Some lessons I’ve learnt from Camp NaNoWriMo

2014 Camp Nano-Participant-Vertical-BannerWhen I started Camp NaNoWriMo on the first of this month, I had no idea what I was going to write about. I came up with a weird and fanciful idea of writing stories about animals trying to revolt (but subtly revolt) against the humans in their respective worlds. I wanted to make the stories funny, but in a classy way – a bit like the Jeeves and Wooster series of P. G. Wodehouse (and let’s be honest, everything he ever wrote). And so this little collection I’m now working on was born.

It’s been up and down. I’m currently writing my fifth story, with my first and fourth stories left wide open for a “part two” of sorts to be added on directly from the end of them. I have learnt a few lessons along the way, lessons which I knew but forgot, which are worth sharing:

  1. When writing short stories, keep it simple. This means keeping the characters to a reasonable amount. My second story involved 7 or 8 characters plus a bunch of “bad guys”, and all the characters were too strong in personality and fighting for attention. Maybe this story would have worked later, but each of these characters need to be introduced in their own individual stories first. This one was just overkill.
  2. If you’re trying to write funny short stories, make sure you develop your characters properly. My best stories so far are the first and last ones, because I had ridiculously quirky characters driving them forwards. It is often the flaw of the character that makes them funny, not the things they do well.
  3. If a story feels like it’s dragging on too long, that’s most likely because it’s dragging on too long. If you’re bored with your own story during the first draft, your reader is probably going to be as well. You’re allowed to be bored when you’ve edited it a bazillion times, but the first draft should be the fun part. So if it’s dragging on, cut some parts out or just pause it and come back to it later with a fresh mind (I did that with one of my stories).
  4. You’re going to get ups and downs when writing several short stories. So follow my advice from the last point – change scenery and start a new story if the current one is annoying you – you can always come back. And don’t be afraid to take a break from writing completely for a day here and there – often you’ll bounce back refreshed for it. Of course, don’t let this turn into several days (unless you’re like me and work better under pressure).
  5. Drink enough coffee. By enough I mean some but not too much. Might sound obvious, but I find 2-3 coffees in the morning before I write gets me perked nicely to focus for a couple of hours if need be. Less than 2 and I’m too sleepy and daydreamy, more than 3 and I get hyped up and go for random jogs to the shops to buy chocolate to further my sugar high to…yeah anyway. Point is, you know how much coffee you drink on average – regulate it around your writing schedule to help you focus at your best when you do write! (And if you don’t drink coffee, do the same with tea. If you don’t drink tea…erm…water? Actually, you know, water does help you to concentrate? Anyway, I meant to stop this point 3 lines ago).

I hope all of you attempting Camp NaNoWriMo are managing to keep up and write some cool stories (or whatever you are writing, remembering it’s a bit more flexible than the regular NaNoWriMo). And if you are behind, don’t panic – there’s still a full week left! If there’s even the slightest chance you can finish on time, I say go for it – you might be surprised what the pressure can help you produce!

Good luck fellow writers/lunatics!

Day 03 – Your favourite series (30 Day Book Challenge #2)

Really my answer here is the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series by Douglas Adams, but as I just talked about that yesterday I feel like I should consider some other book series that I love instead.

The Hunger GamesThere are a couple which come to mind that I didn’t blog about for this post 2 years ago. The first is the Hunger Games series. It’s not that they’re the most amazingly written books ever, or that the characters and storylines are without flaws. It’s not that the movies based on the books are turning out to be really quite amazing. More than anything, it comes down to the fact that the story is so memorable and so thought provoking. I’ve had some really good conversations with people about these books, not only friends and other bloggers but a lot of my teenage students too! Definitely a series which I thoroughly enjoyed reading – I remember finishing off the second book and picking the third book up immediately to continue reading the story, which says a lot in itself I suppose.

Jeeves and Wooster seriesAnother one I have to mention is the Jeeves and Wooster series of books by P. G. Wodehouse. I’ve spoken of Wodehouse on numerous occasions, and I absolutely adore his incredible wit and ability to craft gorgeous sentences in a way no other ever could. Each of the Jeeves and Wooster novels are remarkably similar in story, to the point where I struggle to differentiate between them and am not always sure which I have read and which I haven’t, but I kind of like coming to these books and knowing exactly what to expect from bumbling aristocrat Bertie and his genius yet emotionless butler. Despite the intelligence of the language and the way the tales are told, these are great stories to just relax with and drink wine or tea or some other such thing. Not to mention the fact that there was also a great television series based on the books that starred Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster and Stephen Fry as Jeeves – I mean really, what more do I need to say?

There are many others I could name, but I think one thing that draws attention to these for me is that it is much more likely I would re-read these one day. Definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already!

What is your favourite book series, and why?

Much Obliged, Jeeves: A review

I’ve managed to finish two books in the last couple of days, including Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (which I will review doubled up with Mockingjay a bit later on, for various reasons), and just today, Much Obliged, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse. Having discussed Wodehouse before but never reviewing one of his books on its own, I thought, well, why not do it now?

It is tricky to review any Wodehouse book, to be honest. As Stephen Fry puts it, on the cover of this book, “You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour.” I must confess, I tend to agree with Fry on this one – there is something about the way Wodehouse writes which resists any analysis and critique, and I suspect he is one of the only writers in the history of writing in the English language who has managed to achieve this.

Much Obliged, Jeeves is part of the ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ series of novels, and compared with those which I have read so far, the story in this one stood out particularly as being a little more unique, while reprising many beloved characters and places from previous stories. Set in a place known as Market Snodsbury, the story centres around a chaotic local election between Bertie Wooster’s friend Ginger, and the rather firm and powerful Mrs McCorkadale. In the mix of all this are numerous engagements (with varying degrees of amiability between the couples), Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia, where everybody is staying, and who is trying to extort a large amount of money from the grumpy old Runkle by softening him up with her chef Anatole’s amazing cooking, and a book known as the Book of Revelations – a book shared among butlers which contains all of the deeds and misdeeds, routines and bad habits of their employers. When the book suddenly disappears, the dignity and respect of several people becomes jeopardised, including those involved in the election.

The story is great, and leaves you guessing right up until the last few pages how it will ever be resolved, and as always the resolution is startling in its simplicity and genius. If I were to critique one aspect of this novel, it is that the wit doesn’t seem as sharp as it has in other Wodehouse books I have read – however, this is only comparing it to other Wodehouse books, as on its own against most literature this novel is still highly witty and hilarious. And considering this book was first published in 1971, when Wodehouse would have been in his late eighties, it goes to show that even old age bore no real threat to his intelligence, charm and general verbosity.

I wouldn’t recommend Much Obliged, Jeeves as a first Wodehouse novel for those yet to read him, as it mentions far too many events and characters who have no meaning unless you have read his earlier works (I always suggest to start with Thank You, Jeeves), but for those more seasoned readers of this series (by which I mean you have read at least three or four), there is plenty of fun to be had between the covers of this book. For those interested, I rated this four out of five on GoodReads (and gave a considerably shorter review on there similar to this one).

Lastly, I have to share my favourite line from the book: “Where one goes wrong in looking for the ideal girl is in making one’s selection before walking the full length of the counter.”

What books have you finished recently?

Have you read any Wodehouse novels in recent times (especially as I keep bringing him up)?

I dedicate this blog post to great book dedications

As eager as I often am to jump straight into the story when starting a new book, there is one thing I always have to do first – check to see if there’s a book dedication.

While many dedications are quite simple and usually just include the mention of loved ones, every now and then I stumble across one that includes a bit more, such as a cheeky sidenote, or  something completely different and silly, or sometimes a more serious and inspiring message. I have gathered here some of my favourites, all of which are taken from my personal book collection (so hopefully there will be a few you haven’t read before). Enjoy!

“To my daughter Leonora, without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time.” – The Heart of a Goof by P. G. Wodehouse

“Simply and impossibly: For my family.” – Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

“This book is dedicated to my bank balance.” – Silly Verse For Kids by Spike Milligan

“To my mother, who liked the bit about the horse.” – Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

“To Vik Lovell, who told me dragons did not exist, then led me to their lairs.” – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

“To my dear brother Desmond, who made my boyhood happy and with whom I have never had a crossword, mind you he drives his wife mad.” – ‘Rommel?’ ‘Gunner Who?’ by Spike Milligan

“To the love of my life, my soul mate, and the greatest person in the world: Me.” – The Alphabet of Manliness by Maddox

“To ………………………………………….
                (insert full name here)             ” – The Liar by Stephen Fry

“For Stephen and the bills.” – Mrs Fry’s Diary by Mrs Stephen Fry (Stephen’s alter ego)

“This book is dedicated to my family, for their unfailing faith and enthusiasm; to Caroline, for her fund of stories and luminous presence; and to all those who are persecuted for daring to think for themselves.” – The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman by Louis de Bernières

And finally, perhaps my favourite book dedication of all time, and one I mentioned briefly the other day. I decided this one might be easier to just take a photo, rather than type it all out. Sorry about the glare. Enjoy…

From Calcium Made Interesting by Graham Chapman. Do you think this story is real? I certainly do (I particularly love the mention of Douglas Adams, too).

Are there any great or funny book dedications you have come across? I’d love to hear them if so!

A boxful of Wodehouse (the biggest delivery of books I’ve ever received)

As my last post probably suggested, I thoroughly enjoy reading anything by P. G. Wodehouse. This is likely a good thing, considering he has close to a hundred books published under his name. However, up until now I have only owned (and read) about 6 or 7 of his books. An arrival in the mail today will help me make a much more significant dent in the complete works of Wodehouse:

This didn't exactly fit in my letterbox...don't let this picture fool you, there's 20 books in this package.

For some odd reason, a lot of his books were being sold for ridiculously cheap from the website where I often purchase books (maybe it was a warehouse clean-out). So I had to take advantage of the opportunity, because, well, it was my duty, right?

Here are the books I bought, which I have attempted to group up according to the various series that Wodehouse wrote.

These books all form part of the Jeeves and Wooster series of stories, perhaps the most famous and loved series Wodehouse wrote. Most of my reading thus far from this author has been books based around bumbling Bertie Wooster and his ever brilliant butler Jeeves.

 

These books form part of the Blandings series, perhaps the second largest series of books Wodehouse wrote after the J&W books. What ties these books together is the setting of Blandings castle, and its various kooky inhabitants.

 

This picture includes books from some of the smaller series Wodehouse wrote, including the Uncle Fred series, the Golf series, and the Ukridge series. All of these remain untouched by me until now, but I have no doubt I will enjoy them.

 

These are all stand-alone novels, but all along similar themes to everything else Wodehouse wrote, as the book covers suggest. The covers also are a bit shiny, hence the slight glare on them. I haven't yet read any of Wodehouse's stand alone novels, so I am looking forward to seeing if they are still enjoyable without the familiarity of the characters (I am sure they are).

 

And lastly, some more stand-alone novels.

 

So there we have it, my massive Wodehouse book haul, in which I have probably gained close to a quarter of his total collection. I still have a lot left to collect, but this should tide me over for quite a while.

Are there any authors with extensive collections of books that you are trying to collect? Do you intend to read all of them or is part of the fun just owning them all?

The Wit and Wisdom of P. G. Wodehouse

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog in which I discussed a few different books of quotations, including those famous and those relatively unknown, many funny and some wise. Since then, I have bought another book of quotations, one which focuses on just one amazing author, P. G. Wodehouse. The book is called The Wit and Wisdom of P. G. Wodehouse, and is compiled and edited by Tony Ring.

I wanted to write a blog about this specific book for a number of reasons. Wodehouse was an amazing author, and a much loved humorist  during his long and illustrious career as a writer, during which he wrote nearly a hundred books. His books were quintessentially British, often making fun of the English aristocracy, but his writing was of such a nature as to be enjoyable by all kinds of readers. Evelyn Waugh believed that Wodehouse produced “three wholly original similes on each page,” which, if this is an exaggeration, is only a very slight one at that. Wodehouse’s ability to manipulate and play with words is unique, masterful and utterly joyful, and has inspired many writers over the last century.

This anthology includes some of the best quotes by Wodehouse from all his various novels and characters, and is compiled so that each left page contains witticisms, while the right hand pages have words of wisdom. For fans of Wodehouse, it is fun to indulge in some of these classic moments, while for newcomers it may provide a nice entrance into the world of this man’s magnificent mind.

Here are some of my favourites from this book:

Wit:

“Warm though the morning was, he shivered, as only a confirmed bachelor gazing into the naked face of matrimony can shiver.”

“He was in the acute stage of that malady which, for want of a better name, scientists call the heeby-jeebies.”

“‘…I assure you, on the word of an English gentleman, that this lady is a complete stranger to me.’ ‘Stranger?’ ‘A complete and total stranger.’ ‘Oh?’ said the bloke. ‘Then what’s she doing sitting in your lap?'”

“A melancholy-looking man, he had the appearance of one who has searched for the leak in life’s gas-pipe with a lighted candle.”

“It was one of those still evenings you get in the summer, when you can hear a snail clear its throat a mile away.”

Wisdom:

“It was my Uncle George who discovered that alcohol was a food well in advance of modern medical thought.”

“It is a good rule in life never to apologise. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.”

“I was one of those men my mother always warned me against.”

“I attribute my whole success in life to a rigid observance of the fundamental rule – Never have yoursself tattooed with any woman’s name, not even her initials.”

“The advice I give to every young man starting to seek out a life partner is to find a girl whom he can tickle.”

“That’s the way to get on in the world – by grabbing your opportunities. Why, what’s Big Ben but a wrist-watch that saw its chance and made good.”

If you’ve never read any Wodehouse, I urge you to do so. I would perhaps suggest starting with one of the Jeeves and Wooster novels, of which there are plenty (there are also four seasons of a television show based on Jeeves and Wooster, which starred Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie – I always read these novels in their voices as a result).

Happy reading!

30 Day Book Challenge Day 3 – My Favourite Series

I keep waiting for a day with this challenge where there will be a clear cut winner, but it never seems to be that easy, and picking my favourite book series is no exception. I struggled immensely with this one, and surprised myself with the answer in the end, so before I get to my favourite series, I’d like to briefly discuss a couple of others that I have loved over the years.

First of all, I have to mention a series which has already been included before in this challenge (yesterday, I think), a series lovingly known as The Hitchhiker series by Douglas Adams. This sci-fi “trilogy in five parts”  pokes fun at, well, just about everything, and there is quite simply nobody who writes like Adams, making these books uniquely funny and insightful. For me personally, I read these first when I was a teenager and my reading habits were pretty bad (as they often are at that age), but this series helped me back into a good reading routine, and for that reason will always have a special place on my shelf (when none of my friends are borrowing it, which is rare).

Another series I love (though I must admit I haven’t read every book in the series) is the Jeeves and Wooster series of novels by the fabulous P.G.Wodehouse. Wodehouse was the master of playful language, and his stories about the silly aristocrat Bertie Wooster, and his ever present and ever helpful butler Jeeves, are some of the most charming tales you will ever read. I love to read Wodehouse when I just want to escape and lose myself in a good book, and luckily for us, the man wrote nearly 100 books in his lifetime, of which a significant portion form the Jeeves and Wooster series. If you’ve never read Wodehouse, I strongly suggest it, but warn you now: it is addictive.

My favourite book series, however, is one I perhaps didn’t even realise was my favourite until after I had read it, and many other books, and then gone back to it a while later. Louis de Bernieres, a writer famous for the beautiful Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, as well as Red Dog (which has become popular since the recent movie adaptation), started his writing career with a trilogy set in a fictional South American country, and it is this trilogy which, when I look back, is my favourite book series of all time. The titles alone had me interested, consisting of The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts, Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord, and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman. Each of these three books are set in the same area, and feature many of the same characters, but focus on different themes and events, the first focusing on guerilla warfare, the second on drug trafficking, and the last one on religious fanaticism. All three are amazing, especially when you consider these were the first books de Bernieres wrote, and it is no wonder he went on to become an award winning and best selling author. I would definitely recommend these to anybody without hesitation, as they are all stories which will stay with you long after you have read them.