Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

I tend to forget how much I love historical fiction; especially good historical fiction. And this historical thriller , Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor is just that.
It’s set at Jerusalem college in Cambridge England in 1786. John Holdsworth is a book trader who has lost everything: his young son, who drowned in the Thames and his business. His wife, Maria, who became obsessed and sold all her worldly possessions to try and contact her son, follows a few months later by drowning as well. Holdsworth, a broke and broken man, is soon summoned by Lady Anne Oldershaw, a wealthy upper crust sort, who is concerned about the welfare of her own son who has apparently gone off the deep end at Jerusalem college after claiming to see the ghost of the late Mrs Sylvia Whitcombe. She wants Holdsworth to investigate her son’s nervous collapse and the ghost on the sly while cataloguing her late husband’s library at the college.
Holdsworth doesn’t believe in ghosts but accepts the job for he needs the money. He arrives at Jerusalem college and becomes the guest of the Master, the ailing Dr Carbury and his intriguing wife, Elinor.
While at the college, Holdsworth does some digging and soon discovers the more unsavoury aspects of the place: the behind the scenes wrangling for power, the sinister Holy Ghost club and the unanswered questions of the death of the ghost in question: the young and lovely Sylvia Whitcombe.
It’s one of those books that makes you resent that you have a life and things to do, like work, dinner, etc. when all you’d rather be doing is reading.
The historical detail he provides transports you back in time to life that was really harsh for the poor. There were no conveniences for the people at the time and Taylor vividly captures the sights and sounds of the time from the smells from the sick room to the night soil man who made rounds every morning with his wheelbarrow collecting excrement.
There are so many subplots that all come together nicely in the end. And Holdsworth, the non-believer of ghosts, discovers that sometimes it’s the living that haunt you more than the dead.
I was sorry to see this book end. Great book to curl up with on a rainy day. Or any day.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Nagging Question

The last few weeks, I’ve been surprised at something unexpected: the nagging question that perhaps it’s time to give up writing and move on with my life.
I’ve wanted to write since I was nine and dabbled with it while I got on with my life: went to college, got a proper job, bought a house, got married, and had babies.
When we decided to move to Ireland five years ago I made a decision that I would be serious about my writing and be more proactive rather than the disconcerted effort that was made while I lived in the US. And I have done a lot more in the last five years than in all the previous 30+. In the beginning, when we first arrived and the boys were babies and needed my undivided attention, I had to wait until my husband came home and every night after dinner, I managed to write and that resulted in a chick lit manuscript which I still love but received 44 rejections none the less. I chalked it up to experience. I became involved in Write Words out of the UK, an online writing group and met some really fabulous people and now am in a private splinter group with them. I published an article in Writer’s Forum. I started two blogs, this one and Chicklite. I also contribute to Book in a Week blog. I completed a first rough draft of another novel, women’s fiction while doing NaNoWriMo. (National November Writing Month- global effort to write 50k, unedited in one month- great novel starter) Unfortunately I had to abandon that as I couldn’t stand the MC (main character).
Two years ago, I started working on my present WIP- about a teenage girl who has supernatural powers but wants nothing to do with it. I have it completed at 100k words, but I’m in the middle of editing it which is time consuming and sometimes I feel like I’m walking through sand. Once that’s done, I’ll make the starter rounds of querying agents.
But all of this takes time. And a big chunk of it. And I’ve yet to be published.
All my life, the dream of writing has always been in the back of mind and sometimes on the back burner while I did other things; mainly lived life. But when I worked as a hospice nurse and took care of a lot of people on their deathbed, I determined for myself that I didn’t want to end up on my own deathbed, regretting that I didn’t pursue my dream of writing. But after five years, can I say that I gave it my best shot, give it up and live with that?
For the very first time, I’m thinking of giving it up. That has never happened before. Granted, I’ve walked away from it, put it down but I always returned. But now there’s a different feeling underfoot. And I have to ask my self: is my dream of writing worth it? Will my boys remember me as someone who had a computer as an appendage? Is it time to stop fooling around and get a proper job?
And that is the question that I’m going to think about and turn over while I’m on vacation in the US in August.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

I saw this book on the library shelf and couldn’t resist for three reasons:
1) Its a classic,
2) I have Treasure Island (also by RLS) on order for Daniel
3) Its only 88 pages long and I thought, surely I could handle that

I read the book in one day- a lazy Sunday to be exact. The first 2-3 pages were a little difficult to get through and I must admit to having had to reread some of the parts to make it all make sense but once I got into the rhythm of the writing- and it was written about 130 years ago- it became easy and I couldn’t put it down.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde explores what happens when one man indulges his dark side through chemical means- more relevant now in our drug addled culture than at the end of the 19th century.
It’s a brilliantly woven tale exploring the dichotomy of good and evil.
I also wanted to study the build up of suspense as I’m writing my own paranormal. RLS drip feeds you info about Mr Hyde- at first it starts out with innuendo about the nefarious Mr Hyde and gradually the tale unfolds through the eyes of Dr. Jekyll’s lawyer, Mr Utterson. The book opens with him learning of Mr Hyde and no one can determine his relationship with Dr Jekyll. Utterson assumes that Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll. By the end, the whole sordid tale has been revealed to the astonishment of Mr Utterson and another friend, Dr Lanyon and the bizarre truth will be the undoing of the latter.
Long after I finished reading it, I found I couldn’t stop thinking about it. In a nutshell, it’s the age old issue of good versus evil. Instead of being repelled by his alter ego Mr Hyde, Dr Jekyll exhibits a mixture of sympathy, fascination and an inability to resist the heady, free side of evil. Mr Hyde, on the other hand, shows only indifference towards Dr Jekyll.
This tale is so part of our culture now that we refer to moody (that’s a polite term) people as being a Jekyll & Hyde and in one of my kids’ DVDs, Alvin & the Chipmunks are putting on a school play of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde.
It’s a great classic; read it if you get the chance.