Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Riptide // latent hipster confessions

Today we have a confession and a LesMisBook story. Pull up a chair.


Starting Sparks is a link-up hosted by Ashley @ [insert title here] and me @ you know where. We give you a prompt, you write a thing, we all read the thing and everyone has a wonderful time.

Ashley and I take turns to pick the prompts. For July, I picked the (seemingly innocuous):

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Ha. Hahaha.

Turns out it's only blimming Riptide lyrics!

Thank you to Lauren and Patrick who pointed this out to me. I am very ashamed. You see ... confession. I am a music hipster.

I do not mean that I wear big square glasses* or have a Starbucks obsession. I do mean that if you don't have at least three pre-2000 musical loves, I will probably judge you. I do mean that if I hear the song being played by a busker on a shopping street, I probably hate it. I do mean that I get really annoyed when I see lyrics or quotations on Pinterest not credited to their originator, and the person clearly does not know they are Pinning words from The Smiths or Fitzgerald (it happens all the time with those two in particular).
*I actually do wear big square glasses but only in the house. To the world I'm a contact lens gal.

I swear I spend half my Pinterest life seeings unwitting Smiths pins and muttering “Morrissey wrote that, you fool!" So I was very humiliated to be that person.

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Anyway.

I'd been considering doing Edmund (you know, from the most recent story I posted?) for the prompt, but a) he's not actually scared of starting conversations, he just tends not to do so, and b) he is ten million billion miles away from everything Riptide connotes and represents. Once I knew where the words were from, I could not equate them with him. So instead, my thoughts took a very different turn -- they returned, as they so often have done these days, to LesMisBook.

If you've not encountered Nina and JBH yet, I suggest you read this story for context.

Also, for the record, I actually think Riptide is quite a nice song. I do not hate it like Nina does; in fact, I like it! Really! I just don't like the fact I can't walk up Buchanan Street (shopping street in Glasgow) without hearing it played.

~***~

Rehearsals: a gruelling process in which we sing off key, miss our cues and bump into each other because we don’t know the choreography.

“I swear,” Mrs Mosely said, “this is the last musical I’m ever doing! You’ll be the death of me! Oh, not like that, Jonathan—”

The Thénadiers, my onstage parents, are fortunately a decent pair; talking to them gave me some respite from Verity Locke’s prancing and Jonathan bloody Holcroft’s showing off. I attempted to make conversation with Jean Valjean, whose name is Adam, but he is cripplingly shy – the boy no one noticed for ten years until suddenly we realised he could sing. Since then he’s been a strange and peripheral paradox: singer, actor, lead role, and yet in real life a shell-bound hermit crab, blinking and stammering through conversation. I gave him up as a bad job.

We seemed to spend a lot of time doing very little. The chorus sprawled around the assembly hall, checking make-up in pocket mirrors, taking selfies and wishing Snapchat could alleviate our boredom. Onstage, Valjean and Javert sang their Confrontation for the fourth time.

“Valjean! At last, we see each other plain—”

“Stop, stop!” Mrs Mosely threw her hands in the air. “Could you try to be a bit less camp? Please?”

Javert bristled and the crowd sniggered. It is true he seems to think he’s Elvis Presley. They started the song again, but six bars in our teacher stopped them. “Oh, all just go and have some lunch!” she said.

I left the hall with Ibrahim and Tracey, the Thénadiers, but peeled off when we got outside. I like them, but I also like walking streets by myself. Having friends and enjoying solitude are not mutually exclusive, whatever my mother has to say on the topic. 

Through the pleasantly cool air I bore down on a sandwich shop. I was starving. I wanted a massive BLT. Also a doughnut. I walked fast, coat collar turned up. I did not look at the people I passed. Food was my primary mission, but I was also walking off the stuffy hall, the repeated piano notes. The proximity of Jonathan bloody Holcroft. Beth is not in the show, thank goodness. Through the blustery streets I was walking her off, too, trying to shake myself loose from the last time we’d spoken. Her words – her terrible, extraordinary, almost incredible words – had dogged my footsteps for three days. I was trying to outpace them.

As I returned to school, tearing my sandwich apart in great bites, I had a vision of Jonathan appearing beside me – from a side street, maybe, or because he’d walked fast, run, even, to catch up with me. “All right, Nina?” he’d say, or maybe “Éponine!”, and we would fall into step. I frowned. That was the kind of unwelcome thought I needed to quash. For three days he’d filled my head, but not in the normal way; instead, silhouetted against what Beth had said.

I heard he only likes white girls.

The desire for it not to be true was consuming me.

I threw my sandwich wrapper in a bin with unnecessary force. Why was it thoughts of him that were running riot through my head? Because your ex-best friend said an awful thing to you, and you hope no one else – for example Jonathan – shares her small-minded bigotry.

Was that the only reason?

A tiny part of me was almost glad, now, for a concrete reason to hate Beth; I’d been fighting, for months, my growing shadowy dislike of my best friend, and now I needed battle no longer. The rest of me was disgusted by that part, disgusted by my whole self, because how could I be thinking, now, of boys? Racism, bigotry, British Indians like my father spat at in the street, and I was glad to have been a victim? Glad, because it meant I could cut ties with an erstwhile friend? And all over a boy?

I heard he only likes white girls.

If it were true – could it be true? – I should not care. What would a magazine, or a Disney princess, or a feminist role model tell me? You are beautiful. You are a wonderful young woman. Anyone who can’t see that is a waste of time.

I should not care, but I knew that I would. I knew that I did. And that was why, half-consciously, I sought him with such pathetic desperation – the need to be affirmed, acknowledged, to know he wasn’t like Beth. Logically, I knew she was spewing utter rubbish, taking the cheapest of shots at me. But it didn’t stop the words needling under my skin. I heard he only likes white girls.

I finished my doughnut as I re-entered the school and nearly flattened Verity Locke. She took a deliberate step back, straightening a skirt far more flattering than school uniform has any right to be. Her eyes ran over my face and half a smirk twitched her lips. Self-consciously I wiped my mouth. On my hand a smear of caramel. Excellent.

At least you got it off before Jonathan saw you.

Shut up.

In the hall he was sitting on the steps of the stage, strumming a guitar. Something surged through me: partly contempt, because who the hell did he think he was, with his ridiculous fringe and his bloody guitar? Being able to play three chords, I wanted to tell him, doesn’t make you God’s gift to women. But twining through that flash of annoyance was my own treacherous pulse, the irrepressible teen girl’s yen for a good-looking boy with a guitar. He’s not even that good-looking, I reminded myself.

I didn’t find myself very convincing.

He started to sing. “I was scared of dentists and the dark …”

My derision spiked. I couldn’t think of the song’s name, but I knew its type: crooning, eyes half shut as Jonathan bloody Holcroft’s were, the kind of synthetic faux-soulful sham of a track beloved by teenage boy buskers everywhere.

“I was scared of pretty girls and starting conversations …”

As if. Half a dozen pretty girls had flocked around him, and he didn’t look worried in the slightest. They swarmed closer, bees to this acoustic-strumming honeypot, and I could see the smile lurking beneath his skin. He soaked the attention up like sunrays as he kept singing. Unwittingly I crossed my arms.

“Lady, running down to the riptide,
Taken away by the dark side,
I wanna be your left-hand man.”

My eyes rolled of their own accord. Of course it was bloody Riptide. What else would he choose, sitting there like a picture off an album cover? If it weren’t for the school uniform, he could’ve been a glossy feature in a tween girls’ magazine. I glared at him, though he wasn’t looking at me.

“I love you when you’re singing that song and
I got a lump in my throat cause
You’re gonna sing the words wrong …”

Behind him Ibrahim and Tracey came in holding chip boxes. Ibrahim’s eyes flicked from me to Jonathan bloody Holcroft and back. He raised one eyebrow. Tracey was trying not to laugh. I smiled at them, glad of allies.

“Lady, running down to the riptide—”

“All right, guys!” Mrs Mosely’s strident voice carried before her. She’s shorter than me, always wrapped in a paraphernalia of scarfs, with huge glasses and flyaway hair that give her the look of a skinny, startled and slightly unkempt owl.

“Jonathan, put that down!” He grinned at his groupies, as if to say, I’m an artist silenced by the establishment, what can I do?, and laid the guitar on the step.

“All right,” our teacher said, “Marius and Éponine onstage, snap snap!”

He dominated the stage, as he did everything and everywhere, with easy grace. He was still humming.

I heard he only likes white girls.

I glared at him.

He smiled back. “I love you,” he sang softly, “when you’re singing that song—”

“Why’d you have to pick bloody Riptide?” I said, ignoring the roaring of my heart. Mrs Mosely had got distracted by a chorus member and we stood there, gazing down on the rest of the cast.

“Great song!” said Jonathan bloody Holcroft.

“Terrible song,” I corrected him. “If I had a quid for every time I heard some idiot busker singing it … you’re not bloody Ed Sheeran!”

Light was winking in his blue eyes, playing around his face, his lips, his high cheekbones, as if even the sun itself couldn’t get enough of him. “Who’d want to bloody Ed Sheeran?” he said. “He’s a nice guy!”

I scowled at him, though I couldn’t stop a corner of my mouth slipping upwards. He grinned, seeing he’d got me.

I shook my head. “You may as well pick bloody Wonderwall.”

His mouth twitched. He was laughing at me without actually laughed. Infuriating. “Yeah, all right,” he said, and I found I couldn’t break his gaze. His face split into a full smile and he said, “Nina bloody Seth.”

~***~

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[source]
If you'd like to link up with Starting Sparks, click here -- there is still time! I hope you've all had a fabulous July. I know I've been horribly absent from the blogosphere these last two weeks, but that's because I have been absent ... my last few posts have been scheduled, and as you read this I am finishing up the second of two Christian summer camps. I will be home soon. Until then. 

July 6, 2015 :: Carrie Shryock:
[source] // Carrie Shyrock
~***~

Friday, 22 July 2016

One Lovely Blog // Kenya and book habits and also sombreros

Thanks to Ashley, my unerring fave*, who tagged me for the One Lovely Blog Award! This is good because I am going away tomorrow morning (tomorrow morning being the 16th of July -- scheduling posts = magic) and right now I only have two posts scheduled for the next two weeks (though by the time this one is up, one of those will already have happened ... are you confused yet? Scheduling always makes me feel kind of like I'm time travelling) and they're both short stories and my brain just kinda feels ...

Meh.

I think this is what the kids call a blogging slump.

But anyway, the One Lovely Blog Award is here, so if your lifelong dream is to hear seven facts about me** and see a lot of pretty things from Pinterest ... today is your day!

*fave is a loose term and applies to many of you. Ashley is my fave but not my only fave. Before the rest of you get all offended.
**you know it is, don't lie

angela dalinger:
[source] // Andrea Dalinger
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1. I am going to Kenya in January as part of my gap year! Emily, why did you not tell us this until right now? Haven't we asked for gap year updates?" .... Yes, this is true, but also when I'm posting about books/writing/JBH I get distracted and forget small details like the fact I'll be moving to another continent for four months. Everyone keeps asking me what I'll be doing on my trip, and the real answer is I don't know ... I haven't really been told! I'll be with missionary organisations Crosslinks and iServe Africa and I will be doing ... mission. With kids? In schools? In churches? In an office? With vulnerable women? MAYBE ALL OF THEM. We shall find out!

And I've wanted to go to Africa my whole life and I'm so thrilled to be serving God in this way and I'm just really frigging excited.

Bookbinding Book (BBB?) refuses to get out of my head:
[source]

indie | Tumblr I lets grow flowers:
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2. I just finished Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater and it was stunning. I am completely certain she is the best YA writer around today.

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alexandra levasseur:
[source] // Alexandra Levasseur
3. This summer I've been working as a receptionist in a GP surgery. This means answering the phone, putting through prescriptions, generally experiencing the humanity of Ayrshire* and working out whether to laugh or cry.
*It's in Scotland and I live there. Get your geography together, please.

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[source]
4. I have various weird reading rules. For example, when I've finished a book, I it back on my shelf once I've got immersed in the next one. I can't just read the last sentence and then slot it back on the shelf as if nothing has happened! It sits on my bedside until the next book has picked me up and carried me away.

save the mermaids!:
[source]

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[source] // literally me
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5. Recently I've got super super into Kate Nash. This song, though:


Urban Outfitters Tumblr:
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6. Last year I realised I was reading about fifteen series and I decided I would start NO MORE until I got down to nine (so that, then, I would never be reading more than ten at once). I have stuck to this -- another weird reading rule -- and now, having finished Wolves of Mercy Falls, I am only reading nine series! Go me!

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[source]

Hubert & Isabelle d'Ornano flat in Paris - Interior Design Henri Samuel:
[source]
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7. I tidy my room all. the. time. I never used to be neat, but now? I think it's all tied up with my room being a symbol of feminism, writing, and being a feminist writer. When I am tidying my room -- this is weird reading rule #3 -- I put whatever books are lying about (you know, because I've accidentally stripped half my shelf in order to take pictures, or because said books are new) on the shelf last. This is my “reward" for tidying, because I get that excited about putting new books on the shelf. Oh well. If you can't be an unapologetic fanqueen* bookdragon** in the blogosphere ... where can you be??
*like a fangirl but better
**like a bookworm but better

So true:
[source] // the question I'm constantly asking
I tag: Tracey // July // Lauren // Blue // Deborah

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[source]
156-365 by raintree1969:
[source] // Do you have any weird reading rules? Thank you and goodnight.
~***~

Monday, 18 July 2016

Edmund // Sonnets and the Sea

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Apparently I only post stories now. Somehow, I feel I've lost my book bloggy mojo ... I just don't feel inspired to post much about books, except for photographs. I don't know. I never intended to be a writing blogger, but maybe that's what I'm becoming.

We shall see.

Galeria Tuset, collage and painting:
[source] // Galeria Tuset
This story is about Edmund Ruskin, the youngest of the four sibling MCs from my future novel A Room Alone. Do you remember the story Gaps and Margins? It was about Beatrice Kiteley, the daughter of an English teacher at (fictional) boys' boarding school St Anthony's. The story saw her walking the cliffs outside the school.

This piece kind of sees things from the other way round. Same cliffs, same girl, but through Edmund's eyes.

~***~

Edmund was sitting under a tree reading sonnets. 

The air was bright and crisp with salt. Mists of spray greeted him like new, slightly dangerous friends. Sometimes Edmund would stop reading to look at the heave of the ocean, green in the sunlight as it fought and sang with itself. In the wind the branches bent sideways and the bushes lent back; they were well learned at being braced against the roar. Edmund nestled inside them, a part of the landscape. He admired the sea today, as every day, but he knew he didn’t need to watch it. When he went somewhere new Edmund felt, half-nervously, the need to gulp the scenery, to imprint it on his mind lest he never see it again. He didn’t have that urgency here; this, bizarrely, had become home. He thought of his dread before St. Anthony’s and smiled. It seemed long ago. Now he was a native, a species that dwelt on the clifftop and made its nest in the salt-battered trees. 

Still smiling he turned back to Shakespeare. 

In the bruised paperback he felt a thousand lives were dwelling. He’d plucked it off the shelf at home, and Teresa smiled when she saw him. In that book, she said, she’d read her own first sonnets. Before that, his father must have read it, and perhaps his mother, too; Edmund fancied he could feel her presence, breathing in the pages. Did his father read it to her, Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? He smiled again; another absurd thought, but perhaps. 

In the inside cover it said Daphne Lawrence, 1948, in his grandmother’s unpredictable hand: still girlish, but on the way to its vivid artistic flourish. In that year she was fifteen, like Edmund now. 1948. Daphne Lawrence, defying her parents with ambitions of the stage, having mad adventures in the Surrey summers, if she were to be believed. Daphne Lawrence, thrilled by Shakespeare in a Europe reeling from the Second World War. In his imagination she looked a little like Teresa and was winding red roses into her hair. 

But who bought her the book? Not her parents, if they realised her plans to make her name as Cleopatra and Ophelia and Juliet, and that this would fuel her dreams. Maybe it was a lover, if grandmothers could have such things, or maybe she’d bought it herself, fingers curling round currency that no longer existed. Shillings, farthings. Edmund liked the clink of the words, their promise of a time now history. Did she get it firsthand, or had others owned it before? Maybe she picked it up in a secondhand shop, that summer of ’48, and maybe she, too, pleased herself by imagining those who had come before. Maybe the book had crossed seas, travelled lands from end to end. Edmund pictured it in New York; the publication date of this edition was 1925, and maybe Fitzgerald or Hemingway had thumbed these very pages. Had the book seen Europe, adorned the shelves of Camus, Kafka? It could have had any quantity of owners, any number of minds thrilled by these carefully constructed, fourteen-line meteors. 

And Shakespeare himself was here, too, though he’d been dead three hundred years when these pages were printed. The words themselves flew from their paper prisons and rendered centuries no time at all; the words were as sharp and true and real as if the ink had only just dried, as if Shakespeare had left them out, beneath a window, and gone to make some tea. 

Edmund smiled. Did they even have tea in the sixteenth century? He had no idea, but that wasn’t important, either, because history fell away in the face of language’s incredible power. Him, Teresa, their parents, their grandmother, everyone else who’d ever looked into these sonnets and been amazed; all of them rose around him like a host of wraiths from the ocean, and the sea’s music was the music of poetry, which he read and they read and which filled them all with wonder. Here, on the cliffs outside St Anthony’s, Edmund was the heir to an uncountable line of literature lovers, a piece in a picture too great to visualise. A wave in the swell of the ocean. 

Still smiling he returned to the book. 

When he looked up again he saw the girl. 

She made him jump. Her rust-coloured hair was flying in the wind, a beacon around her, and she stood among the trees like a dryad appeared from their willowy trunks. She had a singular quality, something too strange to be beauty but too captivating to be anything else. Edmund blinked. Was he imagining her, a Shakespeare-loving ghost from the past? Ghost, phantom; he pictured her as Ophelia, surrounded by water, as she stood there silhouetted against the sea. She was staring at the horizon and he watched her, wondering what she saw in the green depths. She turned, treading the thin stony path with practised grace, and he saw she had a book beneath her arm. She was too far away for Edmund to make out the title. 

The girl was coming towards him; now she was so close that, if he spoke to her, she’d hear him over the ocean’s crash. She lifted her head, russet hair whipping back, and saw him. Colour flooded her face. She span on her heel, head dipping, body contracting. Edmund opened his month, but what would he say? The girl was walking away, shoulders hunched, and he didn’t think she’d welcome conversation. Edmund wouldn’t welcome it, either. Talking to her would involve talking to her, and talking to anyone was low on his list of favourite hobbies. Clearly she felt the same, because she disappeared behind the trees. Edmund ran his finger down the book’s punished spine. There was something easy about a meeting – or non-meeting – between the very shy or misanthropic. No explanation was required, no politeness. You just got out. Hurrah for introverts everywhere. A wry smile.

She’d looked at home on the cliffs, though, and if she’d stayed they could have sat, metres apart, without talking, like two quiet but companionable trees. Equally, Edmund liked to have the sea to himself. But he did regret not knowing what she’d been reading.

~***~

,:
[source] // this picture makes me think of Beatrice
Have you ever read any of Shakespeare's sonnets?? If not, prepare to be amazed! Otherwise tell me: where is your favourite place to read? (Also, do you ship these two yet, or is it just me?)

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Nina and JBH

As promised. This is extract #2 from future untitled novel, LesMisBook. For #1, click here. Otherwise, a brief summary: 

It is Monday. 
MC Nina Seth discovered yesterday that she will play Éponine in the school show, Les Mis.
The roles of Marius and Cosette will be filled by nemesises (nemesi?) Jonathan Holcroft and Verity Locke.
In the play, Marius and Cosette are in love. Éponine is in love with Marius.
Nina is not impressed about this.

An even briefer summary:

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~***~

Monday morning was precisely as bad as expected. 

Drama first thing was a “research period”, which meant messing around in the library, pretending to read Wikipedia articles about Stanislavski. Jonathan bloody Holcroft wasn’t there. Our teacher, Mrs Mosely, has mostly given up lamenting his absences. She tries to pretend not to love him, but he is her secret darling, her golden boy. Jonathan bloody Holcroft, always late, never does homework, flirts with teachers and blags his way through exams; arrogant, rude and everybody’s favourite. People like him make me sick. By the end of class I was in a terrible mood. My mind was strained, after all, by my ongoing self-deception: that I wasn’t disappointed not to see him. Anger at him, at myself, at everyone. Verity Locke is in my Drama class too. She looked like a Barbie in uniform, hair ridiculously blonde and disgustingly shiny. Everything about her – her gum, her nails, the way she wears her school shirts – is infuriating. “You look angry,” she told me. “Careful, or you’ll get frown lines.” I hoped my expression, a subtle balance between icy disdain and I want to snap you in half, would scare her off. But she didn’t look exactly terrified.

Next was double History. Communist Russia. It was the kind of two hours that made me feel I, too, had suffered torture in a Gulag north of Vladivostok. The phrase bored to tears has always seemed an odd one, but in that class it very nearly reached fruition.

I stalked through the lunchroom in what I hoped was a predatory yet haughty fashion. It was one day and eleven hours since I’d left Katie’s party alone in a taxi. One day, eleven hours and thirty minutes since I’d seen my best friend kissing a boy I couldn’t admit I liked.

I hadn’t seen Beth that morning. Normally I had a plan for everything, but I’d no idea how I was going to handle her. I was furious with her, but I had no right to be, and so I was furious with myself. The thought of continuing as if nothing had happened was unpalatable, but how could I do anything else? Unconsciously I was frowning. If it weren’t for Jonathan bloody Holcroft, this whole mess would never have happened. I looked up and there he was, straight from my head and sitting at a lunch table.

I’d been glaring at the thought of him, and the reality was no better, tinged as it was by a ridiculous lurching feeling that made my mouth twinge with annoyance. I looked away, clutching at my dignity, but I had to do a double take, because he was eating a massive pile of broccoli. 

Too late. He’d seen me. He said, “All right, Éponine?”

There were plenty of things that would’ve been true if I’d said them. You kissed my best friend and I despise you. Or, I absolutely hate the fact I’m Éponine to your Marius. Or I really do fancy you a ridiculous amount. 

Instead I said: “Why do you have so much broccoli?”

He shrugged and grinned. “It’s good for you.”

I had my arms crossed, partly to create a veneer of dismissive superiority, partly because my heart was throwing itself against my chest like a cartoon. I was not going to sit down. He remained below me – intellectually, morally, and in the physical space of the lunchroom. He said, “Sit down.”

I ignored him. “You weren’t in Drama.”

He shrugged again. “Man’s gotta live his life.”

“Is that what you were doing yesterday morning?”

“Instead of rehearsals, you mean?” He grinned, infuriatingly. “What, did I miss a scintillating session? I bet Mrs Mosely flapped about and then you sang some crap song and went home. I’m right, aren’t I?”

“The songs are not crap! They are wonders of twentieth century music!”

“Nina Seth, are you a Les Mis geek?”

I drew myself up. “Victor Hugo would’ve been proud to see that musical.”

His face contorted in horror. “Wait, don’t tell me you’ve read the book! That is literally the worst thing I’ve ever heard. How are you even still alive?”

“It’s a marvellous book,” I said, feet firmly on the literary high ground. “Though I imagine Nancy Drew is more your style?”

He winced, and grinned. He really does have an excellent mouth. I clenched a fist behind my back. Kill the thought.

“Aren’t you going to sit down?”

I hate to admit that I’d almost capitulated when Beth appeared.

She swished over. She was wearing lip gloss. “Hi, Jonathan,” she said.

Did I imagine the way his face changed? A softening of the mouth, a crinkling at the corners of the blue eyes? It was not the way he looked when he talked to me. When he said her name, his voice sounded different.

They talked and she flicked her hair and I tried not to grind my jaw. Sometimes Beth’s eyes would snap to me, though only for seconds. Was she analysing me? Stop overthinking it, I told myself. She doesn’t know you like him. You don’t like him. My mind wrapped itself in knots. Tangled string and wire. But I did not imagine the curl of her mouth when she said, “Did you have a good time on Saturday, Nina?”

“Great,” I said.

“Give us the dirt, then,” she said. “Did you get with anyone?”

She knew that I didn’t, and when Jonathan laughed and said, “Yeah, tell us!”, he knew too.

Beth sat down opposite him, and suddenly I no longer felt the superior force. Now I was the outsider, the giantess excluded as the villagers cosy together in their picturesque lives. I gripped the edge of the table. My pulse was thudding. Their voices came over me in waves – Beth’s, arch, annoying, stupidly coquettish, and his, self-satisfied, flirtatious, with a sparkling quality that made me want to follow its sound for miles. Anger was rising in me, because I hate feeling like that. I am Nina Seth, actress, singer, historian, reader of highbrow Victorian novels; Nina Seth, feminist, politically conscious, she who speaks her mind; sarcasm wielder, joke-maker, professional misanthrope, comfortable and proud in my own skin. There are galaxies inside me, and yet I couldn’t stop myself staring at the line of the jaw of a boy who does not deserve my affection. An obnoxious, loud, over-confident boy, and yet he makes my stomach lurch whenever I see him. An aggravating, speck-of-dirt player of a boy, and still I was imagining running my fingers through his hair.

“You OK?” he said to me.

I flinched, even this two-word question running up and down my skin, and grunted a yes. Beth was looking at me, derision in her face.

The bell rang. Jonathan said, “Biology. Nice talking to you, ladies,” and loped off. 

I huffed. “Ladies?” I said, half to myself. Still, I couldn’t keep from watching the shape of his shoulderblades as he walked away.

I was very conscious of the awkward, ill-fitting air between Beth and me. I avoided looking at her. When am I ever like this, not knowing how to behave, what to say? Jonathan bloody Holcroft’s fault, again.

“What’ve you got?” I said, for something to say. I knew full well she had Geography.

“Geography.” She hefted her backpack, which was stupid in its tiny size and sugary pinkness. “You?”

“English.”

Beth gave half a nod. She already knew. Did she even care?

I let out a shuddery breath. This was Beth, Beth, my best friend of three years, and I hated myself for my animosity. I hated my bitchy inner monologue against her hair, her lip gloss, her backpack; hated how I hated her flirting with Jonathan. She was only doing what I’d do if I had the first clue how. And hadn’t I said I didn’t like him? I wanted, more than anything, for things to be right between us. Jonathan bloody Holcroft had nothing to do with it.

“Beth—” I began, but she cut me off.

“Nina.”

“Yes?”

She flipped her hair over her shoulder and looked me in the eye. “I saw you flirting with Jonathan, but as your friend I think I should tell you …”

“What?”

“I heard he only likes white girls.”

And she turned and walked away, leaving me in the stream of bodies and noise in the ill-smelling lunchroom, shock and outrage roaring inside me.

~***~

Identity is a big theme of LesMisBook. If you are interested, Nina's dad is British Indian and her mum is Irish. She feels herself a part of both of those cultures, and yet English, too, because that's where she's lived all her life; divided, split, confused. Her mum's side of the family have not recovered from the shock of their daughter marrying a Hindu. Nina's Irish grandmother is constantly telling her things like, “you could be so pretty -- it's a pity about your coarse Indian hair!" Or there's her Indian grandmother: “such a shame about your European bone structure!"

Nina is not impressed.

The themes of this book are burgeoning out and out: first it was just a fun thing about Les Mis, friendships and annoyingly attractive boys, but it has evolved to include family, racism and national identity. National identity. What does that even mean? Am I English? Am I Scottish? When I go to England they tell me I have a Scottish accent. When I walk through Glasgow I feel wholly at one with the city. But my Scottish friends make fun of me for being English, being posh; when I say I'm Glaswegian, people laugh at me. Am I from Burton, the town in the Midlands of England where I was born? I barely remember that place.

I know it's different for me, because I am unequivocally British, whereas Nina is split across two whole continents. But the feeling is one I know.

 :
[source] // yeah it is, Nina.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

An Awful Lot of Books



Very kindly sent my way by Tracey from Adventure Awaits. (You should definitely check out her blog, by the way, it is A*.) Now, I give you forewarning: even I, a book blogger, am a bit embarrassed by the lengthy amounts of fangirling in this post. *ahem*

1) What Book Are You Currently Reading?
  
When asked if I ever read more than one book at once, I always say, “No, NEVER! I can't! How can anyone?! It makes me feel like I'm having an affair!" Which is true, but what I mean when I say that is, I never read more than one novel at once. However, I thought I would go the whole hog with everything I am reading.

Career of Evil -- the third in Robert Galbraith, AKA JK Rowling's, crime series. I LOVE THIS SERIES AND THIS BOOK SO MUCH I CAN'T TELL YOU. I love Cormoran. I love Robin. I love London. I love Rowling's style. I love the pacing. I love the genre -- I'm not normally that into crime, but she does it so well. I love the themes, the issues, even though it is a very scary book about very scary people. I love the tension. I love the cleverness of it, which I could spend a whole post writing about. I LOVE IT. My love for JK Rowling is a boundless ocean. 

River -- in which I fall in love with Ted Hughes all over again. The most recent of his books I read, Remains of Elmet, was good, but it was no Hawk in the Rain (the book that first obsessed me aged fourteen). But River is absolutely stunning. I love him, I love him.

Malachi -- a minor prophet, the last book in the Old Testament. It's a very challenging book. Isn't it amazing how the attitudes of the Israelites thousands of years ago are so contemporary and recognisable in our own lives?

Search the Scriptures is a really great resource taking you through the whole Bible in three years. It has a bit of commentary on each book and then breaks the book into manageable daily chunks. There are then two or three questions and cross-references. It is really helpful and I'd 100% recommend.

Shakespeare's Sonnets are absolutely mind-blowing. I've loved Shakespeare since reading Romeo and Juliet aged fourteen (incidentally, I saw a live stream of the Kenneth Branagh production, with Lily James and Richard Madden, on Thursday night, and it was amazing!), but I feel like reading his personal poetry helps you to see who he actually was as a man. My fave so far is Sonnet 27. I don't think I talk enough about how incredibly important Shakespeare is in my own and all of our lives.

The Roald Dahl Omnibus -- I've not actually read anything from this for ages, but I am working through it. I blimming love Roald Dahl. He had such an incredible mind. If you like his children's books you will love his short stories, which are in a similar vein but darker and creepier. Absolutely brilliant.

2) What’s The Last Book You Finished?

And let me tell you, by the end of it I felt I'd fought a ten-year war myself. This is a very important book but there was a lot of warfare and blood, and I found myself questioning its morals very often. Aeneas is meant to be this amazing, upstanding hero, but he has no qualms about viciously murdering hundreds of people?? For me, the most interesting thing about this book (which links to our recent discussion of Chosen Ones) was the whole idea of Fate. How much could Aeneas change his fate? When the gods got involved (as they frequently did), could they change pre-written courses? Did the gods write those courses themselves, or are they too at Fate's mercy? If the gods cannot control Fate, what is Fate?

It has also left me with a hankering to start on Heroes of Olympus. 

3) Favorite Book You Read This Year?


Anne's House of Dreams was an absolute delight. Review here.

We Were Liars blew my mind and I loved it! Review here.

Les Miserables is such an important book. At the time I only gave it four stars on Goodreads, because it does have a lot of flaws, but since then they've all kind of receded and just left it there in its majesty. This book, guys, This book.

The Road is the devastatingly beautiful, heartbreaking journey of a father and son through an ashbound, post-apocalyptic America. Six months later I still think about it so often.
Dark of the invisible moon. The night now only slightly less black. By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.
The Silkworm -- did you know I love the Cormoran Strike books by JK Rowling?? This one was set in the literary world. Perfection.

4) What Genre Have You Read Most This Year?
Classics. (Though that's a dubious answer, because what even is a classic? Shouldn't Les Miserables be historical fiction, because Hugo wrote it years after the events of the book? Should I put The Aeneid as a classic or as poetry, because it's classical poetry? Is Love's Labour's Lost a classic because it's by Shakespeare, or should Drama get its own category? I HATE GENRES, YOU GUYS. I really do.) Next is poetry (go me! I wanted to read more poetry this year and I am succeeding, with five books so far). 

5) What Genre Have You Read Least This Year?
I've read one biography (Two Lives by Vikram Seth) and one play (Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost). I've not read any steampunk this year, or, in fact, ever.

6) What Genre Do You Want To Read More Of?
I would like to pick up some steampunk at some point!

7) How Many Books Have You Read This Year, And What’s Your Goal?
31 out of 52. According to Goodreads I'm four books ahead of schedule.


8) What’s The Last Book You Bought?


Normally when I buy a book I leave it on my shelf for, like, six months (or twelve or sixteen or maybe three years, what?), but when Career of Evil arrived I just--

Me @ the Cormoran Strike novels.
Boys, Beads and Bangles by Sophia Bennett is the second book in the Threads trilogy. I've a plan to reread it this summer, and over the past couple of years I've picked up #1 and #3 in charity shops, but I've never found #2, so I bought it off Amazon. Their covers are the worst, and the titles, in my opinion, make them sound like shallow tweenage fiction. The tagline on the cover of Beads is no better: “Hanging onto the fashion dream". They sound and look pretty bad. What they actually are is an amazing trilogy set in London about four teenage girls, living life between the fashion world, Broadway, and school. They are so cool and I love them! They hang out in the V&A!

Me @ books set in London. Like, for example, have you heard of the Cormoran Strike series by JK Rowling???
I'll do a proper review when I've reread them, but suffice to say: wonderful, marvellous books, I love them.

9) What Book Are You Saving Up To Buy Next?
Desolation by Derek Landy, so I can continue my journey along Demon Road!

10) How Many Books Did You Check Out Last Library Visit?
Um ... one. It was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey, which I read in April. I haven't been to the library since .... ??!

11) What’s A Book You Can’t Wait To Read?


A Dance with Dragons: After the Feast -- and by can't wait to read I mean am deathly afraid of reading yet have a consuming need to. If I die in the next few weeks, you'll know why.

Is he kidding?? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
Sinner -- I have an insane amount of love for the Wolves of Mercy Falls series and cannot wait to finish it!

Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life -- reading River has got me ridiculously excited about Ted Hughes all over again (I mean, I'm always ridiculously excited about him, but, like, ridiculously excited). 

12) What’s A Series You’d Recommend to Everyone?
Obviously. I can't imagine not living a life half-devoted to worshipful adoration of this series. Harry Potter didn't introduce me to fantasy -- I'm pretty sure I left the womb loving magic and wizards and dragons -- but it was the first serious fantasy series I read. The Icemark Chronicles by Stuart Hill (which someone should read, by the way!) or the Pure Dead Magic series by Debi Gliori are both brilliant, but they are almost satirising fantasy; they are fun kids' books. They don't have the mindblowing complexity of Harry Potter. As well as teaching me insane amounts about characterisation and character development, these books are a stunning lesson in worldbuilding. JK Rowling's magic world is absolutely watertight. These books ... I could write post after post about them. I will never stop rereading them. I love them. Always.

It's not like I love JK Rowling or anything ... what??
These books are so clever. As in HP, she displays her fascination with the working of the human mind -- in these books, it's often the twisted minds of the murderers and pyscopaths she conjures from London's underbelly. Cormoran Strike is a wonderful MC (I may be a little in love with him) and I absolutely adore Robin Ellacott, the other MC. My love for these books has no limit. 

This is a slightly odd choice. These are kids' books -- skinny kid's historical fiction, set in Ancient Rome, kids solving mysteries, with a mildly annoying ten-year-old MC named Flavia.
Would any adult enjoy these books?
Yes.
They have so much heart. The characters are a delight, and with a few words Lawrence immerses you in the world of Italy millennia ago. The Roman Mysteries are so fresh and full of joy ... I could not recommend them highly enough, to any adult.

13) Who’s An Author You’re Hoping Writes More?

So I don't know if you've ever heard me mention this book called The Goldfinch? I dunno, I don't talk about it much ... *ahem*

Anyway, here's the thing. The Goldfinch was published in 2014. The Little Friend was 2002. The Secret History was 1992. That's right, she published three books in twenty-two years! I haven't read either of these two yet, because if I just romp through them (as I so want to), am I going to have to wait ten years for more Tartt? Fifteen? I feel I should space them out, but, darn it, the wait might kill me!

14) A Few Books Your Heart Adores?

To quote Tracey's answer to this question, “A few? You know what that word makes when you take off the F? Ew." I tried to narrow it down, but, um ... er ...

Girl With A Pearl Earring -- stunning historical fiction. If you like art, or beautiful writing, or romance, or just good books, it's for you.

How I Live Now --  the most beautiful book! My heart really does adore this one. 
If you haven't been in a war and are wondering how long it takes to get used to losing everything you think you need or love, I can tell you the answer is no time at all.
A Suitable Boy -- I don't talk about this massive joy of a book enough. It's set in India in 1950, just after Independence from British rule, and follows four massive families. It took me four months to read, but I am going to reread one day, because my heart really does adore it.

Romeo and Juliet -- this play hit my fourteen-year-old self like a ton of bricks. I fully believe Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the English language ever to have lived and I owe him (almost) everything. 

Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die, 
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine 
That all the world will be in love with night 
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

The Dream Thieves -- because MAGGIE STIEFVATER! My fave Stiefvater book to date.
She wore a dress Ronan thought looked like a lampshade. Whatever sort of lamp it belonged on, Gansey clearly wished he had one. 
Ronan wasn't a fan of lamps."
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix -- WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM ME?! If you want an essay on why this is my fave, ask me in the comments.

The Lord of the Rings -- the king of fantasy. Hello.

Anne of Green Gables -- the most joyous, beautiful, hilarious, wonderful book, from the most joyous, beautiful, hilarious, wonderful series. No one could not enjoy this book. Anne Shirley is one of my all-time faves.

The Great Gatsby -- a perfect novel.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- Narnia is the treasure of my heart. 

Emma -- AUSTEN IS AMAZING. Hilarious, proto-feminist, wonderful romances, marvellous characterisation, her books are just the dream. 

How Green Was My Valley -- actually the first book that sprang to mind for this question. My heart really and truly adores this wonderful Welsh story. I cannot convey the beauty and poignancy of this book. 

Roman Mysteries -- the series of my heart. I love these books so much.

Also The Book Thief, which, bizarrely, I forgot to photograph. Also Wild Swans by Jung Chang. And The Goldfinch (which, weirdly, I don't own?!) and The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry and Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and--

Yeah, all right, I'm sorry.
15) What Series’ Coming Conclusion Makes You Sad?
Not sure. I'll be sad to finish A Song of Ice and Fire, but at the rate GRRM is writing that probably won't be until 2027 ... 
~distant sobbing of Game of Thrones fans everywhere~

16) What Books Are On Your Wish-List?


All the Light We Cannot See -- The Goldfinch and The Road have both won the Pulitzer Prize, so I am now convinced I need to read every Pulitzer winner ever. I've been visiting this one in Waterstone's. I'll buy it soon!

Cinder -- reading this summer, I promise!

Desolation -- DEREK LANDY!

The Winner's Curse -- this trilogy sounds so good. I want it. (Now.)

Howl -- I've read the start of this poem, it is amazing, I need it!

Darling -- Jackie Kay is the new Scot's Makar (like a Poet Laureate ... the word makar comes from the same route as maker, as in, creator), and I really want to read some of her work.


Crow // Birthday Letters -- because Ted Hughes. 

The Beautiful and Damned -- because F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Mean Time -- because Carol Ann Duffy.

Lanark -- it's Glaswegian, it deals with metafiction, and it's the fave book of my best pal. Three concrete reasons really to want this book.

Why We Broke Up -- a stunning book by Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket, fun fact for you) that I read a few years ago. I think about this book so often. In secondhand shops my eyes are always peeled for it. 


No Country for Old Men -- because, after The Road, I want to ingest everything McCarthy's ever written.

Splintered -- really interested in this series!

Me Before You -- I resisted this one for a long time, but after so many recommendations I do want to read it.

On the Road -- one of those teen classics, like The Catcher in the Rye or The Bell Jar. This has been recommended to me very highly indeed. 

The Last Night of the Earth Poems -- I seem to spend the majority of my time Pinning Bukowski quotations, so I'd like to actually read a book of his!

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair -- after visiting two of Pablo Neruda's beautiful houses in Chile, I really want to read some of his poetry. The one or two poems I have read have been lovely.


The Idiot -- I've yet to foray into Russian lit, but you've gotta start somewhere, eh? In The Goldfinch one of the characters loves this book, and according to my friend who's read them both, TG has heaps of TI references in it. She's pretty sure Tartt named TG's MC, Theodore, after Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Kafka's Letter to His Father // The Myth of Sisyphus // The Stranger -- because after reading Kafka's Metamorphosis I want to pursue my studies of absurdism. Also, one of my friends is a bit obsessed with The Stranger.

The Library of Unrequited Love -- this tiny, 90-page French book is a librarian's one-sided rant at a reader who accidentally fell asleep in the library and got locked in overnight. Through her diatribe we see her loneliness, her love of books, and her unrequited love for a library regular named Martin. This book is so beautiful and so powerful and it only takes an hour or two to read but dang, I haven't stopped thinking about it for three years, and I am so desperate to own a copy and reread it!

Shadow and Bone -- I think I'm the last person on earth not to have read this series.

Also looking to complete my series collections of Skulduggery Pleasant, Gone by Michael Grant, Septimus Heap and Roman Mysteries.

So just one or two books, not a big deal!

Haha, ha, ha ...

That was an insanely long post. If you got to the end, CONGRATS. If you just looked at the pictures, I won't hold it against you. Writing it has partly made me like:


because, you know, I just really frigging love books! But it also kinda makes me:


because there are just so many books and I'm the kind of incompetent reader who does occasionally drop her book on her face. You know?

Anyway. I tag: Lauren // Emily // Skye // Blue // Patrick // Victoria // Ashley

If you want a nice copy-and-paste list of the questions, click here to go to Deborah's blog The Page Dreamers; she has helpfully included one.

~***~

What is the best book you've read this year? What are you saving up to buy next? If you did just look at the pictures, which one was your favourite? And what book does you heart adore? (I really love the wording of that question, by the way. From now on, I don't love things; my heart adores them.) I'm off -- you guessed it -- to read Career of Evil!