Saturday, 28 April 2012

Castle Mania

One of my favourite witty, warm and clever, always-puts-a-smile-on-my-face, go-to programmes is the recent American TV series Castle (shown here in the UK on Alibi and Channel 5).  As soon as I tell you (if you don’t already know!) that it’s about a novelist working with the police to solve quirky crimes, you’ll spot the connection to my other beloved go-to programme, Murder, She Wrote.  And you’d be right – the similarity in theme is why I first tuned in, but Castle is so much more – and boy am I glad I caught it on Channel 5 repeats and then found the latest seasons on Alibi, otherwise I would’ve missed out on a fab show.

The rather yummy Richard Castle (he really is ruggedly handsome – watch the 2nd / 3rd season credits and you’ll get the reference!), crime novelist extraordinaire, sets his sights on NYPD Homicide Detective Kate Beckett as the muse for his next novel-series character, Nikki Heat – and they begin to work together, though Beckett isn’t too keen to start with; Castle is a kind of civilian consultant in the first season, rising to Beckett’s definite partner and confidante now we’re in the fourth.  There’s plenty of spark, wit and banter between them – they’re both great, admirable characters with quirks and flaws, and they both develop throughout the seasons.  The ensemble cast and characters are also spot-on, warmly and realistically peopling the world that’s being created.

The writing and production of the show is top-notch too – the stories are cleverly plotted, pacy and surprising, so that even a seasoned crime-drama-puzzle-solver such as I often can’t work out whodunnit!; and the wardrobes, look and atmosphere is real yet glossy-enough to aspire to (I sooo want Castle’s apartment...and I’m not even a city-flat kind of girl!).  Plus, as playboy as Castle can be, he also has a strong and loving anchor in his family – almost every episode ends with him at home with his mother and daughter (just as Murder, She Wrote invariably ends with Jessica Fletcher smiling), giving a family- orientated, decent and warm conclusion to each story (okay, okay, so it’s a kind of happy-ever-after ending, but what can I say?  I’m a sucker for happiness at the end of trials and tribulations...and if I want depressing gritty realism, I’ll watch Eastenders!  Clearly, I don’t...)

Anyhoo, what I also wanted to share with you is that, in keeping with the reality of the programme’s world, TV tie-in novels have been released...written by none other than Mr Richard Castle himself (okay, okay, so it’s a ghostwriter and I know Castle’s not really real, but don’t rain on my parade, eh?!).  The first one is Heat Wave, followed by Naked Heat, and they too are fab: well-written (though I admit the second book is sharper, slicker and works better as a stand-alone story for a non-Castle watching reader); with the characters of Jameson Rook and Nikki Heat close enough to Richard Castle and Kate Beckett yet far enough away to be both recognisable and yet characters in their own right.  I personally love the in-joke of staging the books as if Castle himself has written them, including his own dedications and acknowledgements pages...and I think that if you love the show too, you’ll enjoy this tongue-in-cheek homage.  The third novel, Heat Rises, has been released in mass paperback in the States this week and... it was the 20th anniversary of my mother’s death a few days ago, it is, without saying, a difficult time for me at the moment – so I am cheering myself up with my wonderful world of Castle and ordering Heat Rises right now...

...and until it arrives, I’ll be watching marathons of the million episodes I’ve got saved on Sky+ !  (Don’t ask me why but the UK seems to be sooo slow in getting the seasons on DVD – Season 2 is just out and, come next payday, it will be mine!).  When Heat Rises does drop through my letterbox, I’ll be reading it in one gulp, don’t you worry!

“Every writer needs inspiration, and I found mine.”

PS.  I love the actual buildings called castles too – there’s something about spiralling staircases, towering turrets and relics of the past that sparks my imagination.  For my 30th birthday, one of my best friends surprised me with a trip to Warwick Castle, which is medieval-themed with real-live actors playing the parts...  It was a fab day (despite the torrential rain...), and we even got to watch some jousting...  See, I really am a castle maniac!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

At least I'm thinking about it...

Which is what all good books should make you do – along with making you feel: elated, or thrilled, or understood, or curious, or satisfied.  Of course, depending on the particular recipe of Reader-Writer-Story-Style, you may get bites of some, nibbles of others, maybe a couple of gulps of surprise...and perhaps only a taste of what you were hoping for in the beginning.

And that’s what happened to me when I read Girl Reading by Katie Ward*.  To support the subject of reading in these technology-driven times (snore!), I’ve been watching More4’s ‘TV Book Group’ (repeated at the mo on Channel 4, I believe), and Girl Reading was one of their highly-rated picks. 

I thought it’d be right up my alley: 7 stories about...wait for it...different girls, reading; inspired by works of art which’ve guessed it...different girls, reading.  Obviously (!), reading, writing and the appreciation of words is a huge part of my life, and has specifically been the subject of couple of recent poems that I’ve written (Book Ends, which came about through the process of the non-sequence poem, The Reader’s Refrain) this book seemed like a keeper before I’d even searched it out from the bookshop’s shelves.

Except it wasn’t.  Quite.

Now, I’m not slating it: the 7 stories are well-written, with completely different characters living completely different lives, showcasing a range of eras throughout history.  For some of these girls, the act of reading is important; even vital to preserve a memory, a legacy.  But for others, the book is merely a prop; it is incidental, fleeting.  That juxtaposition (with the latter view so different from my own) is interesting and intriguing, and opens up a debate as to what it is about reading that is so involving – which is, I think, the book’s overall aim.

Equally, when looking at the paintings/images which inspired the author Katie Ward (which I had to do after finishing each story), it’s amazing to consider what she’s come up with in terms of translating those influences into stories.

Yet, for me, these stories were more like a snapshot of, rather than a window into, a character – and most of these characters didn’t move me; they didn’t breathe.  There was a distance in the narrative for me; I felt kept at arm’s length, and this didn’t induce my emotional involvement.  Any responses I had were ambiguous, almost apathetic – except for one story, ‘Angelica Kauffman, Portrait of a Lady, 1775’, pp 100-145.  For me, this story is a beautifully rendered, poignant study of grief, its destructive power, and the – eventual – healing release of letting go.  It was a story worth waiting for – and I was pleased to enjoy the following vignette too, but after that, things spiralled downwards for me (the last two stories were inconsequential for my tastes.  Of course, they might not be for you – thankfully, we’re all different!)

The style that Katie Ward has chosen to write in is, for me (and many others, I should imagine) problematic, disruptive and, at times, elitist.  She chooses not to use speech marks – at all – throughout the book, yet there is heavy use of dialogue (which is sometimes heavy itself and rather convoluted) – and so the dialogue is often jarring to read.  I kept having to stop, go back, re-read to make step-by-step sense of what had just happened – and this pulls me out of the story-spell that I love to be bewitched by.  So I have to wonder, why has she decided to do this?  What does it add to the telling of these stories – or what does it take away?

Whilst on my degree, I studied the poetry of 19th Century American Walt Whitman – and groaned while reading it, though I came to admire what he was trying to do.  Written in really long lines in really long verses over many, many pages, Whitman often repeats words, lines and themes.  I personally found this a drudge to read (and probably, too, because it came after my beloved Emily Dickinson on the module, whose poetry form is the total opposite, though by no means ‘easier’!).  Studying it, though, taught me that Whitman was about all about the toil: reading, thinking, living – all of it is hard work; it takes effort.  But with effort and toil, you come to understand, to deeply experience, to even be enlightened – you are rewarded.

And so I couldn’t help wondering if Katie Ward’s choice of no-speech-marks works along the same lines: you have to work at, even struggle to, read it, understand it; but when you do, you gain something more profound than you would have if it was easy.

Wow.  That's a deep thought.  So did I, then?

Other than having that actual thought and the one story that really touched me (probably more for its unintentional resonance with things that have happened in my life)...No, I didn't.  I get the whole toil = reward argument, have even written about it myself (my Writer’s Toil poem), but in Girl Reading I just find the overall effect artificial and a bit precious, if I’m being honest.  Along with the lack of speech marks, the narrative is also plagued by switches of perspective with no line breaks (the empty line in the text between Character A’s viewpoint and Character B’s – or even C’s! – which stops the narrative getting confused or muddled), which makes the reading experience harder than it has to be.  Though this language interchange does get easier in later stories, and may even capture the ‘flavour’ of the specific eras of history, why does the passage of time/character/place have to be so impenetrable?

Again, I’m not slating this book, just pointing out some areas which really troubled me.  I’ve been thinking about it ever since I put it down over a week ago, which shows that it has worked some magic on me even if I haven’t ‘enjoyed’ it or found it pleasurable.  Perhaps I’d do better to study this book (if I haven’t already?!), or discuss it with other readers – has anyone out there in blog-world read it?  Care to share your views if you have?  I’m interested and will always listen...though possibly debate!

I’ll end by showcasing some lines which really struck me, for there is great beauty and wisdom in them:

p 59, of a blacksmith who is losing his sanity: “[his] imagination burns hot yellow and red, the iron of his personality is smelted.  What is left is scorched and brittle: the debris, the rubbish.”

pp 109-110, of a grand house and its interior: “She finds she is drawn to the vacancy, the stillness...Unoccupied spaces.  Haunted by sadness....the absence of society, of comings and goings...makes it feel enormous like a cavern...Her artistic mind responds to the atmosphere, gives fictional accounts for it – this is a palace, a forest of briars surrounding it, its occupants put to sleep by an evil spell.  When she passes a servant on a wooden step straining to collect the cobwebs with her duster, these fancies blow away.”

p 129: “...the ache of fatigue when one cannot sleep, the relief of giving up the attempt.”

p 132: “She is too far away to shout, yet she does, her hallo scattered by the wind.”

p148: “She knows that finesse comes with rehearsal, that effortless requires effort.”

p191: “Reading matter spreads like the petals of a flower with Cynthia at the centre.”

p193: “[The pond] is secluded and has drunk centuries of rain.”

*Girl Reading – Katie Ward, ( London: Virago, 2012)

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


It’s been a few weeks since I last participated in What’s On Your Workdesk Wednesday – courtesy of web-mistress-extraordinaire Julia over at – though I admit I’ve taken the occasional snoop!  I’ve been deep in writing poetry, you see, but amongst my thoughts, imagery and lines, you craft-y lot have made your mark!

So, inspired, converted and now thoroughly ‘into’ papercrafting, I realised I needed to make some room in my writing scriptorium to accommodate my burgeoning craft-y-ness. 

I found a wickerwork shelving unit in a charity shop, re-dressed and moved my mannequins (there to inspire me for my next book, which will be about a dressmaker!) to the other side of my desk and, for a change, took down the millions of pictures on my wall that make up my view in lieu of a window (I have a blank wall at the moment, which I will fill with fewer pictures and quotations...but I’m still choosing which ones will make the cut!).

My fab friend Zoe (see her blog at ) and I took a trip to Hobbycraft and stocked up on some goodies (we made a day of it, of course, and were ladies who lunched!).

But now I had some choice craft candy, what was I going to do with it?!

Using the plain, brown-paper notebook I created my own ‘Imaginarium’ (a fab word I came across from one of your blogs – hope you don’t mind me pinching it, Suzie?!) – a scrapbook/art journal type place for me to create...though I’ve yet to do anything on the inside!

During my poetry-extravaganza, I’d written one called ‘Cat Clan’, which a friend of mine (and fellow cat-person!) loved, and asked for a copy – so I made her a LO, featuring the balsa-wood floral-design cat shapes I’d found in Hobbycraft...

As to what’s on my workdesk today, there will be a house-warming card for a friend who’s just moved...when I’ve made it, of course...which will be after I’ve had a nose at your I’d better get snooping, hadn’t I?!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Fair Play, Ms Author!

December 2010 saw me discover the author Kate Quinn and her lively, entertaining and quite juicy historical novel, Mistress of Rome – and I loved it!  The only historical novels I’d read to this point were by CJ Sansom (also fab, but very very different!), and a couple of non-starters by Phillipa Gregory (I know, I know, she’s supposed to be brilliant – but just not for me, I’m afraid), so Kate Quinn’s book took me out of England in the 1600s and back to ancient Rome...

This post isn’t a book review of any kind – I romped through Mistress of Rome over that Christmas and though I entered it into my Reading Journal, I didn’t write much ’cause I hadn’t taken the time to think critically!  I love being so immersed in a story that you feel it, you don’t think it – and this sense of indulgence lends itself to the re-read very well, as you tend not remember details, only how it made you feel and so you rediscover it as you go along!

Mistress of Rome opened a trilogy and I’ve bought the second book, Daughters of Rome – I began it last year but wasn’t in the best mood to be reading, to be honest; I was restless, sidetracked, and remember thinking I wasn’t getting the best out of Daughters, and it wasn’t getting the best of I put it back on the shelf to come back to.  Oops, I haven’t yet – but I will!

Looking on Kate Quinn’s website –  – I found that the last book has recently been published and is a sequel to Mistress, whereas Daughters was a prequel.  Empress of Rome is out in the UK on the 19th July so I’ll have to wait to see what happens...allowing me time to give Daughters another go!  While I was having a nose, the ‘Whoops’ link grabbed my attention...and a quick click found me saying, “Fair Play, Ms Author!”

See, the thing about writing historical fiction of any era is that it is about history – we weren’t there, we weren’t living their shorthand of society...and so some things will be an honest oops, written in error.  Yet there are always people who notice and complain...  My Dad does this with TV shows – he loves spotting the continuity errors, moments when someone is holding a mug in one hand then it swaps to the other, that kind of thing.  Me, I’m usually so deeply into the created world that I don’t notice, and find it distracting (and often amusing, to be fair!) when he crows about it.

But, unlike so many, Kate freely admits these oops moments on her website – and invites those mistake-spotters to let her know if she’s missed any...!  Have a look and enjoy her confessions – .  I particularly like her in-joke of a pun on the Roman word ‘vomitorium’, it being anything other what it sounds like – this literary nudge-and-giggle is something we writers like to do, but it seems that not everyone finds it funny...!

I continue to say “Fair Play” to Kate, though, and thank her too – I’ve learned a trick for my (published!) writing future, as well as for general life:

Aim to get things right but when the inevitable happens, admit your wrongs in an open, amusing and accepting way, for we are all human and no one is perfect...

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Writing Through One to Get to Another

This is the first time this has ever happened to me (that I’ve been aware of, anyway!) – having to write one piece to get to another; the second not being able to exist without the process of the first – yet the first is not necessary in the way the second is.

I’ve known that the next poem in my sequence was going to be about reading; exactly what I was going to use the poem format to say I wasn’t quite sure, but that’s what note exploration is for!  After lots of thinking and note-making, I knew I had to strike a balance between a relatable experience for everyone and the unique angle that makes it my poem, not a run-of-the-mill piece.  I kept writing and rewriting the same lines, so I went with the flow, even though I suspected it wouldn’t say everything about the topic of reading that I wanted to cover.  After redrafting and editing, The Reader’s Refrain came alive...and though I thought it was ok, I wasn’t sure it was good enough.  I wasn’t sure it would earn its place in the sequence; it seemed pedestrian and, well, average.

So I got to thinking about the sequence as a whole, and the running order of the poems.  I could be terribly boring and predictable and present them in the chronological order they were written; or I could arrange them by rise and fall of emotion or action; or find a fitting flow of ending line to beginning line.  Which poem to pick for the opening, then?  Beginning with the reading poem had seemed right for a while (well before I’d begin work on it, actually!) – a reader reading a poem about reading is cyclical and pleasing to me.  I wanted something short but intriguing; striking but not too poetry-elitist; Deb-unique but identifiable to most people...and then it hit me. 

I hadn’t written it yet. 

And just like that, Book Ends came to me.  Much shorter and yet broader in scope than The Reader’s Refrain, Book Ends is the poem I want to begin my sequence with: it’s unique enough to stand out but covers a topic that many of us experience; it experiments with punctuation to make its point but its meaning is still clear; and it is short and snappy enough to grab the actual reader and make them want to turn the page to the next poem.

Yet it wouldn’t have existed without the writing of The Reader’s Refrain first – because I wouldn’t have got out all the thoughts and words that were in my mind, limiting me to one angle and a simple coverage.  I wanted to talk about the things that are in The Reader’s Refrain...but what I arrived at through writing it was better; more philosophical and extensive.

To start with, I wondered whether to include both poems in the sequence, to begin with Book Ends and fold The Reader’s Refrain between two other, more thrilling poems.  Then I decided to discard The Reader’s Refrain completely.  Thankfully, before I tore the pages up or consigned them to a never-to-be-opened-again file, I realised that The Reader’s Refrain didn’t have to be in the sequence and yet also didn’t have to be lost.  It could be a stand-alone poem, like Arson or Resuscitation, just written at the same time as the sequence.  (This may seem terribly obvious to you – and me, now that I’m typing it! – but when you’re in the midst of a particular piece, it’s hard to see beyond that and realise that what you’ve written could have a place outside of where it has come from; that it can be something else.)

Sequence-wise, then, Book Ends will begin it...and the last poem to write is now before me, which is the one about my first desk.  Thoughts have been had, notes made – but my thesaurus needs consulting to build up my word bank, beginning lines need beginning (whether they’ll end up in the eventual poem is another matter!), and the point of the poem, what it is trying to say, needs to be honed.  The Reader’s Refrain will take its place in my portfolio of work...and the running order of the sequence-complete is still percolating through my brain.  If you have any thoughts about how to structure a collection, please let me know – all thoughts are welcome!