Thursday, 25 August 2016

Now Quoting: Every Day


See my previous Now Quoting: We Were Liars [Because let's ignore the fact that it took me a year to create a second part to this series. A year.]

 


Focusing on the meaning of identity and what really makes us who we are, David Levithan's Every Day is quietly extraordinary. By no means is this a conventional Young Adult novel, but instead a story bursting to the brim with philosophy, angst and heartbreak. Even the most stoic of personalities will be moved by the tale of a person with no physical body to call their own. Nearly 18 months on, I still struggle to comprehend the tidal wave of emotion I felt reading this truly exceptional book. Every Day will change the way you think and the way you live; ultimately revealing a person who values and sees preciousness of life as it is.


Have you read Every Day? If so, what are your favourite quotes?


Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Listening to Characters


Amongst short stories, poetry, and attempts at full length novels, some of the pieces of writing I'm most proud of are my Harry Potter fan fictions. I've never really chosen to discuss being a fanfiction author here, because for some reason the anonymity that comes with uploading chapter by chapter with a Potter-esque pseudonym is thrilling. Although they are not, and never will be my characters, I try and at least mould them into my own perception, and at least attempt to add to the 19 year gap between 'Flaw in the Plan' and '19 Years Later.' 

One of the greatest problems I've ever encountered [whether it be in fanfiction or my own creative writing] is being concerned that a person is out out of character; that I've wrongly manipulated the clay and they've instead emerged from a kiln as someone far different from who they are. 

Recently I wrote a story about Draco Malfoy. It's no secret that I'm not Draco's biggest fan, and warm far more to the likes of Ron and Hermione, but it felt like I could hear him somewhere in my brain. I wrote and wrote about this one thing that I could hear. Later, in the end author's note, this is what I said...

Sometimes characters, whether your own or not, talk to you. You hear them at the back of your head, and you listen. A couple of weeks ago, for the first time I heard Draco Malfoy talking to me, and I chose to listen to what he had to say. I’ve never written a fanfiction about Draco before now,  but somewhere in my brain, he spoke to me; and this is what he said. 

Because it's true. Sometimes characters do speak to you. At first the notion seems absurd, and completely improbable, but then it happens. It might be just a phrase, just a few words that they say, just a simple action; yet it can tell you everything you need to know in that moment. And yes, really it's part of your thinking process, but when you have stuck with characters for months, years, segments of your lifetime, it genuinely feels as if you do know them. As stupid as it sounds, what Draco said to me was one of the final lines in the story. I don't know where it came from or why I thought of it, but the character was present in my head, and suddenly everything made sense. I built a story that I had never expected myself to consider writing up from these few words, and created something I'm rather proud of. And the reason I'm proud of it is because I suddenly felt like after five years as a Potterhead, I wouldn't be insulting this character. Instead I had a story and words woven together that I knew could do this misunderstood Slytherin some justice.

Listen to your characters. Whether it's fanfiction, flash fiction, or a full length novel - just listen to them. Listen to what they have to say, because often, the characters that have developed somewhere deep within your thoughts know what they're going to say or what they're going to do next better than you, their puppeteer do. Even if they don't tell you things you need for your writing, they may tell you things that you need to hear yourself. 

Holly x

Monday, 8 August 2016

REVIEW - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Harry Potter, #8)It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.


Note - Please be aware that this is a view in all its spoiler-y glory. I'm fully aware of the #KeepTheSecrets campaign, and wholeheartedly support it; but I also need to discuss this, and share my opinions. So, if you haven't read and/or seen Cursed Child, please disapparate now. 

When I first arrived home after the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I settled in my Potter-attire, and for a few moments, simply stared at the book. After waiting for so long, after craving answers to the many questions, it was finally mine. As you're aware, I had my doubts about Cursed Child, and I had intense fears that it would ruin my love for the Harry Potter series. Well, I was wrong, as it certainly didn't disappoint. 

I read Cursed Child in one sitting, refusing to sleep until I had all the answers I desired; and by the time I had finished, I was a crying mess. The best way to do this is to break the review down into sections, because there is so much that needs to be said. So sit tight, grab some butterbeer and a chocolate frog. Maybe some tissues too...

I have a lot of feelings ....

The Overall Plot
Cursed Child's plot rouses mixed emotions and opinions. Some love it, some hate it. I'm on the fence. Whilst it is fast paced, incredibly intense and intriguing, it relies entirely on the plot of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Although readers are fully aware that this isn't (as it has been so poorly marketed) 'the 8th story,' for a new chapter, with new characters, I would have expected an entirely original plot. Leaning on Goblet of Fire to support what happens feels, in many respects, like an easy way out. There is potential for a whole new story which doesn't depend on any of the 7 books, and yet the path that was taken is questionable. In spite of my comments and disappointment at the actual plot, said plot was still well-executed, and had me hooked from start to finish. 

The Big Twist
So. Voldemort has a daughter. In the form of Delphini. She's also the daughter of Bellatrix Lestrange. This was the first thing I was spoiled on, and although I wasn't bothered by the fact that I'd been spoiled, it's been two months and I'm still baffled by how this can be. Bringing a daughter of Voldemort into the story is, how shall we say... a 'questionable' move on Rowling and Thorne's respective parts. Not just because it exudes intense fanfiction vibes, but also because of what we already know about Voldemort. Tom Riddle was conceived under a love potion, and therefore is incapable of feeling love, lust or any sort of attraction. Given this is a huge part of his character, then how does he 'produce' a child? What is incredibly frustrating is the concept that maybe someone else could have been the villain. ANYONE else could have been the villain, but no. Apparently the best bet, no matter the lack of sense it makes, is Voldemort's daughter. 

Ron and Hermione
Given Rowling's announcement in 2014 that she believed that having Ron and Hermione together was 'wish fulfilment,' I certainly had my concerns that she and Thorne would show the marriage somewhat falling apart. But no! The relationship between these two characters is stronger than ever; to the point where Ron suggests that they renew their vows. Such pair has always had its ups and downs, but the couple seems to have gotten over the issues that made them in some ways incompatible. Watching the intensity of their love unfold on the page was truly beautiful, and I can only imagine that the conduction of this on the stage is even better. Quite simply said - I'm so proud of Ron and Hermione, and my love for the two of them has only soared with this chapter of Harry's story. 
This GIF is a summary of the Romione dialogue in Cursed Child.
Ron appears to be over his jealousy issues, which so often dominated his flaws and affected his relationships to Harry and Hermione. Instead, he's a romantic, who doesn't hide his love for his family and friends (as professed to Hermione, Harry, and Ginny in Act One.) He has found a place, working in Weasley's Wizard Wheezes and being the primary parent in raising his and Hermione's children, and he's proud of it. As an adult, Ron has chosen to step into his own light away from Harry's shadow, and at last he's happy. 

Hermione, of course, went and did exactly what she told everyone she wouldn't do with her career. After telling Scrimegeour that she refused to work for the government ('No, I want to do something good in the world!') naturally she went on to become Minister for Magic. She's still the Hermione we have known and adored for countless years now, but with the highest position in British Wizarding Society. Always quick-witted, sharp-skilled and powerful, 40-year-old Hermione still remains my favourite character of all fiction. 

The Potters
Cursed Child has made me have faith in Harry and Ginny's relationship. From conversations I've had with others, to many fans, it feels as if Harry and Ginny were coupled together for the sake of convenience, and throughout Half-Blood Prince, there's definite airs of this. The main problem I've always had with the relationship is that readers see very little of its development in HBP, and by the epilogue they're married, which is a harsh contrast to the slow-burning development of Ron and Hermione. However, the stage directions, coupled with the dialogue between the couple has perhaps ended my disbelief in this pairing. There's a love present which before was what could be considered lust on Harry's part, and life-long infatuation on Ginny's side, and I could picture it. 

Honestly, I was a little disappointed in Harry at times. I've always envisioned him being a rather good parent, and for about 3/4 of Cursed Child, he is. But there are things that he said that as a child you can't forgive. The actions and words of your parents stick with you for a lifetime, and I'd like to think that Harry, of all people, would have been desperate to be the best parent he could possibly be. This shame over our protagonist didn't last, and that hasn't tainted my respect and admiration for him as a character.

Draco Malfoy [Oh dear...]
Since finishing Cursed Child, I have found myself with many feelings, sympathetic and the like, for Draco Malfoy, which I NEVER predicted myself experiencing. Truth be told, in the past week there have been far too many moments in which I've had to stop what I'm doing and think 'Poor, POOR Draco...' For a character I've always loathed, the love I now feel for our once antagonist is incalculable. He has gone from being the spoilt Malfoy heir, to the teenager at breaking point in Deathly Hallows, to a distraught widower who is close to breaking the laws of time just so he can see his wife again. Reading about what has happened to Draco in the 19 years since 'Flaw in the Plan,' and the realities of his childhood genuinely hurt on several occasions. This section doesn't even begin to cover my emotions on this wonderful character, because I struggle to word these thoughts myself, but Cursed Child has perhaps for many members of the Harry Potter fandom made us see Draco Malfoy in a more humanistic light. From Draco, that's all I'll ever need.




Albus, Rose, and Scorpius
Entering Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I had high hopes that Albus, Rose and Scorpius would form a new trio. Wouldn't it be perfect - a Potter, a Weasley (who's also a Granger), and a Malfoy? Well, that didn't happen, and to me at least, that was a major disappointment. That being said, all three characters were delightful, both together and individually. Albus is essentially how his father was throughout Order of the Phoenix - an angry, lost teenager who didn't ask for the burden he has been given. His struggle was one that was to be expected, but went much deeper than I had first imagined, and was hard to read at times. He's a likeable character, and I appreciate everything he represents and does in Cursed Child, but by no means is he Scorpius Malfoy

Perhaps fanfiction twisted how I thought Scorpius would be; but I always believed he would be a significant improvement on his father, and that he was. Many have expressed their fondness for this character, but I was surprised to find how much Scorpius reminds me of myself in high school. He's anxious, bookish, desperate to make good friends, and is the voice of reason when others are unpredictable (Albus.) The parallels between he and Hermione are striking - so much so that the two even speak in unison at one point in Act Three. He's a new favourite character within the Harry Potter series, and I'm so pleased that he featured with such prominence and Thorne's writing of the young Malfoy conveyed a struggle of grief, isolation and great heart so seamlessly. 

Rose has been my favourite next-generation character for as long as I can remember, which is why it was saddening to see how the script lacked her character's presence. I longed for a lot more from her character [for her to maybe be the Hermione in the new trio], but instead she featured only a handful of times, only one of which involved her parents. As a result of this, readers lack witnessing how Ron and Hermione are parents in the same way we bare witness to Harry and Ginny. On the other hand, in the scenes in which Rose made an appearance, she was everything I'd ever hoped she would be - a beautiful combination of Ron and Hermione; both exceedingly smart and an avid Quidditch player. She's sceptical like her mother, but with a great heart. I have no doubt that Scorpius' love for her will be reciprocated in the future...

The Alternative Universes
I'll keep this brief, but the use of alternative universes was troubling. I have mapped out a plot of the script on a wall in my bedroom and there are plot holes and deprived explanations that just ruffle the feathers of the story in a way that confuses readers. On the stage, the alternative universes and uses of time travel are probably better explained and understood. Even though I express anguish at the issue I have with the above, the alternative universes were both effective and horrifying. Knowing that Albus and Scorpius could have destroyed the worlds they have come from, and that we so love is scary to watch unfold, but I love the messages and thoughts that can come with exploring these other universes that could have been realities with a mere different turn. This was the most emotive in the case of Ron and Hermione's relationship to one another in other dimensions - in each we saw, they were apart, and yet still destined to be together. Thus it is so subtly expressed that Ron and Hermione are meant to be.

Breaking the Cannon and Issues I have
McGonagall. I'm very, very frustrated with Rowling breaking her own post-Potter cannon for the sake of bringing back a familiar face. For many years, fans have had confirmation that by the time James Potter started at Hogwarts in 2015, McGonagall had retired. Despite this, she is still headmistress of Hogwarts in 2020 in Cursed Child. I understand the power of having a character we know and love play a significant role in this new story, but I just can't understand why it is necessary to break canon and confuse a readership in the process. 

Another issue I had surrounding the breakage of canon was the disappearance of Hugo Granger-Weasley. WHY wasn't Hugo a part of this play. We're all fully aware that Lily is the same age as Hugo, and yet he wasn't present on the platform, nor was he at the sorting. Perhaps it's harder for me, because I care a great deal more about the Weasley's than the Potter's, but I just wish that they hadn't ignored a character that played just as much signifance as Lily Luna. 

The use of dreams and flashbacks was harrowing, but also again bent canon in a way that was troubling. An example of this is in how Sirius doesn't appear before Hagrid in Godric's Hollow, and yet he does in the main series. Some were evidently just dreams, but others wavered on the border between a dream and reality, unable to decide which side they would settle on. We know Petunia never took Harry to visit his parents' graves, but we do know there's the possibility that she tormented him for wetting the bed. It's cases like this where why these false memories exist in the plot at all is questionable.  



This review, or rambling or rant, or whatever you want to call it will never be perfect, because like with any installment in the Harry Potter world, there is so much to say, and so little time. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is not flawless, but nothing ever is, and I'm so relieved that it isn't the let down I feared. If I were to attempt to summarise this script into a few words, it would be 'profoundly moving.' It has been a week since Cursed Child's release. I have read the script twice and am contemplating reading it for a third, and needless to say, I am in love. This story will never be over, no matter what Rowling or anyone says, because 'the stories we love live on in us,' and this is one that will stick with me for the rest of my life. 



Monday, 1 August 2016

YA SHOT:: An Off-the-Wall Conversation with Alexia Casale


It's that time of year again, and the second YA SHOT blog tour commencing here at Lost in a Library! In partnership with Hillingdon Libraries and Waterstones Uxbridge, the main aim of YA SHOT is to highlight the importance and value of local libraries, with the big event taking place on October 22nd. In kicking off the tour, I have had the pleasure of conversing YA SHOT's director, author of The Bone Dragon and House of Windows - Alexia Casale. So keep reading if you want to hear more on who Alexia would Marry/Kiss/Kill in Harry Potter, and what made the wonderful author a reader herself!

Has being an author changed how you read?
Yes! In good ways and, sometimes, troublesome ones. I almost never read now purely as a reader, just throwing myself into the story: I'm always unpicking, trying to figure out how the book works... This means I am very rarely surprised by plot twists - which is good for me as an author, but a pity sometimes when I see the machinery before the art. Being an editor, has also made me a terrible grammar pedant and I can no longer turn it off. This is because editing has taught me how precise and specific language is an art in itself – some writers are so good that they blur the lines between technical and artistic brilliance and that's something I aspire to. But it's made me more critical of writers who dismiss the possibilities of grammar and ignore the fact that it can let you say incredibly complex things but in a subtle, quiet way that can be sublime. 

Which of the Deathly Hallows would you choose?
Oh this is so tricky! I want to say the Elder Wand because I could do Great Things with it... but my cleverer, sneakier side says the Invisibility Cloak because then I can just murder people in their sleep and get away with it.
Scary? Who me?

What is the best part of your job?
The YA community. And the joy of knowing I get to do the thing I love best as a big bit of my career.
Yes, I'm cheating. That's two things. I need a selfish, inward-directed one and a happy, outward-appreciating one.


If you could live within any book for the rest of your life, whose pages would you pick and why?
Oh, but I could never pick! Seriously, it would be awful to be stuck in just one world, no matter how amazing it was. (Yes, even Hogwarts.) This is why all my degrees are in different disciplines and I drive my agent bonkers writing books that have very little in common. The world and the world of the imagination are both too big and wonderful and full of new things to discover for me to ever understand why anyone would want to pin themselves down. That’s one thing I shudder to imagine!

One of my favourite elements of the Bone Dragon was the dragon himself, if any fantastical creature could come out of mythology and exist in the modern world, what would you pick?
Probably a Dragon. I also have a thing for the phoenix. But then I also think cats are completely and entirely magical, so I'm just about content.

Do you have any writing traditions or rituals?
I try really, really, REALLY hard to avoid this. I'm a naturally obsessive person but I try to be pragmatic and professional about writing. I get very fed up when people dress it up as 'angels whispering words in your ear'. Sometimes it can feel like that, but if you treat writing as a mystical activity triggered by outside forces then you're going to be a lousy professional. Writing is inherently magical, but it's the magic of creating something out of nothing: the magic of reaching out and making another person see what's in your imagination – it's the closest we get to telepathy and not being alone in our own heads. But the act of writing is what it is. You sit down. You write words. The minute you start thinking it's anything more than that, you start being a bit of a pillock as far as I'm concerned. Sit down and write. Have a walk to clear your mind of other stresses first. Play some music. But don't treat it like a grand ritual that can actually create a book. All that matters is whether you then sit your butt down and produce words.

Marry, Kiss, Kill - Draco Malfoy, Ron Weasley, Harry Potter?
Um, could I give them to someone else? Not that I’m not fond of them, but I don’t really see them in that way! OK, I'd have to kill Draco because he's a bigot and I couldn't kiss or marry him. Also I definitely couldn't kill Harry or Ron as they worked to defeat Voldemort and make the magical world a better place and less bigoted. It's a pity about Draco as I always hoped he'd grow up not to be a jerk, but it's clear he does so... bye! I'd have to kiss Ron but yuck. I suppose it could be a peck on the cheek rather than a snog (always be specific or writers will cheat!). I admire the fact that he was part of the fight to defeat Voldemort but he's so thoroughly NOT my type. I'd have to marry Harry because I couldn't marry Ron. There's a lot to appreciate about Harry, though I still don't understand why he wasn't nuts about Hermione. I mean, Ginny ends up OK but she's such an awful drip to begin with and Hermione never is... though I get the Laurie from Little Women thing about wanting to marry into the Weasleys, which mean Ginny... But as a woman, I just don't get why Harry isn't so completely mad about Hermione from almost the start that that is just it for him. Even J.K Rowling later thought they should have ended up together! So, yeah, I'll marry Harry but I'm a bit suspicious of his taste in women.


What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
- Read! Write! Read widely! Write a LOT to practice before you try to get published! Read some more! Write some more!

- Join Twitter and stalk all the agents you're remotely interested in signing with AND a bunch of their authors.

- Start reading book blogs and following book bloggers on Twitter. [Blogger's Note - if interested, join #TeenBloggersChat - Sunday 7pm which I'm a moderator for, and #FeminisminYA - Sunday evenings!]

- Go to book events and festivals. Make yourself say hi to people, but don’t be pushy or needy – don’t ask them for anything.

- Invest in one expensive edit/set of critical feedback from a talented professional consultant. You get what you pay for so fork out for the thing that will make all the difference and hope you only need to do it once. There is NOTHING like this type of one-to-one input, even on a writing course, because that is about a lengthy teaching relationship not a commercial transaction where someone tells you the professional, commercial and critical truth about where you are versus where you want to be.


What book made you a reader and why?
My grandparents made me love stories. But Enid Blyton made me a reader. I didn't read properly until I was ten because I'm dyslexic and dyspraxic. When I was eight and a bit, I started seeing a dyslexic tutor who helped me start dealing with words. I can't remember how I got started on Enid Blyton but I was reading one and my tutor jumped on it and told my father I just needed to keep reading them. He went out and bought me a huge box of them and I read the whole lot. They're very simple and they all use basically the same words but the stories are exciting and just different enough to keep you going. By the time I'd finished the lot, I'd practised enough with that small set of words to be able to read. And then I moved straight on to Ursula Le Guin and Dickens. But I will always have a soft spot for Enid Blyton. My dyslexia means that what other people can do on the first go takes me a thousand tries: her books gave me that thousand tries in enough different stories that the effort wasn't so painful I gave up before I got there. I might still not be able to read if not for those books. And my life would have been much smaller and sadder and entirely different. I wouldn't have gone to university, I wouldn't have had the weird and varied career path I've enjoyed, I wouldn’t read for pleasure, I wouldn't write... I wouldn't be me

Obviously the main feature of YA SHOT is to raise awareness for libraries. What do libraries mean to you and how can people support them?
Libraries are a cornerstone an equal society and key to supporting human rights, two things I'm hugely passionate about. We can support them by using them and, as authors, by giving a little of our time. Part of the reason I started YA Shot is because I feel authors should probably do two free library events per year... and that got me to thinking, maybe across the whole UKYA and UKMG author pool if everyone gave one of those two events every few years to some national programme, we could really do something big and special together without it being individually onerous. For people who aren't authors, there’s still plenty to do to support your library. Why not joint a reading group – or start one! Or volunteer a few hours at the homework club – or set one up if there isn't one. Libraries are a great place to give meaningfully to your community, so if you want to contribute something to the world, they're always a great place to start.

Thank you so much to the team at YA SHOT for giving me the opportunity to participate in this spectacular blog/vlog tour, and to Alexia Casale for working with me. It's been wonderful to communicate with an author who I so greatly admire. To find out more information about YA SHOT, visit https://yashot.wordpress.com and follow the blog/vlog tour to it's next stop!