Have you ever read a book that made you wish you were smarter? Or that you’d read it slower? You enjoyed it, but felt that there was something the writer was trying to do or say that you just didn’t get?
That’s how I felt about White is for Witching. It’s a gorgeous, tangled nightmare of a book. There was a haunted house, matriarchal ghosts, a mad Gothic heroine and fascinating supporting characters.
The plot never really moved though. Miranda Silver (the Gothic heroine) is mad. She stays mad until either;
She has a break down and runs away;
She is murdered;
She is absorbed by the house and joins her family ghosts.
Nothing about her really changes, and she never really tries to change.
It’s all very disturbing, but it remains only disturbing. The overwhelming feeling of dread and claustrophobia that Oyeyemi conjures is absorbing (I couldn’t put the book down) but never really grows to become anything else. The moments that should have been really frightening were more puzzling because I felt distanced from her characters and/or was never really sure what was going on (or in which reality it was happening.)
Has anyone else read this? Or read anything else by Oyeymi? I’d really like to know what you thought.
The R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Halloween blog hop is here again! While the rest of the world is preparing to sleep, I have kicked off my coffin lid and have crawled through cobwebs to make it to my book shelf.
Last year I read some Gothic Horror, and this year my peril is fairy tales. I want to remember how scary then can be.
NOS4R2 by Joe Hill – maybe stretching the theme already, but the big bad is a vampiric pied pipe/Santa Claus. Plus his henchman gasses the victims with gingerbread flavoured smoke, so that has to be a fairy tale, right?
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi – A Snow White Murder Mystery
Tinder by Sally Gardner – A retelling of the Tinderbox with a werewolf on the front cover. Yay, werewolf!
Insecure Writer’s Support Group is brought to you every month by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Follow the link to learn more and share your insecurities, anxieties and troubles with a supportive community.
This week’s (optional) question is Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms of marketing, networking, publicity for your book? What were the results?
Er, The What?
If you’re as clueless as me see here. I was tempted to join this month, but have recently managed to crack Twitter, so am currently having too much fun playing hashtags games at #WIPJoy, #WIPAprilFolly and #authorconfession
Then there’s #1lineWed, #FolkloreThursday #SlapDashSat and #ShakespeareSunday.
And I wonder why I have no time.
The reason I like those games though is that it gets me talking and interacting with people. Sometimes we talk about our books, but other times it’s arguing Austen or advice on crab’s legs.
The A to Z challenge looks like it will be provoke a similar connection with people out there, and I’m looking forward to reading other IWSG posts on it – and some of the blogs that participate. It’s something that I think I would like to put in to my calender for next time.
Insecure Writer’s Support Group is hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh. To find out more and sign up visit the link.
This month I have also been organised enough to answer the optional question. Virtual cookies for everyone.
Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it?
The first story I had published (and I mean, like totally grown up published with actual payment and a contract, and everything) was a reworking of something I wrote in my teens.
I was so excited. I jumped. I squealed. I told everyone, and everyone was suitably impressed. They all wanted copies of the anthology my story would be in. They all expected me to be the one buying said copies.
This led to the second lesson I learned (the first being just send the damn story off already because what have you really got to lose?)
Second lesson. It’s great that family and friends want to support me, but next time I will give them a website link and get them to buy their own.
It gets ridiculous very quickly. Add to this guilt that grandparents, work colleagues, boyf’s family etc. would not normally have an iota of interest in vampire slash/YA romance/fairy-tale mash ups/barely concealed feminist re-workings of the top ten moments in history that make me angry (pick your poison) so I felt bad about asking for the money I’d spent back.
Not a sensible way to make a profit. Less sensible to put my boyfriend’s dad in the position of being that far inside my head. ‘I liked your story,’ he said sympathetically, ‘but what did it actually mean?’
I do not regret supporting the publication that gave me a chance, but next time I will be so much cooler and controlled about the whole thing. Self-help gurus are always saying fake it until you make it, and I have solemnly sworn to fake it like a demon.
On the outside anyway. On the inside I will always be the girl jumping up and down and squealing.
How about you? What have you learned from publishing? Have you ever re-worked an old story?
The first time I heard the story of Gelert the hound I was on a family holiday in Wales, and as it’s The Year of Legends for Wales with St David’s Day around the corner I’ve been revisiting the tale.
The Myths and Legends podcast has a brilliant re-telling of the story, although it’s the last one of the show
In essence: King Llewellyn goes hunting and returns to find the room of his infant son ransacked, with the cradle toppled and blood everywhere. His favourite hound, Gelert, is there with a bloody muzzle. Llewellyn kills Gelert in revenge for his son and then hears a baby crying. His son is alive, and there is also a wolf’s corpse in the room. Gelert had been protecting the baby prince all along. Llewellyn erects a monument for his faithful dog and never smiles again.
This is where I come in, walking past that monument with my mum telling me the story. It made me cry. Partly for Gelert and partly because we had a family dog who walked with us, although I could never imagine blind, ditzy Goldie, taking down a wolf to save my baby brother.
I had fantasies of re-writing the story to save Gelert. I never liked that Gelert died and as I got older I blamed Llewellyn.
Where was his wife? His servants? Why didn’t he think?Why did he go hunting if he couldn’t find his dog? I’m afraid that I’m quite like him. I will often act blindly, too full of my own emotion to see straight.
The hot mix of shame and regret following my impulsive lashing out makes me identify with Llewellyn. Yes, he felt sorry afterwards, but the unthinkable had already been done.
Now I’m also angry at Gelert for being so nice, and for thinking Llewellyn’s opinion was more important than his own life.
It reminds me of the film Stage Beauty where the female actor criticises her male predecessor over his representation of Desdomona by raging, ‘You just died! Beautifully!’ and ‘A woman would fight!’
Yes, I have issues.
I want Gelert to fight because I don’t quite believe that he would just submit. Or he would at least have the savvy to reveal the dead wolf, because just where the hell was that hiding, anyway?
Maybe I’m scared I’m like Gelert too. Too nice and too willing to put others before myself. Maybe I’m scared that when it comes right down to it, I wouldn’t fight for what was just either?
What stories from you past touched you? Which ones still come back to haunt you?
My appreciation for romance novels didn’t start until my early 30s. Growing up my heart did, and still does, belong to fantasy.
However when dredging my mind for a Valentine’s Day post I can see that, even when (or perhaps because) they weren’t the main focus of the plot, romantic relationships in fantasy novels have left their mark on me.
Eowyn/Faramir (The Lord of the Rings)
As a geeky, gangly girl who didn’t understand why being able to quote Monty Python wasn’t a desirable quality in a school disco date, I found it reassuring that while Aragorn rejected Eowyn, there was a man out there for her.
A better man who would appreciate the amazingness of her. Like Eowyn I just had to be patient and find my Faramir. Looking back I do have concerns about the wild shield maiden of Rohan being caged up in Gondor, but when you’re thirteen it’s all about the happy ending.
Carrot/Angua (The Discworld Novels)
It bothers Angua that she’s a werewolf, and she spends the early books constantly poised for flight.
That Angua is a werewolf bothers Carrot not at all. You could make an argument for the fact that Carrot is too nice to really appreciate the social implications of having a girlfriend that can rip throats out. However, closer and prolonged reading shows that Carrot is not really as nice as you think he is.
In the later books the werewolf jokes in the Watch House locker room do seem to bothe Carrot, but only on Angua’s behalf and she is more than capable of dealing with them herself.
The last hint we have of their relationship is that they are living together. It’s a throw away line in someone else’s story (and I was in my early thirties then) but my fifteen-year-old self was so pleased that they had made it to that stage. It validated my belief that they could work their differences out.
Despite her dark and awkward secrets Angua found love with a man who accepted who she was. A man who has some awkward secrets of his own. Remember, you may think you’re strange, but no stranger than some the boys out there.
I do feel that Shakespeare sold me out with the drugging and manipulating Oberon does, but the first scene between them always gets my heart beating.
Oberon:Am not I thy lord?
Titania: Then I must be thy lady
No arguing with that.
I think this was the first thing I really noticed that showed it was ok to be powerful in a relationship and to fight your corner, and that it was ok to say no to sex and be incensed at your partner while still loving them.
Titania was my heroine through my A-Levels (I had yet to meet Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing and think it was a good idea to eat men’s hearts in marketplaces). One day I’m going to write a story where the two of them reach a compromise without narcotics, or where Titania finds out about the narcotics and takes Oberon to task for it.
By the time I was seventeen I wanted more from my happy endings, or maybe I was ready to look beyond them and see how rich and complicated romance could be.
What are you favorite fictional romances – from any genre?
Lost goggles meant this week’s swim was confined to breast stroke in the slow lane. I poodled along behind a lady with a blue rinse and watched the world go by.
Possibly not as many calories burned but more relaxing than the normal how-many-lengths-before-I-have-to-be-back-at-my-desk flurry.
This is how I’m writing my book.
A great deal of time is wasted on panicking because it is all taking so long, and all the people I connect with are working on their third book and have websites and more Twitter followers than me and oh dear God, how I’ve wasted my life!
Then sometimes I put down an indie book after the first few chapter’s because although I may like parts of it, there are other parts that I feel disappointed with because I feel it could have been so much better if they’d taken their time.
Don’t get angry. I appreciate that you can’t quantify how much time it takes to write a book, and the things that make me disappointed can be subjective.
However, not being able to please everybody aside, I really hope that’s not me, and people won’t stop reading because they feel I’ve let them down.
It was good to take my time swimming in the slow lane, feel my muscles moving and play with the water rather than plough through it. It feels good (when I’m not panicking) to take time writing my book.
As Hamilton teaches though (got tickets Monday! Squee!) you get nothing if you wait for it, and sooner or later I am going to have to find that magic place when I know I’m ready.
It’s s tough battle that’s being fought in my head right now
Has anyone out there felt they published too soon? Or wished they’d done it sooner? How did you know your book was good enough to go?
Massive thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh and the Insecure Writer’s Support Group for letting me share these doubts. If you want to join in next month follow the link.
Because books are my thing I went to the library (Google) and discovered that I got a Slytherin result because of my love for water (and probably Gothic spaces).
So. New Pottermore account. Re take the test. Sorted.
The appeal of the under-snake
I’ve always had a secret sympathy for Slytherins. It can’t have been easy to be in silver and green through either the marauder era, of the years Harry was at Hogwarts. The way that Dumbledore announces the winners of the house cup at the end of the first book feels unnecessarily cruel, as do McGonagall’s actions precluding them from the final battle.
Snape: a definitive reading by Lorrie Kim expands on the vague discontent I have always felt with the way Slytherin’s are pushed to the periphery in the books and are automatically mistrusted. The series from a Slytherin POV is a very different read and I recommend it as an easy and insightful read in what might be going on in the head of a character that we are never really allowed to get close to. The section on Prisoner of Azkaban certainly made me less of a Remus fangirl.
So, who am I?
I can be ambitious, determined and slightly crafty, or at least there are days when I really want to be while my subconscious is repeatedly telling me that this is not how good girls behave. Yet, for me that is part of what a witch or wizard should be – edgy and on the periphery, challenging boundaries and perspectives, and taking disrespect from no one.
Slytherin ticks all these boxes. Ravenclaw would be too comfortable for me, too safe, and I would never learn anything new about myself. I would never take the time to see the world differently.
And Slytherin House has Severus Snape so any argument against them is invalid.
Too many boxes?
Something that still bother me is Dumbledore’s claim that he felt the school sorted to soon. Is he implying Snape shouldn’t be in Slytherin? That Snape could accomplish any of the things he does if he didn’t have those slightly shady and socially unacceptable Slytherin characteristics that allow him to be self-sufficient, committed and confident enough to lie to Voldermort’s face?
Or is it an acknowledgement that no personality is ever so clear cut?
Perhaps the problem here (apart from me getting way too obsessed with the results of an internet quiz) is that Hogwarts sorts at all. In a society where there are already divisions is it healthy to split up the students and faculty further? Should the focus of magical education be on highlighting differences rather than similarities?
I am now wearing my snake badge with pride, but that doesn’t make me less of a book lover. Labels can be useful but also restrictive. They are not all that a person is, and as Dumbledore also says at the end of the Goblet of Fire we are strong when we stand together, and weak when we are divided.
In a world that’s changing it’s important to not only celebrate what makes us different, but to remember everything that makes us the same.
My resolutions always seems to be a variation on me making more time to do things. Lots of thing because my ambition will not accept that time is a finite resource.
Or that it comes down to the fact that I treat time like it’s my bitch, and if I don’t respect it then why should it respect me?
I often indulge in the fantasy that if I could book a week off work I could put my head down and finish this season’s big project (this time round it’s revisions to the novel I wrote as part of a six month course last year).
When I do have a whole week off though (Yay!!) 7 days, 168 hours, I know I have time to sort out the kitchen cupboard, meet my mum for tea and finally finish series 1 of Outlander.
And I know I’m procrastinating, but it’s OK because it’s only been two days and I still have 120 hours left.
Today, I was planning this week off work and wondered what would happen if I didn’t have those 7 days in one go?
I probably wont revise a whole novel, but I do think that I’ll get loads more done because I wont have the temptation to procrastinate so much and I’ll be under more pressure. Especially now I’ve mentioned it here.
8th, 15th, 23rd and 28th or 29th of January
3rd Feb, 10th or 11th of Feb and 17th February.
They are noted in my calendar in black biro. 7 days, with lost of days in between for blog posts, social media and smaller projects. Only 43 hours though because I am corralling my ambition and only working six hour days.
Can’t wait to get started.
What are your tips for managing time, and how do you balance the big projects with everything else?
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. Date published: 1764
In essence: The true heir of Otranto must be found before the castle kills them all.
The reason I love Gothic Horror so much is the space it creates. Crimson Peak came in for some bashing when it was first released but I will watch it over and over again just for the house.* The house beats all with its cobwebbed corners and shadowed staircases, its loft ceilings and lancet windows.
Who would live in a house like this?
Only a family in disintegration. A family with secrets and passions that simply can’t fit into the real world. Otranto’s patriarch, Manfred, thinks it’s a good idea to divorce his wife and marry his dead son’s fiancée. The current Mrs Otranto does not object as much as you would expect. The fiancée does object and flees to a monastery while Miss Otranto finds it all very disturbing, but she’s a good girl who obeys her father and is far more concerned with the random, yet handsome stranger outside her bedroom window.
The castle itself has very strong opinions on the fact that Manfred should not be in charge at all. It is the grand sire of Crimson Peak’s house, and yet it behaves like a teenager throwing fits of giant-sized armour and terrorising its inhabitants with prophetic ghosts.
“I want the true heir of Otranto back!” Door slams and plate metal rattles. “Now!”
The family remain puzzled, but carry on with their own agendas. The servants seem more inclined to pay attention, and like Hamlet’s Gravedigger offer some light relief.
I found in The Monk that the funny moments sort of made the scary stuff less scary. To find it happening again in The Castle of Otranto was not as odd.
It made more sense that in The Castle of Otranto because the gothic space was more clearly defined. The Monk roves about over a whole city while in the claustrophobic confines of the Gothic Castle there is enhanced pressure on a group of people who cannot escape each other. In that setting the comedy did enhance the horror.
Here is a good article that explains it better than me.
More than just scenery
Of all the characters, the castle was my favourite. It wasn’t just window dressing, but had an agency of its own that drove the plot almost as much as Manfred’s desire for unconventional marriage arrangements. Plus the castle was a lot easier to sympathise with.
This is also a good read if you’re a writer who wants to learn how to use setting to enhance atmosphere. It’s a brisk read too.
So, I still really love a haunted building, but I think now I am more aware to the responsibility of owning one. Especially if it doesn’t want me to.
This post is part of the Reader’s Imbibing Peril blog hop. There is still time to get your socks scared off. Click here to find out more. The amazing artwork is by Abigail Larson.
If you’d like to learn more about Gothic Houses and what they mean, I really recommend this podcast.
*Yes, the house. Not Tom Hiddleston removing his trousers.