Failing at reading

I’d like to show you something:

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Other than not knowing how to screenshot, if you look even closer, you will see that on my Goodreads account, I started reading Sense and Sensibility…

in (shock horror) February of 2015.

2 freaking years ago.

Not even I realised how bad I was until logging in to update my progress.

It’s taken me over 600 days to finish a book, which though slightly hard to engage with at first, I grew to love, with Austen teasing me throughout about what, and how, certain things were going to play out.

It’s not that I don’t read. I love it, so so much. I wish I had more time for it. But, things happened last year, and though I turned to the book, time and time again, reading chapters here, chapters there, the fact that we had a massive life overhaul, what with Sea changing and all, meant that there were so many other things to take care of, and that still need taking care of… that taking time out to enjoy a very fave pastime of mine, just felt selfish.

This here my friends, is a lesson in failure. Observe the following 2016 reading challenge I participated in last year:

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Have a look at that, really, have a good look at that.

I pledged to read 10 books. Not much I thought. 10 books a year, equated to just under one book a month. That didn’t seem at all impossible, but as mentioned above, Sea change, and all I ended up reading was 2 books.

2 books.

2 books!

And during that time I was about half way through Austen’s book too.

I don’t feel oddly embarrassed. A little ashamed, maybe, because you know, being a Writer and all, and wanting to write for a living, well you feel a bit pathetic when your main bread and butter, the act of reading to help you write – you fail miserably at.

I failed miserably, I know.

I have excuses. I have reasons. Do I need to justify them to anyone? To make people believe that I am a legitimate writer, that I am worthy of the “Writer” title?

No. My online writing presence is enough. I am a busy person. I have a life. And sometimes, things don’t go to plan.

Many times, things don’t go to plan.

It doesn’t mean however, that we shouldn’t plan, or strive towards certain goals.

The lesson here is this.

Firstly, don’t feel bad for taking time out to read, if it is something you love to do – writing-related or not. We should all give ourselves a break now and then, even if it is while waiting in line to pay a bill, on your lunch break at work, or late at night when the house is quiet. For a creative mind, it is necessary.

Second, shit happens. It almost always does. So if your well-tuned ideas and visions don’t turn out the way you’d like – don’t despair. Don’t use it as a reason to give up.

Never use ANY thing as a reason to give up.

Just say “oh well,” and move on. Or my favourite “PLOT TWIST!” and then see what scene the chapter of your life will play out for you next.

I’m already thinking of what I will read next. And I think the well overdue “Girl on a Train” book that I borrowed off Hubbie’s cousin, LAST YEAR, is definitely next in line…

(If you’d like to be Goodreads friends and have an account of your own, my profile name is Smikg…)

 

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Showing Up when it’s Hard

I’d been struggling with a lot of things lately. Friday night I found myself tired, run down, feeling flat about the next few days, and depressed that I hadn’t written for a while. And it wasn’t my blog, or my journal that I was feeling down about. It was my main project, my book, the one that I actually need to knuckle down on, push my sleeves up, and get into the nitty gritty of. I’d been feeling uninspired for several weeks, and though I do, genuinely, always have something to do, the words ‘no excuses’ kept circling around in my head. These words made me angry at myself, because I knew it to be true.

I’ve written on my blog before that I find it hardest to write when I’m sad, or feeling down and depressed. I was so shitty with myself on Friday, that I decided to prove a point to myself, and I really wanted to get out of my funk too, despite the hard reality that when you’re in a hole, it’s really quite difficult to pull yourself out of it. It’s like looking for a rope to climb out of your hole from, only there’s no rope in sight, only mounds of dirt threatening to bury you.

I opened my laptop and journalled my angry thoughts for about 20 minutes. That purge seemed to help. Next I opened the Miranda Kerr book I’ve been getting through in times of much needed motivation: “Treasure Yourself.” I went through about 20 pages of motivational quotes and affirmations, before ending on one talking about taking advantage of the sunshine. I knew it was going to be a beautiful day the next day, and so I left it at that.

Then the most daunting of them all. I turned back to my laptop and opened up chapter 1 of my book, my second book in the series as it were, and re-read it, in the hope that some glimmer of inspiration, of a fantastic idea and great sprawling plan would start to eventuate and I would know how to progress my characters onto the next part.

And the most amazing thing happened. Ideas, scenarios floated into my head. I weighed up one, I weighed up the other. Words, thoughts, conversations started to roll… and I started to write.

An hour later and I was previewing the fact that I had doubted writing at all, and had instead ended up with just over 2 pages. And it wasn’t too bad.

I’m continually amazed at the power of the word. I know it can be very different for other writers, but so often when I think I’m not in the right zone, don’t have enough time, or am lacking the ideas, if I just ‘show up,’ the rest flows. A good 70% of my first book wrote itself. I just had to dedicate myself to sitting down long enough for it.

And I was so proud of myself. I’d been so down and out, and had all by myself, without any help or interference from anyone else, pulled myself out of it. Like the crippled donkey stuck in a hole, being buried by its owner for being disadvantaged, who took the soil being heaped upon him as stepping stones to make his way out, so I too, the proverbial donkey, found my way out by looking around me and asking ‘what can I do to help myself?’

Only you can help yourself. Don’t rely on anyone else for YOUR happiness.

Know you will have off days. Accept this, and live in the moment of being sad. IT’S OK to feel like this.

Don’t make yourself feel bad for not pursuing your goals, ALL of the time. You are only HUMAN. As long as you get back up, it’s fine.

Just SHOW UP. Showing up is more than half the work.

I’m really going to dedicate myself to moving my characters forward now. The writing bug has come back and I’m over the moon. If I’m not blogging, writing about food or reviewing books, it’s ok: I’m still here, reading Austen and eating out (though I’m probably re-visiting tried and true restaurants rather than new establishments). I just need to focus on this other (really important) part of my life now.

I never go far from the art of writing. It makes me happy, so it makes sense that I should do a lot of it.

As my coffee mug tells me: “Do what you love, love what you do.”

Murder comes to Darcy’s town

(Disclaimer: I wrote this review earlier in the week, days before the death of P.D. James. R.I.P.)

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P.D JAMES – Death Comes To Pemberley

“If this were fiction, could even the most brilliant novelist contrive to make credible so short a period in which pride had been subdued and prejudice overcome?”

I love this little homage that James makes in reference to the predecessor, and inspiration behind the novel that continues the tale of a little-known couple called Elizabeth and Darcy. Not only did it highlight to me just how little time Darcy and Elizabeth did spend together in Pride and Prejudice before actually making their commitment to one another, but it cemented just how good an author P.D. James is to make a quip such as this one and make it part of her follow-up on the future life of the Darcy’s.

I got a precursor to her clever wit before actually beginning the book though – In the Author’s Note she wrote that she owed Jane Austen an apology for involving her Elizabeth in a murder investigation, with Austen’s views on these matters made clear at the end of her novel Mansfield Park:

“Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody not greatly in fault themselves to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.”

James’ response:

“No doubt she would have replied to my apology by saying that, had she wished to dwell on such odious subjects, she would have written this story herself, and done it better.”

I loved the book already, and I hadn’t even started it.

What also amazed me before actually commencing the book, was reading that James had been born in 1920. What? I did the calculations… she was 91 when this book was published, now even older at 94! I only hoped I could still be writing at that age. What an accomplishment, of both age and career.

In a spoiler-less nutshell, James’ take on the future of the Darcy’s takes place 6 years after the end of their tale in Pride and Prejudice in 1803. It is the eve of an annual ball, and the estate is shook by the sudden and unprepared arrival of Elizabeth’s sister Lydia, screaming that her husband George Wickham has been murdered. What follows in the rest of the 6-part book (not including the prologue) is a discovery, a scandal, an inquest, trial, and of course a resolution.

As I started to read through the book, the amazement with James’ ability to match Austen’s prose, and my old love for these characters grew. It was like meeting up with old friends and seeing where they had been and what they had been doing for the last little while. Although there can be fear of a follow-up tale, especially one that is not written by the original author of the successful bestseller, not being even half-way up to scratch against the predecessor, Death Comes to Pemberley is such an original take on the romantic story dealing with issues of class and convention, that many times I actually forgot that Austen hadn’t written this herself.

You see that James shares Austen’s cheeky wit and sense-of-humour in the following line:

“It is my belief that, for a woman, love more often comes after marriage than before it and, indeed, it seems to me both natural and right that it should.”

I find these lines utterly amusing and fascinating. Perhaps I find them so novel because I’m not living in a time where men’s opinions of women are more of ownership, than equal partnership. And of course the above was quoted by a male. Figures.

There was also this beauty:

“It is never so difficult to congratulate a friend on her good fortune than when that fortune appears undeserved.”

There is also mention of a man named Joseph Joseph, so called because his parents were so enamoured by their surname they gave it to him also in baptism. Surprisingly, the fellow ain’t so bright. I loved being pleasantly surprised in moments here and there, giggling at little things like this that lightened the ‘thriller’ aspect of the book, much like I had smiled too often while reading Pride and Prejudice.

For me, reading books such as this one is not only enjoyable because of the writing and the characters, but because of the different time and place in which it is set. I find it fascinating to read of a time where this stuff was the norm, a time when such innocence was prevalent in almost all dealings, while interestingly and factually a decent amount of indecency was usually present.

I found it almost mind-blowing reading about the ‘help.’ Darcy and Elizabeth’s staff are overly accommodating to them and their guests, constantly on top of everything and helpful to the point of almost being able to forecast what is going to happen and prepare for it beforehand! Or at least that’s how it felt like. It would have been a very lovely and innocent time to be living, more so if you had the resources to be waited on hand and foot. Elizabeth observes:

“She was unlikely to encounter them on this floor, but if she did, they would smile and flatten themselves against the wall as she passed.”

There is also a couple of mentions of letter-writing, and the notion of a relaxed and luxurious time when one had the opportunity to sit and write, or just read for hours on end, just sounds so splendid to me.

Another amusing yet also innocent moment comes when the men get together to talk and get their stories straight regarding the night of the murder at Pemberley. All I could think of is “isn’t this like tampering with evidence, that being your minds and memories?” Isn’t that why members of a jury are forbid from being exposed to outside bias during a trial, so as not to be swayed by opinion, and hearsay? I found this absolutely ridiculous, but I think it was deliberately inserted to show the innocence and naivety of the time, even in an age where the law was taken so seriously, as stated later during the inquest and trial.

I could go on and on about how well James imitated Austen’s world, and how fascinating I find that world. I love how during the night of the murder, Elizabeth finds it appropriate to say this:

“But you could at least stay and have something to eat and drink before you go. It is hours since dinner.”

How one could be concerned with eating in knowledge of a dead body is beyond me.

Like in Pride and Prejudice, there are important and very thought-evoking questions of class, society, and manners. One amusing example of this is in an event where Darcy has to make a trip, and knows that it is preferred he arrive in a coach, though he would prefer to ride in on horse, but compromises by taking a chaise. The reputation and prestige associated with what mode of transport you arrive in is baffling, but then not so when I remember that Hubbie and I too are wanting to update our car. James also imitates the same spell-it-out fashion that makes you want to sometimes yell ‘why do I need to know that the larger of the two keys was used to unlock the door?’ It all adds to the style I guess.

What else frustrated me about this spelling-the-details-out, and also similarly the great lead-ups to events and long drawn-out establishing scenes, was that as a new writer, I’m not allowed to do them! I do do them, however I am told that new writers must stick to the rules (that of getting to the point), while established writers are allowed to break them all. As witnessed in Austen’s books, and to some extent in James’ one, as mentioned above. Sigh.

I was happy with quite a few additions James made. She showed a bit more intimacy between Elizabeth and Darcy, something we didn’t get too much of in the original. Maybe because they got together at the end of the book, but perhaps more so because of the time. Not that we don’t get much more than a hug here and there, but still, the contact is nice.

Most characters from the original are in this follow-up, and even if not so they are mentioned in hearsay or via letters, so that you get to find out how everyone is going. Even if there are only brief mentions made of someone, James captures their personality and demeanour perfectly to match Austen’s. A particularly fantastic example is made of Mrs Bennett. If you can remember, she was rather impossible, though hilarious to us as readers (and probably at least a tad annoying). When Mr. Bennett is visiting the Darcy’s, he receives a letter saying she has been hearing footsteps outside the house and has been suffering from palpitations in his absence.

“Why was he concerning himself with other people’s murders when there was likely to be one at Longbourn if he did not immediately return?”

There is a quite sudden tone change towards the end of the book, one I found striking given the type of world the story takes place in. All the good stuff though… gore, chaos, tension, nastiness. Like a soap opera, as I observed at one point. James ties up all loose ends very nicely, however at one moment I was overwhelmed with information to the point that I couldn’t keep up, but fortunately some of it was repeated and I got with the program.

I did find it interesting that later on in the book James chose to explain Darcy’s deeds from Pride and Prejudice, as even further closure. First I went ‘no! she can’t do that!’ Should it be allowed, since it’s not from Austen? But then I realised, neither is this book! I guess writing a follow-up, in some ways a completely different book on where the characters have ended up, is quite different to referring specifically to events from Pride and Prejudice, and explaining the actions of the characters then as written from another author. Food for thought.

Oh, and not to spoil, but I have to mention… in the last section, Elizabeth says something to Darcy, and says she cannot promise him something. This part, is beautiful. Watch for it. Because you know what? Somewhere, someplace, she can 🙂

This book was an absolute pleasure, a joy to read. If you loved Pride and Prejudice, and love thrillers… well what are you waiting for?

Please let me know your thoughts on Death Comes To Pemberley in the comments below, I would love to discuss with you 🙂