The Dilemma of the Half-Enjoyed Book

My Kindle is telling me I’m 79% through reading my latest book, May We Be Forgiven, by A.M.Holmes. In truth, it feels like I’ve been reading it for months rather than the couple of weeks it has actually been. Why have I persevered if I’m not devouring in the way I know I would be if I really enjoyed it? For the following five reasons:

1. Guilt – Nobody likes a quitter, least of all me, so how can I abandon a book just because it doesn’t quite so perfectly suit my tastes as the one that came before it (and, er, the one before that)? It’s not fair on the book! Or the writer! Right?
2. Worry – That perhaps this book is more intelligent than my feeble mind is able to cope with (it did, after all, win a women’s fiction prize in 2013, so it must be good, right?). It is, therefore, imperative that I press on and broaden my mind! I cannot be defeated by a piece of literature that will, forever more, mock me from the dark recesses of my mind…
3. Hope – What if this story has so much more to give? If I give up now I might miss out on the best bit! A cunning twist, perhaps? (I do love a cunning twist).
4. Indifference – If I hated this book, as in really hated it for some such reason as I found the subject matter offensive, or a main character unbearable, it would be far easier to give up on it. But whilst I can’t say the story or any of the characters particularly move me, nor do they disgust or appall me. I don’t hate reading this book, I just don’t particularly look forward to it either.
5. Loyalty – I did devour her 2006 book, This Book Will Save Your Life, and so I fairly reasoned I’d enjoy this one too. At what stage do I accept she might just be a one-hit wonder where my reading taste’s concerned?

In short, it’s a dilemma of the first order. May you be forgiven, A.M.Holmes? At this stage I’m afraid the jury’s still out.

May-We-Be-Forgiven

No Pressure

It’s day 23 of National Novel Writing Month and, despite a flash stint this afternoon where I somehow managed to write two thousand words in about an hour, I’m still a rather woeful 5,165 words behind target. For some reason, however, I’m not feeling all that worried. I’ve got the best part of tomorrow and all of Monday to put the time in and, as I know from past experience, I work best under pressure so I’m confident I’ll manage to ‘win’ at NaNo once again and make it to 50,000 words before midnight on the 30th. The most encouraging thing is that despite struggling to find the time to get my word count up, I haven’t had a single moment of writer’s block since I started, which must surely be a good sign…?

In other news (yes, this is a boring update post – apologies to anyone who had grander designs in mind for today’s blog), the marathon training is coming on nicely. If – or should that be when – I complete tomorrow’s 105 minute run (gulp) I will have managed to tick off every session on this week’s plan, including a rather savage speed session on the treadmill this morning which I’m glad to have behind me. It’s still a long way off (this is only week three of a twenty week training plan) but my theory is if I put the ground work in now it’ll be a hell of a lot easier come the big day. Though something tells me when it comes to running a marathon there’s nothing ‘easy’ about it…

Gearing up for NaNo No.5….

Today I have been planning out the story for my NaNo* novel, the chapter notes for which you can see in today’s photo. I wish I could say I’m feeling totally prepared this time around, but the truth is there will once again be a significant element of winging it. Still, on the positive side a plot and characters are at last beginning to emerge, like (slightly reluctant) woodlice, from the (somewhat rotten) woodwork of my brain. And, more importantly still, I’m starting to feel that old glimmer of enthusiasm to get started, and the accompanying excitement to see what comes out once the month is underway.

This will be my fifth NaNo novel, the main difference being that this time around I’m determined to edit my novel until I’m 100% happy to submit it to agents, rather than consigning it to a dusty folder in My Documents, never to be touched again. I did submit three chapters of my first NaNo novel (some years ago now) to agents and received one encouraging rejection letter in return, but nonetheless the responses were all rejections. The reason for that, on looking back, was because I hadn’t made any real effort to edit it – as in, none at all. And if I couldn’t be bothered to spend time crafting it into something amazing, how could I expect people to want to spend time reading it? So this time will be different, and if nothing else comes of it I will teach myself the art and discipline of editing for when I do finally write the masterpiece that will catapult me into the JK Rowling stratosphere. Well, a girl can dream…

*National Novel Writing Month – Budding novelists should check it out!

Acts of charity

I’m currently reading Khaled Hosseini (he of Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns fame)’s wonderful new book, And the Mountains Echoed. In it (don’t worry, no spoilers ahead) there’s a character who makes great gestures of kindness, but who only ever does so in a very public way. In other words, it could be said that were he not to get recognition and praise for his actions, he might not feel it worth doing them in the first place.

This morning I rose early to run from my flat in Clapham to the flat my boyfriend’s just moved out of in Camden. I needed to do the run as part of my half marathon training, but had selected the route as I’d been asked by my boyfriend to pick up the last of his things, and latterly also by his flatmate to pick up the sofa cushions from the dry cleaners. None of this was any trouble as far as I was concerned, I was happy to do them a favour and help out.

When I reached the dry cleaners and discovered there was an outstanding charge of £35 on the cushions, however, I’ll admit my spirit of generosity waned somewhat. Fortunately I had brought my cash card and was able to pay, after which I duly traipsed back to the flat to put the aforementioned covers back onto the cushions – which turned out to be far from an easy task given their size and the amount of feathers that flew out with every squeeze. Fifteen minutes and several swear words later I was standing in the living room triumphantly surveying my handiwork in successfully reintroducing the cushions to their covers – the downside being that I was now ankle deep in feathers and the living room looked like an illegal cock fighting ring. Cue an impromptu tidy up mission and more cursing, whilst the part of me that had so happily agreed to do the favour in the first place steadily began to regret the decision.

The main – rather uncharitable -thought that went through my head at that final moment was “they’d better appreciate this,” which is when I drew a parallel with the character in the novel I’m reading, and also when I wondered the following question: Is doing someone a favour any less charitable if it’s not the act of doing the favour that gratifies you but rather being thanked for having done it? Furthermore, do we as human beings have a deeper desire to help one another or to help ourselves? Which is the most prominent driver?

Those who do favours for others gladly and happily without grumbling or expecting thanks are clearly the most admirable. But surely there’s still something to be said for the rest of us mortal beings who do favours for others and do then expect thanks in return? After all, there are plenty of miserly souls out there who would rather stab themselves in the eye than do a favour for someone else in the first place….Right? Or wrong?