Are we repeating our stories?

... as storytellers we basically spend our lives telling the same story over and over, only we do it from different angles.
The trick is disguising it so it doesn't seem the same.
The L.A Diaries - James Brown

I once read an article that stated there are no original stories anymore; all we can do is repeat the same three stories over and over by adding our own twists and personal experience to them. Reading The L.A Diaries last night, especially the above quote, reminded me of this article and made me question whether it is true? Are we telling the same stories over and over?

I was in two minds today whether to do a book review about Goodnight, Beautiful, or write this, but thinking of Goodnight, Beautiful made me realise that, whereas I think Dorothy Koomson is an extremely talented writer, the themes of her five books are pretty similar. They all focus on real-life; she makes the ordinary, everyday life seem gripping and captivating. Family plays a strong role in her books - usually people tackle their demons, and their demons are family-related. Is she telling us the same story each time, but from a different angle like Brown suggests? More importantly, is it partially her story she is always telling us in some way?

Thinking about my own work to answer these questions, I agree with Brown's statement in some ways. All my chick lit books focus on the protagonist's destruction of their love/life and their subsequent search for their happily ever after - I probably am doomed to repeat these tales of destruction and re-building forever more.

But, as long as the angle is different, it's not repetition. We can't help but write what we know, and we can't help that we share our humanity and common experiences with everyone else (to a certain extent). This is why every story (whether real or fictional) is made from different influences - just like every person is - we may be echoing those three basic story concepts, yet through our highly unique lives we make those stories so much more than an echo. I think it's probably more accurate to say we repeat the same themes, but use our individuality to make the stories our own.

What does everyone else think? Do you think we fundamentally tell the same stories over and over, or are we more creative than that?!

My interpretation of "On Writing"

Having heard Stephen King's On Writing is a useful "writing book", I decided to buy it. Now, I've never read any of SK's work (probably because I was traumatised watching the TV version of IT when I was about 6), so I figured this book would be a good starting point in my SK journey (I have Carrie, Salem's Lot, The Shining and Firestarter in my To Read pile - any more King books I *should* read if there's any of his fans out there reading this?)

Whilst the book didn't really offer me any insight into "how to write" (which wasn't why I bought it anyway), it's always interesting to see how other people operate, and how you relate to other writers. I chose King's book especially because I liked the idea of him sticking his rejection letters onto a spike, but also how he gives "insight" into "how a writer is created" - i.e. - he reinforces it is an individual experience; rightly so. King has an easy style - it's not a preachy, or a book that screams superiority - it's an enlightening insight of a very popular writer.

As always with my "Book Reviews" (I use the term lightly), I like to personalise and explain my connection with the book because that's what reading is all about - what *you* gain from the book. Here are some points I had to share because they immediately struck a cord with me:

I think I was forty before I realised that almost every writer of fiction has been accused of someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.

Thank you! As someone who has been accused of this - told chick lit writing isn't stretching enough - I appreciate knowing there will always be someone out there who will accuse you of not meeting their idealised view of what your writing should be like.

Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.

I agree with this one wholeheartedly. I think us writers like our secrecy, plus we're afraid people will laugh at our dream, but having a support network who genuinely believes can inspire you more than keeping these aspirations to yourself. I see it as a self-fulfilling prophecy - if you tell people, then you have to *make* it happen, especially if you think everyone is secretly willing you to fail. After all, if a tree falls and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? ;p One thing I will add though, is whereas it is fantastic having people believe in you, fundamentally you must believe in yourself.

If there's no joy in it, it's just not good... when you find something which you are talented, you do it until your fingers bleeds or your eyes are ready to fall out of you head.

Definitely agree with this one. Yes, you may suffer writer's block, but if you are *forcing* yourself to write, and I mean forcing, then perhaps writing is not for you. If you want to create your own world, then you have to put the time and dedication in because that's the only way it will resonate with its readers. If you can't be bothered putting the effort into making it credible, why should people waste their time and effort reading your work?

What would be very wrong, I think, is to turn away from what you know and like in favour of things you believe your friends, relatives, and writing-circle colleagues.

I firmly agree writing should be for you, not for what you deem to be prestigious. You're writing for yourself, and I believe writing is much stronger if you write this way because it's harder to trip up and stumble. If you're pretending to be something you're not, you will be exposed as a phony. Keep your credibility by sticking with what you love and know best.

This is the part which allowed me to be a psychotic nurse for a little while... And being Annie was not, by and large, hard at all. In fact, it was sort of fun.

Exactly! One of my favourite parts of writing is writing characters that are not me - having the freedom to be and do whatever you want through them - it's exhilarating!

You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.

If you don't make the time to read and respect other's work, how can you realistically expect to *know* about writing when you sit down to do it? How will you know what you want to write? If you don't enjoy reading, can you be a writer? If you don't write and make those mistakes, how will you learn not to make them again? How will not trying make your writing stronger? It won't. Read and write a lot, and be brave - no one is perfect, and even those who are amazing writers, became amazing through some error and experimentation.

King raises some excellent points throughout for the aspiring writer to ponder, more than I've touched upon above; I would recommend the book to any writer looking for a light-hearted read on the craft.

Has anyone else read On Writing? Or bought similar books? Do you think they are worth it, or is teaching yourself the best way to go?

Getting Personal: Answers

Thanks to everyone who submitted a Getting Personal question!

Paula: If you could live anywhere in the world (money was no object) where would you live?

If money was no objection, I'd split my year. I'd spend the summer in the South of France, autumn in New York, winter in South Africa, and spring in London. This is actually my plan if I become a published writer, although it's very selfish and expects a lot of flexibility from my future husband (and some issues when I have children as I can't really move them around the world four times a year... can I?!).

If you could eradicate the earth of one celebrity that really annoyed you, who would you choose and why?

Now this tough! I don't really like the idea of eradicating someone - it seems a little mean, even if they are an annoying celebrity! *thinks* I'm going to for Russell Brand, and this isn't because of the whole stupid Radio 2 fiasco, it's because I don't get his humour, hate those skinny jeans on him, and I hate the way he lurches around a stage. Oh, and his hair. *shudders* Yep, it has to be Russell Brand (sorry RB!).

Liza: If you could rid the world of three books so no one would ever had to read them again, which books would receive the ultimate shredder fate?

This is like Paula's question above - it seems a little mean! Surely the three books I would choose would be loved by *some* people out there, and they might not like the shredder fate! I will try and answer this though. My first thought was quite controversial, and would be interesting seeing as religion is considered the cause of many problems - what if I said the Bible, the Qur'an and the Śruti? The three main texts for the top three religions... that could be quite interesting, although slightly chaotic... but I'd rather shred Hubbard's stuff than those (sorry if you're a Scientologist)! I think that's my answer - the religious texts (please don't flame me - I'm only curious to how the world will be if part of the so-called "religion is the cause of all evil" obstacle is removed).

Who is your least favorite author of all time?

Sylvia Smith. I read Misadventures and I loathed the fact she got a book deal based on the sort of writing an intelligent five year old could write:

"He took me to the cinema to see a film. He bought our tickets and said to me: 'I must go to the loo. I won't be a minute.' I waited in the foyer and looked at my watch as the time went by. Twenty minutes passed before he came out of the gents' toilet. He was not at all embarrassed and simply said, 'I'm sorry' as he led me in to see the film, which fortunately had not started."

Poetica: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be????

I really want to go to Argentina next, but I think my next holiday will be somewhere in the Indian Ocean: Mauritius or The Maldives.

Agent Elle: What was the first story you ever wrote about?

I found in my First School exercise book a story entitled "The Ten Friends and the Sunken Treasure", dated October 5th, 1992!! It's definitely Blyton-influenced, although I wouldn't have as many characters nowadays (all named after people I knew!).

I also have such wondrous tales as "The Five Friends and the Birthday Party", "Jenny and the Magical Pencil", "The Island of Animals, Trolls and the Four Children", "The Five Friends and the Pirates" and "The Nightmare" in those books! I think I must have been feeling ambitious that day with ten!

Han: I think your story about Geli is cool! What gave you the inspiration for it?

Back in December 2007, I'd finished the first draft of TROG and was about twelve chapters into Tabitha, when I spotted an announcement on Facebook that gave me the idea for Geli. I had already noticed a few random engagement announcements that week, but on that day, one particular announcement caught my eye - this sparked off the idea of a great rivalry between two characters; they became Geli and Tiggy.

I decided it wouldn't be enough to have Geli question her world merely from this, so I gave her apathy towards her career and delved into her love life - the feeling you're "left behind" as everyone gets paired off, even if you have fantastic friends and a nice job. Her boredom was probably inspired by me - I lose interest quite easily in things (apart from my writing!).

I was really itching to go to Durban, South Africa, at the time, so this became Geli's hometown. I didn't want her to be another stereotypical Home Counties girl. I've no idea where the name Geli came from - it just popped into my head, and then I thought it could be a shortening of Angelica as no sane parent would call their child that. Tiggy Boodles sounded like a perfect enemy name. The Boodles surname was sort of a play on the diamond industry - perfect because Geli's dad works in the diamond industry for De Beers.

As for Geli's job, I'd quite like to be a columnist, so that was straight-forward, plus I wanted to use my knowledge on political issues to prove something useful had come out of my degree - cue the creation of Theo. But, the crux of inspiration came from the engagement announcements - you really can find inspiration anywhere!

Book Review: High Jinx

As you might have read on my blog before, I love Enid Blyton books. I especially love the Malory Towers books, and was particularly gutted I was never allowed to go to boarding school to partake in midnight feasts, tomfoolery and high jinx.

So, when I discovered High Jinx by Sara Lawrence (courtesy of Tatler's Summer Reads), a modern-take on Malory Towers, I suspected I would like the book. For the record, I *love* it.

High Jinx follows the story of Jinx Slater and her classmates at Stagmount, England's most exclusive boarding school (based on Roedean, which was founded by Lawrence's great-great aunts, and which she also attended).

From sneaking out into Brighton, A-Levels, battles with the evil Gunn, and the arrival of bitchy Stella Fox, there's never a dull moment at Stagmount! Peppered with colourful (explicit) language, this is an accurate and enjoyable (controversial to some) portrayal of life at an exclusive boarding school for girls. Sure, the girls are a little spoilt, but they are nice enough about it, and the humour detracts you from hating them outright.

If you ever wondered what a modern day Malory Towers would be like, you have to read this book. There's also a sequel out - Jinxed - that was released in September, but I've not managed to get hold of a copy yet (grrrrrr). And if you're worried this is strictly for children, it's not, as demonstrated by the opening sentences:

Jinx Slater lay in bed listening to Chastity Maxwell shagging the handyman. She wasn't so much listening, mind, as accidentally overhearing, for the paper-thin walls of the sixth-form boarding house had been built with no regard for aural abstinence.

Brilliant! Has anyone already read this? Or does anyone know any similar young adult modern boarding school books? x

School Reads

It's kind of fitting I'm doing a "what books were you forced to read at school" post because I read this post here on The Dutchess of Kickball's blog and she mentions not appreciating the "classics" you were supposed to read in high school. That pretty much was my sentiment towards the curriculum-set books I was forced to study - yuck, yuck, yuck - but what *were* these horrible books I was set?
  • Lord of the Flies - William Golding
  • Romeo & Juliet - William Shakespeare
  • MacBeth - William Shakespeare
  • A Taste of Honey - Shelagh Delaney
  • Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson (I still have school's copy!)
  • Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë
  • My Left Foot - Christy Brown
I *hated* them all, apart from Romeo & Juliet, which is one of the few Shakespeare works I like. I do *not* like The Bard, at all. I know I particularly hated Jekyll & Hyde at the time because I was forced to read about 75% of that book out loud to the rest of the class (that's one way to kill a book for me), and by the time the exams rolled round, I was sick to death of Lord of the Flies. I probbaly should re-read it to see what my opinion now is.

And then, then there was the poetry - Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage (he was given "cool points" because one of his poems was used in C4's Teachers, mentioned by English teacher, Simon (the yummy Andrew Lincoln), Sujata Bhatt, John Agard (Half Caste), Moniza Alvi, Tom Leonard (The 6 o'clock News), Grace Nichols and Henry Newbolt (Vitaï Lampada, of course) - they are the only ones I can recall now (well, it was 7-8 years ago), but I know there's more. They weren't actually that bad, but I probably hated them at the time.

And, because I did a year of English modules alongside my degree modules in first year, I've studied even more poets - the likes of Siegfried Sassoon, W B Yeats, Laurence Binyon, Seamus Heaney (Seeing Things), Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, Stevie Smith, Samuel Beckett, Dylan Thomas, Rudyard Kipling, William Wordsworth (The-Two Part Prelude of 1799), Samuel Taylor Coleridge, T.S Eliot (Marina, The Waste Land, Prufrock), Ezra Pound, Wilfred Owen, Thomas Hardy, John Milton (Lycidas), Ted Hughes, Charlotte Mew, William Blake (A Poison Tree), Sir Thomas Wyatt... and I'm probably forgetting lots.

And, as I went to university in Scotland, they made sure we knew our Scottish verse as well - the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson, Douglas Dunn (he was one of my lecturers) , Edwin Muir, William Tennant, Robert Ferguson, Robert Burns (Tam o'Shanter, To A Mouse), Robert Henryson and William Dunbar.

To be honest, I haven't ever let poetry have much of a chance, so I should dig out my anthologies and give the genre another go! I am surprised though by how many poets I have studied, and on top of all those, there were the set books. Wuthering Heights and Jekyll & Hyde came up again - this time round I liked them - as did:
  • The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner - James Hogg
  • King Lear - William Shakespeare
  • Anthony & Cleopatra - William Shakespeare
  • Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
  • Beloved - Toni Morrison
  • Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
Even though I was older with these set texts and should have had a better attitude towards them, I hated them (apart from Frankenstein). Confessions of a Justified Sinner is probably the only book I've ever fallen asleep to whilst reading (the ultimate sin), and no, I still can't see the wonder of The Bard.

I think if I did an English course in ten years time, then I'd hate *those* set books. There's just something about education + books that typically springs up a dislike in me. But, maybe that's just me. I just HATE the fact you have to over-analyse books/poems/plays to "get into the mind frame of the writer". It's so subjective - how can we realistically know the creator's thought process? Must we delve, prod and poke about unnecessarily!? That's my *real* issue with set school reads.

But, what about everyone else? What books did you have set as your school reads? Did you automatically hate them because it was "forced" reading, or did you give the books/poems/plays a chance? Let me know!

Getting Personal

The first thing I like to do when reading a new author is to have a squint at their author blurb to nosey into their life. You can read look at my Blogger Profile to learn my favourite books and movies, but I thought I'd open the blog up (à la other fabbity blogs) and let you ask me any questions you've been itching to ask.

So, ask away! x


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