Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

castle in the air

Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones was first published in 1990.

A few weeks ago I read and reviewed Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air is the second book in that series. This is the first time I’ve reviewed two books in the same series but I guess that it was bound to happen eventually. 🙂

So, I loved reading Castle in the Air. Diana Wynne Jones herself said that she was really inspired by Arabian Nights when she came to write these books. If you don’t know, Arabian Nights is the common name for the English translation of the One Thousand and One Nights which is an old collection of Middle Eastern folktales. My parents have their own copy of Tales of the Arabian Nights edited by Andrew Lang which I’ve read many times. I love it. The stories included in the collection are full of creative adventures and they are richly detailed. Diana Wynne Jones does a beautiful job at capturing these attractive qualities in Castle in the Air.

The story of Castle in the Air begins in the exotic city Zanzib where a poor carpet merchant named Abdullah daydreams about being a lost prince. Abdullah is accused more than once of being a romantic which seems to be a common quality in folklore heroes but his romantic nature serves him well as his fantasies lead him on a great adventure and introduces him to a beautiful princess named Flower-in-the-Night. There’s a great moment of self-awareness when Abdullah and Flower-in-the-Night meet and it really made me smile (page 28), “It’s a rather silly name,” she said nervously. “I’m called Flower-in-the-Night.”  

In Howl’s Moving Castle there are witches and wizards and apprentices who are being trained to use magic to affect the world around themselves. Abdullah doesn’t possess the ability to make magic by himself but, thanks to a magic carpet, a genie and a djinn (a djinn is an intelligent spirit who can appear in many forms) magic is a common theme throughout the book and Abdullah uses magic items and wishes throughout his journey to help him. I always admire an author who can govern the rules of magic in a story because it’s tough not to contradict story world rules (something I learned at university) and Diana Wynne Jones is wonderful at being consistent.

After Flower-in-the-Night is stolen away by a djinn near the beginning of the story Abdullah travels very far to find her (like most heroes do). Eventually the story is more closely connected to Howl’s Moving Castle when Abdullah’s journey leads him to the land of Ingary where the first book is set. Abdullah meets many of the characters who appear in the first novel and I must admit that I loved meeting those characters again, especially Sophie, Howl and their family. Before reading the book I could not have guessed how Sophie would appear (although I hoped she would) and I really enjoyed being surprised by the link.

Diana Wynne Jones has a wonderful talent for giving a book a complete narrative and if a couple of familiar characters appear in a different story it feels like you’re meeting old friends again.

I loved the ending of Castle in the Air. Lose ends were tied up and it had a ‘happily ever after…’ vibe for all of the characters. An ending like this might not always be satisfying but I felt that it was so perfect for Castle in the Air. I was in the mood to read a really good, enjoyable story that would leave me smiling and that was exactly what I got.

 

Advertisements

Not right now…

Persuading yourself to write when you have no inspiration, no motivation and no pressure is not easy.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this sort of thing before but I’m really having trouble with this right now. I’m even having trouble writing this blog post today. There is no inspiration.

So, the writing might not be happening for me right now but I’ve been reading a lot (not a big difference to my usual days) and Camp NaNoWriMo July is in a few weeks. At the moment it looks like I’ll be cobbling scraps of an idea together if I want to be taking part but I’ve not missed Camp July since I started taking part in them and I’d really like that streak to keep going.

Every November NaNoWriMo is an online group which aims to encourage writers to try and write 50,000 words in one month. They also have a couple of other projects during the year and I am a big fan of the online ‘camps’ that are run in April and July. This year (again) I completely forgot about April but July sounds appealing and the best thing about it is… you get to choose your own word target. In the past I’ve set my July target at 30,000 words in one month and that works out at 1,000 words per day. It’s still a pretty big challenge (especially if you can’t write every single day).

However, I’ve been having trouble lately with my writing (as I said at the top of this page) so I might turn that target down to 25,000 words this year. It’s great to have goals but I’ve realised after doing a few years of the camps it’s also good to have realistic goals and anything beyond that is a great bonus. I really will be thrilled if I manage to write more than 25,000 words.

I don’t think I’ll be revisiting an old project in July. A new project sounds more appealing at the moment and I have a feeling that my recent reading is going to influence the setting at least of any new story.

If anyone finds my muse wandering around, can you please tell her that she’s falling down on the job again?

I’m going to end on a positive with a picture of the colourful clay turtle I made today at my art group (Darlington Community Arts Café) because at least I’ve been creative in one way. He’s called Tiny 🙂

IMG_20180606_205510

 

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Equal Rites

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett was first published in 1987.

In my experience, when you start talking about Terry Pratchett every fan has got an opinion and a favourite book. Just bringing up the Discworld invites people to talk about which character is their favourite or about the joke they only got the fifth time they read the book or the fact that their old copies are so worn out they’re using it as an excuse to buy the newly designed hardcover copies.

Chronologically, Equal Rites is the third book in the Discworld series although it does introduce new characters to the series so it’s not vital that you read the book directly after The Light Fantastic. I did because that’s just the way I’m doing things. So, I’m pretty excited that Mort is the next book in the series because I’ve never known a Terry Pratchett fan to mention Mort without a little smile that seems to mean they know a secret that the rest of us don’t.

Taken at face value Equal Rites is an adventure fantasy story where a young girl is fated to become a wizard despite the many, many obstacles in her way. Eskarina, commonly referred to as Esk throughout the book, is the eighth daughter of an eighth son but, as the blurb says, the wizard Drum Billet didn’t check whether or not she was a boy before he passed his magic on to her. The title is pretty much a stroke of genius as the story deals with issues of equality in a world where magic is common and so is prejudice.

There was a line in The Light Fantastic that was a big piece of foreshadowing, Unseen University had never admitted women, muttering something about problems with the plumbing, but the real reason was an unspoken dread that if women were allowed to mess around with magic they would probably be embarrassingly good at it (Page 110). Equal Rites constantly asks the question, why can’t women be wizards? and nobody ever gives a better answer than “It’s never happened before” (Page 271). Esk is consistently told that “Women can’t be wizards” (Page 83) but I don’t think that it’ll be too much of a surprise when I tell you that Esk becomes a wizard by the end of the book and all it takes is a small-ish magical disaster threatening the Unseen University. It might signal a big social change for the Discworld but, the closest characters to the center of the events seem to take it in their stride once the decision to change has been made.

Of course, I highly admire Terry Pratchett’s world-building abilities but, honestly, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Equal Rites after I finished it. There weren’t as many laugh-out-loud moments compared to The Light Fantastic but, I liked the way it dealt with the sexism in education on the Discworld (let’s be honest, it’s relatable) and there were concepts I loved such as the difference between witch magic and wizard magic. Esk was supposed to be the main character since that the book started with her birth and the rest of the story was influenced by her destiny. In the climax of the book Esk’s full potential is revealed but in the rest of the book I found the character’s surrounding Esk to be more interesting. For example, Granny Weatherwax was practically a force of nature as she could take on the highest of wizards when she was in a bad, determined mood and I loved her practical, yet flexible way of looking at the world. Esk didn’t have a lot, if any, influence over events and yes, that may be due to the fact that she was only nine years-old by the time the book ends. When it comes to Esk’s magic, Granny puts it succinctly, ‘the staff uses itself or it uses her, but she’s never been able to use it, d’you see?’ (page 271). Esk’s future life might be what she chose but her passivity in her own life before that point doesn’t necessarily make her the most interesting character in the book.

Pratchett’s books are full of great quotes but this part of Equal Rites did make me chuckle so I think that I will finish here with a couple of lines from page 91:

Granny strode up to the tree until her hooked nose was level with Esk’s. 

‘Turning people into pigs is not allowed,’ she hissed. ‘Even brothers.’ 

 

5 Senses

Touch. Smell. Taste. Hear. See.

There is so much more to writing than just translating what you can see in your mind’s eye into words. We experience the world through five senses so there is no reason why your character doesn’t experience their world in the same way (unless you’re writing about aliens with different biological systems in which case, I still have a point – creative writing can be about what you leave out as well as what you put in).

Of course, I don’t mean that every single sentence of your writing should include absolutely everything but, think about when you’re most conscious of your surroundings and the way you react to them. For example, when you’re really scared innocuous noises can sound louder and more ominous. Or if you’re happy then you might want more hugs or high-fives than usual.

Sight isn’t always going to be the first sense to react to a change in the environment. If your character is trapped in a pitch black room then they’re going to be using their senses of hearing, smell and possibly touch to navigate as they won’t be able to rely on their eyes.

Using these different, varied approaches to a scene allows you to create a more relatable character for the reader so, ask yourself, ‘Is my character going to be reacting via this sense in this situation?’ It’s alright to pick and choose but, changing the approach from time to time goes a long way to keeping your writing fresh and exciting.

To really think about including all five senses in a scene I have a writing exercise that I thought about after reading an amazing short piece of writing which made my mouth water even though the characters were only sharing a simple meal.

Think about your favourite food. Feed your character the meal and write about their experience. Think about them using every sense during the meal.

I find that if you’re describing a meal that you genuinely enjoy then you’ll want to do it justice. The prompt might sound a bit simple but once you start thinking about every element it is not so easy because you want the reader to feel connected to your writing. Making a reader feel hungry because you’re writing about food can be great practise in cultivating this connection.

I hope that you have fun when you’re writing.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

IMG_0313 (2)

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson was first published in Sweden in 2009. It was translated into English by Rod Bradbury and published in the UK in 2012.

My copy of this book was a Secret Santa present from a lovely colleague at the time who only really knew that I liked books. Before I read the book all I knew about it was that it had become a bestseller and the title sounded intriguing. Recommending a book to someone that you don’t know very well can be a tricky task but I’m glad that this book was recommended to me by someone who’d read it and liked it.

The events in this book are pretty implausible but, they’re not completely improbable which was an impressive feat for a writer to pull off in my opinion. If part of a writer’s job is to convince the reader that what they are telling them could be/should be/would be true then this book has that elusive talent included in every chapter. The entire book might seem to be a little bit far-fetched at times but there is a quote which appears alone on a page right before the first chapter, Things are what they are, and whatever will be will be. This line of text really sets the tone for the entire book because although the characters find themselves in unusual situations there is not a lot of fuss or dramatic outbursts from the central character and his closest friend’s often begin to adopt the same sort of attitude.

The main character is Allan Karlsson and on his one-hundredth birthday he climbs out of the window of the Old People’s Home and he walks away. Although this is the start of one journey there is almost another entire story included in the book as there are chapters describing parts of his life before he climbed out of the window, starting from when he was born in Sweden. In the blurb of the book it says, As his escapades unfold, Allan’s earlier life is revealed. A life in which – remarkably – he played a key role behind the scenes in some of the momentous events of the twentieth century. I had no idea of the lengths that this idea would be stretched to before reading the book but Allan’s journey connects some of the biggest influential events of the previous century all across the world. I really think that any other author would be hard-pressed to be successful in including so many pivotal historical moments in one book without the text being overworked.

Allan’s calm attitude, especially in unlikely circumstances, leads him to make friends easily. This talent serves him well throughout his life and after his one hundredth birthday he continues to make loyal friends starting with Julius until it is a group of nine who travel together in the end.

Honestly, on the whole, I enjoyed it. It was almost a black comedy at times but the story was clever, well-thought out and I love that, after a century of experiences, Allan can still claim, as long as we think positively, I’m sure a solution will appear. (page 350)

 

Blogging

Blogging, when it comes to digitally posting it so that people can see it, is a fairly straightforward process. There are lots of ways to blog and I don’t always sit down in front of the computer. I can just grab my phone and start typing anything I want, wherever I want.

Just pick a topic and go.

For approximately a year and a half I have been making posts about books – both writing and reading – because it’s a topic that I like. There’s not really a lot more to my choice than that. Plus, if I occasionally stray and talk about other creative topics that I’m interested in it’s nice to know that I have the freedom to choose what I’m blogging about.

Sometimes it can be tough to pick a topic for a particular post because I know that I want to blog every week. That was the schedule I chose for myself when I started my blog and (most weeks) I like sticking to it.

When I’m trying to think of a new post an idea will usually occur to me when I’m nowhere near a pen which is pretty similar to the moments when I’m drafting my fictional stories. However, unlike fiction, I never draft out a blog post in my head beyond the first couple of paragraphs before I start writing. I’m happy to edit until my heart is content but I like how it feels more natural to type without analysing every small sentence before I begin.

It’s not always easy but, my blog means that I’m writing something every week even if it’s only one post and I get to talk about a topic that I love.

I love doing my regular posts but I’m also really enjoying writing my book reviews every two weeks. For starters, it’s been a great way of catching up on my to-read list. I’ve also borrowed more books lately and that’s great in it’s own way because I can share my thoughts with someone who already knows the story before I write anything down. After reading a book that I’ve really enjoyed it’s nice to talk about it afterwards.

Before I added book reviews to my blog I didn’t write them. In fact, the last time I had written a book review was for a class at college.

Writing the book reviews was (is) a learning curve. However, I’ve noticed that I am pretty consistent in a few things. I never like to assume that a person reading my review has read the book. By trying not to reveal any ‘spoilers’ I worry sometimes that I’m not always reviewing the book properly but I give my honest opinion and I hope that counts for a lot. I try and start each blog post in a similar way to add some consistency and including a image of the book covers helps make the pages more colourful.

When it comes to blogging, I really like that I can be casual in the tone of my writing even if I’m not casual in my schedule.

Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh

sweet by yotam ottolenghi

Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh was published in 2017.

A recipe book may not be the usual kind of book that I review on my blog but it’s the newest book I’ve bought and it’s very pretty.

I don’t buy a lot of recipe books. For starters, Sweet is a fairly hefty hardback book and at the moment it’s waiting for me to make some space on my bookshelves. Also, as pretty as the pictures may be, I never want to buy a recipe book unless I know there is an excellent chance that I will make at least half of the recipes that the book contains. After all, if I’m looking for a certain type of recipe then I could always search for one online instead so, if I’m buying a recipe book I want to get the most out of it.

However, I didn’t buy Sweet just because I was looking for a recipe book at that particular moment.

A couple of week’s ago I saw Sweet in the shop and it caught my attention. It wasn’t the first time that I’d thought about buying the book but, last year it had never been on my mind when I was in the mood to dig out the baking pans. When I picked up the book to flip through it again I’d like to say that the decadent picture of the banana cakes with rum caramel on page 100 wasn’t the only reason why I bought the book that day but, it was probably a big factor (haha).

Sweet is full of tantalising pictures that show off most of the creations detailed in the book but it’s not just the pictures that make this particular recipe book delightful. I must admit that I was rather charmed by the introduction written by Yotam Ottolenghi. I laughed more than once when I was reading it and although the clear instructions of a recipe might be serious I love how the introduction revealed that they had fun in creating every sweet bake.

I also loved the detailed glossary contained in the back pages because it’s always nice to have as much information as possible when your attempting something for the first time. For example, I didn’t know what pandan was so having the explanation, as well as a suggestion of what can be used as a substitute, in the back of the book was very helpful. I’m not a professional pastry chef but I’ve always loved learning about new and interesting ingredients.

I love to bake but it’s not a hobby that I turn to all of the time.

There can be lengthy periods of time when I don’t feel really motivated or I find a recipe that looks amazing but, I can’t find the right sized pastry rings anywhere for making fraisiers (something that is both true and vaguely annoying).

So, I’m really glad that I bought Sweet. When I bought this book I thought that the pictures showed some beautiful sweet creations and I liked the way that the instructions were laid out clearly. I will admit that I was very lucky to find the book for half price (Sweet costs £27 RRP) and the reduced price did give me that final push in deciding to buy it.

Overall, I think that this book might just be exactly what I need to tempt me back into the kitchen.

There’s not exactly a blurb but, there is a lovely quote on the back cover of Sweet:

There’s nothing like a perfectly light sponge flavoured with spices and citrus or an icing-sugar-dusted cookie to raise the spirits and create a moment of pure joy. 

Learning New Skills

I’m going to deviate a little bit on this post today because… I haven’t done any creative writing since the beginning of April.

Yikes.

Okay, yes I have been busy for the past couple of weeks (everything’s calmed down again now) but I really, really have not felt the urge to pick up a pen/sit down at the keyboard.

Instead, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and trying different creative projects.

For example, today I learned how to make a Hooky Rug.

It has a funny name but, it’s surprisingly easy and fun once you learn how to do it. Louise saw it demonstrated on the BBC program MAKE! Craft Britain a few weeks ago and after trying it herself she encouraged all of us to give it a go. Using the technique, here is a picture of a completed seat cushion that was made by Louise (really surprisingly comfy):

IMG_0256

I love going to the Darlington Arts Community Café that is run by Louise because it’s nice to do something creative when you’re surrounded by like-minded people but, I also love our occasional sessions where I get to learn a brand new skill.

For our hooky rugs we used some old t-shirts that we cut into strips (this is the part where you really need to use patience) and once we had our hessian and a hook we just pushed the hook through one of the gaps in the hessian, grabbed the t-shirt material and pulled a small piece of it through to the front.

IMG_0251

Of course we started with a small test piece and as you can see from this next photo Louise was more practised. She had much smaller gaps between her material than I did, haha (you can see the hooks we were using in the photo as well):

IMG_0240

Then we moved onto drawing our designs and this photo was my initial design:

IMG_0241 (2)

Then it was just a case of following the pattern and adding the t-shirt material. I started with two shades of green. It’s not completely finished yet but I’m pretty happy about everything I did while I was sitting in the café at the local bookshop.

IMG_0243

IMG_0245

IMG_0247

IMG_0255

It was great to spend an afternoon learning a new skill and I was constantly seeing the results as I was working on it.

I got a little bit stuck once I’d finished the outline that I wanted because I changed my mind about the colours I was going to use in the rest of the space. After a few suggestions, I like the idea of adding some bright colours and turning it into some sort of abstract garden so I’m looking forward to finishing it.

 

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Howls-Moving-Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones was first published in 1986.

The book I borrowed from my sister was a copy that was published in 2009 (love the book cover which is featured at the top of this page).

Howl’s Moving Castle is a magical fantasy story featuring wizards, witches, curses and pretty much everything good about the genre. It’s also a trilogy but, I have only read the first one so far.

Yes, I am partial to a good fantasy story but, putting that aside, I think that Howl’s Moving Castle is a great story. To sum it up a little bit, despite the fact that the book title points out the character Howl, most of the story and the characters are seen through the eyes of Sophie Hatter. Sophie is from the town Market Chipping in the land of Ingary and the story begins in the hat shop which belonged to Sophie’s father but when she is cursed by the Witch of the Waste she finally leaves to find her fortune.

I love Diana Wynne Jones’ imagination. Her world’s are so detailed and Howl’s Moving Castle is no different. There are so many different types of scenery in the book as Sophie goes from a hat shop to the Waste to castles and farms and palaces but none of them left me wondering, “I wonder what that looks like.”

There are a lot of enjoyable moments in this story and I found myself laughing out loud more than once at Howl’s self-obsessed moments and Sophie’s grumbling. I know that Sophie’s cleaning spree after seeing the messy state of Howl’s living room is hilarious. Also, Howl’s overdramatic reaction (a.k.a. tantrum) after Sophie cleans the bathroom is very entertaining.

It almost feels like a fairytale as Sophie, the heroine, saves a whole manner of creatures and people during her journey. In the end of the story misunderstandings are cleared up, the real villains are revealed as well as defeated and a lot of curses are broken. It’s a very satisfying ending in my opinion.

Like any avid reader I try not to let alternate versions affect my opinions of the book I’m reading but I watched Studio Ghibli’s film version Howl’s Moving Castle several times before I read the book. In fact, it was my sister and I watching the film last Friday that finally prompted me to wrestle the book out of her hands (haha, joking. Thanks for lending me the book and promising to lend me the next two in the series).

I didn’t have a quote in mind when I started writing this blog but, as I flipped through the book again before I posted this I chose to feature this short conversation between Michael, Calcifer and Sophie on pages 123-124. They’re talking about Howl and it might not be the nicest thing to say about a person but, it tells the reader a lot about Howl’s character and how he’s seen by those who are closest to him.

Calcifer and Michael exchanged glances. “Did he forget to spend at least an hour in the bathroom this morning?” Michael asked.

“He was in there two hours,” said Calcifer, “putting spells on his face. Vain fool!” 

“There you are, then,” said Michael. “The day Howl forgets to do that will be the day I believe he’s really in love, and not before.” 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑