Monthly Archives: November 2012

Book Review: Practical Magic.

Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman.

I’ve had this book for ages but, for some reason, I hadn’t read it. Practical Magic (Griffin Dunne, 1998) is one of my favourite films, so I was a little worried that reading the book would make me feel disappointed by the film. fortunately, that didn’t happen. I loved the book, and I still love the film. For me, I found that there were enough differences that you could see the film was based on the book, but only loosely followed it. The film was written incredibly well, in my humble opinion, so that it complimented the book.

As with the film, it follows the story of sisters Sally and Gillian after their parents die and their move to the aunts on Magnolia street. In the film it follows this idea of being cursed by their ancestor, Maria, and how death follows any who “dare love an Owens girl”. The book differs from this track. It brings up love and feeling cursed, but it’s more centred around what the sisters believe they deserve. Their abandonment issues make them believe that they are not worthy of being loved, or they’re scared to love in case they lose something they care so much about.

They grow up as polar opposites, but are brought together by the death of Gillian’s boyfriend Jimmy. This finally brings Gillian back to the family. Sally left the aunts’ when her two girls (also polar opposites) were babies after fearing they’d be targets like her and Gillian were. As with the film, it follows their journey and how they learn to accept each other’s differences, and to love themselves for who they are.

Both the book and the film are beautifully narrated with vivid concepts, relatable emotions, and ‘real’ family frictions. I’m actually disappointed that Officer Gary Hallet wasn’t how he was portrayed in the film though – I really loved Aidan in this. Gary in the book seemed such a dull character by comparison (which he really isn’t, he just felt different). I’m also sad that Gillian didn’t look like the red-haired Nicole Kidman. The symmetry between Sally and Gillian with Sally’s girls, Antonia and Kylie, was much more subtle than film. In the book, it’s more about attitudes and how personalities can grow, change, converge… dependent upon influences, circumstances and age.

You actually see Sally’s children play a much bigger role in showing this development when it comes to the book.

Despite my love of the film, I still would definitely recommend reading the book as it’s like reading two books based on the same topic – you can see the similarities but, once you accept they’re not the same, you can love both equally.

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Can you see the light?

My field of vision is blurred. I don’t need glasses or contact lenses; I’m not visually impaired in any sense. I’m losing my grip on reality, retreating further and further into a realm of make-believe. Real life holds no magic for me. There’s very little holding me in ‘this’ world. In many ways, insanity would be blessing. Instead, I resort to books, films and writing.

The more shit the world throws at me, the further I want to burrow. I’m a serial ostrich, finding solace with my head deep in the ground. But the real world seeks me out. It claws its way into my subconscious, leaving me to deal with restless nights of vividly disturbing dreams. Unsettled sleep, no work, bills to pay, and feeling as if I’ve lost my way leaving me as a somewhat emotional wreck.

On many occasions, I manage just fine. I keep myself busy and occupied organising other things. Throwing myself into group activities and conversations but, when approached, I can sense that feeling bubbling under the surface. The smallest thing can set me off, which is usually when I’m forced to face reality again.

The reality is I’m a lost soul. I’m stuck in that middle ground of someone who seemed to take the wrong path; I picked the other door and I’m still stumbling down an avenue fraught with yet more obstacles. How did I lose my way? I was a good kid at school. I was academic, conscientious, polite… I hit college and I had split responsibilities. I wanted to do well but I needed to support my family too. My control was slipping, and I opted for work over university.

Maybe that wouldn’t have made a difference. Maybe I’d have lost my way anyway. But it feels like that’s where it went wrong. I worked three jobs as well as doing an NVQ (which seems to be useless now). Now that I want to find my way on a career path I can feel enthused by, there seems to be nothing out there for people like me. On paper, I look unqualified. I lack experience, despite the many jobs I’ve had. I can’t even seem to change track – I’m stuck, and without work, losing motivation fast.

How do you stay optimistic when every time you summon the energy to persevere despite the odds, the world shits on you again?

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Book Review: Poison Study, Magic Study, Fire Study (books 1-3).

Poison Study, Magic Study, Fire Study (Yelena Zaltana: books 1-3), By Maria V. Snyder.

A series of books that follow a 20 year old woman (Yelena) from her time as a prisoner awaiting her execution, through to the discovery of being a rather powerful magician. To put things into context, the world Yelena grows up in is divided into to countries: Ixia (ruled by The Commander who had killed the tyrannical magic-weilding King, and split Ixia into military districts), and Sitia (viewed as being more liberal. A refuge for those seeking to escape military rule. Also a sanctuary for magicians).

Yelena chooses to accept the high-risk position of food taster for the paranoid Commander and, in doing so, sets about a chain of events that begin to reveal who she is, where she has come from, and a whole host of other events she was embroiled in without even realising. As any main character should know, their very survival is imperative in order to prevent the whole world from being destroyed, or changed in ways that the general populace would be unhappy with.

I really enjoyed this series. It had lots of action, strong female role models, as well as good and evil warring against each other (and many you think fall into one character, end up switching sides frequently). The general storyline comes across like a good YA fantasy, but parts of the content wouldn’t be suitable for younger audiences, as there are many references to rape, sacrifice, and gruesome murders. The rape scenes aren’t particularly graphic, but the murders are.  The many references to  these ‘bad people’ and the things they do to the young and vulnerable could be upsetting for the more sensitive audiences.

That said, our heroine is no Bella (re: Twilight). She has bouts of self-doubt (well, she was a nobody), she’s uncertain of her skill (she was never really trained), she’s consumed by grief or loss (a lot of people die)… but she claws her way back up and out of the cesspool and kicks some motherfuckin’ ass!

A minor issue with this series is the repetition. Chunks of text from previous books are regurgitated in later ones. I am very well versed in both Ixian and Sitian history, magic, and all that jazz since I have had frequent reminders throughout. I expect these tidbits would be useful reminders if I’d left more time between reading each book, but I read them directly after each other, so they became a little annoying.

In the last book, there also seemed to be a lot of people who were smiling “sardonically”.

Like I said though, minor issues. Definitely worth a read!

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This Craft Called Writing

After the Plain or Fancy post from Gillian Cross, I got to thinking about adverbs. How and when should we use them? Is right to cull a manuscript of the little blighters? Or do they have a role to play in our prose. I came to an interesting conclusion.

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This Craft Called Writing

Think of your setting as a painting, only instead of using colours on a canvass, you’re using words to describe a picture in someone else’s mind. The good thing about words rather than paint is you can use them to explore all five senses. Touch, taste, smell, sight and sound can all be used when describing a setting.

Every scene happens somewhere. It could be on a pirate ship, under a bed, or walking through a desert. Wherever your story is set you’ll want your readers to close their eyes and imagine they’re there.

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Some very sound advice, particularly for those of you struggling to balance life and NaNo.

Cat Lumb: The Struggle to be a Writer

Squeezing in time to write can sometimes be the biggest barrier to actually getting anything written. Most of us have busy lives and a list of priorities that other people can often depend on. Fortunately, right now I am lucky enough to not be in such a category.

Over the past three years I’ve had to rearrange my responsibilities quite drastically thanks to contracting a virus in 2009 that left me with M.E. (more commonly recognised as ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’). Since then I have had to simplify my life. I was off sick for a number of months (and then off sick repeatedly over a number of weeks), and for a short time I could barely leave my apartment because I couldn’t be sure I’d have the energy to get back – even though I might only be considering a journey to the shop around the corner.

It was in this time…

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