In which we have a winner

Yesterday was Awesome Birthday Giveaway Day and now it’s time to announce the winner of a signed copy of Sweet Nothing and lots of other lovely Sweet Nothing and Midsummer Dreams book swag.

Sweet Nothing pb giveaway

This was the question:

Add a comment below, telling me which Shakespeare play you’d most like to read a contemporary adaptation of and why? I’ve done Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Which play would you like to see as book 3 in the 21st Century Bard series?

There were were 25 entries and picking a winner was really hard, so before I announce the winner, here are some honourable mentions for those comments that didn’t quite make it to the top of the podium but made me smile.

Gill Stewart made a good bid for glory by suggesting a play that would give me an excuse for a holiday: “The Tempest, it has to be The Tempest. I was first drawn to read the play by Mary Stewart’s brilliant novel This Rough Magic which refers to it constantly. Recently visited Corfu, re-read This Rough Magic and then had to re-read The Tempest too! You can do it Alison – and it would defnitely require a visit to Greece.” Tempting, but not quite a winner I’m afraid.

John Jackson went as far as coming up with a modern title for his suggestion, which always helps. I’m terrible at titles! “As You Like It – retitled as “Whatever!””

Christine Stovell and Janet Gover had the same suggestion – The Scottish Play, and it’s certainly one of my favourite plays, but not really ideal for a rom com makeover!

There were a couple of votes for Measure for Measure, but Callydcfc gets a special mention for having a most excellent reason: “Measure for Measure. It’s got nuns in it. Who doesn’t love a good nun story?” Who indeed?

And my final honourable mention goes to Ros Gemmell who came within a hair’s breadth of the prize, and actually suggested the same play as the winner – The Taming of the Shrew.

But now… *drum roll please*… it’s time to announce the winner. And, the winner, because I’m absolutely intrigued by the idea of gender flipping this particular play, is … Manda Jane Ward. Here’s her comment: “Taming of the Shrew…as its the only Shakespeare play I really enjoyed as Kiss Me Kate. Except with the reverse…have the man as the shrew and the woman using her moxy to get her man. Howard Keel was so gorgeous and manly.” And obviously additional points were awarded for use of the word ‘moxy.’

So congratulations Manda! Please contact me with your address and I’ll get your prize in the post to you. Thank you to everyone else who entered. It was a lovely way to celebrate my book (and actual) birthday.

The 21st Century Bard Series

Sweet Nothing is out now in ebook and paperback.

Would you risk everything for love?

Independent, straight-talking Trix Allen wouldn’t. She’s been in love once before and ended up with nothing. Now safely single, Trix is as far away from the saccharine-sweet world of hearts and flowers as it’s possible to be.

Ben Messina is the man who broke Trix’s heart. Now he’s successful the only thing rational Ben and free-spirited Trix see eye-to-eye on is the fact that falling in love isn’t part of the plan. But when Ben’s brother sets out to win the heart of Trix’s best friend, romance is very much in the air. Will Trix gamble everything on love and risk ending up with zero once again?

Sweet Nothing is a fresh and funny retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, set in the present day. 

And Midsummer Dreams is out now for kindle.

Four people. Four messy lives. One night that changes everything …
Emily is obsessed with ending her father’s new relationship – but is blind to the fact that her own is far from perfect.
Dominic has spent so long making other people happy that he’s hardly noticed he’s not happy himself.
Helen has loved the same man, unrequitedly, for ten years. Now she may have to face up to the fact that he will never be hers.
Alex has always played the field. But when he finally meets a girl he wants to commit to, she is just out of his reach.
At a midsummer wedding party, the bonds that tie the four friends together begin to unravel and show them that, sometimes, the sensible choice is not always the right one.

A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

52 Weeks: 52 Books – July

Last month’s 52 Weeks: 52 Books update ended with the realisation that I needed to  read 11 books in July to get back on track. In reality I managed to read… 2. So that went well. The two I read were:

Book 20: Jane Wenham-Jones – 100 Ways To Fight The Flab and still have wine and chocolate

Book 21: Maggie O’Farrell – Instructions for a Heatwave

Instructions for a Heatwave is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read and never quite got around to. I’m glad I did, and I particularly enjoyed the second half of the story, but I did struggle to get into it. That seems to be a bit of a pattern. I race through the second half of books but it takes me a long time to get fully involved in the story. I’m wondering if that’s a side effect of being a writer – it just takes longer to get engaged with a story because of the amount of your brain that’s already full of the story that you’re working on yourself.

100 Ways to Fight the Flab was an interesting read. I don’t generally do diet books (and yes – I know that this isn’t technically a ‘diet book’ but, as the author acknowledges, all diet books say that!) I don’t really buy into anything at all to do with weight loss as an industry – the very notion makes me shudder, but Jane gave me a copy of her book at the RNA Conference this year, so I set out to read with an open mind. And I did read it. And it didn’t make me shudder. Jane’s basic premise is that joyless self-denial is not a workable long-term strategy, but there’s no one size fits all approach to weight loss or maintenance, so she offers a vast array of pick and mix (mmmm… pick and mix) tips and suggestions ranging from big lifestyle change stuff to tiny tweaks and tricks. Reading it definitely made me refocus on losing weight, and some of the tips – dark chocolate, 5:2, fanatical adherence to the pedometer – have filtered into my life or been reinforced where I was already doing them. Will reading this book make you thin if you have a lifelong problem with obesity? On its own, no, but if you’re already in the right frame of mind it could make the whole endeavour feel more manageable. Could it be helpful if you’re a healthy weight and need to maintain it, or need to lose 5-10lbs before the fatness situation gets out of hand? Yes. I think it probably could.

So those were July’s books. I’m now another two books behind schedule, so only need to get through 18 in August to catch up. Gulp!

In unrelated news, my own first novel, Sweet Nothing, is out in paperback this week. Those of you who are twitter peoples, keep an eye on @MsAlisonMay tomorrow for a chance to win a signed copy.

 

52 Weeks: 52 Books – June

I’ve reached the halfway point in the 52 Weeks:52 books challenge in terms of time, but I’m still well short of halfway in terms of books read. July and August really need to be months of Awesome Readingness to get me back on track. During June I read

Book 18: Sarah Rayner – The Two Week Wait

Book 19: Clare Mackintosh – I Let You Go

I also strongly feel that I read something else, but I can’t remember what it was so I can’t get the points for it. Given that I’m seven books behind schedule this is deeply frustrating, but I’ve rifled through the book shelves and bedside table and scrolled through my kindle and I can’t work out what it might have been. Clearly, I’ve either made the whole experience up, or it was a seriously unmemorable read.

Both the books I do remember reading covered big emotive subjects. The Two Week Wait is about infertility and IVF and looks at egg and sperm donors. I Let You Go looks at the aftermath of the death of a child in a hit and run incident. As a writer I firmly believe that emotion is everything. You can have all the whizzy bangy plot in the world going on, and all the amusing japes you can think of, if the main characters’ emotional stories aren’t right the whole thing ends up feeling a little bit flat.

For me that was exactly what Clare Mackintosh gets right in I Let You Go. A lot of the reviews I’ve seen have focused on the twisty-turny plotting, but to be honest that wasn’t the thing that I fell in love with in this book. It’s beautifully done and works very well, but the thing that drew me in was the emotional story, and the way in which all the major characters are nuanced and flawed. Nobody is 100% good or 100% bad. With the most repellent character in the story Mackintosh uses a first person narrative voice to put you inside the character’s view of the world. It’s chilling, but makes him three-dimensional in a way that viewing him from the outside might not. I Let You Go is already a massive bestseller, and deservedly so – if you haven’t read it already I heartily recommend it, with only a small hint of insane depression about how this is Clare Mackintosh’s debut. First books really shouldn’t be this good; it’s terribly discouraging for the rest of us.

Even though I only read (or at least only remember) two books this month, I think the books I have read have reignited my enthusiasm for the 52 Weeks: 52 Books project. Part of the idea, in addition to rediscovering the reading joy, was that good writers need to read, and this month I’ve definitely felt as though the reading was feeding into my writing brain, rather than distracting from writing, which is excellent. So now I just need to read 11 books in July to get back on schedule. Eeeek.

Feel free to tell us what you’re reading in the comments, and if you’re stuck for a book then this is a jolly good place to start.

52 Weeks: 52 Books – May

So I’ve made it to the end of month 5 in my 52 Weeks: 52 Books challenge. By now I should be up to 21 or 22 books. Hmmm… During May I read

Book 16: Zadie Smith – The Autograph Man

Book 17: Adele Parks – The State We’re In

So I think we can say that I am now very definitely behind schedule. What I seem to have proved, as if I didn’t know it already, is that writing a lot and reading a lot are mutually exclusive. During May I did the final edit of my new book, Midsummer Dreams, and wrote about 30k on my next book. Reading fiction just seems to be too much story to hold in my head when I deep in working on a book, or in the case two books. Maybe this is the sort of period where I’d be better off trying some non-fiction.

Anyway, looking at the books I actually read, I don’t have very much to say, which is a problem given the whole nature of blogging – I really am supposed to have stuff to say, but I talked about The Autograph Man quite a lot in my April review, and the only bit of the Adele Parks’ novel I have proper thoughts about is the ending. Unfortunately the book comes with a note from the publisher begging readers not to discuss the ending, so that’s a tad awkward. What I can say about The State We’re In is that the story, characterisation and atmosphere are excellent, especially once the hero and heroine meet up and are together on the page. And the ending – which I’m going to be good about and not give away – gave me rage. Proper, how very dare she, rage. A quick squizz through the online reviews suggests that it’s a love or hate ending. It definitely packs an emotional punch, but whether that’s from the story or from exasperation with the writer seems to divide opinion. Putting aside the ending – which I really can’t talk about anymore for fear of crack agents from the publisher storming the building – the rest of the book is very well done indeed.

All of which is fine and dandy, but doesn’t really make me feel like I’m getting any closer to cracking the conundrum of how you make time and brainspace to read a lot when you also need or want to write a lot. Still seven months to go though… onward!

 

52 Weeks: 52 Books – April

It’s election day, so after three days of politically oriented blogging (one, two, three), I shall stop wittering on about political nerdery issues and refocus on the important stuff in life: Books. Please stick around and read on. Assuming you’ve already voted. If not, go do that first. I’m now four months into my 52 Weeks: 52 Books challenge, and here’s what I read during April.

Book 13: CJ Samson – Lamentation

Book 14: Alexander McCall Smith – The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Book 15: Alice Peterson – By My Side

And I’m currently stalled on Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man, which is bad, because to stay on target I really should have finished another book by now. All of this month’s books had strengths and weaknesses for me. My favourite was Lamentation. I’m a big CJ Sansom fan, and I particularly like the Shardlake series, to which this is the most recent addition. My only qualm here was that it’s a bit overlong. It’s still a very good book, but a slightly more aggressive edit in the first two thirds wouldn’t have done it any harm at all.

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I’d never read any of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books until this month. I’m not really sure how I managed that. There are at least 78000 of them, so I’m not at all clear how they managed to pass me by. This one, the first in the series, was exactly as I’d imagined it would be. Gentle, soothing, beautifully written, the book equivalent of slipping into a nice warm bath. Jolly good.

My main reflection for this month though, comes not from the books I read, but from the book I’m stalled on. Again, I’m realising just how much I like story. The Autograph Man is beautifully written, but I’m just gasping for something to happen that propels things forward. I suspect it’s going to be one of those books about how ultimately nothing and nobody ever changes, which is perfectly fine as a philosophical viewpoint, but just a little bit dull as a reader. I don’t think that’s always the case. I think you can go lighter on plot if you have amazing characters – I think some of Zadie Smith’s other work probably demonstrates that – but in this one I’m not finding the main character particularly engaging, so I’m really missing having a riveting plot to drag me along. I suspect that’s partly to do with where my brain is in writing terms. I’m in the first third of writing my next book, so my brain is holding all the potential characters and stories for that book, and I’ve also read my next book for editing again, and read a complete manuscript for a critique client this month. With all of that in my brain I think I do need to books I’m reading to really grab me by the scruff of the neck. So my current quandary is whether to ditch The Autograph Man or whether to plough on. Normally I only ditch a book if I get to page 100 and I’m not feeling it. I’m past page 100 with this one, but it’s slow going. Is it better to read on or to admit defeat? I’m undecided.

52 Weeks: 52 Books – March

We’re three months through the 52 Weeks: 52 Books reading extravaganza now, and after February’s glut of reading, the pace slowed a little during March, and I only read two books this month, and half of CJ Sansom’s Lamentation. In my defense, Lamentation is really long, and I’ve got it in hardback so it’s also really heavy, which means I can only hold it up to read for relatively short periods. Seriously it’s a massive great brick of a thing. I’m living in terror of dropping it on my face and breaking my nose.

Anyway, the books that I have read were:

Book 11: Katy Regan – The Story of You

Book 12: Terry Pratchett – Guards! Guards!

The Story of You is a women’s fiction/chick lit (nope – I still haven’t settled on a better term) novel about a community psychiatric nurse. It’s a proper page-turner. I absolutely whipped through it despite there being elements of the heroine’s behaviour that gave me severe range (seriously – patient confidentiality anyone??). It was a really interesting read in that I could write chapter and verse about the things that I didn’t think worked, but at no point did I ever think of putting the book down and walking away. There’s a lesson for writers there – if the story is utterly engrossing, you can basically do anything you like with the rest of the novel.

My second book for the month was an impulse read that I picked up the day after Terry Pratchett went for his walk with Death. I’ve loved Terry Pratchett since I was a teenager and am still in love with his work right through to today. He used an entirely imagined place to say very serious things about the real world, but without ever slipping into preaching or lecturing. Everything he wanted to say, was said through story. Guards! Guards! is the eighth Discworld novel, and the first to focus on Sam Vimes and the City Watch. The Watch are probably my favourite set of Discworld characters, although I do like Death, and the Witches, and well, the point is Discworld books are awesome. When Terry P’s death was announced via Twitter I was sad to a level that seemed kind of unbecoming over a man I’d never met. If you’ve never read any of his work, then you’ve got lots of be happy about – there are forty-one Discworld books, and further children’s books, and stand alone novels written alone and in collaboration with others. (Good Omens, written with Neil Gaiman is particularly brilliant.) Read one today.

So far as 52 Weeks: 52 Books goes, it has been a slow month. This partly because of the massiveness of Lamentation, but also because I’ve been doing edits on my soon-to-be-released novel for Choc Lit, which means that I’ve read that book three times during March, and I’ve probably got at least one more read through to go. I think editing and revising a manuscript probably puts the brakes on reading even more than actual writing does. Revising is all about holding the intricacies and the structure of a story in your head and mentally tweaking and adding and taking away until you feel like the whole thing hangs together. I find it incredibly difficult to do that whilst also giving attention to other stories.

So that was March. Come back in a month and we’ll find out how April goes – specifically whether I manage to finish Lamentation without doing myself an injury.

 

52 Weeks: 52 Books – February

The 52 Weeks: 52 Books project continues. I read four books in January and seem to have picked up the pace a bit in February, so here’s the rundown of my month in books:

Book 5: Dorothy L Sayers – Strong Poison

Book 6: Marian Keyes – The Woman Who Stole My Life

Book 7: Malcolm Gladwell – David & Goliath

Book 8: Stella Newman – Pear Shaped

Book 9: Sophie Ranald – It Would Be Wrong To Steal My Sister’s Boyfriend (wouldn’t it?)

Book 10: Dorothy Koomson – The Flavours of Love

So that’s a very impressive six books in four weeks – well 5 and a half books really as I started Strong Poison in January, but I’m still ahead of the curve and the whole 52 books in 52 weeks is looking entirely achievable at this point. However, although I’ve read A Lot during February, I’ve written very little, so  it looks like my old concern that when I write more I read less, might also be true in reverse as well. Hmmm…

Anyway, onto the specific books, I said at the outset that this wasn’t going to be a book review project, and it’s not, but I have quite a lot of thoughts about this month’s reading. I shall endeavour not to let those thoughts become too rambling. In fact, I shall actively organise them into a numbered list. (Readers of the rest of my blog will know how much I like a numbered list. A lot. That’s how much.)

Thought 1: Reading too close to what you’re writing is tricksy

This month’s reading included books by Stella Newman and Sophie Ranald – both up and coming writers on the less cutesy end of chick lit, and both are decent books with lots and lots of positive reviews. I liked a lot about both books and read them both quite quickly, but found myself completely unable to switch off my inner editor. I was reading with two levels of thought going on. Level one was my brain taking in what was actually happening in the book. Level two was a constant narrative of… ‘Oooh, she’s used present perfect continuous there… why’s she done that? Would it be better in past perfect? How would that work?…. Oh, I see, she’s using the food as a motif for… does that work? Is it a bit heavy handed? Maybe not. It needs to be clear, but… Interesting – this heroine isn’t that sympathetic. My heroine-in-progress might be a bit unsympathetic. Is that a problem? How’s she dealt with it here?…’ All of which is a little bit distracting from just reading the sodding book.

I’ve blogged before about the ways in which writing can break the enjoyment of reading, and part of the aim of 52 Weeks: 52 Books is to try to work through that problem. I think that – at least for books in my own genre – I’ve still got a bit of a way to go.

 

Thought 2: Reading books you don’t expect to like can be awesome

My first book this month was Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers, first published in 1930. This is the fifth book in the Lord Peter Wimsey detective series, and was recommended to me by my crime-fiction obsessed sister because it’s the first where Harriet Vane, Wimsey’s ongoing love interest, appears. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this half as much as I did. I was expecting it to be old-fashioned and just not my sort of thing at all, but actually it was really fun. Some of the language is a bit antiquated, but I suspect there was a bit of an element of pastiche going on there even when it was written, and it’s very clever and, in places, very funny. Harriet particularly, generally believed to have been based on Sayers herself, is a fantastically modern character.

I’m going to mark Strong Poison as a big success for the whole 52 Weeks: 52 Books concept. It’s a book I wouldn’t normally read, but I really enjoyed it, and would definitely read more Lord Peter Wimsey books in the future. Hurrah.

 

Thought 3: Non-fiction rocks

There are readers out there who religiously only read fiction, or only read non-fiction. These people are wrong-headed. I’m absolutely a fiction girl at heart, but a bit of well-written non-fiction thrown into the mix is always good, and snobbery against either form is stupid.

So, if you’re looking for some well-written non-fiction then Malcolm Gladwell is a pretty good place to start. David & Goliath is all about underdogs and situations in which an apparent underdog actually has a substantial advantage. It touches on the American civil rights movement, guerrilla warfare, basketball tactics, and medical research. Properly interesting stuff.

 

I have lots of other thoughts (including ‘Marian Keyes rocks’ which is a general background sort of thought I have most of the time, and ‘Oooh, Dorothy Koomson has sort of switched genres a couple of times – it can be done…’) but I think that’s probably enough rambling about reading for one blog post.  So feel free to join in in the commenting area. What have you been reading during February? Have you read any of the books listed- what were your thoughts? And anything else vaguely reading related… off you go.

 

And if you’d like to add the odd Alison May tome to your own To Read pile you can do that here.

In which I obligingly try to generate an opinion on the topics of the day

So, as has been discussed before on these very pages, I am a feminist. I’m also quite interested in politics, and I write romantic comedies for a living. This means that, according the the memo that is sent out to bloggers each week by the nice people who run the Internet*, this week I am required to have opinions about both Harriet Harman’s Pink Lady Bus and Fifty Shades of Grey. This is a bit of a bind, because quite enough opinions have been expressed already about both these things, but the people who run the Internet are very clear in their expectations, so I’ll do the best I can.

Let’s start with Fifty Shades of Grey. Is it erotic? Is it glamourising abuse? Does it misrepresent BDSM? I have no idea. I haven’t read it. I haven’t seen the movie either. I have, however, had this conversation lots of times:

Random person: ‘So what do you write?’

Me: ‘Romance novels mainly.’

RP: ‘Like Fifty Shades of Grey?’

Me: ‘Not really… Mine are a bit more down to earth.’

RP: ‘Oh. You should write something like Fifty Shades of Grey. Then you’d be rich.’

More recently I’ve had this conversation a few times too:

Random person**: ‘What do you think of this Fifty Shades of Grey?’

Me: ‘I don’t know. I haven’t read it.’

RP: ‘Why not?’

Me: ‘It’s just didn’t really fancy it.’

RP: ‘Well that’s not fair. You shouldn’t decide you don’t like something until you’ve tried it.’

Me: ‘But… I said I didn’t know… I… er…. but….’

In the first conversation, Random Person is just doing the current variation on the conversation had by writers across the world throughout time. Ten years ago we were all being told we should write something about a wizard school. I have no doubt that writers who were contemporaries of St Paul were regularly told that they should ‘write some like letters to churches and that.’

In the second conversation though, Random Person, is being properly stupid. Of course it’s fine to just not fancy reading something. There are things in life about which it is appropriate to feel guilty about not caring more. It is entirely right and proper to have a pang of guilt when you drop your eyes to the floor and hurry past a Big Issue seller or a charity collection jar. The feelings of inadequacy when you donate £10 to a DEC appeal are appropriate feelings of inadequacy. Not reading a book, or seeing a movie, because you just don’t really want to is fine. So there you go – Fifty Shades of Grey – haven’t read it, haven’t seen it, have suspicion that neither liking nor disliking it makes you an intrinsically better person.

So, onto the Labour Party’s Lovely Pink Lady Bus. The essentials of this story are that Harriet Harman and other high up female Labour MPs are trying to engage directly with female voters by touring the country in a minibus with ‘Woman to Woman’ written on the side. This has caused lots of people to send slightly miffed sounding tweets about how this is patronising to women, and caused lots of Labour people to give interviews where they describe the bus as cerise or magenta or created by a fairy godmother from a pumpkin – really anything so long as it’s not pink.

My gut reaction is to agree with the miffed tweeters. Yup, having a special Lady Bus where I can discuss my special Lady Concerns with special Lady MPs is deeply patronising. Generally this sort of segregation into ‘Lady Concerns’ and ‘Manly Concerns’ is patronising to both genders. Lots of women care about stuff outside their front door, and plenty of men care about what goes on inside.

But, as with Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m not really the target audience for Harriet’s lovely magenta bus. I’m already going to vote, and I’m a politics nerd so there’s a high chance that I’m already fairly decided on who I’m going to vote for. The target is women who aren’t fully decided, or more particularly, women who might not vote at all. In 2010 the turnout amongst women was slightly lower than amongst men, but women were slightly more likely then men to vote Labour rather than Conservative. Against that background it’s pretty obvious that engaging female potential voters is going to be important for Labour’s chances in May. If you look at the demographics by social class as well as gender, we see that DE (semi-skilled, unskilled or non-working) women are the group most likely to vote Labour but least likely to vote. Those are the women that Labour need to reach. So I’m torn on the issue of the Cerise Lady Bus. Part of me really hopes it doesn’t work, because it is hugely condescending, but part of me hopes it does work, because the women that Labour should be trying to focus on are a part of our society whose voices aren’t frequently heard.

So there you go – two issues on which I’m required to have an opinon and I sort of failed at both. Apologies.

 

*They’re lovely. A married couple called Duncan and Shirley. They have a bungalow near St Albans.

** Makes mental note: I really ought to learn my friends’ names.

52 Weeks: 52 Books – January

So it’s the end of month one in the great year of reading many books. Here’s how it’s going so far. I  steamed through Book 1: Mhairi McFarlane’s It’s Not You, It’s Me in the first couple of days of the year, and I’ve followed that up with:

Book 2: Terry Pratchett – Raising Steam

Book 3: Veronica Henry –  A Night on the Orient Express

Book 4: Adele Parks – Larger than Life

I’m not going to do reviews on all 52 of the year’s books because a) life is short, and b) the whole idea of 52 weeks: 52 books is to rediscover a love of reading, not to add a whole new level of it feeling like a chore, but I do totally reserve the right to review the ones I feel like reviewing and offer general musings on the whole reading endeavour.

So, my favourite book from this crop was  A Night on the Orient Express which I devoured in less than 24 hours. It was all the things I like best in a book – uplifting but with depth and interest. The novel follows five distinct storylines, linked by the setting of the Orient Express. I love a good multiple protagonist story but, even in the best, you often find that there are some storylines you could happily skip over to get to the better bits. That wasn’t the case this time, and, even better, Veronica Henry has written loads of books, so I get the additional joy of discovering an author I’ve never read before who has a back catalogue I can now start working my way through. Yippee!

It hasn’t been entirely reading plain sailing this month though. I started, but abandoned JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, for reasons that I think are only about 15% the fault of the book. The Casual Vacancy is another multiple narrator story, which introduces lots of characters very quickly. I think that would have been fine if I’d had a free hour for my first reading session on the book, but I ended up reading ten minutes here and there and forgetting who everyone was, a problem that was made worse by the fact that I was reading on my kindle. I love my kindle, but it is much harder to flick back and remind yourself who’s who on an ereader than in a paper book. Then I got sick with Weird Hacking Cough Disease* which was primarily eased by sitting in the bath, and used the ‘I don’t want to take my kindle in the bath’ excuse to abandon The Casual Vacancy, in favour of Adele Parks, who better satisfied the ‘I’m poorly – I need something fun to read’ impulse anyway. I suspect that over the year we may discover that I am generally more likely to abandon a book on kindle than on paper, which will be a mildly interesting thing to learn. This has also left me with a quandary about whether to go back to The Casual Vacancy. As I say I suspect the abandonment was more about my fuzzy poorly-girl brain than the book itself, but I’ve just found out that there’s a TV adaptation coming up in a couple of weeks. Given that I probably will watch the TV version, do I really want to read the book straight before it, or would it be better to leave the book until later in the year?

Anyway, I’m now onto February’s reading, kicked off with Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers. I’m not generally a crime girl, but part of the idea of 52 Books is to read as widely as possible, and January has been quite commercial women’s fiction** heavy. Strong Poison was a recommendation from my senior sibling who definitely is a crime girl (fictional crime only – she hardly ever does an actual murder), and I’m quite enjoying it, but technically it’s a February book, so more on that next time.

 

* Definitely its proper medical name

** Hate that term. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.

In which I reread an old classic

I’m currently rereading Emily Bronte’s masterpiece, Wuthering Heights. It’s probably the fourth or fifth time I’ve read the book – the first was when I was about 17, and the most recent was seven or eight years ago when I read it as part of my Creative Writing degree course. Having read it so many times and studied it at university I would have said, with confidence, that Wuthering Heights was a novel I knew pretty well, but here’s a newsflash from the current rereading: it’s absolutely nothing like I remember it. There are whole sections that I don’t remember at all, and some of the bits I thought I did remember are quite quite different from how I remembered them. This is odd, because it’s, obviously, still the same book. In fact, in this case, it’s physically, literally, actually the same book that I’ve read before, but the experience of reading it is completely different.

I think there are reasons for this, and I don’t think any of them are that aliens have come to earth and rewritten bits of Wuthering Heights, which is a shame, because that would have made an awesome blog post.

The non-alien related reasons are twofold:

1. I’ve changed

Well given that the book hasn’t changed, that leaves the reader as the only remaining variable, so if the thing I’m looking at isn’t different, but the experience of looking is, then that must be down to me. The things I’m picking up on during this reading are far more to do with the characters and far less to do with the brooding atmosphere and oppressive moor. This might be because I’ve moved on as a writer since I last read the book, and am currently fixated by character in terms of how I plot and revise my own writing. I’m noticing, for the first time, how complex, and essentially unpleasant, the minor characters are. Joseph, Nellie Dean, Mr Lockwood are all astonishingly self-involved in their own different ways.

I’m also noticing how dated the prose style is, and how slow the opening chapters are, which I don’t remember picking up on before. I’m actually quite impressed with my seventeen-year-old self for sticking with it. Again – that’s the writer in me coming through, and noticing deviations from the contemporary received wisdom about how to start and pace a novel.

It’s not the first time I’ve had a book change in front of me on rereading. I started Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day about eight times and couldn’t get past the first chapter, until one random day when I sat down and read about two-thirds of the book in one sitting. The book hadn’t changed, but something about my mood on that one given day married with the story and away we went together.

2. Some novels end up bigger than the novel itself

Wuthering Heights is the poster book for novels that exist in the public imagination in a completely different form from how the are on the page. Wuthering Heights has been adapted and retold in films, on TV, in musicals (thanks for that Cliff), and nearly all the retellings underplay the bleakness of the original novel. Somehow that perception of Wuthering Heights as a romantic story of star-crossed lovers on a windswept, but ultimately picturesque, moor, seeps into our consciousness, even if we’ve read the actual book and know it isn’t really like that. The idea of Heathcliff and Cathy as a slightly more consumptive Romeo and Juliet is stuck in our collective memories, even if none of us actually remember where it came from.

So there you go. Wuthering Heights – it’s not at all how you think you remember it. After this I shall be going to see Romeo and Juliet again with fingers crossed that I might have misremembered that ending. In the meantime, feel free to chat to me in the comments. What do you think of Wuthering Heights? Are there any books that have surprised you on rereading, or have turned out to be completely different from your expectations?

And finally, a quick reminder that my new Christmas Kisses novella, Cora’s Christmas Kiss, is out now for kindle.