I finished reading A Kestrel for a Knave today by Barry Hines (review to follow) and he made a very interesting comment in the afterword when talking about his book being a set examination text at GCSE:-
“I’ve sometimes considered sitting the examinations under an assumed name to see how I would get on. Perhaps my interpretation of the book would differ from that of the examiner and I would fail. Who can tell?”
That really left me thinking: who our characters and stories really belong to once they are in the wide world?
I once attended a writing course and brought along a piece of writing to share. It was not like anything I had ever written before – it was a claustrophobic, intense and disturbing story in which the main character is caught in a delusion. I had not made any reference within the story to the gender of the main character, and that was not deliberate – for me, he was very clearly a man and it didn’t occur to me to check for references to his gender. I was really surprised when I read out this story that more than half of the group had pictured my character as a woman. It got me thinking at the time, did I have any right to tell them that they were wrong? The gender of a character is pretty fundamental to identity, but I had put the story out there without any explicit references to gender, so in that case was the group’s interpretation of my character not just as valid as my own?
When J. K. Rowling said in an interview that Dumbledore was gay, this became headline news. To me, Dumbledore was an intensely asexual character – I couldn’t picture him as having any kind of personal relationship, either with a man or a woman. That impression of Dumbledore didn’t change because J. K. Rowling said something different. My view was and still is that her version of Dumbledore is gay, but my Dumbledore is neither gay nor straight and is simply married to the school.
Recently, I have also been watching Game of Thrones on Sky Atlantic. I think most of the casting is spot on, but the one character that really rankles with me is Lord Varys. It is not just that his appearance is not the way I pictured, but the way that Conleth Hill plays him is totally different to the Varys of my imagination. I always pictured him as being a more muted version of Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – lanky limbed, soft voiced and constantly smiling, in a rather more dangerous way. George R. R. Martin who is the author of Game of Thrones is also heavily involved with the TV version and so I presume that the TV Varys is an accurate portrayal of how he sees the character.
Many Bridget Jones’ fans were shocked and upset this week when Helen Fielding announced that she is killing off Mark Darcy for the third book. I had intended to blog today in defence of Helen Fielding’s decision on the basis that the characters belong to her and so she can do what she wants with them. But the reaction of the fans just goes to show that Bridget no longer just belongs to Helen Fielding. Yes, it maybe Helen Fielding that makes the decisions but she has created a character that millions of people have fallen in love with and they genuinely care about what happens next.
My own personal view is that as writers, when we share our stories and our characters, we are giving something quite personal to the reader, and as readers, our own imaginations go to work on the characters to form our own unique interpretations. I think that means that the characters will then equally belong to the readers and the writers who have created them. After all, just because I’m told I’m wrong or a character is different to how I have imagined doesn’t mean that I can magically start seeing that character in any other way.
It was really interesting to read Barry Hines thoughts in the afterword about the success of A Kestral for a Knave. He talks about how people look for meanings that he didn’t intend to be there. One example is he is often asked about the names of the horses on which Billy fails to place a bet – his reply is that he couldn’t remember what he had called them and had to look it up for the purposes of writing the afterword. But it is interesting to think how characters and stories grow and evolve once they become public and the writer has lost the control. Who knows, maybe Barry Hines would have failed a GCSE exam in relation to his own book. But then maybe the interpretation of the examiner would be just as valid as Hines’ own.
What do you think? Have you ever adjusted your impressions of a character? Are there any characters you have been “wrong” about?
I just can’t bring myself to let the 30 day book challenge go yet without one final post.
I have spent the last month enjoying a trip down memory lane, thinking about all of the books and authors that I love and trying to narrow these down to one or two per post. But there are a lot of strong contenders which didn’t get a mention, some of which I have only thought about after the original posts went live.
So to round off the 30 day book challenge, I’m going to do a summary of those answers to which I could say “close but no cigar”.
DAY 1 – A book series you wish would just end already OR one that you wish would go on longer
His Dark Materials should go on – the ending was heart breaking and I have always wanted to see what happened next.
DAY 2. – Favorite side character
Ygritte from Game of Thrones – for being a wild northern woman and for making Jon Snow more interesting.
DAY 3. – The longest book you’ve read
Game of Thrones – all of them are hefty books, but books 3 and 5 are so enormous they had to split them into two volumes.
DAY 4. – Book turned into a movie and completely desecrated
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – my favourite Potter book of them all. The movie was the biggest disappointment of them all.
DAY 5. – Your “comfort” book
The Time Traveller’s Wife – one of my all time favourites and I know that I can pick it up and will love it more each time.
DAY 6. – Book you’ve read the most number of times
Who Killed Peggy Sue – a real favourite of my teenage years – my copy of this book is literally falling apart at the seams.
DAY 7. – A guilty pleasure book
Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. I live with a scientist who would be appalled if he knew just how much I secretly enjoy this book with all of it’s bad science!
DAY 8. – Most underrated book
Katherine by Anya Seton – originally published in 1954, she is a forerunner to Philippa Gregory and has produced an excellent book about someone I had never heard of but whose offspring went on to found the Tudor line.
DAY 9. – Most overrated book
The Great Gatsby – my sister is obsessed with this book. I thought it was just okay.
DAY 10. – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Room by Emma Donoghue – I read it to find out what the hype was about really and didn’t really think it would be my cup of tea, but it was un-putdownable – disturbing at times but such great writing, and she never faltered in maintaining the voice of the child narrator.
DAY 11. – Favorite classic book
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – quite an obvious answer but Jane Eyre is a woman before her time, and for a classic it is an easy read.
DAY 12. – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Grimm fairy tales – I finally have a copy and it is on my to read pile!
DAY 13. – A book that disappointed you
Dissolution, C J Samson – this medieval murder mystery sounded right up my street, but it fell flat for me.
DAY 14. – Book that made you cry
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne – the horrifying events that we understand as adult readers but which are not understood by the child narrator gets me every time.
DAY 15. – A character who you can relate to the most
Robb Stark from Game of Thrones – also a strong contender for favourite side character, he really brings out the rebellious northerner in me.
DAY 16. – Most thought-provoking book
Incendiary by Chris Cleeve – a scarily realistic account of a terrorist attack on London which really makes you think about how far we should we should compromise the values that we are supposed to be fighting for,
DAY 17. – Author I wish people would read more
Chris Cleeve – some people may be put off by the lack of blurb, but give him a go – you will not be disappointed.
DAY 18. – A book you wish you could live in
The Faraway tree by Enid Blyton – as a child I was obsessed with this tree where the different lands rotated in the high branches and the children discovered a new adventure in the tree every time.
DAY 19. – A favourite author
Chimanadna Ngozi Adiche – her stories about Nigeria, and in particular the food, are so evocative that they make me want to visit the country for myself.
DAY 20. – Favorite childhood book
Sweet Valley High – I adored this series of books, I devoured them as a child and used to imagine that one day I would find a long lost twin and we would be just like Jessica and Elizabeth!
DAY 21. – Book you tell people you’ve read, but haven’t (or haven’t actually finished)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – this was a Christmas gift last year and I’m still working my way through it. I would probably say if asked that I had read it, but it is still a work in progress.
DAY 22. – Least favourite plot device employed by way too many books you actually enjoyed otherwise
Coincidence – totally unbelieveable most of the time and should be used very sparingly in my opinion.
DAY 23. – Best book you’ve read in the last 12 months
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – I thought Philippa Gregory had done the Tudors for me, but then I read this. Truly excellent writing and a different perspective on a well known story.
DAY 24. – Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like/liked
PS I Love You by Cecilia Ahearn – I usually avoid chick lit like the plague. This is one exception, but I don’t like to admit to it!
DAY 25. – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – I didn’t like the majority of this book, but I thought the final chapter was sublime and more than made up for the rest of the book.
DAY 26. – Book that makes you laugh out loud
The Fiend books by Sheila Lavelle – these belonged to my younger sister and I pinched them and read them when I was probably too old for them, but they made me laugh and so I didn’t care.
DAY 27. – Book that has been on your “to read” list the longest
The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I have been putting off reading this one after being underwhelmed by The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night.
DAY 28. – Favourite quote from a book
“You’re a wizard Harry” – classic.
DAY 29. – A book you hated
December by Elizabeth Winthrop – hate is a strong word for this one but this book did nothing for me and I couldn’t stand the end.
DAY 30. – Book you couldn’t put down
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff – another one I completed in one sitting – I loved reading about their foraging seeing Daisy adapt and grow in very difficult circumstances.
I really am done now. I will now start posting fresh content in which the words “30 day book challenge” will not appear! It has been hard work at times but I have genuinely loved every minute of it.
I’m always on the lookout for new books/authors to try, so if you would like to share any of your own answers to the above questions, then please leave a comment!
This is quite a hard question for me, as I don’t tend to read books that are funny. Or rather, some books have some funny moments, but on the whole they are not intended to be written or read as comedy.
The exception to this is the two Bridget Jones’ books – they really make me laugh every single time I read them and they just don’t get old for me. But I’ve already written about Bridget Jones in a previous post so I’m not going to repeat myself.
Then there is my beloved Harry Potter, That has some moments of pure comedy. I’m thinking Ron belching up the slugs, Ron getting attacked by the brains, Ron asking out Fleur and pretty much anything involving Professor Lockhart! But I have also written about Harry Potter so many times that I’m decided to put a bit more thought into this and came up with…
A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
This is the story of a family coming apart at the seams in the wake of the eldest daughter Katie’s remarriage to Ray. Her father, George, is looking forward to a comfortable, quiet retirement, her mother, Jean is having an affair and her brother Jamie seems to have the perfect life until he fails to invite his partner Tony to the wedding. As for Katie, she has no idea if she actually wants to marry Ray or not. And so, chaos ensues.
It’s actually been a while since I have read this book, so I don’t remember all of the fine details of the plot and the characters. What I do remember is an overall impression of this book making me laugh. George and Jamie in particular provided some great moments.
I was first introduced to Mark Haddon by a friend who recommended that I should read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. She described this to be as being really sad. So I gave it a go, and I actually found her comment quite condescending (and I told her so!) as it is not a sad story at all – it deals with some difficult issues in a remarkably positive way and by the end I was left wondering how much time we actually waste in not saying what we mean and not meaning what we day.
A Spot of Bother is similar to this. It is dealing with a family where every member is going through their own personal crisis whilst they are supposed to be trying to pull together for a wedding. It covers some potentially heavy issues, such as adultery, being a single parent, sexuality etc. However like The Curious Incident, it does not get bogged down in being too serious and provides so many comic moments that overall it is a very positive and light hearted read.
I have The Red House sat on my bookshelves waiting to be read and I hope that it will provide the same comedy and lightness as A Spot of Bother. I am also adding A Spot of Bother to my re-read list to remind myself of all the laugh out loud moments that I have forgotten since I originally read it.
Oh, this is going to be a long one. How can I choose just one author? It would be like someone to choose between their children. I have so many authors that I love, and I’m discovering new ones all the time.
Here are my favourites:-
Daphne Du Maurier
The Time Traveller’s Wife is one of my all time favourite books, and although her follow up, Her Fearful Symmetry, did not capture me in the same way, it is still an excellent read. Her ideas are really original and well executed, and her prose is wonderfully lyrical. Her books to me are works of art.
She makes the list for her complex and empathetic characters, her brilliant portrayal of New York society and her emotional endings. The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence are two of my favourite classics. I definitely plan to read more Edith Wharton.
I have read all of the Tudor series and most of the Cousin’s War series. I love her books for bringing these eras so vividly to life and for her focus on the female characters – history can so easily overlook the influence behind the scenes of powerful women and Philippa Gregory brings them back to the forefront.
For making me laugh. I have read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Spot of Bother. I have The Red House on my bookshelves waiting to be read. He deals with some serious issues with real humour. He also created a very memorable character in the Curious Incident, and maintained a very authentic voice throughout.
Every time I open a book by Lionel Shriver it blows me away. Her writing is so powerful and so full of honesty in every word. The Post Birthday World is one of my favourite books, and I will be talking about this more in a later post. So Much For That is a very long book dealing with terminal illness. It should be a slog and it should be depressing. But in Lionel Shriver’s hands, the pages fly over and it manages to remain so uplifting and full of humour. She is a really special writer. We Need to Talk About Kevin is the most famous one, but her other work that I have read is every bit as good.
Chris Cleeve has a thing going on where there is no blurb and no clues as to what the book is actually about. This intrigued me with The Other Hand so I decided on a whim just to buy it and give it a go. I loved every single word, and so now, I have bought into the myth. I don’t need to know anything about the subject matter of the book or the characters – if it is by Chris Cleeve, I will read it because I know it will be good.
J K Rowling
Harry Potter is a series that I absolutely treasure. We fell in love with Harry, went through some very dark times with him and she absolutely provided the ending that he deserved. I’m now really looking forward to reading her adult fiction – a copy of The Casual Vacancy is the latest addition to my bookshelves. Although crime fiction is not really my thing, I am also going to read Cuckoo Calling when it is in paperback. There is no pressure and no expectation from me – I don’t think that J K Rowling has anything to prove after bringing us something as wonderful as Harry Potter.
She is quite a new discovery for me and I’m really enjoying working my way through her books. I love the intensity of her characters and the relationships between them. She is one of those writers that pull you right into the story so you feel as if you are living and breathing with the characters through every moment of their journey. This means that her books are very memorable and I have loved everything that I have read by Maggie O’Farrell so far.
Again, he is quite new for me. I started off reading A Week in December and I have since read Birdsong and Charlotte Gray. His writing is absolutely flawless and incredibly frank at times. It is his attention to detail that really makes him stand out for me – he obviously knows his characters absolutely inside out and this makes them well rounded and utterly believable, as he is able to drop in the little details that make people real.
The Brontes – all of them
It is so tragic that so little has been published by the Bronte sisters, though it just makes what has been published that much more special. Emily and Charlotte’s work is the most well known, but I have a real soft spot for Anne and I think she is quite underrated. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an excellent read and is right up there with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. For any other Bronte lovers, I would thoroughly recommend a visit to the Bronte Museum in Haworth. This is the parsonage in which the Brontes grew up and it is an incredible experience to walk in their footsteps and look out the window to see the view of the moors which inspired Wuthering Heights.
What about you?
I am always on the lookout for new authors to try whose work I haven’t read before, so who are your favourite authors? Is there anyone not on my list that would be on yours?
I don’t want my answer to every one of these questions to be Harry Potter, so I’m going to set aside the fact that I am still waiting for some big hairy guy to come and tell me that I am a witch….
… so my next choice would be Henry VIII’s Tudor Court from Philippa Gregory’s Tudor series (and specifically, The Constant Princess, The Other Boleyn Girl and The Boleyn Inheritance).
I know this doesn’t make a lot of sense. After all, Henry VIII’s court was a dangerous place after he separated from Katherine of Aragon. This was a King who was prepared to tear up everything that his country had ever known to marry the object of his obsession, Anne Boleyn. It was a game changer – nothing was sacred any more and no one was safe.
But Philippa Gregory just brings this time period to life so vividly. All of the darkness, the sexiness, the games, the politics, the high stakes and the manoeuvring for favour are brought out in spades. I can picture myself living in that court, gossiping in dark corners about the King, living with the danger and uncertainty. There is something exciting about that.
And from a historical point of view, Henry VIII’s actions in separating from the Catholic Church have resonated through the ages. To this day, a monarch is still forbidden from marrying a Roman Catholic (although I believe that there are proposals to change this). To live at that time would be to witness history in the making.
Henry VIII and his six wives are well known tales, taught to every child in school learning British history. However, Philippa Gregory really brought these stories to life in a way that a history lesson in school never could. I really enjoy her focus on the female characters, and her portrayal of Katherine of Aragon standing at the head of the English army to quell the rebellious Scots is a one of my favourite moments in these books. Just to clarify, that is because she is a woman leading an army, not because she is quelling the Scots!
Perhaps they are not 100% historically accurate all the time, but she has done her research well and uses what she has learnt to create something that feels tangible and real, and makes me feel as if I am part of it when I read her books. I have never attempted historical fiction myself although I would love to give it a go – I think it would be a real challenge to strike the right balance between letting your research provide detail and context to the story, without allowing it to dominate the story so that it reads like a textbook. Philippa Gregory strikes this balance absolutely perfectly – for me she is really the Queen of historical fiction.
- Review: The Constant Princess (The Tudor Court #1) by Philippa Gregory (eatreadexplore.wordpress.com)
- Reading Bite: Philippa Gregory (emilyslifebites.wordpress.com)
The obvious answer to this question is the Harry Potter series, however I don’t want to write about the same books in answer to every question.
So I put a little bit more thought into this, and took myself back to a time when I decided I should read more classics. I didn’t feel too enthusiastic about this, but I thought I had a big gap in my reading by avoiding anything pre-20th century and so I borrowed Tess of the D’Urbervilles from the library to plug this gap.
I didn’t expect much of it when I sat down to read it. I thought I would hate it and that I would have to force myself through a long, rambling story in which the plot gets lost in too much wordiness and archaic language.
I won’t lie – Thomas Hardy does ramble sometimes, it can get a bit wordy when he is describing landscapes and some of the language is archaic as you would expect.
But I loved it.
The story follows Tess, who is one of the simplest, kindest and genuinely warm characters I have ever come across in fiction. But she has a terribly hard path in life. After discovering that they are descended from the aristocratic family, the D’Urbervilles, Tess is forced to go and claim kin with distant wealthy relations following an accident in which the family’s horse (and so potentially their livelihood) is killed. From this point onwards, Tess’ life goes on a downward spiral as she suffers the unwanted attentions of her cousin Alex and is forced to leave the D’Urbervilles. It looks as if Tess’ luck has changed when she meets and falls in love with Angel Clare, but her brief happiness is cruelly snatched away when Angel discovers the truth about her past.
I absolutely adored Tess and I took her straight into my heart. Hardy has created her so beautifully, that she becomes so real. When she hurts, I hurt and when she is happy, I am happy for her. She is wronged in so many ways that make me seeth with anger for her, and rail against the injustice when she seems to accept it as her just deserts.
This is a beautiful and tragic story of the life of a wonderful creation of fiction. I loved this book not only for itself, but for changing my views towards reading the classics. I picked an absolute corker to get me started and I haven’t looked back. As a result of Tess of the D’Urbevilles I have let many more wonderful pre-20th century books into my life and onto my bookshelves.
- #7: Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (Katarina) (classicbookchallenge.wordpress.com)
- Tess of the D’Ubervilles (ekosgei.wordpress.com)
- REVIEW: Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (theliteraryflaneur.wordpress.com)
For this, I have to turn to a YA series – Twilight.
I’m embarrassed to say that I actually quite like Twilight. Every instinct that I have tells me I shouldn’t – Bella is totally insipid and I can’t stand the way that she is so defined by her feelings for Edward. She is so serious and miserable all of the time – I really don’t understand why any of her friends in the book actually put up with her. Edward is possessive and controlling, and so is Jacob in a way – he is also absolutely convinced he knows what is best for Bella. The rest of the characters are underdeveloped, some of the writing is unbearably awful, and I always felt that Stephanie Meyer was a bit of a coward as she always backed down from the confrontation at the end. I know it must be hard for her to contemplate killing off characters that she loves, but J K Rowling managed to do it and the Harry Potter books were all the better for it, because it made the stakes so much more real.
In spite of all of that, and against my better judgement, there is something compelling about these stories. Somehow in the midst of everything that I should hate, Stephanie Meyer has created a real page turner that I just couldn’t put down.
The worst bit for me is that I think it might actually boil down to Edward Cullen. I was firmly on the side of Team Edward (just writing that makes me cringe). As modern a woman as I claim to be, some part of me was drawn to the strong, handsome, protective, domineering Edward Cullen.
To be fair to Stephanie Mayer, although I felt the endings were all anti-climactic, she did a good job of building up the tension and suspense to keep the pages turning to the end.
The official stance I take on Twilight is that it is awful. Secretly, it is my guilty pleasure.
Harry Potter. All of them.
I didn’t start reading the Harry Potter books until the second film came out. I scoffed at anyone reading Harry Potter – obviously they were stupid over hyped children’s books. It didn’t matter how many people told me that these were actually good books and that adults could read them too (I was 17 at the time), I wasn’t interested.
One day, I decided I was going to back up my arguments about what a waste of time Harry Potter was by actually reading it (there is some logic in there somewhere I think!). So during a free period at school, I went to the Library and opened Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, whilst my friend (already a Potter fanatic) worked on a University application. I was all geared up to sit there making snide comments, but then something unexpected happened…
I became hooked.
I couldn’t find anything I wanted to complain about, because I thought it was fantastic. I was completely absorbed within the first few pages and I couldn’t put it down. I never looked back from that point onwards – I threw myself wholeheartedly into Potter-mania.
I finished the first 4 books in January 2003 and the 5th book was due out that summer. That kicked off my tradition of re-reading all of the books in the series before the new book came out. I didn’t want to forget a thing, so I would read them all in a row. Then I would read them again. I read them every summer when I came home for holidays from University. I would stay up late into the night reading because I couldn’t bear to put them down.
It has been a few years since I have read all of the books, but they are still some of my all time favourites and they are by far my most read books.
I learnt a valuable lesson from the Harry Potter experience as well – don’t pre-judge books! I was definitely missing out as a result of the fact that I pre-judged what I expected from these children’s books. I don’t do that now – I’m much more open to giving anything a go, no matter who the target audience.
A book series you wish had gone on longer OR a book series you wish would just end already.
I am probably a bit of a bandwagon jumper when it comes to reading book series. I didn’t start reading Harry Potter until a few months before the 5th book was published. Twilight, The Hunger Games, His Dark Materials and Steig Laarson’s Millennium trilogy, were all complete series before I opened any of the books. I missed out on a lot of the hype waiting for the new instalments to be published, but I also did get to enjoy the entire series all in one sitting back to back.
However, there is one series that I am currently reading, which I wish I think ticks both of the boxes: Game of Thrones (or a Song of Ice and Fire to use it’s proper name).
I love the series. It is ambitious and complex and epic. I am in total admiration of George R R Martin’s level of detail of the story and the history of the story in particular. He has created a fantasy world in which every noble house and region has its own culture, traditions, history, rivalries and motivations. He keeps track of these brilliantly. He keeps us readers on our toes with so many shocking moments that we would never have predicted. There have been times where I have had to put the book down for a couple of days because I am so taken aback by what has happened that I need to build myself up to read on.
I had vaguely been aware of these books through the TV series and because a friend of mine read them. I’m not a big fan of fantasy novels and so I didn’t really consider reading them myself until I read an article in a magazine on holiday one year. The paragraph that caught my eye was saying that fans of the series were worried that George R R Martin would not live to complete it (he is 64). A Game of Thrones, the first book in the series, was published in 1996. 17 years on and we are onto book 5 of 6, with the next instalment due out next year. I started reading the series last year and I feel for those really devoted fans who picked it up at the beginning.
Whilst his level of detail is admirable, it also slows everything down. The cast of characters is already phenomenally large and growing – new faces are being introduced faster than he can kill them off. It does make it a bit hard to follow at times, and can be frustrating when you are really getting into a character’s story and then it is suddenly cut off until the next book. So I wish this series would come to an end – I am desperate to know what is going to happen and I want it all to happen quicker.
But, this is also a book series that I want to go on longer. The events depicted in the series are ultimately the consequence of a previous war in which the ruling family were overthrown. This previous war is not part of the series, but it is referred to a lot and so we are given the basic story. Every time it is mentioned in the books, I always think that it would make an absolutely brilliant prequel. The Song of Ice and Fire series is more than enough to be going on with for now. But I know when we do eventually reach the end, I will be wishing for that prequel.