Insecure Writer’s Support Group – April

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.

Happy IWSG day everybody.

 

 

 

 

A Castle of one’s own – The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

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.dsc_0255

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.

Tragical-comical?

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 LarsonRIP XI

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.

Frightfully Funny? -The Monk, by Matthew Lewis

 

RIP XI

 In essence: Ambrosio is very holy monk until he gives into lust, greed and pride. He descends into vice and pretty much screws life up for everyone else. Except Matilda, whose evil plan it may have been all along.

Have you ever finished a book and not known quite what you think of it, or yourself?

I still don’t know what I think of The Monk.

A shopping list of Gothic Horrors.

There was not just rape, but incestuous rape.  Not just one virgin locked in a crypt, but two.  And mere demons weren’t sufficient so Satan himself appeared. Not just once, dear readers, but a multitude of times.

The book was a one stop shop for evil nuns, bloated corpses, skeletons (in crypts and family closets), ineffectual heroes, devils, mob violence, witches and swooning maidens.

Bizarrely, what I really liked were the moments of comedy.  There were, unexpectedly, several.

The old woman convincing herself that the two gallant knights are flirting with her and not her sixteen-year-old charge was expertly done.  Lewis had a great eye for picking out the ridiculousness in people and situations. This is brilliantly demonstrated in his opening scene.

Although enjoyable, those farcical moments also made the excessive horror feel burlesque in some places.  It may have been the eighteenth century language, but it often felt like the characters were deliberately enjoying their own wickedness too much to be taken completely seriously. Or maybe Lewis was.

I kind of enjoyed it too. Mostly.

When ‘n0’ means ‘yes’ and ‘leave me alone’ means ‘drug me and lock me in a crypt.’

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I was conflicted about Ambrosio, the monk of the title.  He’s an abandoned orphan who has known love or society except that found in the monastery. This was all promising start for my tender heart, although Ambrosio’s history makes him easy pickings for the devilish Matilda.

‘Oh look, a woman’s breast. Ok, I’ll sleep with you. Once wont hurt, right?’  

It’s not quite that simple, but once Ambrosio fell he fell fast and hard (*coughs*) and kept declining at a steady pace.

There were moments when Lewis captured Ambrosio’s inner moral wrangling beautifully.  There were other moments when, partly due to cultural differences but mostly because he was a toad, I wanted to beat Ambrosio to death with his own crucifix.

He repulsed me, and what made him truly horrific was his willingness to take advantage of his position of power. Kind of like a religious Littlefinger, but with less charisma.

I hated Ambrosio. Yet, as he launched his lecherous pursuit of Antonia, I turned another page.  And another.

*thunder rolls*

Just as I need to see the credits at the end of a particularly disturbing horror movie, I had to see if this character got his come-uppance.  (No spoilers here. Don’t look at the woodcut.)

Ambrosio’s descent from holier-than-thou to criminal sex fiend and murderer made me think about the gulf that sometimes emerges between who we hope everybody thinks we are, and the person we are capable of becoming given the right pressures. Ambrosio’s one true fear was not that God would find out what he’d done, but that society would.

I can almost sympathise with that. I want to be the person who can read this classic text with appreciation for its context and the moral issues it displays.  It’d also be cool if I could make some witty observations and you would all applaud and leave lots of comments.

Alas, I actually gobbled it up like Catherine Morland, squealing with horrified delight every time Ambrosio crept an inch closer to satisfying his demonic desires.

*lightning strikes*

I would highly recommend this book. I think.If you do choose to read it, I advise wrapping it in a brown paper bag between sittings.

This is a Readers Imbibing Peril post, and there’s still time to get in on the spookiness (until October 31st). It covers books, films and games in the horror (and associated) genres.  The very cool and kooky picture is by Abigail Larson.

 

 

There’s Something about Mina

This is a foot note to my R.I.P post on Dracula, and my public letter of apology to Mina Harker.

To find out more about R.I.P (Readers Imbibing Peril) and a blog hop that celebrates the spooky, follow the link.  RIP XI

Dear Mrs. Harker,

I can’t remember the exact moment when I first found you offensive.  It began somewhere between The League of Extraordinary Gentleman and ITV’s short lived Demons.  It reached its plateau with Penny Dreadful and erupted in a climatic hissy fit during the last ten minutes of Dracula Untold.

‘Is it impossible to write a pop culture vampire/gothic story without Mina Harker?’  I raged at my patient, long-suffering boyfriend on the way back to the car. ‘Why is she so special? What about Lucy Westenra who actually gets turned into a bloody vampire?’

‘Yes, dear’, the boyfriend replied, ushering me into the car. People were starting to stare.

Like all witches lead to Salem (there were no witches! That’s kind of the point!) all lady vampires lead to you, Mrs. Harker.

I now appreciate it is not your fault. You are not responsible for the actions of Frances Ford Coppla’s Dracula film.

It was my fault, because the first time I read Dracula I was a lanky teen more interested in the wolves and the crumbling castle than any actual human-shaped character.  I was too young to appreciate your strength and forbearance.

I now acknowledge that as female characters from Gothic Horror go, you are very good at not swooning.  You drive a coach across Romania, travel (alone!) to Budapest to bring you fiancée home, shoot a revolver and organizes the resistance to the monster that killed your friend while said monster has infected you with his almost cancerous like disease.

As well as all this you deal with being patronized, side lined and constantly congratulated for her ‘man’s brain.’

It’s enough to make anyone start throwing your typewriter about, but you don’t. Sometimes I’d like you to, but I now have a greater understanding of your context I can see why the desire doesn’t even cross your mind.Typewriter, Vintage, Old, Manual, Manual Typewriter

And I get it.  Why wouldn’t anyone want to take you, an amazing character with so much potential out of you restrictive context and give you the power to have control over her own life (undeath)?

So, Mina Harker, I apologise again for defaming you in a public carpark.  As with all prejudice it came from a lack of my own understanding.

Of course, that does not mean I can promise not to get frustrated the next time your name crops up in a main stream vampire film/series/book.  My new appreciation of your talents will make me short tempered with those who I feel are using your name for credulity without adding a deeper understanding of your character.  However, I will not blame you.

I hope you can forgive me and we will become friends in time.

Yours & etc.

Images from Abigail Larson and Pixaby

 

Insecure Writer’s Support Group – May

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeAs my blog once again suffers from a lack of updates I welcome you to this month’s round of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group hosted by Alex j. Cavanaugh.  For more supportive awesomeness go here.

This month I’ve turned my thoughts back to author branding.  This blog (like you needed another clue ) is very much being done on the cheap as I faff about with mind maps, coloured pens and taglines trying to work out exactly who I am.

Yep, mid thirties and no idea who I am, although I do have a pretty good idea who I want to be.  My expectations of my yet-to-be-created-self though are possibly above my reach.

 The truth is that I’m kind of worried that my characters have more personality than I do.

There’s a really cool scene in Laini Taylor’s Dreams of Gods and Monsters, where two of her characters make up taglines for the other characters.   So for kicks, I did it for some of mine (old and new).  The two protagonists of my Six Month Novel project (along with experimental doodling) are below.

 Ex-nun on the run is determined to revenge her sister’s death, if she can prevent herself falling for the man she holds responsible.  Vila

Discontented seeker sets out to save the world, and realises that sometime people find that sort of thing irritating.  In the end he settles for saving himself.

Still a bit of a Frankenstein’s Monster look to this one.

Matthias

Then I tried it for me…

Writer struggles to discover herself, gives up and goes to make a cup of tea.

Five hundred words down, then the heroine is distracted by need to do the Saturday night shop.

Aaarghh!

Has anyone else struggled with their author brand? Both it’s concept and implementation? I’d really love to know.

I do love Kristen Lamb’s Rise of the Machines e-book. I’ll read that again, but if anyone else has any resources they love let me know too.

A Life in Pratchett #3: A Great Big Fish

DSC_0942 (2)If a gun was put to my head, or, more to the point, a match to my library, and I had to chose my favourite Discworld book my brain would go straight to Monstrous Regiment.

This is one of the books I think of as ‘grown up’ books because this is where  you can more clearly see the angry that Neil Gaiman talks about his article here.

It does all of the things that I love most about the Discworld books so well.

It takes an idea (in this instance heroine dressed as a boy) and pushes it so far to the extreme that before you realise it you’ve gone full circle and are looking back thinking that the insanity actually makes a great deal of sense.

The title is multi layered and so ridiculously clever when you get it. See here.

When you finish it you feel like you’ve been on an inner journey.  Every time I come out of Monstrous Regiment I want to go and adjust my socks. It’s a book that shouts out that you have to be yourself no matter how hard it is, or how inconvenient it is for everybody else.

It’s embarrassing for the high command that the country has been saved by a group of girls pretending to be soldiers.

And when those girls (who were not actually pretending. They took their shilling, didn’t they? They fought, didn’t they?) are sent home with a pat on the head, they make that work in their favour too.  It’s really all a matter of perception.

Be yourself. Without Fear. Without Apology and the day is whatever you want it to be (including an aquatic life form, or not, as the case may be.)

Thank you for your books Mr Pratchett. I’m saving The Shepherd’s Crown for when I need it most.