Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Feminism and literature

The Madonna. The Whore. The Hysterical Woman. 
Hysterical - hysterectomy: specific female madness. Where is the Penisterical Man?

In a lecture today we discussed feminism and literature. We looked at different ways women are featured in literature, as characters and as authors, and their place in the canon (or lack of.) One of the biggest issues raised was how women write women without falling into inherent patriarchal stereotypes that they have been brought up with. 

And, of course, that got me thinking about my women. I don't want to reflect on them afterwards and blame my mistakes on 'the patriarchy' - I want to train myself to think critically about how I portray women. The way I write currently is not particularly conducive to this; I tend to go into a trance and let the words come out, and I have a variety of female characters that could probably easily be categorised as some sort of stereotype. Oops? 

Is it possible to rectify this without sacrificing voice, style, characterisation? Is it possible to have the perfect, non-stereotyped female literary figure? Is it? 

Maybe not. And I don't think there is just one worldwide patriarchy, either. So maybe we just need enough women to write enough different women to allow a crisscrossing network of so-and-so's character linked to such-and-such patriarchy, so that it all becomes confusing and the critics hold up their hands and say 'enough!' Women can write women however they need and want to for their stories (and for that matter, so can men.)

This is a touchy subject, highly flammable. Any thoughts?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Hobbit

Have we all seen the trailer yet?!

Tolkien was a genius, and I'm glad Peter Jackson had the ambition to bring that genius to a new audience on the big screen. I'm excited for the release, especially after all the stopping and starting the production went through, and it will be nice to see more of Bilbo.

Now seems to be a great time for fantasy novels to appear on the big screen, as special effects and animation have become so advanced; the magic can be recreated without awkward distractions, such as seeing the cables allowing a person to 'fly', or an ill-fitting mouthful of vampire fangs that probably wouldn't even pass quality control in a joke shop (Christopher Lee...)

Obviously a lot had to be cut out of LotR (and there was nothing special effects could do about that!) but I think it is impressive how well Jackson managed to use the stories to make such thrilling and enchanting films. Not all books are in such safe hands, and some real treasures have been ruined by bad acting, cheesy sfx and/or mutilated storylines. I'm sure we all have our pet hates, especially if the book meant a lot personally. Mine is The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. But...that's a story for another time.

I know I have nearly another whole year to wait, but I don't think any film will get me as excited as The Hobbit in 2012.

Because I'm feeling excited, a bit geeky and nostalgic about the time I read The Hobbit under the duvet with a torch as a kid, I'm ending this post with my favourite of the riddles in the dark...

This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.

Monday, 16 January 2012

For the love of deviantART

As you may have noticed, if I illustrate my blog but don't use my own pictures I often feature an artist from deviantART. This is because I used to be a member, and was completely wowed by all the varied talent from around the world. Now that I have my own platform where I can promote other people's work (along with my own!) I'll be featuring more artists and hopefully send a bit of traffic their way ;)

I have also put out a request on dA, where if an artist comes across my page and sees what I do, they can put themselves forward to be featured. It makes sense that I post it here as well:
'If you stumble upon this blog post and feel you have artwork I could feature, then please feel free to leave me a comment with a link. I usually look for artwork when I have something to write about, but this way I might be inspired as well. If your artwork is purely devoted to [fairy tale and folklore] themes, and especially if you have illustrated any literature of this genre, then I would be interested in doing a feature on you, possibly with an interview.'
So, to any artists who may see this blog post, the same applies; leave a comment with links to your work and a few words about yourself :)

Link to my dA page (excuse the name...I was still a child when I joined!)
The collection of featured work (or simply click through my favourites into the correct folder)

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Snow White dreams of winning the lottery

by Littlejunko @ dA
I'm back with my second piece of writing from last week's workshop, and this is definitely edging more towards the outrageous wish side of 'resolutions and outrageous wishes.' In this piece we had to show our character's wish coming true...but I had to go and put a dark twist on that as well. Is this typical of me? 

  Snow White sat at the edge of the sofa, her eyes glued to the magic mirror, subconsciously lacing her fingers through her long, coal-black hair. The presenter of the National Lottery draw was taking his time with the preamble, allowing Snow to arrange her 100 tickets in neat rows in front of her using her toes.
  Her concentration was momentarily disrupted by a loud crash from the palace courtyard, followed by a torrent of profanities that would have made even the Big Bad Wolf blush.
  'So, my charming husband is home,' she thought to herself, and wondered which of his favourite fancy girls he'd spent the day with this time; the mile long strand of golden hair on his suit jacket had given the game away last weekend. As the years of potion and fairy dust abuse began to take their toll, her Prince was becoming careless.
  She, on the other hand, had been the picture of stealth and deception when she had borrowed Hans' golden goose for the week. It had been thanks to the many-carated egg she produced that Snow had been able to buy herself such a big chance of winning the draw tonight. Having been surrounded by Kingdom politics her whole life she was very aware at the tumbling value of gold eggs in the current economic climate, and decided that the only way she could provide for her seven saviours would be by winning the lottery.
  After all, she didn't need the money herself, but was determined the dwarves would have a secure future when they retired. She had given up asking the Prince - he refused to cough up a single copper coin for her rescuers, and Snow was forced to watch helplessly as her friends' potential pensions were drained away on cheap thrills.

So I decided to bring Snow White up to date a bit and move away from the 'happily ever after' idea, and yes, I was definitely influenced by The ASBO Fairy Tales - I would highly recommend this book if you fancy checking out a Jeremy Kyle take on these stories!

I had a lot of fun writing these, and I think twisting fairy tales is a great way of doing a bit of writing practise - if you grew up with these stories you'll already know the plot and the characters inside out and back to front, so all that's left to do is let your imagination run wild! 

Read 'Peter Pan wants to learn the piano' here.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Peter Pan wants to learn the piano

by PhantomSeptember @ dA
Here, as promised, is my first offering of output from the creative writing workshop at Waterstones! In the first exercise we were instructed to show our character about to break/give up on their new year's resolution. Unfortunately I was pretty engrossed in setting the scene, so I never got around to Peter walking away. Still, I had a lot of fun coming up with the circumstances that lead to his desire, writing children again, and figuring out where in Neverland you find a piano in the first place!
'What's stopping you, Peter? The ship is ours, we can do whatever we like!'
Peter hovered at the edge of the cliff, chewing his lip as he stared at the dark tangle of ropes and sails silhouetted against the rapidly setting sun.
'Come on, you're not afraid of the pirates coming back are you?'
A chorus of badly-held back guffaws broke out amongst the Lost Boys, and a rogue elbow jabbed into Peter's thigh, startling him into tumbling over the precipice.
He fell several feet, then, recovering from the shock, shot back upwards with an angry roar.
'I ought to teach you all a lesson on respecting your leader! And on the correct behaviour for secret missions and stakeouts!' he bellowed, with such force behind his words he spat a shower of fairy dust over the closest boys. They were deadly silent, and stared up at their leader in a mixture of shock and fear at his sudden mood swing.
'We...we was only 'aving a laugh,' came the timid voice of Tootles from near the back. Peter scowled and turned his gaze back towards the Jolly Roger.
'Quiet, all of you; I'm thinking,' he ordered.
Inside Captain Hook's cabin stood the object of his desire, a vision of promise in ebony and ivory! Whenever the Lost Boys and Pirates had a skirmish on the ship, Peter took a second to retreat from battle and push his nose against the glass of the cabin window, just to stare in awe at the instrument.
Ever since that fateful flight to London on Christmas Eve night, when he had peeked into a house and seen a young boy playing carols for his family, he had been enamoured with the piano. He had watched the parents smile and turn the pages of the music, encouraging their son in between verses of 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,' and instantly felt a stab of jealousy. And if that scrawny little somebody could do it, then the great Peter Pan would have no trouble!

Well...I think you can see where this might be going. I thought that, if I had finished it, the reason Peter would walk away from his resolution would be because he realised he had no parents to play for or to encourage him, and he would no longer see the point. It's quite sad really...

It has been a long time since I wrote children (or for children,) but as I would some day like to return to that, any feedback on the characterisation or dialogue would be very welcome!

You can read 'Snow White wins the lottery' here!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Fairy tales and outrageous wishes

Last Thursday I took part in Story Scavenger's free creative writing workshop @ Waterstone's cafe, on the topic of 'resolutions and outrageous wishes.' A lot of people turned up, and we had great fun writing down names of good and bad fairy tale characters, resolutions and crazy dreams, tossing them into the middle of the table and then selecting a combination to write about. Some of our group's included: 

  • The Ugly Duckling wants to own a VW camper van,
  • The Wicked Witch wants to take more time for herself and treat herself better,
  • The Snow Queen wants to record music, and
  • One of the three little pigs wants to run away with a travelling funfair

by themicawber @ dA

I picked out 'Peter Pan wants to learn the piano' and 'Snow White wants to win the lottery.' I really enjoyed speed-writing the scenes from my stories - it has been ages since I wrote in a big group like that and felt relaxed and happy doing it. I didn't quite build up the confidence to share my work, but that will be my challenge for next month's workshop!

I will post my unusual fairy tale creations in the next few days once I have typed them up! 

To find out about the february workshop, visit Wendy's blog here.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Is Caerleon the real Camelot?

'Camelot' by bikerblue61 @ da
When I was growing up my parents used to take us to stay with a family friend who lived in Caerleon, in south Wales. It was a place that, to this day, I associate with an element of magic and mystery, which I probably sensed from the Roman remains, which included an impressive amphitheatre. Some of my strongest memories from that place are of trudging amongst the ruins, and drinking cranberry juice in the garden of The Hanbury Arms (I used to think it was funny that 'cranberry' sounds like 'Hanbury'...)

But the other day I discovered that Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote the fantastically inaccurate Historia Regum Britanniae, believed that Caerleon, an important town to the Romans...was also the court of King Arthur. Although I haven't read it for myself, (yet) apparently Thomas Malory even has Arthur crowned at 'Carlion' in his retelling of the legend, Le Morte D'Arthur. 

And, even more exciting for the girl who once sat there and drank cranberry juice, Alfred Lord Tennyson actually stayed at The Hanbury Arms while he was writing The Idylls of the King

Why are so many people flooding to Glastonbury Tor in search of Avalon when they could go to Caerleon for Camelot?!

Unsurprisingly, this has re-ignited the flame that I burn out of love for Arthurian legend! If anyone would like to recommend any Arthurian literature, TV, artwork, anything, then please leave me a comment with your suggestions!

And, if you're interested, you can read my earlier review/discussion of the TV show Camelot and thoughts on keeping Arthurian legends alive...