The Final Hurdle

I have just eight weeks  to go before I complete my undergraduate degree in English Literature and History. Just the matter of a dissertation on fairies, an essay on children’s literature, two essays on creative writing, a 3000 word short story plus edits and one final dreaded exam to get through and I’ll be free, to do what I want – most of the time.

In preparation I’ve been making a few plans. First and foremost is to complete the first draft of Persephone Reborn. I’ve been going through my plot notes and what has already been written and it currently stands at around 32,000 words. That’s about a third of the way through the story, so another 60-80,000 words and it will be ready for the first round of rewrites and edits. It makes the 15,000 words or so that I have left to write for university seem almost easy in comparison, but I would much rather be working on the novel than planning another essay.

Having had to put my writing career on hold for the best part of the last five years it’s been a struggle to build a readership for my books, but I’m hoping to change that by using this blog as a base from which I can share insights into my writing process and interesting (I hope) posts that relate to what I’m working on. You can probably expect things about the locations, history and myths that feature in the next novel, everything from Greek vampires to Liverpool’s sunken graveyard and I’m going to try and become more active on  instagram, facebook, twitter and pinterest. All things I’ve neglected over the last few years.  I’m not the most natural self-promoter so we’ll see what happens.

For the moment it’s back to that essay…

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

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Reading the Vampire

Blood Clot under microscope. Image from https://imgur.com/gallery/v9Yik

I’ve just written a short essay on Dracula. It’s a scene study and had to include a comparison between a passage from a book and a scene from a film. It didn’t have to be an adaptation of the book, but whichever book and film I chose they had to have some relevance to each other.

It’s only a couple of years since I read Dracula for the first time, I did a blog post on it here, and knew that Coppola’s film version was a little bit different, including a love story that didn’t appear anywhere in the book.

That was my starting point. I was going to write on the changes in characterisation of the vampire between Stoker’s evil monster, meant to repulse the reader, and Coppola’s anti-hero who invokes sympathy in the viewer. Instead, I ended up writing a comparison of the blood transfusion scenes and how they related to fears and anxieties present at the Nineteenth Century fin de siècle that emerged again during the late twentieth century. That’s the thing about close reading – once you start, a simple analysis can lead you down all kinds of roads until you end up with something entirely different from what you initially thought the text/film was about.

As a result, it became an essay about contagion, sexual danger, syphilis and AIDS. The connection, of course, is the vampire as a symbol of disease and plague transmitted through blood.

In class, we’ve looked at how the vampire has changed over time from aristocratic monster, ravaging the countryside whilst feeding on the blood of peasants (Stoker’s vampire was based on Vlad Dracul whilst Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesbian vampire, Carmilla, has leanings towards Countess Bathory) to sparkly, teenage, lovesick puppy. We also watched Jim Jarmusch’s strangely mesmerising Only Lovers Left Alive. The ‘good stuff’ (blood that can only be obtained through dealers that work in hospitals) appears to be a narcotic substance in an unspecified dystopian future where human blood is contaminated with an undisclosed disease and the vampires refer to humans as zombies.

This means, of course, that I can see very well where my own little vampire romance novel sits on the timeline and there’s definitely no hint of a glisten, a twinkle or even a shimmer. Nathan Blackwood has a job, a social conscience and a coffin full of secrets. Whilst I’ve taken a more traditional view of the vampire, the aversion to sunlight, the need for blood etc, I have introduced some contemporary elements. Incidentally, both Carmilla and Dracula could tolerate daylight, but their powers were diminished, so perhaps we shouldn’t consider this a traditional a trait after all.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

Round and Around and Around We Go.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/swamibu/ under creative commons license

https://www.flickr.com/photos/swamibu/ under creative commons license

After months of academia I find myself itching to write fiction. Characters old and new are pushing to the forefront of my mind, clamouring to be heard and acknowledged and given a life on the page. But instead I find myself stuck in the middle of writing an annotated bibliography of Medieval Literature despairing of the need to add three more books or articles with a looming deadline of … TOMORROW!. I picked a subject close to my heart, forests, but ironically can’t see the trees for the wood.

I see a pattern emerging near the end of every year of study that means at a certain point in the second semester I start to switch off. The thought of one more essay, let alone another three, has me questioning my motivations in getting a degree and I can be heard muttering the words, ‘You know what? I really don’t care what I get’. Completely untrue, of course.

The uni gleefully ramps up the torture by throwing in the stress of final year module choices with its dire warnings of limited places and first come first served scare tactics. Basically, this results in hundreds of terrified, wide-eyed students sitting at their laptops from 6am on registration day, fingers poised to press the submit button the moment choices go live. Inevitably, the system goes down and panic ensues. Next year’s third years are traumatised before they even begin so when someone whispers ‘Have you decided what you’re doing for your dissertation?’ their eyes glaze over and they retreat to a darkened corner of the library with psychosis.

And then some joker tutor thinks he can ask for an essay plan with just two days notice. I don’t think so, mister. He isn’t getting it.

To my horror I’ve also discovered that it’s been so long since I last posted here that WordPress have changed the format. I am so far out of the loop I might as well be on Pluto. Oh well, back to the treadmill…

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can  connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

Summer’s End

Summer’s End -sounds like it should be the title of a tragic romance novel, but no, it’s that time of year where I start to panic that time is running out and begin frantically looking up the price of academic text books. In a few short weeks I’ll be back at uni getting to grips with Victorian literature and the Vikings  and of course that means less time for writing.

Not that I’ve done much writing in the last few weeks. I admit I have been sidetracked by other things – namely a one hundred year old postcard of my house, the personal columns in newspapers of the 1900s, and getting reacquainted with my arty side.  It’s been a long time since I did any painting so I am having to relearn a lot of things I haven’t done since school.

Persephone Reborn (still not sure this is the best title) has been left to bubble away at the back of my mind, primarily because I’m having to restructure some of the scenes. I had a very clear plan of where I was going and what happened from chapter to chapter, but then one of the characters said something that changed all that and well… who am I to argue with a character?

I’ve promised myself, that whatever the workload,  I am going to be super organised and ultra disciplined, keep to a timetable planned with military precision, get up early so there are more hours in the day, but I’m also realistic and often at the mercy of fibromyalgia which wears me out and makes me want to curl up in a ball and sleep a lot. Luckily, I don’t lack for determination, so everything does get done – eventually.

In the meantime, I have just under three weeks of summer break left, writing this post is a good start to getting on with it all and in future ones I’ll explain about the postcard and the personal columns…

found on Pinterest (missing an apostrophe in it’s – tut tut).

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

Another Year Over

 Last Thursday was the last exam of the year and now that I’m just about over the trauma it’s time to start planning for the summer. I started looking over what I’ve already written for ‘Persephone Reborn’ last night and although I have a synopsis, some rough chapters and a lot of notes totaling nearly twenty thousand words there is still a long way to go.

Frankly, it is a bit of a mess and the summer seems no where near long enough. But, I am determined to crack on with it and start kicking it in to shape. Will power is key. Sitting down everyday just to keep working through the plot and getting the story down is the plan, except I’ve lost track of the number of times I go back to chapter one and change the opening paragraphs because it’s too cliche, or gives the game away, or because the characters keep changing how they look in my head.

I think it was Stephen King who said you can’t write a scene until you’ve lived it. That might not be an exact quote, but it’s close enough and so I spend a huge amount of my time staring into space whilst I visualise the story, over and over and over again. It was a great piece of advice, because you realise there are things going on around your characters and they’re not just standing doing nothing while they talk to each other. When you get really good at it you can disappear into your imaginary world and become your characters or an invisible observer. If you can get that experience down on paper your readers will feel the same. That’s the hope anyway.

I also plan to get Blackfeather and Immortal out in paperback and maybe submit a couple of short stories to competitions or magazines. So it looks like it’s going to be a busy summer ahead. I’ll do my best to keep you posted.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

 

Thoughts On Theory

https://wordsouldotnet.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/reading-woman-by-19th-century-russian-painter-ivan-kromskoi-photo-by-paukrus-under-a-creative-commons-license-on-flickr1.jpg?w=408&h=500My favourite module of this semester has been “Ways of Reading”. The title attempts to simplify the idea of literary theory, or theories, since there are so many, and sums up what literary theory/criticism is about which is essentially different ways of reading any text.

It’s also been the most frustrating module since, by and large, the lectures and tutorials have been less structured in their approach to teaching. In some ways it couldn’t have been any other way. Reading is a very subjective and often mysterious activity with as many perspectives on the text being read as there are readers. How you interpret Blackfeatherfor instance, may be entirely different to what I intended to write and different again to any other reader’s interpretation.

Another complication is the fact that many theories originate from other disciplines- Marxism from politics, psychoanalysis from psychology and any number of philosophical approaches – each with its own technical language.

And what is literature anyway? This question hasn’t been answered satisfactorily on the course. Once upon a time it would only have included those texts deemed worthy of study – the Classics for instance – but ideas of literature and worthiness changes over time. In his day Dickens appealed to the masses with his serialised stories, now, I think, we would consider him if not literary at least part of the corpus of Victorian literature worth studying for historical purposes. Likewise, Conan-Doyle, who could come under genre theory of detective fiction, amongst others.

Taking any particular approach also poses problems. Feminist theory will look at a text from the perspective of gender, women writers, do female characters even have a voice, what do the actions of female characters say about the text, the author, history and so on. Psychoanalysis interprets a text from a Freudian perspective, looking at sexual imagery, suppressed sexual desires, dreams etc whilst ecocritiscism interprets the natural world and how it is portrayed, the landscape may mirror a character’s feelings for instance. In King Lear the wild stormy moors reflect Lear’s state of mind. The presence of a lake may signify the hidden depths of a character or secrets they are keeping.

These are just a few of the ‘isms’ associated with literary theory and even if you believe you are reading a text from say a feminist perspective there isn’t just one feminist perspective to use.

So, you begin to see my problem with the module – there is no black and white, no one set of rules to follow, but equally no right or wrong way to read.

Multitasking Reader, image by Dr Motte, Flickr Creative Commons

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

Adventures in Literary Theory – Narratology

We are constantly told as writers to ‘show, don’t tell’.  That well known quote by Anton Chekov ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining ; show me the glint of moonlight on broken glass’ is a perfect example, but in practice authors must use both, switching between the two in order to speed up events that would otherwise make the story long and boring and to slow down scenes so that the reader feels as though they are watching them unfold in real time.

The narratologist Gerard Genette calls these two modes mimesis (the showing) and diegesis (the telling). To give an example:

For the past six weeks, Tess had rehearsed her part in the chorus until it was flawless. Today they would begin dress rehearsals, but as the music began and  as Tess and the other girls  began to dance across the stage a movement in the upper circle caught her eye.  She tried to look up without turning her head out of sync with the others. What she saw made her falter, the choreographer yelled at them to stop and start again from the beginning.

The first sentence is diegetic, it condenses several weeks of activity into just a few words. These are events that the reader does not need to see in detail and move the story along quickly. The rest of the extract is mimetic, slowing down the pace and allowing the reader to experience the events of the scene at the same time as Tess, the protagonist of the story, experiences them.

We can see, therefore, that showing and telling both have a place in narrative and work together to build the story. The trick is to know where each belongs and when it’s most appropriate to use them.

There are other things to consider in narratology – structure and sequence of events for instance. There is a difference between the actual order of events and the way they are presented or packaged in a story. A detective novel may begin with a crime, but this is the last sequence in the events that led up to that crime. The detective then appears to work backwards along the timeline, piecing together the events as they happened in order to solve the mystery. We also have flashbacks (analepsis) and flashforwards (prolepsis) to consider.

We can also look at who is telling the story, not merely the author because even an omniscient, third person narrator is not the author’s ‘real voice’ but an ‘authorial persona’. The narrator can also be a character who is ‘heterodiegetic’, meaning they are outside the events, telling someone else’s story, or ‘homodiegetic’ meaning a character who is within the story and took part in the events.

Then there is how the story is packaged. Often we find stories within stories, such as when a character tells someone a story which then becomes the main narrative. I won’t bog you down with all the technical terms, but Genette refers to these narratives within narratives as meta-narratives.

Narratology then, is not as simple as it at first looks and there are other devices within it that can be used to analyse a story or set of stories. On the other hand it is the first theory that has made much sense to me so is probably one I’ll follow up in greater detail.

Some books on Literary Theory that will explain more are:

Beginning Theory by Peter Barry

Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed by Mary Klages

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter