Review

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

This was the first book I read for pleasure since starting university.  Like I explained in my blog post about it (which can be found here), I am attempting to read at least one novel or two novellas a month whilst studying and working.  On the side I also wish to read the occasional non-fiction book too.

This for me was a re-read.  I first read The Picture of Dorian Gray two years ago in the summer after I finished my GCSEs.  I can still remember sitting out in the sun, sipping lemonade and being completely enchanted by Oscar Wilde’s words.  It was unlike any book I had read before.

This time around, I am older and have a keener eye for beautiful prose, so I utterly enjoyed it once again.  As there was a 2 year gap between reading it, there were some elements of the plot I had forgotten so I very much enjoyed learning about them once again.  As I had been reading it on my Kindle, I was able to make full use of the digital highlighting function.  It is my favourite thing about reading ebooks – I can make all the notes I want without ruining a page!

Despite being written in the late 19th century, the language is not too difficult to understand once you are into the flow of the story.  Luckily my Kindle has a dictionary function that allows me to search any of the words I did not understand.  Due to some of the themes presented in the book (and the controversy they would have caused at the time of writing), some elements of the plot are mentioned quite implicitly and it takes a bit of thinking to understand what Wilde meant.  There are a few parts to the characters or the story as a whole that I only picked up on whilst reading for the second time.

The plot is a fascinating and thoughtful story about a young man who, when shown his true beauty in a portrait, wishes that he could have eternal youth in exchange for anything.  As Dorian Gray gets older and more corrupt in his beauty, he does not age nor do his looks fade.  Instead the portrait of him grows disfigured and old.  Wilde uses the portrait of Gray to represent his soul which allows him to lead his extravagant life with eternal youth whilst the portrait takes the brunt of his evil.  This representation of the good and evil in a person divided reminded me of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a novella I had to read for university.  The two stories have some very striking similarities.

I read this in short bursts over the course of two and a half weeks, mainly on my bus journeys to and from university.  This meant that I read no more than 30 minutes at a time.  This did not ruin my reading experience at all.  In fact, I never felt lost in the plot after putting it down for a day or two.

This book is an absolute classic and I hope it stays that way for a while.  I would definitely recommend this book to anyone, but especially to anyone who wants to read a book that will really make them think.  It is impossible to read this book without it changing the way you see the world!

Discussion

Interview with Jeannie Waudby – YA Shot Tour

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This is my stop on the YA Shot Blog Tour and today this post is my collaboration with YA author Jeannie Waudby. Jeannie has written a book called One of Us, published by Chicken House.

Today I’ll be doing a Q&A with Jeannie, asking her about her inspiration for her book, what the process of writing was like and how to get a book published.

Eloise: Your book deals with the theme of extremism. Why did you think this was important to discuss in a YA book?

Jeannie: I didn’t consciously plan to write a book about extremism. The first germ of the idea was about a girl who had taken a false identity to infiltrate a group she didn’t belong to. It was always going to be a love story and gradually the idea seeped into it that one of the biggest things to divide people would be if one of them was a terrorist, and the other wasn’t. I had the idea for One Of Us a year after the London bombs, and I think it was on my mind because I was so aware that we all live with the threat of terrorist attacks. Young people are bombarded with stories and images of this on a daily basis – they have to grow up with this fear. I think it’s good to look things in the face, talk about and explore them.

E: What was writing like? What did you do to get in the right zone?

J: Writing the first draft for One Of Us was easy because I didn’t think I was writing a novel. I had my characters, who were connected to each other by lies and mistrust as well as friendship and love, so I just wrote scenes about this, with the end in sight. I wrote at night in a notebook before going to sleep. Of course, editing the book was a nightmare because none of my scenes were in order. To get in the right zone I used to listen to Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. And there was one scene that I wrote to Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars.

E: How did you go about getting your book published? Did you choose your publisher or did they choose you?

J: I met Barry Cunningham of Chicken House at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference. I told him about my book and he said I could send it to him. He didn’t take it, but he wrote a really useful paragraph of why he hadn’t. It clarified what I needed to do with the story, so I rewrote it and asked if he would look at it again. And this time he said yes!

E: Writing can be a lonely business. Did you join any writers’ groups?

J: When I started seriously thinking about trying to get published, I decided I needed some company. One Friday night I googled everything I could find about writing for children and I came across a website by an American author, mentioning SCBWI. So I joined it and through that I met many other children’s writers. I joined two critique groups, one online and one face-to-face, both of which have helped and inspired me enormously as well as now being good friends, along with other writers I’ve met along the way. It’s very important to me to have those friendships and to be able to encourage each other because on your own it’s hard to keep the doubts at bay.

E: After spending so much time working alone on your book, what is it like working with an editor?

J: It was an amazing experience. My book actually had two editors and that was interesting too. When I first read the comments in my manuscript, it was as if someone was talking in my head. It’s quite an intense experience. I think you really need to trust your editor and I had that trust. I realized that the story wasn’t just mine any more but now all these talented professionals were also working on it. That’s quite hard to believe, even a little strange at first. But it’s also wonderful and the things I learned from my editors are with me as I edit my current book.

 

Thank you to Jeannie Waudby and the YA Shot team for this experience. I have learned a lot about writing and editing from talking to Jeannie, and I hope you too can learn something and be inspired. Next time you read a book, think of how much time, work and love has gone into making it for you.

Discussion

Cheltenham Literary Festival

This was one book-tastic weekend!

It kicked off on Friday with a talk by David Crystal as part of the Birmingham Literary Festival.  I managed to go to this thanks to my university, who took us to see Crystal discuss eloquence and good public speaking.  It was a fascinating talk and felt like I learned so much about public speaking and speeches.  After the talk, there was an opportunity for me to get my book signed by David Crystal and a chance to tell him how much he inspired me to study English at university.  I have started reading his book, The Gift of the Gab, and like the books I have read of his before, it is so far both informative and humorous.

As soon as that event finished I travelled to Cheltenham to attend the Cheltenham Literary Festival.  This was my first visit to this festival and I really enjoyed it.  It had a great atmosphere and was located in the heart of the town.

The first talk I attended was Feminism Rules, on Saturday, with a panel of young adult feminist authors.  The panelist I was most interested in was Holly Bourne as I recently read Am I Normal Yet?, the first book in her Spinster Club trilogy (read my review here).  All three authors were very passionate and opinionated on feminism, and I particularly enjoyed it when they had opposing ideas but still the same end goal.  It was interesting to see in practice how there is no right or wrong way to feminism, as long as we all agree in the same core message: everyone should be entitled to a happy and healthy life no matter what gender they are.  After the talk, I got a chance to meet Holly Bourne and get my copy of What’s A Girl Gotta Do (the third book in the trilogy) signed by her.  I am now so excited to read the second and third books!

That same day, I went to a talk with Sara Pascoe, a comedian who has a strong interest in female sexuality, relationships and body image.  This led her to write a book called Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body.  I wrote a review of the book which you can view here.  It is a mix of her secondary scientific research and personal anecdotes.  This includes an account of her abortion, something she said, in the event, that is important to talk about in order to educate young women about sex and pregnancy.  The talk was absolutely fascinating and hilarious – Pascoe is a comedian after all!  She was also incredibly down to earth and was quite willing to sign my copy of her book and pose for a photo with me.

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On Sunday I attended a workshop by Emma Gannon about building your own online brand.  This was in a different format to the other events I went to at the weekend as it was a lot more hands on.  Emma Gannon taught us the most important aspects to consider before creating and marketing your own online brand.  There was even room to share ideas and get feedback from Emma on some individual ideas.  It was great to be in a room with so many creative people with so many innovative ideas.  I also bought Emma’s book Ctrl Alt Delete, which is her autobiography about growing up with the internet and eventually using it to build her career.  I am looking forward to reading it.

The last event before returning home was a talk by Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, about her book Girl Up.  I had previously read this book and reviewed it on the blog (you can find that review here) so I had been really looking forward to hearing Bates talk about the issues covered in her book in more detail.  In the space of an hour she covered so much about the importance for good sex and relationship education for all ages at school, the need for feminism – especially for young girls and the increasing support networks for women who experience sexual harassment or assault, or simply everyday sexism.  It was awe-inspiring to hear her talk so passionately about issues that affect so many women all around the world.  I loved the way she not only touched on the negative and shocking parts of society, but also celebrated the amazing things other women have been doing to stand up for themselves and others.  From reading her book and listening to her speak, I definitely feel inspired to consider the way I can help others who are less fortunate than I am or those who are suffering due to sexism and a lack of good quality sex and relationship education.

Overall, my whole experience of the Cheltenham Literary Festival (and the talk by David Crystal beforehand) has changed the way I think about so many aspects of life and society.  It has also increased my love for books and for reading, despite me loving them so much already!  I would definitely return next year if I get the chance to!  I am hoping that I can also go to the Hay Literary Festival next year as I went in 2015 but couldn’t go this year due to exams.  Maybe, just maybe, next year can top this year for fantastic book events.

Discussion

Reading for Fun

I absolutely love reading (in case you hadn’t noticed).  It is one of the reasons I chose to study English.  I love the words, characters and settings inside each and every story.

As I am studying English at university, I have a lot of reading to do – some fiction, some non-fiction.  When you consider how much reading, studying and writing, it seems like you have no time left for fun reading!

When I was doing my GCSEs and A Levels, I didn’t read much for fun.  I was either studying or crashed out in front of the TV.  The only time I read during my exams was when I read 1984 by George Orwell as a way of procrastinating from biology revision!  That is why every summer, I read so many books, knowing that come September, I’ll slow down again.

I have decided this year it will be different.  I know I will not have much time for pleasure reading but it is something that relaxes me whilst keeping my mind occupied.  I definitely will not read as many books as the summer but I am going to attempt to read at least one novel or two novellas/plays per month.  I will even try to find more poetry to read as that can be great to dip in and out of.  This will not only give me something to do on my commute into university each day, but also a relaxing activity for the cold Autumn evenings we are having right now.  Reading a book, for me, is much more entertaining than watching dismal daytime TV (even if the latter option is so much easier and often what I do instead).

Like I said before, I have to travel into university each day.  My commute is about 30 minutes each way which is the perfect amount of time to read a chapter or two.  I will probably choose to take my Kindle over a physical book just because of the space and weight of it in my bag.  However I will take small, lightweight paperbacks too.

I hope I can still often read for fun so that I can keep this blog up-to-date with reviews and discussions based on the books I have read.  Although I may have to write reviews on books I have studied if they have particularly fascinated me and taken over my reading time.

If you have any advice on how you find time to read then please comment on this post and let me know.

Eloise