Thursday, 28 July 2016

July Reflections

How was your July? I hope that this month has been full of reading outside and chilled drinks for you. This summer seems to be going so fast. Let’s hold onto it a little longer with some July Reflections!

'We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.'-  Anais Nin
I love this quote because I think it really taps into the therapeutic power of writing. Writing allows you to revisit experiences and harvest them for something creative.

I really enjoyed reading ‘Why Does Anyone Write?’ by AliceAdams on LitHub this month. Adams talks about how being a writer can be a self-torturous process fraught with rejection, self criticism and long hours. So why do we carry on? Adams gives a personal and passionate response to this question and explains what keeps bringing her back. There are some great reasons, I like this one: ‘Because putting something into words forces me to articulate my thoughts and shape them into a narrative, and that gives meaning to my life.’

This month I started writing a new project in earnest. At this stage there are still lots of different possibilities for what it will end up ‘looking’ like. I think that is quite exciting and for a perpetual planner like me, it’s quite freeing to not know where its going next. There will be a time for intricate planning but for now its fun just to enjoy the novelty of something new.

Focus on…Planting Something
With everything in bloom and coming into fruition, its a good time to reflect upon the power of planting something. I don’t just mean scattering seeds or planting bulbs but rather planting something that you’ll be able to look back on with pride later on.  Passing on a passion on to a child, beginning a creative project, planning a trip are all ways you can invest in your future and reap the rewards of at a later date.

Three Things to Look Forward to in August:

1.Candy Floss and ice cream.
2.Writing in the garden.
3.Scrapbooking summer.

Posts to catch up on from July:

How was your July? Let me know in the comments below...

Monday, 25 July 2016

A Literary Alphabet: A is for Audiobook

Welcome to the first edition of The Literary Lady’s Literary Alphabet! These little posts will each explore a different aspect of the world of books, reading and writing.

First up is ‘A’ for audiobook. Being read to is a pleasure usually reserved for children but we can all experience the joy of a bedtime story with an audiobook. Here’s my lowdown on audiobooks…

What’s Great…
  • Audiobooks can offer a deeper experience by simply adding sound. You can close your eyes and fully imagine what’s unfolding in the story whilst the words wash over you.
  • Audiobooks allow you to read on the go, in the bath, in the car.
  • I also think that audiobooks can help untangle knotty texts. What can look dense on the page loses some of its intimidation factor when read aloud.
Better off with a book?

  • The problem with audiobooks is that narrators inevitably put their own interpretation on the text – adding inflections, accents and tones. Some would argue this isn’t the same as creating the ‘voice’ of the book in your head.
  • Without the physical text to anchor you, there is a risk of completely drifting off and getting distracted when listening.
Things to Consider

  • Make sure you like the voice of the narrator. You can usually sample the audiobook before you buy.
  • Audiobooks of classics are usually abridged so decide whether this matters to you or not.
  • Think about what book would be good to be heard. I like to choose books I probably wouldn’t stick to if I were to read them. Spy novels would make for exciting listens too.
My verdict would be that audiobooks are a ‘reading experience’ in themselves. The occasional audiobook makes a nice change in your reading life but nothing beats the feel of a book in your hands as your eyes dart across the page.

What do you think of audiobooks? Can you recommend any?

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Agatha Christie: Five Favourites

The works of Agatha Christie offer something of a paradox. We know when we open the book what we’ll find, we know the familiar old tropes and characters. And yet these expectations are constantly skewed and subverted by Christie so that we are swept along right until the final twist. There is however one certainty with Agatha Christie – pure entertainment. Here are five of my favourites…

The ABC Murders

Demonstrating her unique skill of skewing the significance of something ordinary for sinister consequences, Christie gives us The ABC Murders in which a murderer works through his victims in alphabetical order. Amid the panic and frenzy, the murders have evoked across the country, Poirot must apprehend the killer before he reaches the next letter.

And Then There Were None
The reassuring presence of Poirot or Miss. Marple is absent in this novel in which ten people are invited to a deserted island by a mysterious host. It emerges that each guest is responsible for a death in some way and an avenging angel begins picking them off one by one. Christie is masterful at creating the sense of paranoia in the book which will have you looking over your shoulder as you read.
Five Little Pigs
This is a neglected Christie classic that deserves more praise. It takes place sixteen years after the death of Caroline Crale, a woman who died in prison after being convicted of killing her own husband. But her daughter believes she was innocent and asks Poirot to dredge up the past and re-examine the circumstances of the fateful day.
Sleeping Murder
In Sleeping Murder Christie explores memory and trauma. It focuses upon a new bride whose new home evokes a sense of unexplained terror in her. As irrational as her fear seems, there is far more truth to her imaginings than first meets the eye. Luckily, Miss. Marple is her new aunt-in-law…
After the Funeral
“It's been hushed up very nicely ... but he was murdered, wasn't he?" So says Cora Lansquenete, sister of the late Richard Abernethie at his funeral. The claim is laughed off - such outbursts were to be expected from eccentric Aunt Cora. But when Cora is murdered it certainly seems as if she was on to something. Cue family secrets, counterfeit wills and hidden resentments.

What is your favourite Agatha Christie book?

Monday, 18 July 2016

Writers on Reading

Reading is something that to us bookish kind seems so inherent, so necessary, so commonplace. But, once in a while, I read a quotation that reminds me that to read is a powerful, crucial and magical act. Here is a collection of a few of my favourite quotes about reading by writers…

‘Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.’ - Harper Lee

‘The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.’ - Roald Dahl, Matilda

‘Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.’ - Mark Twain

‘The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.’ - W. Somerset Maugham

‘Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself.’ - Angela Carter

‘I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.’ - Ralph Waldo Emerson

‘You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.’ - C.S. Lewis

‘Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real.’ - Nora Ephron

‘Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul.’ - Joyce Carol Oates

‘I had found my religion: nothing seemed more important to me than a book. I saw the library as a temple.’ - Jean-Paul Sartre

‘Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.’ - Stephen Fry

‘For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.’ -Anne Lamott

‘If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.’ - J.K. Rowling

‘Literature is my Utopia’ - Helen Keller

‘There is creative reading as well as creative writing.’ - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Which of these quotes resonates with you? And what does reading mean to you?

Thursday, 14 July 2016

How to do...Lazy Summer Reading

Summer reading. Two words that work beautifully together. Make use of these longer, languid days and have yourself some lazy summer reading. Here’s a step by step guide to how….

Step One: Find a spot. Summer reading is all about location. Banish the blanket, throw off the duvet and venture outside for the perfect reading spot. A shady spot in the garden in dappled sunshine would be perfect. As would a deckchair on the beach. Find a place where the scent of summer is all around you – by a rose bush, in your back garden with the smell of your neighbour’s barbecue wafting over.

Step Two: Select your book. To me, perfect summer reading should be about transporting you away – to a different country, a different time, a different world – even if you’re not going on holiday. They should be books with a hint of the enchanted about them that make you fully appreciate the magical promise that lurks in the air in summertime. At the moment I’m reading The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble, about a group of women travelling around Italy. Miranda’s Notebook has some excellent suggestions for your literary summertime here.

Step Three: Food and drink. I love the idea of a literary picnic – I’m imagining a wicker hamper filled with books and food. I love the practicality of this vegetarian picnic loaf by Paul Hollywood (make sure you use a veggie pesto). I’ve been adding blueberries and raspberries to my ice cubes to make a colourful and delicately flavoured water or lemonade.

Step Four: Optional extras. Now for a little staging. Hang up pretty, floral bunting, light scented candles, lay out a blanket and put up a parasol. As for sound, you could have some jazz in the background to lend an air of decadence or simply be content with the sound of birdsong and the rustle of the breeze in the trees.

For more summery ideas, read my 7 Ways to Enjoy Summer post here.

What are you reading this summer? Let me know in the comments section below...

Monday, 11 July 2016

Book Group Notes: Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

The Literary Lady’s Book Group Notes are designed to generate discussion at your book group or as a way of enhancing your own reading experience. The discussion points offer a ‘route’ through the book but don’t feel you need to stick too rigidly to it if an interesting topic comes up that needs further discussion!

About the Book

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the perfect choice for a book group. It is short, entertaining and guaranteed to generate conversation. Your book group will love the idea of escaping to Holly Golightly’s Manhattan for the evening. The book centres around the unnamed narrator as he befriends the eccentric, quirky socialite Holly Golightly. As the story unfolds Capote cuts through the excess and extravagance of Golightly’s lifestyle to reveal deeper issues at play.

Discussion Points:

  • Holly and the narrator might be seen as polar opposites. Holly with her hate of cages and tradition represents freedom. The narrator is more reliable and stable. By the end of the novella is there a reversal? Which character did you identify more with?
  • Truman Capote said that ‘all literature is gossip.’ In the book we rely on people’s stories about Holly. Can we ever be told a story from an objective viewpoint?
  • Critic Paul Levine describes Breakfast at Tiffany’s as a love story of a different nature as its concerned with all forms of love – sexual, homosexual, asexual and spiritual. Do you agree? Which love story did you find most moving?
  • Capote remarked that Golightly represents ‘a whole breed of girls who live off men but are not prostitutes. They're our version of the geisha girl.’ What do you make of this assessment? Does Golightly subvert or conform to a gender stereotype?
  • How does setting effect the feel of the story? Is New York a character within the novella? Could the story’s setting be relocated to somewhere else?
  • Have you see the film version? How does it compare with the book? Which did you prefer? Which was more moving? Do iconic film roles interfere with reading a book that’s been made into a famous film?

Have you read Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

Thursday, 7 July 2016

How to have a Weekend of Creativity

Though we all know the benefits of keeping creative, sometimes life is so busy that our artistic veins go untapped. I suggest a weekend away for your creative side where you can indulge in the feeling of being inspired and making something. This is a practical guide to creating your own weekend of creativity for any medium or skill level.  
Objectives. At some point before your creative weekend, set some goals for the weekend ahead. What is it that you want to create? Is there a project you’ve been putting on the back burner? A creative weekend is a perfect time to dedicate to something short term – a short story rather than a novel. for example. It’s also a great time to try out something new, switch mediums or experiment with different approaches. On a practical level, decide if you need any materials and make sure your diary is clear.
Gathering. This is the time to go and get inspired. You might want to do something different like visit an art gallery, or museum you’ve never been to, or you can keep it simple and scour Pinterest for inspiration. If you’ve decided to bake something as your creative project, maybe you could visit a food market or food shop looking for flavour ideas and ingredients. If you are planning to write a poem you could attend a poetry reading. Or you might simply just go out and walk and let your mind roam freely. (If you are stuck for ideas read this post on finding inspiration.)
Reviewing. Having gathered together your pieces of inspiration, review what you’ve collated. This might be physically going through postcards, photographs, books and articles you’ve collected on your inspiration trip, but it could also be reflecting and making notes of a few ideas on what you’ve seen that day. Use these fragments as visual reminders of what you are hoping to produce.
Planning. Having spent the first day immersing yourself in your inspiration, take a moment to plan what you would like to do tomorrow. If it helps give yourself a timetable to work with.
Dipping a toe. Start small as you begin your Sunday. Sketch out a few plans and ideas.
Creating. Now is the time to start. Allow yourself time to completely immerse yourself in whatever you’re making.
Deciding its future. This will depend upon the size of your project and the intentions you had for it. For example, you may have finished the first draft of a short story and will need more time to polish it. If your goal was to try out still life photography you may need time to edit. Make sure you reflect on how your weekend went, what aspects of it you enjoyed and start planning your next one.
Other Ideas
  • Invite a friend to join you and check in with each other throughout the day, allowing ideas to generate between you.
  • Set a theme for your creative weekend to hone your ideas.
  • React to something. Choose another piece of art – a film, poem etc.- and create a piece of work that responds to it in some way.
  • Immerse yourself in different surroundings. Holding your creative weekend somewhere physically different may bring up newer, fresher ideas.
Do you like the idea of a creative weekend? Let me know in the comment section below!

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