In my very own bubble

reading-franz-eyblThe other day, I was feeling a bit wilted around the edges. Best cure for that is to curl up somewhere and escape into a book. Quite often, I’ll opt for a book set in the past, one of those books that combines blood and gore with courtly love and honourable men (like my own books, come to think of it. But I cannot read my own books to escape: I end up using a red pen and doing further corrections…)

When I am feeling very, very low, I prefer it if the book in question is one I’ve read before – I need the warmth of familiarity rather than the suspense of new adventures. In these situations, my go-to books are rarely any literary pearls. I’m not in the mood to savour carefully constructed sentences – I need love, and preferably steamy love. So I read Sylvia Day. Or Amanda Quick. Or (yup: I do) E.L. James.

I have a crush on Gideon Cross (Sylvia Day’s very hot, very powerful, male protagonist) I have less of a crush on Mr Grey, but both these men hide scars under polished exteriors, and I like that. In Amanda Quick’s case, her heroes are less scarred, less powerful, just as hot – and seriously, peeking as a Regency hero undresses is something else, starting with those tight, tight Hessians.

Now, when I’m re-reading Ms Day or Ms Quick, I can always argue I am doing it to hone my writing skills. These two ladies are accomplished writers, delivering well-wrought characters and (especially in the case of Ms Quick) delicious dialogue. I read Ms Quick to laugh. I read Ms Day to fan myself.

Ms Quick writes romances set in the 19th century (all through the century) and has a preference for male heroes with green, grey or amber eyes. Her heroines are determined young ladies who set out to sort whatever problem they might have all on their own, and invariably the hero comes to their aid – well, except for when the hero is the problem. Excellent historical context, vivid descriptions and intelligent plotlines make Ms Quick’s books fun to read – several times.

readers-jean-jacques-hennerMs Day does write historical romances – quite adeptly, I might add – but it is her Crossfire books that I return to time and time again. A male protagonist burdened by his past encounters an equally scarred young woman. Sparks fly, and just like that, Eva and Gideon grow into my heart. Eva is no retiring violet – but her past haunts her. It is Gideon who saves her from her past, and she in turn takes on the task of freeing this man from the shadows of his childhood. Two damaged people trying to heal each other – a somewhat combustible combo, all of it delivered in well-paced prose, generously laced with hot, steamy sex scenes.

In comparison with Ms Day, Ms James delivers clunky and tedious sex scenes. So boring, in fact, that I rarely read them. The dialogue is awful, cliché stacked upon cliché. Anastasia Steele is an anachronism: here we have a young, pretty woman in the 21st century who does not have a laptop (seriously?) who is unused to smartphones (err…) and is also a virgin – a total innocent when it comes to sex. Which makes it sort of incredible when she accepts Grey’s proposal to enter into a Dom-Sub relationship with him.

The writing is generally awful. The supporting characters are caricatures. And despite all this, Ms James’ books have sold millions and millions. Why? Well, that is what I try to work out as I re-read them. Pure research, people…Ha! Who am I trying to fool? I read them because I like them, and I know why I like them: Ms James offers a new take on the oldest story around, that of love as a healing force. Like The Beauty and the Beast, Anastasia saves Christian. From himself, from his self-imposed loneliness, from his past, from his self-hatred. Come to think of it, all good romances are variations on this old chestnut. The interesting thing about Fifty Shades is that it’s not a good romance, in the sense that the writing is sub-standard. And still it sells. Obviously, Ms James has succeeded where it truly counts: she has given the readers protagonists they truly care about.

reader-fragonard_the_readerNone of the above crosses my mind when I retreat into my escapist bubble. In my bubble, all I want is to be entertained, dragged out of my reality which, at present, sucks. Any writer who can create an illusion strong enough to yank me out of the here and now has, IMO, done their job. Kudos to them, I say.

When life sucks the words out of you

IMG_0093Sometimes, things happen that sort of whack Ms Inspiration senseless. It may be too much work (but that rarely fazes my Ms Inspiration, who just snorts, shakes out her long and colourful skirts and tells me not to whinge but get on with it) it may be life in general. Or, in some cases, Ms Inspiration decides she needs a long vacation and scoots off somewhere else entirely. Knowing Ms Inspiration, she’s likely hiking the Annapurna ring or paddling up the Amazon or doing some mountaneering in the Rockies. (Ms Inspiration is not only my muse. In some ways, she’s my alter ego, all the way from her long, dark curly hair to her dainty Victorian half-boots)

Whatever the case, there are times when the words just dry up. There I am, eager to get cracking, and I stare and stare at the cursor, trying to come up with one good sentence. When I’ve written the equivalent of “once upon a time” ten times, i know it is best to give up – for now.

Thing is, for me, words are a way to handle my reality. So when I can’t express myself,  there’s a lot of stuff roiling round in my belly and generally generating quite some discomfort. Especially when things are happening in life. Difficult things, that require to be processed. Elements of guilt, of frustration, of feeling utterly helpless – all of this tumbles round and round and is at most expressed in a succinct “Shit.” Not much help in processing things, let me tell you… Plus, Ms Inspiration is of little help – unless she finds a way to translate my personal experiences into fiction. Knowing her, she will. Once she’s back from Tibet or the impenetrable jungles round the Congo river.

I guess all writers draw on their own experiences when writing. We are also a bit like magpies: we steal other people’s experiences, gestures, ways of speak and incorporate them into our work. We watch those around us avidly, we register mannerisms and laughs, the interaction between friends and lovers. “I spy, with my little eye” – that’s a writer for you, entranced by the everyday drama of human interaction around us. So all of you (us) who have writer friends, best beware: at some point, something you did or said will end up in a novel. The important thing, of course, is to anonymise what you steal. The girl who decorated her hair with lacquered chopsticks will never recognise herself when she pops up in one of my coming books, neither will the rather gorgeous young man whom I once saw comforting his weeping girlfriend in Hyde Park.

gabriel-metsu-writingWhat any of the above has to do with my lack of words, I don’t really know – beyond concluding that by writing about this, I suddenly seem to have recouped some of my capacity for verbal expression.
“See?” Ms Inspiration whispers in my ear. “Sometimes, it’s just a matter of sitting down and putting one word before the other.” I glance at her: she’s sporting a lovely tan and has eschewed her normally so dark clothes for a creation in burnt orange and green, reminding me of a vivid tiger. “You’ve been gone for a long time.” Long enoght to sunbleach her hair and cover her nose with a smattering of dark freckles.
“Yup.” She shakes her forearm, and her multiple bangles jingle. “Did you miss me?”
“Not much.” Liar, liar pants on fire. Ms Inspiration arches her brows, no more.
“Okay, a little,” I tell her. Her brows rise all the way up to her hairline. I press my lips together. I’m not giving her more than that, not when she’s left me stranded and wordless for weeks and weeks. Ms Inspiration smirks – I always forget that as she lives inside my head, she hears all my thoughts. But she doesn’t say anything. Instead, she wonders what I think of the following:

She was soft and round and so short she had to crane her head back to look at him. Big dark eyes in a face that still retained the softness of childhood, dark hair that spilled unbound down her back, and a plump lower lip that bore the indents of her teeth – she must have been biting it just seconds before. A child, he reflected, trying to recall just how old this bride of his was. Fourteen? She didn’t look fourteen, but when his gaze dipped lower it encountered a promising swell over her chest, so maybe she wasn’t quite as immature as he had first thought. He smiled. She blushed, but did not avert her eyes, studying him as intently as he was studying her.

It seems the words are back, peeps. Or at least Ms Inspiration is!