So, we have reached the end of 2011. Where has the year gone? I feel like this one has flown by. 

Looking back, it's been a mixed bag, overall, in terms of writing, blogging and reading - if I were to summarise this year in a sentence, it would be as 'the year in which I read a lot of books I didn't want to be reading'.


Review: 'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern

'The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.'

And so starts Erin Morgenstern's 'The Night Circus', an epic tale of  a dark and magical travelling circus, and all the dark and magical people therein. The coming of Le Cirque des Reves (The Circus of Dreams), the Night Circus of the title, is a stylish and mystical event for the town it pitches up in during the night, enchanting nocturnal visitors with an elaborate series of spectacles and dreamy, game-like challenges and acts, before disappearing just as quickly just a few days later. Within this, Celia, the beautiful illusionist, whose illusions are more than a little bit real, and Marco, assistant to the circus' proprietor and more than a little magical himself, are locked within a predestined contest of magic, wits and eventual loss and sadness.


Is it Misogynistic if It's of Its Time?

You know, I'm a fairly modern girl, and, using fairly large strokes, take the equal stance of women in the Western world entirely for granted. I think most girls my age (I'm 26) would say the same: we believed without pause that we were entitled to education, to respect and to our own voices. The last one I especially accept without question, and set up my own platform (this one) without pause. So far, so fine.

Then, the other day, I caught myself singing and dancing along to this quite loudly whilst getting dressed one morning, and realised that I was quite happily singing along with surely one of the most misogynistic songs ever performed:


Wedding Poems

This is actually the sister post to something I posted in November about looking for wedding poems with a friend; this is the one where I describe those that were actually found. I didn't do the finding, the bride found them herself, but I always think that the poems read at weddings say quite a lot about the bride and groom, both as a couple and as individuals.

Here are the two chosen for the wedding a few weeks ago, in the venue that reminded me of Manderley in 'Rebecca':


The Christmas Gift Picker

Stuck for ideas for presents? I know, get them books! Seeing as that is not the kind of information you normally get from me (ha), you know to take it seriously and oblige.

How to Survive Christmas
And failing that, get them 'A Christmas Carol' (no-one can resist Tiny Tim - what a bummer that I didn't manage to get to that before Christmas. Look forward to an unseasonable review in February!) or Jilly Cooper's 'How to Survive Christmas'(I remember seeing this on my mum's bedstand when I was younger and being like 'Mum? Are you ok?')

I imagine most families fit into the mould of one or another or these.

My other contribution to Christmas this year is the addition of green to my usual red blog theme. I did doctor the Tolstoy is my Cat logo in Paint, adding a Christmas hat and some holly, but it looked so naff that I won't be uploading it here. I was also a little concerned that the logo designer, who's a friend on facebook, might see that I'd destroyed her logo with lame makeshiftness, so out of respect for her, I have abstained :)

I so wish it would snow! Snow always makes me want to take my delicious copy of Dr. Zhivago off the shelf and waft around looking pale in furs. Of course, in reality, it's exciting for a day or two, or for as long as you don't have to spend much time outdoors, and then it becomes the most annoying thing since unsliced bread. 

Some for Christmas would be nice though, wouldn't it? 


Dickens from the Start, No. 3 - The Pickwick Papers

Or, to give it its full title, 'The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club'.

This was the first book in my 'Dickens from the Start' challenge, and, well, there was a lot of it. A lot. 801 pages, to be exact, and I feel like I felt every single one.

The premise is pretty nice, if a little antiquated: a group of likely young men of a certain social standing traverse around the countryside, drinking like fishes and looking for girls and a good time. It was, of course, originally published in serialised form, with each edition as a stand alone but linked episode in the great collection of Pickwick Papers, which means that reading it as a complete collection is a bit like watching a box set of half hour episodes of a rogueish sitcom, where some storylines persist throughout (Ross and Rachel), but for the main part it is the characters repeating and then resolving mistakes (Joey and his dating, Chandler and the awkwardness) that make up the main narrative thrust. Pickwick's most capital chaps, Augustus Snodgrass, Tracy Tupman and Nathaniel Winkle, are a kind of amalgous mass of good humour and carpe diem recklessness, indistinguishable from each other as far as I could ascertain, but rather fond of the odd comely servant or marriagable middle-aged widow. There's also a lot of ghosts, goblins and ghouls, as well as a talking chair who dispenses romantic advice:

'Tom gazed at the chair; and, suddenly as he looked at it, a most extraordinary change seemed to come over it. The carving of the back gradually assumed the lineaments and expression of an old shrivelled human face; the damask cushions became an antique, flapped waistcoat; the round knobs grew into a couple of feet. encased in red cloth slippers; and the old chair looked like a very ugly old man..."Tom," said the old gentleman, "the widow's a fine woman - remarkable fine woman - eh, Tom?" Here the old fellow screwd up his eyes, cocked up one of his wasted little legs, and looked altogether so unpleasantly amorous that Tom was quite disgusted with the levity of his behaviour; - at his time of life, too!'

I thought that bit was actually quite funny.  


Last Night I Dreamt I Went to Manderley Again...

...when I arrived at my friend's beautiful wedding venue this weekend in Gartocharn, Scotland, and was reminded overwhelmingly of the iconic Manderley of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.

It was, of course, stunningly, starkly, beautiful, but it had that slightly eerie menace of wild places that could turn nasty as soon as the weather pulls in and someone malevolent steps out from behind that tree.

There was a long, straight, tree-lined driveway, a stark edifice of a Gothic mansion right next to a boatyard and a huge expanse of very cold water.

Yes, I might have been being a little dramatic, but see what you think:


10 Lessons on Nano, from a Non-Winner

So, I didn't manage to 'win', which is the official parlance for reaching the designated 50,000 words that comprise the completion of the Nanowrimo challenge. My score comes in at a respectable (to me, anyway) but unfortunately not winning, 30,031. I'm actually quite proud of that, and intrigued that, weirdly, that works out as 1,001 words per day. Maybe that's my 42?

Anyway, I think, as a loser, I might be able to point out the good behaviours that might get you to the end. 

Here we go: 

Being a Writer is Perilous...

...if all these articles I've come across lately are to be believed:

Hypergraphia, Bipolar and Writer's Block:

Harvard Medical Alumni Bulletin

Alcoholism in Writers, and the Accompanying Risks of Sobriety:

Intelligent Life

So, you know, hold onto your hats...

FYI, normal, slightly more elaborate, service will resume once Nanowrimo is finished on Wednesday.

Current weigh-in: God knows...


Whilst Searching for Wedding Poems with a Friend...

...I uttered a sentence not unlike 'I'm sure if people knew that poetry could be like this, they wouldn't walk around thinking poetry isn't for them.'

Here are some of the poems that brought me to that conclusion:


How to Create a Plot Twist

Another one aimed quite squarely at the Nano-ers: it's definitely this kind of point in the month for me, I don't know about anyone else. I found this online the other day:

10 Ways to Create a Plot Twist, by T. N. Tobias.

He's right to warn at the beginning of it that it might change the way you view stories forever. Really good advice though.

Weigh-in: 22,239...


Nobody Tells This To Beginners...

A lot of people will know this already, but I really like it, so I thought I'd share.

I would also take from this the idea that you shouldn't worry if your Nanowrimo-ing is going appallingly, for whatever reason: just think of it as part of your necessary body of work :) Think how much nearer you're getting to your goal, given the logic above.

P.S. My sad, sad weigh-in: 15,188. I am now really, really behind!


For all those doing Nanowrimo

A bit cheesy perhaps, but it put me in mind of Nanowrimo, so here you are:

'You Wake Up In The Morning

You wake up in the morning, and lo! your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours of the magic tissue of the universe of your life. No one can take it from you. No one receives either more or less than you receive. Waste your infinitely precious commodity as much as you will, and the supply will never be withheld from you. Moreover, you cannot draw on the future. Impossible to get into debt. You can only waste the passing moment. You cannot waste tomorrow; it is kept for you.'

Arnold Bennett

Now that's enough reading - go back to your WIP and write! 


This is Why Writing is Awesome.

Today I got roped into an off-stage skills learning days for 14-15 year olds in the theatre that is a fundraising client. Basically, 60 teenagers split into little groups and travelled around the theatre and had 2 minutes with a representative of many of the 'off-stage' skills it takes to run an arts organisation. I was the resident writer, as you'd probably guess.

After meeting all of us off-stage staff, we reassembled on the stage and they talked about what they learnt.

Writing was the only skill amongst all those on offer that did not necessary require university, could be learnt in your own time and off your own back, and all activity associated with training for it, save the price of pencils, was free.

They seemed to get that, and to like it. And I was so proud to tell them what I do. This is why writing is awesome.

I just thought I'd share.



In My Mailbox, No. 3

In My Mailbox, No. 3, is not going to be the most exciting IMM post, as I am currently, and am for the foreseeable, firmly ensconsed in Dickens. But let's make a small list anyhow:


'A Woman should know only how to do 3 Things: Tell the Truth, Ride a Horse, and Sign a Cheque.'

....or so said William Faulkner, according to Javier Marias' delightfully surreal 'Written Lives', which brings together a series of mini biographies of well-known writers, composed out of 'fragmentary and often...bizarre' anecdotal vignettes and tit-bits that 'treat these well-known literary figures as if they were fictional characters, which may well be how all writers, whether famous or obscure, would secretly like to be treated.' Of course, we know this to be absolutely true (in my case anyway - I used to frequently fake name people for the hell of it, and whilst temping, would make up fictional life histories and fake siblings and uncles just to pass the time.) 


The Book Drum Book Map

An impromptu, and largely wordless blog post (I'm saving them all for Nanowrimo - 1,796, and a free day today), but how cool is this?

They're still very much crowd-sourcing info, so go ahead, add something. Africa and Asia are still both oddly unpopulated.

Wish me luck - 2,500 word target for today...


Writing, blogging and Stephen Fry

'Stephen Fry's Planet Word' was a BBC programme that ended  a week or two ago, but I only managed to settle down to watch the final episode last night, so apologies for the slight delay.

It was a really great series, and I thought this episode was the best, and would be the most interesting to share, as it talks about writing in all its incarnations, including Twitter and blogs (skip forward to around 46:00 for talk of blogging and Wikipedia).

Do you agree with their predictions for the future of books and blogging?


'I am a Literary Sensationalist!'

Or so it would seem: have you read 'The Woman in White'? Of course, you have, but I've only just got to it. Not to rave or anything, but I totally want to rave about it. It was like a shot in the arm - that plot arc! those coincidences! Marian's upper lip! Wow.


Yes, I'm Crazy: Nanowrimo 2011

Yes, I'm crazy, but I'm going to do Nanowrimo this year. I know lots of other people are going to be doing it too (250,000, or something like that) and they're not crazy (necessarily); the thing that's tipping me over the edge into 'crazy' is that I'm going to write 50,000 words ON TOP OF all the other things I have to do.

And therein lies the reason for doing it. I can't prioritise writing my novel at the moment because I'm just so damn busy, but when I look back at the month just gone, I think busy doing what? Sure, I earn some money and socialise a bit and see a few films and play with the cat every half hour or so, but time just seems to pass unmarked in everyday life without some teeny, tiny accomplishment of my long-term goals. And my long-term goal is to write.


Some Great Advice from Charles Bukowski

This will either fire you up massively, or make you want to die. Either way, enjoy.

So You Want To be A Writer by Charles Bukowski

'if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.' 


A Hundred Seas Rising

So today I did something a bit different...

I received an email yesterday asking me if I wanted to take part in a slightly different kind of Dickens tribute for the bicentenary, based around an artist's exploration of the idea, featured in Dickens' 'A Tale of Two Cities', that literature might be 'implicated in the imagination or trajectories of revolutions'. Of course I said yes (how interesting does that sound?!), and went along this afternoon.


A Review: Midnight in Paris

On Saturday night, I went to see 'Midnight in Paris' at my local cinema, and, I have to say, I loved it (and if you read blogs like my one, you probably will too).


Dickens from the Start, No. 2 - Pickwick's Prefaces

The start of Dickens has been strong - I'm not 20 pages in and I've found something I want to talk about! The prefaces and dedications of Pickwick Papers are damn right intriguing and not just a little bit hilarious.

The first one in this edition is the Dedication to the Original Edition from 1837, which seemed to be a masterclass in the subversive and sarcastic comment, until I looked up the person involved (one 'Serjeant Talfourd') and found out that it was true! Sincere! An honest dedication to a friend! See if you agree with me that times have somewhat changed:


An Open Letter to All Writers of Books

Dear writers,

Hello, how are you? I hope your days are productive, your verbs are appropriate and your advances are suitably high. I do not wish to fall out, as I love and respoect what you do. Really. It's just I have a small bone to pick with you.

Your chapters are too long. Yes, I said it. A pertinent issue it might not be, in these times of no money or hope, but your chapters are rambling and often irregular, making it difficult to tell whether I am better off starting another one or finishing where I am, without flicking forward to find the next break and inadvertantly seeing the precise word on the page that gives everything away. It's a type of K-Complex I think, like hearing your name in far off conversations. I can't help but see 'yes', she sighed', 'she surrendered' or 'she died'. It leaps at me when I'm looking for the chapter break, so I don't like to go looking.


My Life in Poetry, on National Poetry Day

Yesterday, Thursday 6th October,  was National Poetry Day, which got me thinking about which are my favourite poems and which are the most prominent 'flags' for phases of my life.

I've made a little list:


In My Mailbox, No. 2

Welcome to my second In My Mailbox, a Story Siren meme where I list all the books in my immediate vicinity, so even if I don't blog about them you know they're there, patiently waiting near the top of my TBR pile, about to leap into (or out of) my hand. 

Bit of an eclectic one this month:


Book Quote Friday: Dior by Dior

My dear friend Abi recently moved flat and city, prompting an urge to down-size her possessions, including, most shockingly, her books. So round I trotted to her increasingly empty flat, more concerned with sadness that she was moving than anything else, but of the 12 or so books she offered me, I picked up 11 and then went back for the 12th. She really does have excellent literary taste (in fact, as well as being my friend, she was also one of the most vocal members of my book club). Dior by Dior, an Autobiography of Christian Dior, was the first of this pile to reach that hallowed spot on my dressing table where hopes are fulfilled and dashed and literary heroes are made....


This Week I Have Been Mostly...

Whilst searching for a video profile of Dickens last week, I found this:


Dickens from the Start, No. 1

So, I've been thinking: the bicentenary of Charles Dickens' birth is next year, on the 7th February, and I'd really, really like to do something to commemorate it on this blog, Dickens being awesome and all. Also, I really wish I'd read more of his books by now than I have. 

Having mulled this over for a few weeks (can you see where I might be going with this?), the answer suddenly became clear - the best way to commemorate Dickens, or any writer, is to read, comment on and discuss his work, so that's what I'm going to do! I'm going to read Dickens from start to finish and talk about it on this blog, charting the changes in his political thinking, his writing style and personal life along the way. 

It shall be known as Dickens from the Start.


How Not to Approach a Blogger...

This is actually a DM conversation I had with someone the other day on Twitter. I won't reveal their identity to spare blushes:
Nameless Literary Organisation: 'Hi Lindsey - would you like to test run/write up my literary consultancy for free? [Link] Matt.
[20 minute pause]

NLO: 'If it endears you to me, I once worked at Constable and published a flash fiction called Lindsay Shits. Googlit.'
Me: 'Ha, why on earth would that endear me to you?! Tell me why I would want to test run/write up you consultancy - what is it for etc?'

[30 minute pause]

NLO: 'It makes people better poets and fictioners: [link]'
Me, having looked: 'I've not really got anything to submit at the moment, but will keep it in mind. I wouldn't write about it without trying it...'
Cont.: '...first. Btw, when you approach other bloggers, don't use the word 'shits'. Not nice.'

[On-going pause]

How many things are wrong with this picture?

Spelling my name wrong (my Twitter name is my name. The spelling is in it!), presuming he might need to 'endear' himself to me to get my attention (Creepy. Also, he 'once' worked at Constable? Makes me wonder why he doesn't anymore) and then linking my (misspelt) name with 'shits'. Umm, seriously? And then no thanks or goodbye. 

Manners, you say?! Is there anything in this that might make him expect a 'yes'? (And suggesting I might want to become a better 'fictioner'...back-handed insult anyone?)

So, in summary, no. No. 


Does anyone else get approaches like this?


Book Quote Friday: The Tiger's Wife

Readers, I am sick. Not in a twisted or Dostoevsky-type way, just in a head cold, rooted to the sofa-eque fashion. My sneezes are violent enough to scare off Tolstoy (my cat, obv.) and right now my cough is definitely worse than my feeble little bite.

All of this is unfortunate for Tea Obreht, author of this week's Book Quote Friday book, The Tiger's Wife, as the attention that I wanted to commit to talking about this wonderful, wonderful book is currently being occupied by my search for more tissues and increasingly overwhelming desire to just go back to sleep.

So I will be brief:


Esquire's 75 Books Every Man Should Read

You should check out this list because it's interesting and strange to read a must-read list without a single woman on it. Also, because it lists some humdingers. Because the captions are delicious. Because every caption begins with 'because'. And because it's far too long (75 books long, indeed) for me to post the whole thing here, so start with Raymond Craver below and then click here. And last but not least, because you're worth it. Yes, even the men. Yes.


Any you think are missing?

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