Monday, 6 August 2012

Creative writing exercises

So, a little while ago I moved to the U.K. I've joined a creative writing group at the library and I'll be using this blog to put them up on here as well, because I don't want to spread myself too thin! I hadn't written anything in absolutely ages, probably since I was about 19, so I'd love to hear what you think of it. The first exercise was to describe your ideal house, the location it would be in etc. I haven't given it a title, but here goes:

"Shit, shit shit!", she cries out. "What the hell was that?" Her feet scramble in the wet dirt, her hands manage to grasp on to a strong branch. Looking around, she can't see a sign of the possibly imaginary beast. What she can see is the tree root that floored her. As she somewhat manages to regain her composure, another blood-curdling wail is let out, somewhere, it seems to echo all around her. Fright jolts up her spine and her legs start with a burst of speed. "Why did I have to move here so badly?", cursing herself for falling in love with the forest when she only still knew it to be fictional.

Ever since she found out that the scene where Robin Hood and his Merry Men had their adventures actually existed she had her heart set on living there. Now here she was, running through her beloved woods while the trees pawed at her hair and the earth slowed her down. Blood thumps in her ears like tribal drumming. Her feet pounding on the ground when all of a sudden things go quiet. She looks up, her face still red and hot, and sees the sun shine through the lustrous canopy, filling the clearing with a soft, green light. Dandelion seeds float through the air, glittering like fairies when they catch the rays. Slowly her ears start to pick up on the soft rustling of the leaves above her and then she notices the intertwined songs, a symphony of bird calls. She kicks off her shoes and lets the fresh grass tickle her toes as she walks towards a little wood cabin.

The chimney is smoking, he must be cooking. As she comes closer to the door her nose fills with the sweet, rich scents of garden herbs. Rosemary, sage, thyme, all planted with her own hands. The shiny red tomatoes look to glow, off-set against all the green. She reaches down, picks off a mint leaf and rubs it, crushing it between her index finger and thumb. She smells it, inhaling deeply, and feels her heart calming down.

Suddenly the door flings open. "Hi, Karloff!", she says when the purring little furball winds itself around her legs. She walks through the door into the cosy, candlelit living room. She throws her muddy coat over one of the chairs at the dining table. All the furniture looks, and most of it is, handmade. The wood knotted and uneven, adding to the eclectic charm of the place. The walls are covered in vintage movie posters and shelves full of memorabilia and brick-a-brack. Looking at all the silly things filling the space, she relaxes, knowing she is now safe at home. Two arms enfold her and a kiss is planted on her cheek. "You look a right mess", he says. "What happened?" She explains to her husband what had her running through the woods. He bursts out laughing. "Oh dear, you silly goose." Ready to defend herself, she crosses her arms and huffs. "Don't you remember they're filming an episode of Dr. Who in the woods?" Of course she did. Relieved that her home is not haunted by some horrible creature, she lets out a sigh and sits down at the kitchen table laughing at her little adventure and ready to tuck into the steaming hot steak-and-ale pie in front of her.

image courtesy of the BBC

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood - Rebecca Wells

Years ago I rented the film adaptation of the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (with Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd, Maggie Smith and Kiersten Warren) and really loved the story so, when I came across the book in the secondhand bookshop I had to pick it up.

The book tells the story of four women, Vivi, Teensy, Necie and Caro who when they were young girls created the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The girls document their adventures in a scrapbook. Many decades later Vivi's daughter Sidda takes a break from her work and boyfriend because she's stressed and scared to commit. A big reason for her fear is the far from ideal relationship she has with her mother Vivi, which goes from bad to worse after Sidda's words in an interview get twisted. The Sisterhood pulls together and convinces Vivi to send Sidda the scrapbook. While Sidda leaves through the scrapbook, we uncover along with her the many scrapes the girls got into back in their day.

In the book, Rebecca Wells explores the intricate bonds that form between the four young girls. A big part of their lives is shaped by the deep South where they grow up in. Vivi and Teensy both have black servants and nannies and while Vivi's mother has a quite liberal and friendly approach to her staff it becomes painfully apparent what time they're living in when the girls see Teensy's mother treating her maid like a slave. Wells doesn't shy away from some of the more irksome situations that (especially Southern) America finds itself in during a time when things are changing but some of the people in charge might not be willing to go along with it. Her descriptions of the town, houses, dresses and everything else are extremely vivid. When Sidda comes back home to her parents, you can smell the peaches in the air and hear the cicadas chirping.

What makes the story really special is how lovingly she describes the girls and their experiences. You really feel as if you are Sidda uncovering the secret lives of these women you have known since you were little. It is touching yet feels slightly wrong, as if you're reading somebody's diary. Some of the revelations are shocking, some are romantic and sweet, others are hilarious and bit by bit you come to really love the girls as Sidda comes to love and understand her mother better as a person.

I am no longer friends with anybody from my childhood, I don't think I ever had such a close bond to any of my girlfriends but after reading this I really feel as if I get it. I get why these women stayed together through their entire lives, forging bonds so strong no husband could ever come close. At times I felt jealous of their relationships and the seemingly romantic time they lived in, other times I was glad I wasn't in their shoes. I felt for Sidda, I know how hard it is to deal with a difficult mother, but I mostly loved reading about the four wonderful, quirky and interesting girls.

I recommend this book to any girl who wants to immerse herself in a world where girlfriends are the most important thing, whether you have had friends like that yourself or not. The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is one of the best books I've read that explores these relationships. It's never cheesy, it's never like a chick-lit. Also, if you've already seen the movie and loved it, the book is really worth checking out for all the bits that were left out of the script. I feel Divine Secrets is a must-read for any woman who isn't content with the general work on offer for them, but still wants to read a very female story.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Ibis Reader - great for classic novels!

Hi bookworms, just a little post about Ibis Reader. I use this on my phone to read. It's not as great as actually holding a book but. if you love classic novels such as Alice in Wonderland and the Great Gatsby or always plan on reading them but never get around to it, Ibis Reader is really worth checking out. You can sign up for free and there's hundreds of free, public domain, titles you can start reading pretty much instantly. You can use it on your computer or smartphone, change the font size and type to your liking.

Besides the vast amount of great literature freely available, you can also add titles that you already own, simply by adding them to your library. The great thing about it is, it doesn't cost you a thing and you have immediate access to some of the best novels ever written! Not sure? Check out the "get books" section and I'm certain you will find something you like, from Sigmund Freud's work Dream Psychology, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice to the Kama Sutra. Pretty much any classic you can think of will be there for you to read for free! It really is worth checking out:!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

City Under the Moon - Hugh Sterbakov

Good day, bookworms! Today I will be talking about Hugh Sterbakov's debut novel, City Under the Moon. Doesn't the cover already look exciting?

The story starts outside the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan where an ambassadors wife got brutally attacked and her baby has been stolen (or worse). The fierce, emotionless FBI Special Sgent Brianna Tildascow gets called out to take on the case. Quickly she finds out that this is not just an ordinary animal attack, but something far worse. The attack seems to have infected to victim with a virus that triggers something in the body, causing her to become a wolf-like beast who goes on the rampage. The victims start multiplying fast each night and soon Manhattan has a werewolf epidemic on their hands.

While Dr. Jessica Tanner, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and her viroligist husband start fighting over the nature of the virus, Lon, a geeky basement-dweller gets cut off from talking to his online girlfriend when his werewolf expertise gets called upon by none other than the government...

City Under the Moon is a fast-paced read. Every moment is utilised to it's full extend, every page is covered with werewolves, guts and action. Yet, it's not a lighthearted story full of fluffy werewolves that rip their shirts off, or even your usual anguished puberty-metaphor, it goes in deep and it goes in hard. Everything and everyone becomes involved, from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, the President, the Military, the FBI, a Romanian werewolf hunter with a tragic past and the irritating but lovable lycanthropy nerd Lon (after Lon Chaney Jr.) Toller who, despite not having the guts to meet his girlfriend in person, shows a hell of a lot of bravery when faced with disaster.

This story is so well written and planned out, it must have been a hell of a job to make sure everything is plausible and fits together. All the details make sense and seem extremely accurate. The governing bodies involved are written very realistically, Sterbakov has obviously done extensive research into the way things work and the methods that are available.

Sterbakov set out to write a story that portrayed the transformation as a werewolf to be far more frightening than being attacked by one and I think he managed that perfectly. The description of what happens to a person when they transform made my bones ache and my tendons recoil in horror. No thanks, I'd rather be ravaged by a werewolf (ooh err!) than become one myself.

If you like a good fantasy story packed full of action, gore, kick-ass female FBI agents (well, there is only one of those, but she sure counts for more than one woman), triumphing nerds and a President facing a terrible dilemma, this punchy, throat-grabbing book is for you.

I'm trying to come up with a rating system here, eeehmm, I give City Under the Moon five werewolves out of five!

Check out the official City Under the Moon website:
You can follow Hugh Sterbakov on twitter here: @darhkhugh
Not had enough of the Sterbakov? Official website:

Hey there, bookworms!

Reading is probably my favourite thing to do, I always have a book on the go, sometimes more than one. Without one I feel naked and weird. I love reading mostly because it transports you to other worlds, lets you make friends and takes you on the wildest adventures. Ever since I was little I've read a lot. I can't help myself, I'll read over peoples' shoulders, I'll cast sideways glances on the train, something about a book just draws my attention. Knowing that in those pages covered with small black enscriptions is a world to be discovered, I can't resist.

So, I thought, why not make a bookclub for my fellow bookworms? I've come across some great books, it'd be a shame not to share them. I'll tell you some of my favourite books, so you can get a feeling for the type of things you might find here in the future. I'd say my two all-time favourite novels are Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil, a fictionalised biography of the great magician Charles Carter and I also love Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, which is a story I'm sure most people are sort of familiar with. My most current reads are The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson, an intruiging and exciting read about life as a self-made circus-freak working for the famous P.T. Barnum, and part one and two of 1Q84 by Haruki Marukami, who is quickly becoming my favourite writer.

I'll probably do more recommendations than just reviews, I tend to shy away from books that I feel just won't interest me. I hate giving up on books, but if it just feels like too much hard work I'm going to have to move on to something else. There's too many good reads and too little time to read them all! For my first review/recommendation: City Under the Moon by Hugh Sterbakov, a thrilling tale of werewolves in modern day Manhattan.