writing about thinking about writing


The past few months have been a funny ol’ time. Maybe it was because of Christmas, which has a tendency to bring out my starry-eyed childhood nostalgia. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I read a number of books in a row that were a return to characters or places I already knew: Longbourne took me back to Pride and Prejudice with a whole new cast and a very different perspective; Prince of Fools was a return to the Broken Empire, but with a guide the polar opposite of Jorg. Maybe it had to do with the release of The Battle of the Five Armies in December, which I had been anticipating basically since the credits rolled on The Desolation of Smaug and brought out that fourteen-year-old fangirl in me.

Staring down the unknown as the New Year approached and looking back over 2014, I may have had a moment of panic and clung to the familiar, the safe, the reliable. I was standing in a tunnel with a birthday and a soon-to-end job contract coming at me like back-to-back bullet trains.

So I threw up my hands and learned how to stop worrying and love the nostalgia. I went back to my piano for the first time in years and learned to play something new. I wrote something that surprised me. Against all rational odds, I remembered my password and used that platform that I had turned to a decade ago to write something I had not written before. And I’m not ashamed to admit that getting favourites and reviews make me feel good about writing in a way that I don’t a lot of the time. It reminds me of a time when, yes, I was a terrible teenage writer, but I wasn’t afraid. I just wanted to create something and share it.

My mantra leading up to my 26th birthday is not to grow up or be more mature. This year, I’m unleashing my inner child who straightjacketed herself in a blazer and whose most widely read piece of writing has been her résumé.

I’m going to be that girl who wasn’t afraid to create whatever she wanted, in whatever medium she wanted, and who wasn’t afraid of what people would think. I’m going to write what I want without worrying about its future marketability. I’m going to dance to the Spice Girls every morning because it makes me happy. I’m going to embrace a piece of advice that I heard when I was six and forgot somewhere along the way: to take chances, get messy, and make mistakes.

It’s not a conventional aspiration going into my twenty-sixth year, but conventional was never my intention anyway.

Readux: Something Wicked This Way Comes Edition

Title: Something Red

Author: Douglas Nicholas

Published: 2010

Date Started: October 8, 2014 Date Finished: October 26, 2014

Rating (out of 5): ★★

Every book has a story: I like to try to read one scary novel a year. I’m a terrible sissy, but I love a good horror novel, so I have to limit my exposure with careful choosing. Honestly, in my limited experience, I’ve never read one horror novel I didn’t like. Dracula, The Woman in Black, and The Haunting of Hill House are books I constantly praise and recommend. Last year there was an article in The Huffington Post that had a list of new horror novels, and among them was Something Red. I held onto that title in my brain library and finally bought it early in the new year (before my brain library could fail me), just to hold onto it until October.

Hob began to feel an unease of spirit, an oppression. The sensation grew swiftly till his bodily woes shrank beside it. He looked left at the slowly passing forest, rightward across the ripping, smoking haunches to the trackside brush and more trees, climbing away to the west. He felt breathless and ill. He felt like a coney in a snare, and he could not tell why.

If combining or defying genres is truly all the rage, then Something Red is one of the most fashionable reads around. Part gothic horror, part historical, part coming-of-age, part fantasy, it weaves a single story from all of these threads, an uncommon tapestry of a tale. A group of travellers are venturing through the woods in a harsh winter in 13th century England, seeking sanctuary from the cold. Their leader is Molly, an Irish exile and wisewoman, trained in healing and magic. There is also her granddaughter, Nemain; Jack Brown, a former Crusader, whose exploits in the Holy Land left him silent and scarred; and Hob, an orphan boy chosen by Molly some time ago as an addition to her troupe.

They finally find sanctuary at a monastery hidden high in the mountains, where they meet several other groups of pilgrims and travellers taking shelter from the storm. All have similar tales of an eerie feeling on the road, the sense of being followed, of being hunted. After a monk is savagely killed, they all face the trepidation of returning to the road on their separate journeys and some groups decide to travel together. Molly’s troupe travels alone to their second checkpoint, a fortified inn. But bloodshed finds them again, and the farther they travel, the more violence they find.

Nicholas’ history as a poet is clearly on display even in this horror novel, rather the most unlikely of places. Though there are long periods of silence between the characters, the woods and the mountains constantly take on sublime lives of their own, sometimes protective, sometimes dangerous. The 13th century is early for what we call “gothic,” but Nicholas frequently uses the hallmarks of Victorian ghost stories to tell this monstrous story. Hidden monasteries, foreign travellers, a handsome ruler who may or may not be trusted. And what gothic horror novel would be complete without a parallel subplot of sexual awakening?

Something Red celebrates all the best qualities of horror, history, fantasy, and romance… if you can call torn-apart bodies and monster fights in a castle a celebration (which I certainly do). And for all the jumps and supernatural scares it provides, its less bloody subplot is no less potent. What it means to grow up, what it means to be overwhelmed by those first romantic urges, and is that really any less powerful than what it means to change form and howl at the moon?



Readux: Magic Dance Edition

Title: Neverwhere

Author: Neil Gaiman

Published: 1996

Date Started: September 10, 2014 Date Finished: September 16, 2014

Rating (out of 5): ★★

Every book has a story: I distinctly remember being quite young and perusing the bookstore, and on several occasions picking up a certain book and reading the synopsis on the back: a young man finds a young woman bleeding on a London street. I didn’t know who Neil Gaiman was (yet) and even though I looked at the book again and again, it was not one of the hundreds I ever got my parents to buy for me. As the years passed and I not only found out who Neil Gaiman was but became a crazy fan, I had it in mind that I really should read Neverwhere. I could hardly call myself a Neil Gaiman fan without having read it, could I? Well, I did anyway. For several years, I was a Neil Gaiman fan poseur. But no longer!

The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.

Despite the fact that I live in a world and amongst a nerdy people who have basically accepted Neil Gaiman as our benevolent overlord, I didn’t know much more about Neverwhere beyond “a young man finds a young woman bleeding on a London street.” And he did! But that was pretty early on, and the plot quickly moved on to explore London Below.

The young man in question, Richard Mayhew, finds the bloodied young woman, Door, indeed on a London street and takes her to his home in an offer to patch her up. This basically decent and seemingly innocuous thing, though, invites Richard into a world with magic and darkness and angels and the Marquis de Carabas. They are all denizens of the world of London Below, a land made up of the forgotten and discarded bits and buildings and people of London Above. Door is trying to solve the mystery of her family’s murders, Hunter is her formidable bodyguard, the aforementioned Marquis is the sometimes-leader, sometimes-liar, and Richard is along for the ride.

I’ll never know reading Neverwhere any other way, but I have to say that it was quite delightful to move through both London Above and London Below and be familiar with London myself. And now I’ll never be able to separate Earl’s Court Station from the image of the Earl himself.

By comparison to the rest of the Neil Gaiman oeuvre, Neverwhere was not as heavy as The Ocean at the End of the Lane nor as daunting as American Gods. I think what it brought most to mind was Stardust in its “whoop, here we go on an adventure!” kind of way. But what Neverwhere most reminded me of was Labyrinth. Yes, the movie with Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie and all the puppets to haunt your dreams.

In Neverwhere, we are not meant to ask questions of backstory and deeper motive and more subplots and all these things. We are just meant to go along for the ride. Take the explanations as they are given, believe in everyone’s causes for action, but trust no one. Lean on your “everyman” protagonist as your guide. Just enjoy getting dropped in the labyrinth and try to find your way out.

(I have to say, so far as this comparison goes, Jareth the Goblin King > Angel Islington.)

(Jareth the Goblin King > everyone.)

When Richard finally returns to his life in London Above, where he doesn’t have to scream for his life every twenty minutes or thrash in sewer water or run headlong into the dark, he misses his adventures in London Below. When he finally makes his choice to leave behind all the cushiness and comfort of London Above and steps through the door with the Marquis de Carabas, I imagined that they joined Door in her room for a dance party with the complete cast of the book, rocking out to “Magic Dance.”

And not only was Neverwhere all these wonderful things, it was also just the palate-cleanser I needed after the disappointments of The Mists of Avalon and Hild. Sometimes I can forego the politics and the grimdark and the historical accuracy and really just sit back and enjoy a simple adventure.