Great Reads: Classics

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic. – from Goodreads.com

Not only one of my favourite classics, but also one of my favourite books of all time. I really, really recommend this book to anyone looking for a master class in writing, and also the representation of mental health in literature.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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A portrait of the Jazz Age in all of its decadence and excess, Gatsby captured the spirit of the author’s generation and earned itself a permanent place in American mythology. Self-made, self-invented millionaire Jay Gatsby embodies some of Fitzgerald’s–and his country’s–most abiding obsessions: money, ambition, greed and the promise of new beginnings. – from Goodreads.com

I never studied The Great Gatsby but I wish I did. Scott Fitzgerald’s well known novel is ripe with metaphor, imagery and symbolism which makes the whole reading process that much more enjoyable.

And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by William S Burroughs and Jack Kerouac

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This is a hardboiled crime novel, and a true story. In 1944, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, then still unknown writers, were both arrested following a murder: one of their friends had stabbed another and then come to them for advice – neither had told the police. Later they wrote this fictionalised account of that summer – of a group of friends in wartime New York, moving through each other’s apartments, drinking, necking, talking and taking drugs and haphazardly drifting towards a bloody crime. – from Goodreads.com

This was the book that inspired one of my all-time favourite films Kill Your Darlings, which fictionalised the murder of David Kammerer. This book, and the film, provides so much more context to the Beat Generation and the writers who created some of their most prolific work in this era.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

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In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she’d never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years on the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele — Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles — as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary. – from Goodreads.com

Kaysen’s memoir is similar to that of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which is probably the reason why I love it so much. Kaysen spent two years in a psychiatric hospital and goes into a lot of detail about her life there which makes the piece incredibly fascinating.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

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The shocking thing about the five Lisbon sisters was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their lives. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence: the brassiere draped over a crucifix belonging to the promiscuous Lux; the sisters’ breathtaking appearance on the night of the dance; and the sultry, sleepy street across which they watched a family disintegrate and fragile lives disappear. – from Goodreads.com

The tale of the Lisbon sisters is a tragic one, but fascinating to read none the less. I love how the story is told through the romanticised eyes of the boys that lusted after them. It’s such a unique device that really makes the book stand out.

So these are my recommendations for classic books, if you’re looking to expand your library more. Have you got any favourites you would like to recommend to me? Or have I missed out a few on your list? Let me know in the comments!

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Writing a Book: My Tips & Tricks

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I have written a book, which is a phrase I never thought I would say, no matter how much I wanted to. It’s always been a headliner on my bucket list, and last November after a grueling attempt at NaNoWriMo, I managed to tick it off.

I have not ever published a book, but I’m working on it, and hopefully one day I’ll be able to tick that off the bucket list too. But after four years of would-be-novel writing, I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks to help you on your way to a finished manuscript.

1

Make a list of genres/narratives/plot devices/settings you love.

I sat in front of my bookshelf, looked up at all of my well-loved books and asked myself “what is it about these books that I love?” Here were some of the answers I came up with:

The sea, lyrical writing, boarding schools, room mates/flat mates, no parents, freedom and independence, letters, philosophy, candidness of feeling, metaphor, living in sections/houses/districts/factions, snow, road trips, epic romances, being stuck somewhere, elements, magic, mystery, royalty, marriage, death/grief, group dynamics, history and many more.

2

Make a list of names for characters you love.

You can do this by either going on a baby name website, or for something more periodic you could always go and look at the gravestones of people from a certain time period. This may spark some thoughts as to the identity behind the name, or character traits. Some names I love and plan on using are:

George, Corey, Greta, Matthew, Sasha, Kendra, Laurie, Harry, Lisel, Brodie, Annalise, Catelynn, Ida, Lydia, Teddy, Karen, Shay, Daya, Torin, and many more.

3

Make a summary or short synopsis of your story.

Take the plot devices and the names you have just picked out and try to construct a story idea from the elements you’ve chosen. Don’t worry too much about your story sounding like something that’s already been published, some people believe there are only seven basic plots in the world. If we all worried about whether our story was original or not, we wouldn’t have much time for writing! See also: the thirty six dramatic situations.

For example, I could write a story about Laurie, a college freshman and History student, who writes letters to her future self about the lessons she learns from life, whilst slowly falling in love with her room mate.

4

Buy a notebook, small enough to fit in your bag/pocket and big enough for your ideas!

If you are a writer, then there is a large chance you are also a stationary fiend. Writing a book gives you license to go to your local retailer and stock up on pens, post-it notes, highlighters, paper clips and a notebook (or a few). If you carry around your notebook with you at all times, you can write down an idea when the moment strikes, which is handy if you are particularly forgetful.

When I was working on my NaNoWriMo project, I had my notebook with me at all times!

5

Write an outline, however vague or detailed.

My outline was similar to a script format. I detailed where the scene was taking place, who was there and important factors worth noting. I also wrote the bare bones of the dialogue between the two characters, or bare description of what a character was doing in the particular scene. After I had done this for the beginning, middle and end of the book, I went back through it and added in description, building the image of my scene from the ground up. The structure I had gave me something to work with, which really, really helped during my writing period.

And lastly, set yourself a goal. Whether you aim to write a hundred words a day or a thousand, it’s important to stay focused and disciplined.

I hope this little article has helped inspire a few of you to get writing. Let me know down in  the comments if any of these tips work for you!