparents.

I remember countless Sundays  in my Grandma Brown's kitchen, listening to Elaine Paige on Sunday and writing fan fiction in thick spiral bound notebooks.

I remember taking walks down the backs near my Grandma White's house with a musical compilation recorded onto my Walkman. I danced along stones wedged into the shallows of a lake singing 'All That Jazz', Claire Sweeney's version.

I remember that after getting the Wicked soundtrack I went up a hill near my Grandma White's house and sang along to 'Defying Gravity' at the top of my voice while jumping between a rock and a bench.

I remember the thrill of listening to 'Processional and Maria' from The Sound of Music and how that piece of music still has the power to make me smile and conduct along.

I remember walking to my Grandma Brown's and making sure I was listening to the London cast recording of Mary Poppins and the song 'Jolly Holiday' for a particular stretch along Aberford Road. There was singing, lots of singing.

I remember getting through my first year at uni by taking long walks past midnight with my MP3 player. Particularly, there was a set of steps that headed up to the main road. I danced up and down those, frequently to 'Avenue A' from Mrs Santa Claus, waving at passing cars.

I remember the first time I ever watched A Muppet's Christmas Carol with my flatmate and pausing halfway through to take a call that made me smile more than I had since I got to university.

I remember sitting outside McDonald's near uni listening to 'When the Children Are Asleep' from Carousel and thinking how pleasant that scenario sounded.

I remember the first time I watched Call Me Madam. I was at my Grandma Brown's, my grandfather was in hospital and my great aunt called halfway through the film. I was upset that the phone call stopped my grandmother watching Donald O'Connor dance in 'What Chance Have I With Love?', one of his best performances.

I remember meeting someone and being gutted that The Sound of Music had recently toppled from the head of her favourites list. If only I'd spoken to her a month earlier.

I remember listening to 'It Really Doesn't Matter' on YouTube, learning all the words to distract me from the fact I was living in a fifteen person house I despised.

I remember annoying the neighbours when I lived in Middlesbrough by singing along extremely loudly to 'Do You Hear the People Sing?' three or four times a night.

I remember working to rule in Bradford, sitting in my dad's car until just before clocking-in time singing 'Once We Were Kings' from Billy Elliot loudly enough to irritate anybody in the car park.

I remember after a particularly bad supervisor meeting listening to 'A Star is Born' from Hercules and managing to make myself smile before I left Sheffield.

I remember seeing Liza Minnelli sing 'Maybe This Time' live and thinking that nothing could possibly beat that for me.

I remember seeing Idina Menzel singing 'No Day But Today' and the audience around the Royal Albert Hall joining in to create an electric atmosphere.

I remember sitting in the third row watching Merrily We Roll Along and never wanting it to end. I got a similar sensation when I watched the cinema showing, though I bawled my eyes out at a different song.

There are more, many more. A lot of songs associated with bad moments too but those I'll keep to myself. The point is, while most people say they 'like' music, I really couldn't live without it. These songs are what keep me going and not a day goes by (thanks, Mr Sondheim) where my earphones don't help me blot out the real world, just a bit.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Perks of Being Unwell

I've been struck down with that cold that's doing the rounds, though it had the decency to hold off until my final, final Downton Abbey essay edits had been completed. I think submitting that gave me permission to collapse and my body took the invitation without much hesitation. So here we are.

Fortunately, I have found some upsides to this being ill malarkey. Most of you know I don't exactly slow down but I've been forced to do just that and I'm actually relaxing for a change. I was already rereading Aurora Floyd slowly as part of my thesis work but I've finished that pretty speedily, thanks to waking up at half four this morning and having a three hour reading session. I'm going to indulge in some 'fun' rereading until I recover. I don't much have time to reread these days and there are some books on my shelves I really want to revisit such as Sing You Home (Jodi Picoult), Carol (Patricia Highsmith) and All Passion Spent (Vita Sackville West). I'm hoping to get through those three at least by the weekend.

I'm not entirely resting though - I'm incapable of it. I'm still working on some novel edits but the pressure's not there because I'm just doing as much as I feel like. And the rest of my free time is being spent with these lovely ladies because that's what I do when I'm unwell...

Friday, 6 December 2013

Classic Film Review: The Velvet Touch (1948)

The Velvet Touch stars Rosalind Russell as Valerie Stanton, a Broadway star who wants to break from her long-term partnership with director Gordon Dunning (Leon Ames) because she wants to star in a serious play and she's also fallen in love with Michael Morrell (Leo Genn). Dunning is unwilling to let her go and she accidentally kills him when he threatens to make up lies to tell Morrell to split them up. A flashback sequence shows how they got to that point and then the police investigation starts up. The primary suspect is the woman who truly loved Dunning, Marian Webster (Claire Trevor). She found the body and picked up the murder weapon but she's in a catatonic state. What will happen when she comes round?

I thought this was an excellent film. There were a few shaky moments acting-wise but Leon Ames played the villain to perfection, giving Valerie every reason to attack him in the opening scene. The moments that follow that, as Valerie makes her way back to her dressing room in a daze are exceptional. Russell plays that entire sequence perfectly and really, from then on, she's completely absorbing. She battles with her guilt and her fear but ultimately uses her acting skills to good effect to keep the truth under wraps. However, she may have underestimated Captain Danbury (Sydney Greenstreet), an affable police detective who adores the theatre and investigates the case.

There are some brilliant scenes that have stayed with me. The hospital confrontation between Valerie and Marian - and Valerie's subsequent breakdown in Captain Danbury's office - is tense, with Claire Trevor giving a very good performance throughout the film but especially in this scene. Really, though, this film is Russell's alone and she makes good use of it. The final sequence of her opening night in Hedda Gabler builds to a climax where you're unsure what the outcome will be. Ultimately, I think the ending worked but the alternate scenario would have been equally as good.

Highly recommended. It's a psychological thriller that leaves you wondering when Valerie will finally break - because break she must.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Grandmother Misery

In the middle of October the 'family' (if you can call us that in any sense of the word) finally relented and put my grandmother in a residential home. It was against my wishes and, to make things worse, during the actual transition I was away on holiday. I said at the time that I didn't want to be proven right but I couldn't help believing it would make her more unhappy. Well, I have been proven right.

I think the home is shabby but, then, it was only ever picked for proximity to one side of the family and had bugger all to do with what was best for her. The home that my grandmother wanted is currently undergoing renovation work to build an extension. The capacity will no doubt be increased and she's already at the top of the list so she should be able to move there - in April/May. I'm not holding out hope for her lasting that long.

80% of my visits have been soul-destroying. What happens is, we ring the bell and sign in. My dad signals my grandmother in the lounge and she slowly makes her way across to us. Then we head down a long corridor to her room. What happens in that corridor is that she starts sobbing and continues sobbing all the way down to her room. Then she collapses in her chair and sobs some more. When we finally get words out of her, it all boils down to the same thing - she hates that place. As I knew she would. Being right doesn't feel good in this case; it feels downright awful.

So what does she hate? Well, let's start with the physical aspects of the home. Her room is shabby with peeling paint and a lack of hot water at the sink unit. There's also a draught at the window, which they overcompensate for by turning the heat up to tranquilliser levels. More problematic is the fact that this place isn't en-suite (something me and my father were determined on for her privacy). There's a toilet nearby but they're more than happy to make her use the commode, which they then proceed to leave for hours. They're storing things in her room, hoists and the like (and, yes, I trust her on this one, because I've seen the rest of the place). The food isn't up to much and they're not giving her enough - for a small woman she's always eaten lots and the weight is literally dropping off her. She doesn't seem to be getting enough water either - the problem with her dry lips is back with a vengeance after we'd almost fixed it.

There are other things that are getting her down. We went one day last week to find her soggy trousers that no one had tried to change her out of. The way she took this suggested to me it wasn't the first time that had happened. The staff to resident ratio seems to be lacking too. There's a man two doors down from her who wails for staff for ages (something else I've experienced first-hand) and they've had a couple of women with Alzheimer's who haven't been supervised properly. The first one, there on respite, was regularly going into rooms and taking things, including a picture of my late uncle's wedding and two stones, about the only things of emotional value she's got in there. Again, I witnessed this first-hand. The second woman with Alzheimer's seems to enjoy watching people getting undressed and this has upset my grandmother. My question is - are the carers not shutting the door or are they just not stopping the woman getting in? I think there needs to be a closer focus on high-dependency residents, for the sake of all.

It's not the end of the list by any means but it'll do for now. It's all conspired to make her utterly miserable and there's bugger all I can do about it. She found out the other day that my dad and my aunt have to 'get her out' if she wants to leave (am I the only one getting shades of a Victorian asylum with this place?). While I can exert pressure on my dad to try and locate another, less shabby place, my aunt is having none of it. My grandmother says she literally turns her back on her when she tries to discuss it. How the hell can you have that attitude to someone who so obviously suffering? My grandmother told me the other day that when she realised this was it until the end of her life, she couldn't take it. Neither can I, in all honesty.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Editing Shorthand

It's been a long, long time since I did proper paper edits on a novel draft. I mean, I've done bits and pieces, odd chapters, but it's a long time since I held a full draft in my hands then attacked it mercilessly with a pen. True, my rewrites on 'Danni' have leapfrogged finishing the first draft of 'Kathy' (as planned here) but there's a good reason for that. Finishing the first draft of 'Izzy', jumping straight into NaNo and then going back to trying to complete a third first draft in a row felt...well, ludicrous, even for me. So I picked up the edits and spent a solid six hours highlighting what needs to be changed and weighing up every sentence. As I went, I found myself coming up with my own little editing shorthand that I felt like sharing. Some of it's standard, some of it's a little peculiar...

  • Check - Means what it says, for the most part. I'm not completely happy with the sentence as it reads so I need to look into it further and see if I can change it. 
  • Rephrase - I know that the sentence definitely isn't right and needs a complete overhaul.
  • (?) - My word choice isn't right in a portion of the sentence, think it over and consult a thesaurus. 
  • Foreshadow - Exactly what it says. Perfect moment for foreshadowing something that happens later.
  • Check E/T - Nope, this doesn't mean consult the resident alien. It means consult The Emotion Thesaurus, an excellent writing guide I discussed in more detail in this post, 'I Said Love - Or Did I?'
  • M/C - Stands for 'more common'. I apparently have a habit of making my antagonists far too posh. In this case, it really doesn't work so I'm peppering his dialogue with these notes to remind me to rough up his language a bit.
  • Tag - Sentence isn't reading well, may need to rearrange the character tagging or add a tag in.
  • Extend - More of it, I want more of it.
  • Clunky - Well, it's...clunky.
  • (P) - Punctuation change. 

I'm assuming most of that is normal. I'm also assuming it's a list that'll continue to get longer. I have to say, though, losing myself in these edits is proving rather delightful. The only difficulty is, once I've made notes on what edits I want to make, I have to go back to PhD work for a week. Who knows when I'll be able to actually implement the edits?

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2013: Draft Finished and Validation

There we go. Did a hell of a lot of writing in the last couple of days and finished the novel draft at 57,287 words (using my word counter, not the dodgy one on the site that brings it up to 57,466). I actually think that makes it one of my longest first drafts. My last two NaNo successes came in at 54,000 and 51,000. No problem. I like working from the bottom up and adding in is a hell of a lot easier than having to disentangle the plot to condense it.

With this novel, I knew the ending when I started but the getting there was a bit of a mystery to me. Along the way, some characters sprouted into distasteful people and one, supposedly small, character took a leading role towards the end. I think that was thanks in part from the reaction I got about her from the one person who's allowed to read everything I write. Anyhow, the character definitely developed and, when the rewrite finally happens, I can't wait to develop her in particular.

Did utilising the places I'd just been for my holiday mean it turned into a dictation of places and things? I hope not and I don't think so. In the end, I was so eager to distance myself from the holiday that the characters sped away from the things I tried to describe. Maybe that's something I need to work on in the rewrite too.

So am I happier with the draft now? Well, yes, I'm happy with the story as it is on paper but that sense of euphoria I mentioned on Monday is still sadly lacking. That's not to say the story couldn't be good with some work but just that I'm not in the frame of mind to make it good now. I wonder when I will be.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2013: Got There

Last night, not long before midnight, I hit the 50,000 word mark with six days to go. I haven't validated yet since I want to finish the whole draft before the end of November and, to be honest, validating and seeing the 'Winner' mark next to my name isn't something that appeals to me too much at the moment. I guess that sums up the whole problem.

There was a short burst of delight that lasted precisely the length of two songs (one Shania Twain and one from Betty Blue Eyes) then...nothing. Last year and in 2011 there was exhaustion and happiness. Despite knowing how much work had to (and still has to, in point of fact) be put into those drafts, the idea of having a first draft on paper made me grin. Maybe that's the problem here - that I haven't finished the draft. Maybe when it's complete I'll feel a little...happier - who knows?

I'll get back to you when I reach that next milestone, hopefully before the month's out. In the meantime, here's Donald O'Connor solving his problems the best way he knows how - getting incredibly drunk and wrecking a restaurant. Don't tempt me, Donald, don't tempt me.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2013: Over 40,000

To be perfectly honest, I don't know how I'm still going. I've spent November battling with rewrites for a essay whose deadline keeps looming, getting extended slightly and looming again. And, as I blogged on Wednesday, I'm having significant problems structuring the last chapter of my thesis. Not to mention the fact that I feel possibly the worst I've felt in at least a year. I've been underestimating how bad I've gotten, which has made the last few days all the more alarming. And, still, I've been writing.

Last night I trotted over the 40,000 word mark. As things stand, my daily average is 1,843 but I haven't written anything today yet so that's dragging me down. I've mostly been writing my daily word count between 22:30 and midnight so it's been rapid stuff. My aim over the weekend evenings is to bring it as close to the finishing line as possible (my weekend days are allocated to the essay rewrites) and then finish the entire novel draft by the 30th. I now know exactly how the last few chapters are going to play out and there's at least one scene I'm really looking forward to writing. It was one that came to me as I was sat in the theatre on the cruise ship watching a fantastic singer and I hope it's going to be as beautiful on the page as it was in my mind.

In retrospect, doing this story for NaNo was a mistake. Oh, I didn't know it'd be a mistake and, really, it was a good idea to couple a holiday experience with a NaNo novel like this. The problem came when I was essentially forced to relive every day something I'd rather was dead and buried. Reliving it brings me round in a circle as I realise how weak and pathetic I actually am and that, in turn, makes it difficult to write with any confidence. It's not surprising that this novel has fed into the general...badness surrounding me at the moment but I'm sure I'll be happy when it's all there on paper. At least I've come too far to turn back or pack it in. My stubbornness wouldn't let me. I haven't been through the last two months to fail now and maybe, just maybe, I needed to write this novel. To invent the holiday I wish I'd had without the horrible stuff thrown in. I know that if I hadn't participated in NaNo this year I would've hated myself for it so... We are where we are.

Have a little Judy in Summer Stock...

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

PhD Problems

I don't know if this is all in my head but writing the final chapter of my thesis (before going back to rewrite the rest, obviously) is proving to be more difficult than the other three put together. It could be that I'm on a vicious merry-go-round of work at the moment, drifting from thesis writing to essay rewriting to necessary secondary reading to NaNoWriMo writing (which, yes, I know is a choice but it isn't really because I'm as serious about writing as I am about my PhD so...). Whatever's happening, it's true that the structure of this chapter continues to stink and every time I try to fix it another problem crops up.

I suppose that, on a practical level, it's understandable this chapter is giving me trouble. Previous chapters have discussed a limited number of characters - four is my maximum so far and that was more like 'two sets of two'. In this chapter, I'm examining seven. It was eight until yesterday when I blindly crossed one out in a rage (although I think that was the right decision, rage or not). I do have arguments around groups of them but the organisation of the analysis is proving to be rather difficult. Necessarily, I have more contemporary context to include and this is also hampering my progress. What to put where? What to leave out? When to leave the building screaming?

I watched a One Foot in the Grave episode the other day called 'Rearranging the Dust'. Victor and Margaret are waiting to make a will in one of the grimiest waiting rooms known to man (there is bird poo on the inside of the window for a start). It prompts Victor to start thinking not only about dust itself but how similar to humanity dust is when it all comes down to it. I get the feeling that that's what I'm doing with this chapter - rearranging the dust of it and hoping it'll all settle in an appropriate place. Only, I've been trying this for a while now and it hasn't settled. It's actually swirling around me constantly, getting up my nose and giving me wild ideas about hitting the delete button. I have to be very careful with that urge.

I'm hoping that this time I've cracked it and the chapter will finally work but I won't hold my breath. Nor will I think about my personal schedule that's drifting somewhere on the sea of dust, the one that tells me I should be rewriting chapter one right now, not still buggering about with chapter four. Perhaps the key to arguing with all this dust is try and think about it as little as you can.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2013: Halfway There

At this point I'm just tempted to rehash my 2011 'mid-point' post because it involved a Dumbo picture and made me smile. However, I'll try and pull something new together... I'm halfway there! Yay for me. Even Judy's smiling benevolently at me.

So I'm a little ahead of schedule. At the moment, with no writing done yet for today, I'm where I should be tomorrow. It's not great but it means I only have to write 1,458 words a day to finish on time. Easy...

I may be dealing with a plot problem though. I'd thought through most things up until this point but as soon as they leave Gibraltar to sail for Malaga, my mind goes blank. My protagonists are not exactly getting on well at this point but with only a week left until they get back to England they need to make some serious progress. And there's that ending I'm working towards...

Anyway, I shall keep going, while I battle away on my final thesis chapter, of course. The days where I had only one thing to do at a time are a distant memory. I think I'd stand there gaping if such an opportunity was given to me now. I'll leave you where I left my characters last night - having a very deep and painful conversation under these fading skies...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Classic Film Review: Penguin Pool Murder (1932)

Penguin Pool Murder stars Edna May Oliver as Miss Hildegard Withers, a schoolteacher sleuth who happens to be visiting the aquarium on the day a body tumbles into the penguin tank. This body belongs to unscrupulous stockbroker Gerald Parker (Guy Usher) who has just discovered his wife Gwen (Mae Clark) meeting with former flame Philip Seymour (Donald Cook). Suspicion naturally falls on those two with passing lawyer Barry Costello (Robert Armstrong) taking on defence of Gwen Parker. But Miss Withers throws herself into solving the case herself, much to the disgruntlement of Inspector Piper (James Gleason).

I adored this film. The case was intriguing enough, though I had my suspicions from the off about who the killer was, but the real delight comes from Miss Withers herself. She is a fantastic creation with the turn of phrase of Miss Gulch from The Wizard of Oz and the sleuthing skills of Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote, of course. An intelligent, sarcastic woman who refuses to take 'no' for an answer, she persists in showing Inspector Piper where he's going wrong. Eventually, he learns to defer to her authority and they form a nice little tag-team.

The rest of the cast is adequate enough. Once Piper accepts Miss Withers, the character comes into his own - think of it in terms of Sheriff Metzger in Murder, She Wrote but with a nice little twist at the end. I found Mae Clark as Gwen a little difficult but the majority of the male cast was acceptable. However, this was always Miss Withers's film and it shows. The mystery is good but the interplay is better - and there's a wonderful penguin involved too.

This is the first of three Miss Withers stories Oliver and Gleason made together. After this, the role was taken over by Zasu Pitts, who I didn't really enjoy in Sing and Like It (1934, reviewed here) and I can't see in the role of Miss Withers. However, Eve Arden did make a one-off appearance in the role in a television special in 1972 - given my love of Eve, I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for that one.

Ultimately, I loved this film because of Edna May Oliver - she's a character I'd love to be any day.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Book Review: The Loyal Servant by Eva Hudson

Caroline Barber is a civil servant juggling work and family, a little unsuccessfully. Things get worse when she finds her boss, a senior politician, dead at his desk. The evidence all points to suicide but Caroline has her suspicions. Her covert investigations bring her into contact with newspaper report Angela Tate, herself fighting against the spectre of redundancy at her paper. She needs a good story and she thinks she's found one with the political cover up that seems to be going on around academy building projects. However, there are forces at work which neither expect and which threaten Caroline's family and life.

This is a very well-structured novel. The plot is good and the gradual revelation of all the various secrets was enough to keep me interested. However, I had some personal gripes reading it which, to be fair, are probably more about me than the novel itself. 

I didn't feel that the characters - with the exception of the wonderful Angela - were well-rounded enough. With Caroline, especially, her quest is explained but the forces which govern her family life are left until much later in the novel. I understand why this is from a plot point of view, but it left me struggling to connect with her for a while. She's certainly an 'everywoman' kind of character but I wanted a little more than that a little earlier. Similarly, a convention of chapter endings in books like these seemed to get on my nerves - there was very little respite with dialogue ending nearly every chapter and rushing you on into the next. I wanted more introspection, more thought that was not overtly connected to the main plot but, again, that was probably just me. 

I did enjoy this book, more than the criticisms above suggest. I rushed through it because I was eager to get to the root of the mystery and I found myself inwardly cheering every time Angela Tate crossed the page. The little investigative double-act which emerges out of the initially difficult relationship she and Caroline have is an enjoyable one; for me, that was easily the best relationship in the novel. 

Worth a read if you're more into these kinds of books than I am but also if you like your journalists bitchy and forthright - Angela Tate is fabulous. 

Monday, 11 November 2013

Book Review: John Marchmont's Legacy by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

John Marchmont's Legacy begins with Edward Arundel, destined for the army, bumping into his old teacher, the title character, working on a London stage. There is a hope that Marchmont will come into property but, until then, he and his young daughter, Mary, are living in poverty. Thanks to Edward's kindness, John Marchmont trusts him with the welfare of his daughter if they come into the inheritance and he dies. John is particularly worried about the ambitions of his brother, Paul Marchmont. John does come into his property and decides to marry Edward's cousin, Olivia, to provide a good mother figure for Mary. What he doesn't know is that Olivia has been in love with Edward for years and only marries him because Edward doesn't want her. After John's death, however, the household changes and when Edward falls in love with Mary, it's something Olivia struggles to accept. And then Paul Marchmont arrives...

By far, the most interesting character in this novel is Olivia. Her love for Edward pervades the novel, even though she accepts it's a damaging love, and the jealousy which emerges from it is inevitable but still fascinating to read. In comparison, the nice Mary feels somewhat like a cardboard cut out. Her courtship with Edward is very sentimental and childish in tone. Mary doesn't seem to grow up out of the child Edward first encounters and is subsequently made something of an angel. Of course, this works as an excellent contrast to Olivia but it also serves to highlight that Olivia is one of Braddon's best creations while Mary languishes amongst the stereotypical insipid 'good' heroines of sensation fiction.

The plot suffers from an abundance of coincidental incidents, as many sensation novels do. Being a seasoned reader of the form, I'd pretty much ascertained what was going to happen a few chapters in with John's prophetic mistrust of his brother and Olivia's pervading love for Edward. It did mean that I spent a good proportion of the second half of the novel frustrated and waiting for the inevitable revelation.

I also detected a problem which it seems Braddon struggled with - the introduction of another 'good' heroine, Belinda, which essentially creates a surplus going into the final pages. I'll allow you to discover for yourself how this is resolved.

Ultimately, John Marchmont's Legacy is a good novel mainly because of Olivia Marchmont. Of all the characters within these pages, she's the one that lingers.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2013: Protagonist Similarities

It's unsurprising, since I finished the first draft of another project just before the start of NaNo, that the protagonist of this new one sounds a little like the protagonist of that one. However, 12,000 words in and I'm starting to see the differences come through.

I suppose, really, it comes down to the fact that one has a manipulative, self-serving streak that dominates nearly everything she does while this new one is inherently good, a little mischievous and very intuitive. The differences are starting to shine through and I like that.

However, the chapters I'd planned ahead of time are coming to an abrupt end in the next couple of thousand words. I need to make time to think. As I said yesterday, things are going a little more slowly than I thought they would. The ship's just docked in Lisbon, though, and my characters will be - grudgingly, in one case - spending some time together in that beautiful city. I can tell you they might be hovering around up here...

I'm looking forward to the Lisbon portion of the narrative. I know how things should play out there because I was thinking about it as I trotted round the walls of the castle. After that, who knows? It's on to Gibraltar and a little more...excitement?

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2013: 10,000 Words Down

Last night I powered over the 10,000 word mark with my NaNo project putting me a day ahead of where I should be. I've been sticking to my plan of writing as much as I can at a time and desperately trying not to stop and over-analyse. Fortunately, I spent a lot of time pondering these characters while I was on holiday - that forethought is helping and I'm enjoying the ride.

Of course, alongside those words I've also half-completed that essay rewrite I've got on. I had to put that on hiatus until the end of the week because I realised I had a supervisor meeting on Thursday and hadn't yet done any fresh thesis work since my last meeting. So yesterday was spent battling through rewriting sections of analysis, by far the most difficult kind of work I could've picked. I'm at my sister's for a few days to help her with the kids and I think I startled her by sitting down with my laptop at three o'clock and barely moving until after midnight. Half that time was spent on PhD work and the other half was NaNo work. It's no wonder I couldn't sleep when I finally went to bed!

I do detect one problem with my novel, though it's not really a problem as such. Regular readers of this blog will know my first drafts generally come in short and I bulk them up. This one may be a bit different. Put it this way - my story spans a fortnight on a cruise ship and after 10,000 words I'm still only on day four. The big events are still to come, they haven't visited a port yet and the romance...well, I'm keeping quiet on that. This could prove to be my longest first draft to date.

As I type this blog I'm being subjected to Bananas in Pyjamas, perils of sick niece sitting. Let's hope I see past this and get some more work done today, both thesis and NaNo kinds!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Classic Film Review: The Outlaw (1943)

The Outlaw stars Jack Buetel as Billy the Kid. He arrives in a New Mexico town with a horse stolen from Doc Holliday (Walter Huston). Holliday is intrigued by Billy, taking sides with him over his old friend and new town sheriff, Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell). When Billy is injured, Doc takes him to Rio McDonald's (Jane Russell) home to keep him safe. Although romantically involved with Doc, Rio falls for Billy and what follows is a steady build-up of tension between the four main characters.

This film is notably mostly for being the first appearance of Jane Russell on film. It's not a stunning debut but it is a good promise of what's to come. For the most part, Rio is a bland character, won round to loving Billy despite him killing someone she loves. The stronger aspects of her characters shine through before she falls for Billy. Similarly, Jack Buetel is better when paired with Walter Huston instead of Russell.

The interest for me came in the battle between friends Holliday and Garrett. Although Garrett is interested in catching Billy the Kid on a professional level, he also feels betrayed by Holliday siding with Billy against him. This tension sustains the narrative, even though in parts the film drags.

It relies on stereotypes and typical genre tropes and the attempts to make Russell an instant sex symbol are alarming at times. There is one particular close-up of her lips which comes across as more comical than alluring. However, as her first film it remains interesting and the fraught relationship between Holliday and Garrett gives the plot a boost that the Billy the Kid aspect alone could not achieve.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2013: Other November Commitments

As regular readers will know, I shouldn't really be doing NaNoWriMo at all this year given how frazzled I am with my PhD. But I've never been one for backing away from a challenge, when it involves my brain anyway. General PhD work will have to fit alongside these 50,000 words but that isn't the limit to the 'distractions' I have in November...

  • Saturday 2nd - I'm babysitting for my nieces. This could work to my advantage if the little angels go to sleep though...
  • Sunday 3rd - In the afternoon I'm seeing the second screening of Merrily We Roll Along. Given that when I saw it on stage in London it made me cry lots, I may be useless for the rest of the day. 
  • Thursday 7th - Supervisor meeting in Sheffield. These trips always leave me in a heap.
  • Saturday 9th - Wilkie Collins study day with the VPFA down in London. Up at six in the morning, not back till ten at night. 
  • Sunday 10th - Meal round at my brother's. 
  • Friday 15th - Deadline for essay rewrites, also going down to Birmingham for a few days where very little writing will be allowed to occur.

That's all I can think of off the top of my head but I expect the month to get busier as it goes on. I'll probably have another supervisor meeting towards the end of the month and the work associated with that. 

My plan to get ahead with NaNoWriMo begins with my customary midnight start, trying to get a few thousand written in the early hours of Friday 1st. But if I fall behind after that I suspect it'll be tricky to catch up. I'd better not fall behind. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Book Review: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Cranford is a rather episodic novel, first published in 1851. Told from the viewpoint of Mary Smith, a frequent visitor to the town, it shines brief lights on various episodes in the town's history generally involving a set of core characters including Miss Matty Jenkyns, Miss Pole and Mrs Jamieson. There is no real plot running throughout the novel, although things do reoccur.

I found the episodic nature of the novel rather difficult to deal with. No sooner had I become involved in one storyline than I had to get to grips with another. It was frustrating, too, the way characters dipped in and out of the novel. Nevertheless, other people may see this as a strength of the book - you can pick it up, read a few chapters, put it down and then start a brand new section when you're ready. Personally, I prefer coherent, long-running narratives but that's not to say I didn't enjoy Cranford.

Gaskell's light-hearted and satirical style is just right. Mary Smith relates more than comments on incidents, allowing the reader to draw out the truths within them. Each character is also perfectly rounded with their distinctive voices and personalities. The upright Deborah Jenkyns, particularly, is excellent. Perhaps my one criticism of characterisation comes from the narrator herself but, then, she's supposed to be a vehicle for the events of Cranford to be seen through rather than a part of them herself.

All in all, I enjoyed Cranford, although I found it difficult to stick with. It managed to surprise me, mostly because it jumped around so much, and I was sad to reach the low-key ending.

Monday, 28 October 2013

First Draft Finished, Looking Forward

I don't know if the length of time it's taken for me to finish this latest first draft is a record for me. I first mentioned it back in February when the protagonist came into my head and refused to leave. Then I had to break off to focus on PhD work. In May I explained that I was finding it a difficult story to work on so I was leaving it be for a bit. Then in June I got a little side-tracked again. I started another first draft and poor Izzy got pushed to the back of the queue again. However, in my blog post last month detailing what I need to do before 2013 is out, I made Izzy a priority. Knuckling down, I finally managed to draw it to a conclusion, a decent chunk being written in the last four days.

My first drafts never have large word counts. Maybe it's a consequence of coming by half of them through NaNoWriMo but once they slip over 50,000 words I feel like that's a reasonable basis for revision. Izzy's no different, coming in at just over 52,000. Even with the glow of completing the first draft still present, I'm aware of how much has to be done to it. But loving the character is a good start in that respect. I didn't betray her with her ending in the first draft and I won't betray her in the rewrite. But when will that happen?

Let's put my projects in order of importance (here's an old list of their status):
  • Next up is my NaNoWriMo novel, labelled 'Carys' after my habit of protagonist titles until inspiration strikes. I hate titles. 
  • After that, I would like to finish 'Kathy' before 2014. 
  • I need to do rewrites on 'Danni'. Final, final rewrites. I've added to this extensively in the last year, bringing in material from a discarded first draft and generally beefing it up a little. I'm now working on dialogue, atmosphere and word choice, possibly the hardest things to do!
  • Then comes 'Liz'. To say I consider this the finest first draft I ever wrote, rewriting it is proving to be damn difficult. I got about a fifth of the way through the rewrite before halting a few months ago. 
  • I think then that 'Lauren' deserves her chance, though this one is going to become an ensemble novel. I've been playing with these characters since I was sixteen and they need yet another realignment. I'll get them right someday.
  • After that I should probably have a crack at my NaNoWriMo novel from last year - 'Vic'. I've got a solid idea for the rewrite of this to make it darker than it already was. 
  • Then 'Max'. I know how I want the rewrite of this to pan out but the thought of writing it makes me feel queasy. 
  • Finally, 'Lily'. I have no idea what I'm going to do with her or whether I should do anything at all. 
Of course, writing is my secondary concern now. My PhD takes priority. And, if you listen carefully, you can hear me growling with frustration. Is it any wonder I feel like poor Veronica from In the Good Old Summertime?

Friday, 25 October 2013

Classic Film Review: Flower Drum Song (1961)

Flower Drum Song is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's lesser-known musicals. It tells the story of stowaway Mei Li (Miyoshi Umeki) who arrives in San Francisco with her father Doctor Li (Kam Tong) for an arranged marriage to Sammy Fong (Jack Soo). Unfortunately, Sammy is in love with dancer Linda Low (Nancy Kwan). He decides to palm Mei Li off onto his friend Wang Chi-Lang (Benson Fong), who is looking for a bride for his son Wang Ta (James Shigeta). But Wang Ta already has his own crush on Linda Low and the situation gets ever more complicated.

This is a glossy, colourful film that deals with a clash of cultures alongside the actual love story. The luscious opening credits set the scene for a vibrant film and, on that level, it certainly delivers. The songs, however, aren't the best Rogers and Hammerstein ever wrote. The most enduring song within the score is no doubt 'I Enjoy Being a Girl', dubbed here by B.J. Baker for Nancy Kwan, and a couple of others are decent - 'Chop Suey' about the clash of cultures and the amusing 'Don't Marry Me' performed by Miyoshi Umeki and Jack Soo. The song sung by yet another woman in love with Wang Ta, Helen Chao (Reiko Sato, singing dubbed by Marilyn Horne), 'Love, Look Away', is an excellent song of a broken heart. One of my main criticisms about the film is that Helen Chao is the best character and she doesn't get a proper ending.

The central love story of Mei Li and Wang Ta doesn't work for me - I never once thought they should get together. Equally, the amount of dubbed singing in the film irritated me. There are plenty of humorous lines but it doesn't add up to a coherent whole. I don't know if it just translated badly to film, trying to make itself shorter, but the main love story didn't get the energy it should have from the initial set-up. Mei Li sees Wang Ta and immediately loves him - why?

Overall, this is a colourful film with some excellent commentaries on culture clashes and some good comic performances from the likes of Benson Fong and Jack Soo. However, on the basic plot level, it didn't hook me. I really wanted to know what happened to Helen Chao - never a good way to end a film like this.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2013: A Sense Of Place

Yesterday, I promised to discuss the places my characters will be visiting in my NaNoWriMo novel for 2013. As I said, the action takes place on a cruise ship, a trip to the Mediterranean. The ship first docks in Lisbon and, perhaps, my characters will take a trip to the Castle of São Jorge. Wonderful views from up there...

Next, they travel to Gibraltar, that tiny block of land so heavily disputed where the mischievous apes live.

Malaga, birthplace of Picasso, is the next port.

After that, they'll go onto Cadiz with its narrow streets and beautiful sea views.

The last port will be La Coruña, though who knows what state my protagonists will be in by then?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2013: The Research Trip

This year, taking a holiday in October, I thought I could combine this trip with research for my NaNoWriMo novel for 2013. I was struggling with an idea for this year but as soon as I decided it would take place on a cruise ship within the narrow confines of a fortnight's holiday the novel came alive in my head. The main character jumped at me first - a freelance photographer employed to publicise the flagging company. I like Carys, I have to say. Her foil? Pippa, a woman hiding a couple of dark secrets. 

Naturally, my own holiday will feed a lot into the novel. The places I visited will be the places they visit. However, they are already making those places their own. I felt it as I took notes at the end of each day. I dug into how Carys and Pippa would react to places and events in my mind and, thanks to those few minutes of pondering per day, I'm in a very good position as far as knowing the basics of my characters goes, possibly better than I've been before.

Of course, regular readers of this blog will know that I don't really have time to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. This neat little summary dictates what I have to do before 2013 is finished with and the things I'd like to do. NaNoWriMo is on there because it's important to me. I like the deadlines, I like the freedom of just writing. I also like having the ability to justify my writing time to both me and the people around me - participating in NaNoWriMo gives the illusion that my writing time is not time wasted. It might only be a psychological thing but I need the validation that I'm meant to be writing at the moment. Justifying the time I spend on my fictional works is becoming all the more difficult as academic anxiety kicks in. 

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this year's novel will be a sense of place. I took hundreds of pictures while I was away, trying to catch the essence of the ports visited far too briefly. Tomorrow, I'll give you an overview of the main places. In the meantime, here's a picture of me being dwarfed by a tree in Cadiz.