Month: March 2016

‘Madame Bovary’ by Gustave Flaubert #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #DBowieBooks

bovary

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Castigated for offending against public decency, Madame Bovary has rarely failed to cause a storm. For Flaubert’s contemporaries, the fascination came from the novelist’s meticulous account of provincial matters. For the writer, subject matter was subordinate to his anguished quest for aesthetic perfection. For his twentieth-century successors the formal experiments that underpin Madame Bovary look forward to the innovations of contemporary fiction.

Flaubert’s protagonist in particular has never ceased to fascinate. Romantic heroine or middle-class neurotic, flawed wife and mother or passionate protester against the conventions of bourgeois society, simultaneously the subject of Flaubert’s admiration and the butt of his irony – Emma Bovary remains one of the most enigmatic of fictional creations.

Flaubert’s meticulous approach to the craft of fiction, his portrayal of contemporary reality, his representation of an unforgettable cast of characters make Madame Bovary one of the major landmarks of modern fiction.

 

I first read ‘Madame Bovary’ for my degree in Literature and Language. When I saw that lovely book blogger Jade at Scatterbooker was attempting the David Bowie reading challenge, I was thrilled to see so many of my favourite books on the list, including this one, and decided to join in. I didn’t need much of an excuse to revisit ‘Madame Bovary’ – for me it is one of those books that teaches you so much, whether you’re a reader or a writer, but especially if you’re a writer.

Charles Bovary is dull.  He manages to qualify as a doctor and is married off to a wealthy widow who soon dies. He meets Emma Rouault – the daughter of a patient – and falls in love. Emma is bored with life. She has dreams and fantasies, mostly concocted from reading, and she yearns for a life of beautiful clothes, dancing at balls, rides in carriages, socialising with the nobility. This may not seem much to aim for by today’s standards, but for Emma these dreams offer an escape from the mediocrity and limitations of everyday life, particularly for a woman. Stupidly, she thinks that Charles can offer her what she wants. Once she becomes Madame Bovary however, she soon realises that life as the wife of a provincial doctor is boring and dull.

She has affairs, acts selfishly and thoughtlessly, spends too much money, has no interest in her child. All in all she should be the villain of the piece. But Flaubert’s mastery lies in the fact that as a reader you are conflicted. Yes, I want to shake Emma, particularly for the sake of her child, but I also feel sympathy – this is the lot of women, to never fulfil their dreams, to be criticised and marginalised. Emma could be so much more, but society pigeonholes her, and when she refuses to conform, she is destroyed, or at least destroys herself. She isn’t likeable, by any means, in fact she is, on many levels, a thoroughly horrible person – but was she destined to be that way? Was she made that way by her situation, and the situation of women in general?

It’s not an easy read, but it is definitely a novel that should be read. And if you are a writer, Flaubert offers you here a masterclass in the art of characterisation – never will you feel so conflicted about a character, or so devastated at an ending and at the sheer waste.

I’ll be honest, some of the reviews on Amazon make me want to spit. Ignore them, and read this. It’s wonderful.

5 stars

 

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5 Tactics to Master Killer Short Story Endings

Some fabulous tips for all you short story writers out there.

Sacha Black

Killer EndingsI’ve always thought the ‘short story’ was one of those irritating elephants in the room. My particular brand of short story elephant, is made of shiny gold, and spends 100% of his time glaring at me from the corner of the room looking down his extra long trunk nose to make me feel woefully inadequate.

Every author knows they should be able to write a short, but not everyone can.

I can’t.

I’m so inept at writing short stories, I wrote a piece of flash fiction last year and the fucking things turned into 30,000 words of what will be a novel. Apparently I didn’t get the ‘SHORT’ memo.

*shrug*

All I can do is write full length novels, or blink-of-the-eye flash fiction. Something about that smug middle man puts me in a catatonic state of ‘fuck-you-upitus-writersblock.’

However, Esther Newton, is a master of the short. I’ve just finished reading her collection of award-winning short stories:

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Meeting Marcia Meara

An interview with writer and blogger Marcia Meara from fellow writer and blogger Judith Barrow

Judith Barrow

Today I’m thrilled to be chatting with Marcia Meara; author, generous blogger/interviewer and a thoroughly lovely person.

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 Judith: Tell us a little about yourself, as a writer and as a person.

MM: I live in central Florida, just north of Orlando, with my husband of 30 years, four cats, and two dachshunds. When I’m not working on my books and blogs, I spend my time reading, gardening, and enjoying the surprising amount of wildlife that manages to make a home in our suburban yard. Birds from hummingbirds to bald eagles show up here frequently, along with black racers (harmless, graceful snakes), raccoons, possums, various lizards and skinks, and of course, the dreaded, bird-feeder raiding squirrels, which I consider minions of Satan, sent to plague me.

JB: Tell us a little about your writing history/background. What inspired you to write? How did you come to writing? What is your main reason for…

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Amazon Takes Aim At Scammers But Hits Authors

A really important post for all self-published authors.

David Gaughran

kuAmazon is an extremely innovative company – and usually quite responsive to self-publisher’s concerns – but sometimes it gets things very wrong too.

Today is one of those times.

I’ve received several reports from writers threatened with having books removed from sale, and heard even more worrying stories from others who had their titles actually removed from the Kindle Store without notice.

What were these authors guilty of? What crime did they commit for Amazon to adopt such heavy handed treatment? Something completely innocuous: the Table of Contents was at the rear of their books instead of at the front.

Yep, that’s it.

We’ll get to what might be the root cause of this crackdown in a moment, but Amazon is claiming that having a TOC in the end-matter instead of the front-matter is a breach of the (ever-changing, 100+ pages) Kindle Publishing Guidelines (PDF). Amazon says that rear TOCs result in…

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The Role of the Life Model #wwwblogs #Writinganovel

delacroix life model 1

Study for ‘Liberty Leading the People’

Two of the characters in my WIP ‘Chiaroscuro’ work as life models – one models for Eugene Delacroix as he paints his controversial work ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’, while the other, a 21st Century student, supplements her income posing at the local university.

It’s one of those jobs that many people find fascinating. What must it be like to take your clothes off in front of all those people? What sort of person does that for a living?

Well, a surprisingly varied type of person! As part of my research, I read many articles and blogs written by and about life models. They come from all walks of life and come in all shapes and sizes – life modelling is definitely a modelling job where difference is celebrated, where you don’t need to be a size six, and any ‘unusual’ physical features are welcomed, not disparaged.

delacroix sketch

Study for ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’

Life models are vital for the development of artists.  Drawing a real person, with all the imperfections, nuances and attributes that come with the human body, is essential practice.  The students are appreciative of their models and respect and realise their importance. So what does it take to be a life model? And what is it actually like?

It’s not as simple as it might appear – it’s not just a case of taking your clothes off and standing there. The Register of Artists’ Models offers some very sound advice. You will need to be comfortable with your body – and happy to be naked in a room full of strangers. You’ll need to be unconcerned by a tutor mentioning your defects over and over again. You’ll need patience and stamina – standing or sitting in the same position for up to forty-five minutes at a time can be uncomfortable, to say the least. And can you come up with interesting poses? Often a teacher will ask you to improvise so you’ll need to be able to think up new positions.

You’ll also need to be reliable – often life models are booked for a run of sessions, posing in the same position so that students can work on a painting or sculpture. You need to be able to guarantee that you’ll be there.

The blogs and articles I’ve read are mostly filled with positive and sometimes extremely funny experiences. Many say that they were worried at first at the reaction their imperfect bodies would fetch from the students, but found that no one was bothered by a middle-aged paunch or too much body hair or dimples, freckles and birthmarks.

So far from being a nudge-nudge wink-wink type of job, life-modelling seems to me to be rather life-affirming and rather good for a positive body image too. A way of celebrating our imperfections (and we all have them) rather than hiding them. And a refreshing antidote to the photo-shopped and honestly rather weird nude selfies pumped out on a regular basis by certain attention-seeking celebrities.

And as the sketches here show, life models are a vital resource for artists – the men, women and even animals that modelled for Delacroix helped to add the vitality and richness that the figures in his paintings possess.

delacroix life model 4

Crouching woman

Feed an Author – Leave a Review #wwwBlogs

Reviews are so important to authors – great post by Shelley Wilson to tell you why and how to leave reviews.

I Write. I Read. I Review

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Feedback of any kind, whether you are an author, crafter, baker or therapist, is a lifeline to continued success.  We all crave that positive remark, or a pat on the back when someone enjoys our products.

I have always tried my best to leave feedback wherever possible.  Sometimes that might be a Facebook review for a company or service I have used, a quick comment on a blog post I enjoyed reading or logging on to a restaurant website to thank them for a wonderful meal and service.

As a consumer, I study the comments left by other people and hope that they can assist my decision on whether to buy a product, eat in a restaurant, visit an exhibition, or read a book.

Having published five books so far in the self-help and young adult fantasy categories, I also understand the importance of receiving reviews for your products and…

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‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ by Azar Nafisi #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Azar Nafisi, a bold and inspired teacher, secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. Some came from conservative and religious families, others were progressive and secular; some had spent time in jail. They were shy and uncomfortable at first, unaccustomed to being asked to speak their minds, but soon they removed their veils and began to speak more freely–their stories intertwining with the novels they were reading by Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, as fundamentalists seized hold of the universities and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the women in Nafisi’s living room spoke not only of the books they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments.

Azar Nafisi’s luminous masterwork gives us a rare glimpse, from the inside, of women’s lives in revolutionary Iran. ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ is a work of great passion and poetic beauty, a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny, and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.

reading lolita

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I have previously read Nafisi’s other memoir ‘Things I’ve Been Silent About’, and both give such an insight into a country and a world we have such preconceived ideas about.

The relationships that develop between these young women are really touching to read – their freedoms are slowly diminishing, but at their lecturer’s house they find a space to speak freely about their experiences and be themselves and to express their feelings and frustrations at the limitations being placed upon their lives through the books they study. It’s a real testament to the power that reading can have.

The book also gives an insight into Nafisi’s own life and her struggles; she also resents the fact that her freedoms are being diminished and sees the effect that living under the Islamic Republic is having on her children. But Iran is her home, and is the country she loves, so she is torn between staying and fighting it out, or leaving, and reclaiming her freedoms and rights in another country. Her frustration at what is happening to her home is clear and honestly portrayed.

It’s a sobering look too at the way that freedoms are slowly destroyed, so slowly and insidiously that it is easy to be carried along with them. Nafisi refuses at first to wear the veil, but to continue to refuse eventually means losing her job. Is it worth it?, she asks herself. What’s more important, to maintain her right over what she can or can’t wear, or to continue to teach and to have a positive influence over her students? It is these little decisions that the ordinary people have to make, seemingly small decisions that can have massive repercussions.

The books that are studied also have a central role to play, and anyone who has read the works discussed will find new things to discover, a new way to see and read these classics.

It’s a brilliant book, clever, touching, frustrating at times and also strangely uplifting.

5 stars

Equality for Women in Ancient Ireland

Another brilliant post from Ali Issac about the women of ancient Ireland.

aliisaacstoryteller

Equality for Women in Ancient Ireland. www.aliisaacstoryteller.com Equality for Women in Ancient Ireland.
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Last year, I wrote a piece for Irish Central based on equality of women in Irish mythology. Those of you who enjoyed ‘Warrior Women’ may find this interesting…


Queen Medb of Connacht is arguably the most famous female character in Irish mythology. Her story is told in the Cattle Raid of Cooley, or Táin Bó Cúailnge in Irish. In it, she competes with her husband, Aillil, over which of them possesses the greatest wealth, and demands the use of Donn Cúailnge, the big brown bull belonging to neighbouring King Dáire mac Fiachna. When he refuses, she has no hesitation in leading her armies into battle to get it.

The very fact that this story has survived culling at the hands of the Christian monks, who fixed the old oral tales in ink on parchment, is testament to how highly she was regarded by…

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#FabulousFridayGuestBlogger Alison Williams @Alison_williams

I’m on the lovely Marcia Meara’s blog today talking about the inspiring Harper Lee.

The Write Stuff

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2016 has been a pretty rubbish year so far. My morning routine begins with a cup of coffee and the online version of the morning papers. After the last few weeks however, I’m quite frightened to read the latest news as it seems that almost every day someone I admire or who has influenced me or been a part of my life has died. I don’t need to mention how devastated I was at the loss of David Bowie, possibly the biggest love of my life after my family (but if you want to wallow in my misery along with me you can read my blog post here), but he is unfortunately only the tip of the iceberg.

The world of music has already lost the irreplaceable Bowie, and he’s been joined by Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner, singer Black, Glenn Frey of The Eagles and Mott the Hoople drummer Dale…

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‘Beltane’by Alys West #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT @AlysWestYork

Rosie's Book Review team 1

I reviewed ‘Beltane’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team

beltane

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

This is a very well-written, entertaining and enjoyable read. Alys West certainly knows how to tell a story.

Artist Zoe Rose is struggling to come up with the illustrations she needs to seal a lucrative contract and get her career on track. Her subject matter is King Arthur, so she heads to Glastonbury for inspiration as this is where Arthur is believed to have lived and where legend has it he is buried. Her friend Anna suggests she stays at a healing retreat, Anam Cara, run by Maeve, who Anna raves about, but who makes Zoe feel uncomfortable and unnerved.

In the garden of Anam Cara is a tree bearing a carving of a ‘Green Man’. Zoe is fascinated by the carving, and unwittingly releases a spell that begins a host of unsettling and dangerous events centred around handsome stranger Finn, who Zoe is instantly attracted to.

Finn and Zoe are great characters, easy to like and very believable, quite a feat considering they both have ‘gifts’. And Maeve is a well-crafted antagonist, a suitable foe for Finn and Zoe.

The author obviously knows Glastonbury well – the town is brought to life and it is easy to picture its streets and alleys, full of alternative shops and centres, and the wonderful Tor. It’s a fantastic setting for this kind of tale.

There were parts of the story that I felt went on a little too long and didn’t hold my interest, but on the whole this was a thoroughly engaging read and I look forward to more from this author.

4 stars