On the Action Novel

Now, Robert Ludlum is one of my favourite authors. He is not highbrow, or snooty, but he is wonderfully engaging, creates a watertight story line  and writes about it in an addictive manner. I love the way he communicates, and I like the pacing of his novel. Pacing in an action novel is very, very important; otherwise the ‘action’ is lost, and there is a stilted novel, without much progression, which quickly becomes a boring novel; you know, the kind that you use to prop open doors, hold your laptop up when the fan breaks, etc.

And no author wants to write that book. Not a book that exists purely to support other objects.

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Action novels are not just Mr Ludlum’s domain, however. Frederick Forsyth, John Grisham, and more recently Lee Child, have all broken into the action novel genre. Mr Child has done especially well for himself, and from his amazon.co.uk pages, seems to be churning out novels at an alarming rate of one every forty-two seconds. Now, I’m not convinced that a novel, or that number of novels, can be written well and so quickly, but then again the man might just be a superhuman writer. Since I haven’t experienced a novel of his yet (although my Dad has, and he seems to be devouring them), I am in no position to judge.

I like these novels because they are designed to be easy, and uncomplicated, at least not in the intellectual sense. They contain interesting plots, many of which I think are echoed throughout international history, and there are many ideas that come from real life events; things that really happened. I think because our access to MI6 records, and FBI records, etc, is so limited, we never really know what happened, and the novels open up a kind of phantom door, to a world that the common person isn’t allowed to inhabit.

When I was younger, I really wanted to be a spy. Like James Bond. But female, and I’d do it in some crazy ball gowns, and slinky slit-up-the-side dresses. I’d also be wearing red stilettos, and be really slinky. I know now that this is kind of a long dream away, but the principle is there. Action novels give you ideas, and they make you feel like anybody could defuse a bomb, or that anyone could be a part of an underground resistance movement, or go undercover in a dictatorship.

It’s all about escaping somewhere that isn’t your everyday, boring world; it’s not about shopping in supermarkets, and arguing with a boyfriend. It’s about fighting for things, and pretending that you are something incredible, life-changing, unstoppable. That’s why on the beach, holding a Martini, you feel like you can do anything. You see, it’s a heady concoction, alcohol and action novels.

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(1) http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRbxJ4G4FpZ-5DQ2oGHb8_CRTdKj9BHoIlxqR1zqyqzfOTqBOOpSQ&t=1

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Falling In Love: The Writer’s Life

Now, writing a novel has always been a dream of mine. In fact, it’s on my bucket list. I have a plan. And a very detailed character list. And a blow-by-blow plan of every twist and every element in the novel. There is nothing in the novel that isn’t in the plan, and I have begun, this summer to write the chapters. Y’know, the fundamental basis of the novel; the text. And I find it something that it is very hard to do part-time.

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I’m working at the moment, however when I’m not working, at three o’clock in the morning for instance, I find myself perusing the ten thousand words I’ve already written, scratching my head, and wondering how I can improve the novel, the characters, and the flow of the novel. It’s a job I’ve always dreamed of having. Writing, is the only job I can really imagine doing; and thus this very blog, which is almost a year old now, was born.

I can imagine myself, in five years or so, in a house which has an office stuffed full of books, a comfortable desk chair, and my laptop. I could contentedly work there, for ten hours or so a day, writing down all the stuff my rather expansive imagination comes up with. I would blog, at the same time, and perhaps write commissioned pieces, editorials, and do some editing work too. I could travel; laptops are rather portable, as are ideas. Travel produces ideas, and creates different perspectives. One of my biggest ambitions is to spend six months or so, travelling around South America, and writing about it. Combining two of my favourite pastimes, it would be one of the best years of my entire life.

But anyway, I’m working on the novel. It’s gonna be interesting, and has a historical aspect that I like, because I am intensely interested in both of the World Wars, and the impact it had on families and their dynamics. I hope it’ll be something I look back on in a few years, and call it my first good thing; my first successful venture into the world of publishing. I hope that comes true, and I can imagine spending all my free time writing, because that’s all I’ve ever really wanted to be, or do.

There are some problems, with the writer’s life though; the first is that you have no externally imposed structure, and so you have to be well-disciplined, and able to commit yourself to work, even when there are a variety of distractions around you. The second is writer’s block. I’ve had a few weeks recently, where there was nothing I could say. I couldn’t write anything worth a dime. But then I caught a cold, and spent a week at home, watching old episodes of Friends, and all of a sudden, I remembered why I wanted to be an author. And when my new laptop came, and I did the thing, you know, where you sort out all the old files on your computer,I found the drafts and plans I made for a novel, about a year ago. And with nothing else to do with my time, I decided to start writing it again.

And frankly, it’s been the best four days of the summer, so far. Despite the raging cold, and an ability to talk like Darth Vader.

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(1) http://cjwriter.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/fountain_pen.jpg?w=600

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To Read Or Not To Read; That Is the Question

I’ve often wondered about literary opinion, and how literary opinion differs between people. Everyone understands the world in a different way to somebody else, and so naturally, they will understand literature differently too. Literature, and one’s attitude and understanding towards it, depends on experiences. Experiences of education, literature, whether you enjoyed your lessons when you were in primary school, whether you have a natural love of reading. These are all key factors in understanding what literature is, and whether you enjoy it, or despise it.

I know people who have yet to finish an entire book, and I suspect there are people who go their whole lives barely reading books and magazines. This is of course, a life choice. Whether you want to read or not is entirely up to you; education demands a certain amount of reading. If you choose a literature, or essay based degree, you’ll find reading to be nonnegotiable. Arts courses tend to be much more vocational, and this choice depends very much on the style of learning one is accustomed to.

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It’s difficult to know how you’ll feel about different kinds of literature, until you experience it. For example, I don’t like all kinds of literature. I really dislike mythical Greek and Roman texts, as well as finding James Joyce’s Ulysses utterly intolerable. Some regard it as an example of the greatest literary creation of all time. I think it is a grammatical abomination, and something that is so complicated that it begins to lose its point, because it’s completely inaccessible. Conversely however, I thoroughly enjoy T.S Eliot, who is well-known for regarding literature as an elite pursuit and past time.

Philosophy is something else that is considered highbrow, and rarely brought down to an accessible level. It is complicated because it involves thinking about the makings of the universe, and theorizing on that most illusive of characters, knowledge. However it’s less complex than some think; it’s a matter of having a good teacher and a simple reader, to introduce someone to the rudimentary elements of philosophy. There’s no need to over-complicate things, and dive straight into analysis on Plato’s dialogues.

I consider literature to be one of my greatest loves, and I consider almost everything to be literature. I think that the well-written blog can be considered literature of all sorts; some blogs can be understood as literotica, some can be understood as beautiful prose. New writing is the writing that will one day be considered classic, and will belong to the modern cannon, and so I think it’s important to look at new literature, read magazines, of all kinds; fashion, photography, literary; they’re all part of a modern culture that will, like all cultures before it, be revered by future generations.

It’s all about enjoyment, you see. Culture is formulated through the things that people enjoy; a city with a strong opera programme tends to become linked to the opera as a pursuit and therefore becomes a cultural construct. To this end, we create our own culture. I’d like to think we do, at least.

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(1) http://philosophy.uchicago.edu/workshops/_files/Philosophy-of-Mind-Workshop.jpg

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On Dreams

Sunshine is currently streaming through the window, and the temperature is an ambient twenty degrees centigrade, inside my bedroom. But I’ve been sat staring at my computer screen for half an hour, wondering what on earth to do with the afternoon. Should I go to the beach, or should I research for my essay? I’m torn between the two, really. The beach seems far more appealing than an adventure to the library, but then again, essays don’t write themselves. This is something of a conundrum.

Anyway, I think logic is going to prevail; research on postmodernism is going to be far more useful to my future, in comparison to an afternoon jaunt to the beach. This is perhaps one of the strangest things about modern life. We spend all of our present planning for a future, something we aren’t even sure exists. We have no idea of the course our lives will take, and whether all of our planning will come to fruition, or whether something will change the course of our lives without us realising it. This is perhaps one of the most alarming things about being human; we have no idea what might happen to us.

At this juncture, we can consider the lion; lions (especially males) have an almost intrinsic idea of the course their lives will take; they all have a goal. To rise to the top of the pack, and to be the dominant male, a chief hunter. This ambition puts their entire lives into focus, and they have an innate idea of what their existence will be about. Humans, on the other hand, are fickle; we have big dreams, and big ambitions. We all dream of being something different, whether it’s to be a mother, or to be a CEO, or be a novelist, or a protester. We just have no idea, and we have such an abundance of opportunity that it’s confusing, but so completely breathtaking, all at the same time. I often wish there was a clue, of where I might end up, so I could work out how to get there. I think we all wish that sometimes.

Courage to Dream

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I hope to end up in publishing, as both a publishing mogul and novelist at the same time. I also want to be able to travel. I might have to make career changes, and cut back on things to do it, but as I said on my bucket list, I would like to travel to every continent on the planet. I love the idea of being able to escape, and run around the world, going on safari, building houses and schools, and so on. I just like the idea of being free. However, I also really like my mum’s cooking, and watching television with her. There’s so much choice, and technology makes it so very possible, that a person couldn’t ever decide on just one dream, I think.

So, I’ve got a plan: I’m going to do things that will make me happy. Sometimes these things, for example, going to the gym at seven-thirty in the morning, will not make me happy at that present moment. However, as I get thinner, and fitter, and closer to being ready to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, I will be happy. It’s simply a system of cause and effect; temporary pain for an abundance of long-term gain. Nobody gets everything for nothing. Dreams do not simply happen. You have to work for them, and work hard for them. And it feels amazing when you actually get somewhere, and it all pays off.

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(1) http://images.picturesdepot.com/photo/c/courage_to_dream-8499.jpg

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Oh, Lolita…

The novel Lolita, when mentioned in polite conversation, tends to invite a plethora of different responses. Some react with fascination, others with polite, yet barely disguised repulsion. Some refuse to discuss the novel, because of the sociopolitical significance it has. Others however recognise the novel as an artistic exploration of boundaries. I never quite know what to think of the novel, because I somehow cannot fathom the ideas it contains as ever being rational, or sensible, in any capacity. Whilst I have boundless amounts of respect for the author, Vladimir Nabokov, for being so brave in his exploration of the topic, I cannot help but be repulsed by the very fact that he thought to write it. Critically, I like his use of perspective, and narrative structure; however from a moral and emotional standpoint, I find the novel awkward to read, and to process emotionally. No matter how critical a mind you have, a novel tends to provoke some kind of emotional, instinctive response. This is where with Lolita, I struggle.

The most significant idea to remember however about the novel is that Nabokov sought to push the text away from the author’s grip completely; he chose to explore the death of the author, as prescribed by Michel Foucault, and Roland Barthes. Their attitude towards literary criticism at the time, in the 1960s, was that it was too author focussed, and as such, was not real literary criticism, because it was really a criticism of a human being, as opposed to a text with literary structures, containing linguistics and concepts with a multiplicity of meaning.

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Lolita’s narrative structure seeks to toy with the reader; it uses suggestion and persuasion to call into question what the reader believes to be real. Humbert Humbert provokes empathy in a person but underneath his eloquent, even decadent pleas to “the ladies and gentlemen of the jury”, there is something underlying that is simply not quite right; there is a lack of sincerity, and instead of a wholesome confession, he steers the reader away from thinking about himself as a criminal. Instead he plays the part of the long-suffering hero, emphasising Lolita’s faults, as opposed to his own. The subversion of morality is fundamental to the novel.

I find that awkwardness can indeed occur when reading a novel, because, when it is well written, it is completely engaging; all-consuming as it were. Consider for example Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks. When reading the passages relating to the mining tunnels, I feel distinctly claustrophobic. I hate feeling trapped, and so the concept of the miners being caught completely alarms me. Lolita however makes me uncomfortable in a different way; not so much physically, but in that it almost feels dark, tainted even, by the sheer force of the perversion that drives the narrator to tell the story as he does. Interestingly however, he seems to completely accept that he is flawed, but also blames the girls he calls “nymphets” for being his poison; his warfarin, as it were. The rejection of complete responsibility for his actions, and the implication that everything is somehow Lolita’s fault for seducing him, is one of the fundamental elements of the novel because it highlights the mentality of Humbert Humbert, rather aptly I think. To this extent, he could be considered unstable, even insane, and indeed it is mentioned early in the novel, that he had been previously committed to a mental hospital. From the outset then, the reliability of the narrator is challenged, and so how can we, as readers, really believe that his version of events are true at all?

Lolita is an excellent novel however, and the mystique that surrounds it is very much a part of the censorship that also surrounds it. It’s a novel everyone should experience at least once in their lives, because without it, there’s a lack of perspective in terms of what can be done by an author, but not necessarily from the author’s perspective. The novel also has a certain page turning quality to it, so it’ll at least kill some time, whilst you process everything!

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(1) http://thewrittenwordreviews.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/lolita.jpg

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Dorian and I? We Had a Fantastic Afternoon…

This afternoon, I sat down and watched the adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray, starring Colin Firth and Rebecca Hall. And I’ve never enjoyed a film adaptation of a novel so much in my life. Usually, I tend to rebel against them; I find them slightly abhorrent, and feel as though they potentially corrupt the value of the text itself. And whilst the novel shows some differences, the theme and concept remains completely the same. The essence of the text has been preserved; possibly the mark of some of the very best adaptations.

The adaptation very accurately and rather shockingly portrays the idea of the soul being revealed in a painting, a visual medium; the graphic image of the maggots quite literally eating away at the portrayal of the soul is a repulsive image. As humans, we reject the idea of decay, because we seek to survive and preserve. The brutality of Dorian Gray’s character as a result of impulse as portrayed in the film also represents the concept of excess, an almost epidemic problem in Wilde’s own lifetime. The sexual excesses in which Dorian indulges represents not necessarily the corruption of an entire era, but the effect these excesses have on Dorian. The effect on his psyche is spectacular; his aversion to the idea of multiple partner experiences soon changes to an insatiable appetite for every sexual indulgence possible; from the sadomasochistic, to the bi-sexual.

Dorian's first visit to the Opium Den. (1)

Decadence appeals to my frugal sense of the self because it is a luxury I lack both as a student, and as a person who works, and who realises the value of money. To be allowed a window into this world of unimaginable excess is therefore highly appealing, and Wilde as an author created small moments of complete, unrestrained indulgence for a reader, with an almost unrivalled level of skill. As a Victorian, he escaped from the restrained morality dictated by Christianity and entered a hitherto unexplored arena, notably examining the right of man to engage in homosexual activity without legal condemnation. Wilde’s trial was less focussed on condemning him for a clearly defined breach of legality; instead, the trial sought to persecute a lifestyle, instead of one element of a person’s possible activities.

The adaptation not only focussed on the destruction of Dorian’s soul, sacrificed on the altar of beauty, but also the influence of Lord Henry, the narcissistic uncle figure who first introduces the young man to the carnal and chemical pleasures of the world has to offer, most strikingly in the first visit to the opium den. The Lord himself dreams of a lifestyle of profound excess, however never quite has the courage to complete the dream; perhaps he has a conscience that is unrealised, and perhaps he cannot fathom exposing his soul to such complete tyranny; for those who harbour superstitions within themselves, it is simply an impossible notion to risk eternal damnation to such a degree as Dorian does. Dorian however lacks one of the fundamental elements of existence, in that he has no boundaries; no real influence telling him where he ought to draw the line, and to this end, he sacrifices his soul on the altar of beauty and physical pleasure.

I would recommend watching the film alongside reading the novel; it certainly brings to light some of the more subtle ideas of the novel and emphasises the value of aesthetic beauty in relation to the soul. Not only is the novel spectacularly on form, the lighting and scene cuts add a great deal of atmosphere to proceedings. I hope you enjoy it!

(1) http://th07.deviantart.net/fs71/PRE/i/2010/163/b/b/The_Opium_Den_by_FroschiLove.png

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Mary Wollstonecraft: The First Feminist Writer

This week, I began studying feminism as part of my course at university. Therefore I decided that some research into feminist writers would be a good place to start, and because of my recent love affair with In Our Time, decided that these programs would be particularly useful. Therefore I treated them as lectures, taking notes as I listened. It was thoroughly enjoyable experience!

Courtesy of http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00pg5dr.

By the time of writing, the Vindication of the Rights of Woman represents a very sophisticated level of her abilities. It is not however a straightforward proposal for women’s rights, especially in terms of property and politics, however they are implicit in that if women were re-educated and society reshaped, then these rights would become a part of the ‘new woman’. She writes primarily about middle class women. Women tended to accept the ascribed social position; Wollstonecraft tries to think her way out of this, to find a way that a woman can perform a civic role in society and be more educated.

As the political climate changed, the book’s understanding changed. Much of the book however was not ‘anti-man’. Women are actually attacked; they are put in gilded cages, and value beauty over intellectualism, and Wollstonecraft believes that these women should refrain from modelling their aspirations on flimsy novels and instead, embrace their minds.

Wollstonecraft often struggled with her own sexuality and sensuality. She believed that there was a right and wrong kind of femininity; women should be human first, and feminine afterwards. The power that comes from beauty is a false kind of power and should only really be used within the context of a relationship; not within the public arena. She perceived love as an obstacle for rational thinking. Wollstonecraft was probably a virgin at the time of writing of the vindication.

There is however a very powerful theme of love in the book; the love of God. Sexual passion in any relationship should not last long; friendship is the basis of a long-term and successful relationship. When Wollstonecraft arrived in Paris, the revolution was in full swing, and she places herself in a perilous position by writing an early history of the revolution. The Vindication does not dwell on political rights of women, however Wollstonecraft does attack political rights in her piece on the French revolution, and so she can be viewed as a political activist in a certain sense. Eventually however she became alienated by the ideology of the revolution.

Mary Wollstonecraft theorised motherhood as a fundamental element of the role of women. Godwin reveals much about Wollstonecraft after her death, detailing everything from her suicide attempts to her illegitimate child; people were alienated by this revelation. Her unfinished book also was far more radical than her previous works, and alienated her erstwhile followers. She became more important in the post Woolf era, becoming a foundational figure in the underground feminist movement, and was influenced by her husband in terms of his left-wing communist beliefs; this certainly would have broadened her mind politically.

Thank you to Radio Four for the programme and all its associated content.

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