Read-A-Thon Book #2: Northanger Abbey

“…every bend in the road was expected with solemn awe to afford a glimpse of its massy walls of grey stone, rising amidst a grove of ancient oaks, with the last beams of the sun playing in beautiful splendour on its high Gothic windows…” (Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey)

I just finished reading Jane Austen’s Gothic parody, Northanger Abbey and I have to say- I really enjoyed it. Jane Austen’s writing is simple yet beautiful, touching and humorous, and romantic and inspiring.

A great deal of the situations, characters and settings seemed very real to me, pulling me further into the story. For example, one of the main settings in the story takes place in Bath, England. I could easily see this historic setting as the perfect backdrop for balls, theatres and long, scenic walks. I appreciated this sense of realism she created in Northanger Abbey because it made me more invested in the story- it felt real.

I also loved how Jane Austen “broke the fourth wall”. “Breaking the fourth wall” is a term often used in theatre, film and television when a character acknowledges the audience. This can be applied to novels as well. As the narrator she would add in a line or two, directed at the reader, about how she is supposed to follow literary conventions or about the situation of her characters.

And of course I adored the story and its characters. Seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland leads an ordinary life in Fullerton, until her neighbours Mr. Allen and Mrs. Allen invite her on a trip to Bath.

In Bath, Catherine enjoys balls, theatre shows and other social outings. She meets many interesting people like the charming and clever Henry Tilney, Mrs. Allen’s childhood friend, Mrs. Thorpe, and her children, Isabella and John. She even runs into her older brother, James Morland, who is friends with John at Oxford.

Naturally, Catherine becomes friends with Isabella and John. However, Catherine also wants to spend time with Henry Tilney and his kind sister, Eleanor Tilney, who are also her friends. Both Isabella and John use their subtle yet cunning powers of persuasion to prevent Catherine from spending time with the Tilneys (the sly and vain John is competing with Henry for Catherine’s affections), but Catherine eventually stands her ground and gets an opportunity to spend time with them as well.

To her disappointment, Henry and Eleanor are about to leave Bath on their father, General Tilney’s order. Unexpectedly, she is offered an invitation from Henry and Eleanor’s father, General Tilney to stay with them for a few weeks at their home, called Northanger Abbey. She then makes the trip away from Bath to the seemingly mysterious Northanger Abbey…

I loved Northanger Abbey and found myself itching to find out what happened next. Even more, I loved Henry’s charm, wit and sense of humour, Eleanor’s sincerity and kindness, and Catherine’s naivety, innocence and wild imagination. She reminded me of myself when I was seventeen. I found myself smiling at the dramatic inner thoughts of Catherine as she over-analyzed every social situation and explored the mysterious Northanger Abbey.

I had wished for a little more romance between Henry and Catherine (the 2007 movie set my standards pretty high). Nonetheless, I would recommend this book for anyone who’s looking for a light-hearted and humourous Jane Austen read. I think this one might be on my favourites list!

What has your experience been like reading Jane Austen’s work?

Read-A-Thon Book #1: A Tale of Two Cities

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I love this opening passage of the novel because it’s so iconic and because it embodies so much of what characterizes Charles Dickens’ writing style.

For me, his writing style is what took centre stage in the novel– even before the plot line itself. I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the book at first because it seemed to have such a slow start and pace, but as I continued reading it, I found myself really enjoying his writing.

I learned very quickly that Charles Dickens was a descriptive writer, who had the talent of describing characters and their mannerisms thoroughly. He was an observer of his time, noting the social and political issues, the people and the mood.

The story gradually becomes more engaging and intriguing with its mystery, foreshadowing and revelations. Maybe what I felt was a slow pace was just Charles Dickens’ way of building suspense and intrigue.

A Tale of Two Cities begins in 1775 with unrest in both England and France. Mr. Lorry, a teller from Tellson’s Bank in England reunites a young orphan named Lucie Manette with her father, Dr. Manette in a suburb of Paris, France. Dr. Manette, now a shoemaker, is mentally disturbed by his past imprisonment in the Bastille Tower. He doesn’t remember who imprisoned him but he leaves with Lucie and Mr. Lorry back to England.

Years pass and it is 1780, when Charles Darnay, a young and charming Frenchman, is accused of being a spy in England. A lawyer named Stryver pleads Charles’ case but it is Sydney Carton, a troubled but clever English lawyer, who acquits Charles Darnay. Lucie and her father are also involved in testifying during this trial. Lucie gives her account of meeting Charles Darnay on a ship from France to England and regards Charles with sympathy. After Charles is released, he and Sydney go to a tavern, and talk about Lucie. This foreshadows Sydney and Charles’ love for Lucie later on in the novel.

Sydney and Charles frequently visit Lucie and her father in Soho. It is through Charles and Sydney’s friendship, and through their love for Lucie that their fates become intertwined. Mystery surrounds Dr. Manette because there is a past and story he has mentally suppressed, and there is mystery around Charles Darnay as well, because he has another identity tied to his past. The novel shows how past is closely tied to present and how people’s lives are interconnected.

All of this is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. Danger, intrigue and suspense ensue as Charles and Sydney find themselves in France, in the middle of unrest, violence and bloodshed. There are twists and turns, revelations and surprises as the novel progresses, and finishes with an unexpected ending.

I really enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities and Charles Dickens surprised me. I think of him as a highly skilled and versatile writer. He was a little bit quirky in his writing style, which gave him a uniqueness and a flair.

Reading A Tale of Two Cities reminded me that reading a novel doesn’t mean rushing through it at breakneck speed (which always happens when I’m excited about a book and it’s a fairly easy read). You can’t just flip through a Dickens book–it takes patience, reflection and time to read his work. He wrote in great detail and in lengthy sentences with many pauses throughout, almost as if he were thinking out loud.

I never read or studied Charles Dickens in school, but wish I had. This was an excellent read to start my read-a-thon and I’m looking forward to the next classic!

What classics have you read or would you recommend? Did you read A Tale of Two Cities? If so, what did you like/dislike about it?

Read-A-Thon: My Own Challenge

A little morning coffee with your favourite book

A little morning coffee or tea with your favourite book

I took a BBC quiz recently and was very disappointed by my results. I had only read 11 of the listed classics, just over the average of 6.

That’s when I realized I don’t read as much as I used to, or as often as I should. Stephen King says that if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or tools to write.

Books are how we writers learn the craft–they were our first teacher and mentor, showing us the ways to excite, thrill, terrify and capture our readers. It was through reading Nancy Drew mysteries that I learned about the magic of cliffhangers, through Anne of Green Gables that I learned about the power and beauty of descriptive language, and through Tolkien that I learned about the philosophy of words.

That’s why I’ve taken it upon myself to read as many classics as I can over the next few months and post my thoughts about them. I enjoy reading and have read a fair amount, but I haven’t read nearly enough classics in my opinion.

I’ve set a goal for about 15 and September as a deadline, as I think the summer months are the perfect time to kick back and enjoy some reading outdoors on a nice patio. I plan to start April 28th.

The only read-a-thon I’ve really tried is Canada Reads and that was a great experience in discovering new books that I might not have chosen to read.

Coincidentally, Dewey’s 24-hour Read-a-thon happens today and on a day in October. People read books for 24 hours, post on their blogs about their experience and visit other people’s blogs.  Maybe I’ll try Dewey’s read-a-thon in October.

Do you read as often as you’d like? Do you participate in any read-a-thons?


Camp NaNoWriMo: A Lakeside Retreat

Canoes bobbing on the water.

Late-night bonfires.

Soft, gooey marshmallows that stick to your fingers.

These are some of the images that come to mind when you think of camp, right?

Well, that’s exactly what Camp NaNoWriMo has been like for me so far. Relaxing and steady, like the beat of a wave against a boat.

This is my first April doing Camp NaNo and I find it’s not as daunting as NaNo in November.

First, you set your own word goal. I’ve always fallen short of the 50, 000 word-mark and always thought personally, that 25, 000 words is a more achievable goal for me.

Second, a lot of NaNo writers have hibernated for the spring. It has a more close-knit, intimate vibe, especially with the cabins. You are bunked with cabin mates, based on your similarities and interests. In that cabin,the message board works a lot like Twitter, with username handles and short messages so you can chat about your progress.

And third, your mind has had a time of renewal. It’s gone through the new year, there’s no cold, wet snow or gray, cloudy days (or there shouldn’t be- it’s spring!) , and summer fun is just around the corner.

It’s reawakened my love of writing after a busy winter and helped me start a fantasy story that’s been brewing in my head for a while now.

I’d like to leave you with an inspiring quote from a writer I admire and hope it inspires you not just this month, but every month.

“Our lives are busy, and April is always a busy month, but why not indulge? You can treat yourself to a writing vacation where you visit a project you love, make time with it, get to know it.” -Nika Harper, writer and YouTube personality

Writing Prompts: Christmas

First winter here in your arms

Flames rising as we fall like stars

Making angels in the snow

Warm fuzzy, frozen toes

Is this a dream?

-Kelly Clarkson, “Winter Dreams”

Does Christmas or another holiday you celebrate in the winter inspire your writing? I absolutely love Christmas: the dreamy music, bright twinkling lights, the smell of pine, the sweet taste of shortbread cookies…

Recently I’ve discovered the wonderful help of writing prompts, and how they prompt you rather than just inspire you to write. After reading through blogs such as Pomalia and Morrighan’s Muse, I’ve learned that writing prompts can come in the form of lyrics, artwork and simple writing exercises like haikus.

And the holidays might be a good time to write with all of its Christmas-themed novels, music, and films.

Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped in Red has been playing in the background lately as I write. I think just the mood of the album is a writing prompt for me. Its playful, fun and sweet.

The Versatile Blogger Award

versatile-blogger award picI thought that The Versatile Blogger Award fits in nicely with the holiday season because it’s a nice gesture and shows some appreciation for our fellow bloggers.

I have just been nominated for The Versatile Blogger Award by A Mom’s Blog. Check out her creative blog full of short stories, photography, arts and crafts, and more.

Here are the rules for the award:

  • Display the Award Certificate on your blog.
  • Write a post and link back to the blogger who nominated you.
  • Nominate 15 other bloggers.
  • Inform them of their nomination via comment on their blog.
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

For The Versatile Blogger’s Award I nominate:

1. Morrighan’s Muse

2. Grow Up Proper

3. HarsH ReaLiTy

4. Crystal Puzzle Pieces

5. Something About Love

6. Whittlin Rich

7. D.L. Kamstra

8. Artistic Diversions

9. Word Wabbit

10. ProlixMe

11. Bucket List Publications

12. Writing Reconsidered

13. Pomalia

14. clotildajamcracker

15. Day’s Lee

And 7 interesting things about myself:

1. I often mispronounce words and my family tells me I have my own language (haha).

2. I’m a die-hard Sailor Moon fan.

3. I’m an Anglophile. I love everything about England and want to visit one day.

4. I keep movie tickets, for some odd reason.

5. I have a fear of elevators.

6. I don’t like heights but still go on rides.

7. One of my favourite movies is The Shining, and I don’t usually like horror movies.

Thanks again to the lovely Znjavid from A Mom’s Blog for nominating me! Now off to tell everyone and hopefully spread some holiday cheer :)

NaNoWriMo: Lessons Learned

It’s the last day of NaNoWriMo and it’s bitter-sweet. I’m sort of sad because I’ll miss all the craziness and excitement of the month, but I’m also sort of relieved too– because I discovered I’m not the best at getting down 1, 000 + words a day. That is quite a lot of pressure! Instead of focusing solely on the quantity (*cough* the word count) I’m going to talk about quality. Specifically, what NaNoWriMo teaches you and instills in you, whether you consider yourself a writer or not.

My second NaNoWriMo experience was challenging, exciting and crazy. It was a great way to spend my November and I’m glad I did it. Along the way though, I came up with some surprising and enlightening reflections. Here is what NaNoWriMo taught me:

Be Brave: Funny enough, I was writing a supernatural/horror story about college-age students encountering ghosts in a haunted mansion on Halloween. I was getting so creeped out that I would often stop writing. In the same way, you and I can apply this to our writing: we get scared of the ghoulish monsters that taunt us and tell us we can’t do it, when we know we can. We just have to brave it out and write, no matter how good or bad it is on paper.

Forget Inspiration: I didn’t realize how futile relying on inspiration was until I read my NaNoWriMo pep talk from author, Malinda Lo. I prefer to write whenever inspiration hits me, but find myself hating the times when I sit down to write and come up with lacklustre words, feeling as if my story sucks. But after taking in Malinda Lo’s words about inspiration, I learned that if you wait for inspiration to write, you’ll never write and inspiration is a rare occurrence.

Have Fun: NaNoWriMo’s staff, especially those tweeting on @NaNoWordSprints, taught me to not take myself so seriously. I love their silly prompts on @NaNoWordSprints and the way they could put together an engaging pep talk. When you’re feeling silly and wacky, it translates to your novel. I was even able to incorporate some humour (or what I hope was good humour) into my horror story. I have a way of taking my writing VERY seriously, but I realized it’s okay to have some fun with your writing too. At the end of the day, shouldn’t writing be fun and enjoyable too?

Trust Time: Like a fine cheese or wine, your writing only gets better with age. If you continue to write year after year, you learn more and more. I’m a better writer now than I was last year, and more in terms of discipline than anything. NaNoWriMo is the perfect way to hone your writing; not only is there the annual November writing month but Camp NaNoWriMo that takes place in April and July, as well as the “Now What?” months of January and February, which are full of tips for revising, editing and publishing. NaNoWriMo proves in a very short period of time that you can improve. If you can improve in a month, just imagine what one year could do!

These are just a few lessons I took away this year. What was your NaNoWriMo writing experience like? I’d love to hear your stories!

P.S. Check out ProlixMe’s great post about NaNoWriMo :)

NaNoWriMo: 30 Days and Nights of Literary Madness

It’s now day three of NaNoWriMo, and I’m a lot farther than I thought I’d be.

What is NanoWriMo, you ask?

NanoWriMo is a literary competition (against yourself) where you attempt to write 50, 000 words in the course of a month. It sounds crazy already, doesn’t it?

It began in 1999 with only 21 participants to over 200, 000 people signed up in 2010. From November 1-30, participants choose a genre, theme and language, and then write their stories. As they write, they input the number of words they have into their NaNoWriMo word count. The word tracker helps participants get an idea of their progress and how far they have to go.

What’s even crazier is the fact that I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo while in a post-graduate college program last year. I didn’t manage to reach my goal (but I’m okay with that).

NaNoWriMo is a great metaphor for the writing process. It’s exciting, challenging and sometimes frustrating. There are times when you run out of steam and lose inspiration, but that’s all part of the journey. You have to vanquish some monsters along the way, don’t you?

NaNoWriMo gives you permission to make mistakes and suck at writing. I like to think of it as a very long free-write, where you silence your “inner editor” as the organizers call it. During and after the competition you get awesome emails full of advice from authors, who encourage you along the way.

It really is a good process when you think about it. I mean, how many people actually set aside enough time to write down their awesome ideas and finish a book? NaNoWriMo gets you writing your first draft- it’s the first step in a literary journey.

If you’re new to NaNoWriMo or just looking for some general advice, here are five tips:

    • Set aside a scheduled time for writing (if possible): When I wrote last year, I would often write at night when I had free time from school or sometimes on the weekends (I think). It would usually happen at night though, being a night owl.
    • Focus on milestones, not failures: If you reach, say 10, 000 words by two weeks, celebrate! It takes a lot of dedication, concentration and work to write that much. Don’t focus on how far you have to go or how many words you’re missing because in the end, the word count won’t really matter.
    • Join forums with like-minded individuals: Join the forums for advice, writing buddies and resources. Also check out local meetings and write-ins in your area (and always be safe when meeting new people).
    • Check out @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter: This is NaNoWriMo’s twitter account for word sprints. These happen all the time (even late at night!), so you’re never short of inspiration or writing prompts. I find these very inspirational and encouraging.
    • Know what you’re going to write about: Whether you have an idea brewing in your head, a story plan all typed out or just like to fly by the seat of your pants it’s good to have at least a general idea of what you’re going to be writing about. Personally, I have to have a bit of a storyline written out or else I’ll sit there in November thinking up scenarios, characters and other things.  If you need some ideas on planning a story, I’ve written an older blog post here.

I hope these tips help and if you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year I hope you enjoy it.

And most importantly- don’t worry if you don’t like your first draft. It is a first draft after all.

Do you have any tips for NaNoWriMo or really good advice you’ve come across?

I encourage you to check out TR August’s post called And So It Begins. Very light-hearted and fun take on all the reasons to do NaNoWriMo.

Bookshelf Read: North and South

I’m not sure how I stumbled across the 2004 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South but I’m sure glad I did. From start to finish, the story had me glued to the screen for a good couple of hours. The Victorian-era novel tells the tale of a young Margaret Hale who lives in the seemingly idyllic town of Helstone in Hampshire with her parents. When her father, a minister in Helstone, starts questioning his own faith, Margaret and her mother must move with Mr. Hale to the north of England to the grey and industrial town of Milton, where he decides to take a job as a tutor.

Picture on North and South cover. Here you can see the juxtaposition of Northern England and Southern England.

Picture on North and South cover. Here you can see the juxtaposition of Northern England and Southern England.

There Margaret sees the poverty and struggles of the local mill-workers and their families. It is also where she meets Mr. Thornton the mill-owner: she doesn’t like him from the beginning and thinks he is uncaring and ungentlemanly. Both from strikingly different backgrounds and viewpoints, Margaret Hale and John Thornton clash on issues over class, work and labour disputes. However, underneath their disagreements is a strong attraction that neither one is quick to acknowledge.

This might sound a lot like Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Fans have drawn similarities between the two, often arguing over whether Mr. Thornton is a better romantic interest over Mr. Darcy. (My choice is Mr. Thornton- because I adored his character in the book and loved Richard Armitage’s excellent portrayal of him in the 2004 BBC adaptation.)

I won’t compare the two but will say that if you enjoyed Pride and Prejudice you’re very likely to enjoy this book as well.

It is an in-depth examination of class and work differences between people who live in different parts of England, and of stereotypical male and female roles. Margaret has many interesting discussions with Nicholas Higgins (a rioter and mill-worker), Nicholas’ daughter Bessie and Mr. Thornton. These meaningful discussions throughout the book get you thinking. Something I appreciate about novels are those instances of deep reflections and discussions throughout that say something about the society or ideology at the time. I think it’s really important for authors to make a statement on issues and emphasize them.

Elizabeth Gaskell  examines the social differences between the Hale family, the Higgins family (whom Margaret befriends), and the Thornton family. South and North are juxtaposed as past and future, and traditional and modern.  Gaskell accomplishes all of this through her eloquent and poetic writing. Her style is similar to that of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s or Jane Austen’s: she makes beautiful use of language that resonates with meaning.

I enjoyed the subtle ways she described Mr. Thornton’s initial attraction to Margaret, his and Margaret’s interactions, and the inner motivations of the two characters.

Touching on Mr. Thornton and Margaret, I also liked the way their relationship developed slowly as they went from complete strangers, to close friends and then finally to two people in love. I understand that propriety between men and women were expected in those days (and that women were not to be seen alone with a man after dark), but the progression of Mr. Thornton and Margaret’s relationship felt very realistic and convincing. The book is a good example of romantic tension and development in literature.

North and South is more than just a romance– it is a social critique, and a challenge on ideas of femininity and masculinity. Gaskell turns female and male gender roles upside down. Thornton’s gruff layers are gradually shed as he forms a bond with the Hale family,  and decides to talk to Nicholas on equal grounds (a mill-worker in his factory that has decided to riot against him). Gaskell also shows Margaret’s strong resolve as she tries to bring her wanted brother home, look after her sick mother, take care of her weak-willed father, and assert her independence in a world where women were expected to be dependent on others.

I highly recommend this book. It can be quite melancholy and sad as you feel empathy toward the characters as they face loss of family members, friends and even their livelihood. But it carries a very important lesson of redemption and hope, as each character finds a new beginning and a new perspective. I think Gaskell saw a certain spirit in people of her time and she certainly captured that in North and South.

Have you read North and South, or similar books? What did you think?

Spelling and word usage: Here’s the buzz on how to fix it

Ever found yourself struggling over which word to use: affect and effect, or accept and except? Or have you just been plain confused about how to spell a word?

It’s understandable why it happens to us, especially today with our constant text messaging, red underlined AutoCorrect, and our pervasive use of English slang. Proper spelling and word usage are not things drilled into our minds (unless you were an English or Writing major like I was).

There’s a way to fix this though! I often find that if I’m confused about which word to use I would look at the context of the sentence and the meaning of the word itself. For example, if I were trying to fill in the blank in the sentence below, I would understand the sentence itself and then consult a dictionary.

The           of the laboratory experiment were startling. 

In this case, effects would the be the correct word because effect is the consequence of an action, according to the Oxford Canadian Dictionary of Current English. I also like to think of effects as what happens after; the outcomes and affects as an action word, which it is. Affect is acting on something, influencing it.

On the other hand, if you’re having difficulty remembering how to spell that pesky word, check out the back of some writing handbooks or school agendas. They tend to have a list of commonly misspelled words. Another good reference to check out is The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling (I find it a life-saver) or your country’s equivalent guidebook as it tells you which words to capitalize and how to spell certain words. It’s even trickier if a word contains a hyphen, but Canadian Caps and Spelling or another guidebook usually helps.

Finally, as embarrassing as it may seem, sometimes it’s helpful to ask a friend or co-worker how to spell a word. We all forget sometimes and I’ve even found that words look strange to me at times on a screen when spelled right. It can be a matter of over-thinking spelling and word meaning.

Hope these tips have helped! If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment. Happy writing!