Love, love, loved the Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I got lost inside it for ages. It was full of magic and mystery and lush, extravagant descriptions - all the sights, sounds and scents of the circus. And just before it ever became too rich or sweet, it turned suddenly - often shockingly - creepy...
"The desserts are always astonishing. Confections deliriously executed in chocolate and butterscotch, berries bursting with creams and liqueurs. Cakes layered to impossible heights, pastries lighter than air. Figs that drip with honey, sugar blown into curls and flowers. Often diners remark that they are too pretty, too impressive to eat, but they always find a way to manage."
"Prospero the Enchanter uses a pocket knife to slit his daughter's fingertips open, one by one, watching wordlessly as she cries until calm enough to heal them, drips of blood slowly creeping backward. The skin melds together, swirls of fingerprint ridges finding one another again, closing solidly once more. Celia's shoulders fall, releasing tension that has knotted in them, her relief palpable as she draws herself safely together. Her father gives her only moments to rest before slicing each of her newly healed fingers again"
I want to be able to write like that! And that's the cause of all the trouble - right there! - that's how it starts. One minute you're lost in dreams of the circus, the next you're surrounded by letters of rejection from agents - damn them!
After the Night Circus, my kindle recommended Daughter of smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, which I also got swept into. I haven't read much YA and I was glad to find that really good writing is apparently appreciated by young adults as much as it is by old, decrepit adults such as myself...
"This, she thought, isn't just for today. It's for everything. For the heartache that still felt like a punch in the gut each time it struck, fresh as new, at unpredictable moments; for the smiling lies and the mental images she couldn't shake; for the shame of having been so naive. For the way loneliness is worse when you return to it after a reprieve - like the soul's version of putting on a wet bathing suit, clammy and miserable."
"And I saw a girl...a girl with black eyes and gemstone hair, and...sadness. She had a sadness that was so deep, but it could still turn to light in a second, and when I saw her smile I wondered what it would be like to make her smile. I thought...I thought it would be like the discovery of smiling."
Both these books have made me want to write more adventurously. Isn't that the point, after all? To - you know - make stuff up? I want to write about magic and mystery and flying girls with blue hair - without being afraid that people will snigger at me. I told myself that my first attempt at a novel was rejected because it was the wrong genre, but I now think it just wasn't brave enough - especially for a debut. I keep on reading that debuts have to be extra "hooky" or "splashy" or shocking in some way. Mine was plain old dull. It was about dull people with dull lives who didn't have any real problems. It felt safer that way. I was too afraid to go out on a limb and sit down, swing my legs and kick my feet about a bit.
I suspect I needed to write the first one just so I knew that I could write over 100,000 words - and I probably learnt a lot. But I'm enjoying writing the second one a whole lot more. I've been brave enough to set bits of it in the past and tried to come up with historical details. I've flirted with the supernatural slightly, there's a ghostly element, an ancient curse, oh - and there are some actual murderers in it! I've let myself go a bit and it's been much more fun!
I doubt I'll ever be able to write with the abandon of Laini Taylor. For every moment that I was gripped and breathless about the war between the angels and the chimaera, there was a line or two which pulled me out of the story for a second and made me think, 'The girl with the cheetah's head did what?'
Although that's probably because I'm too old and cynical for YA fantasy. I still admired the sheer scale of Laini Taylor's imagination - seemingly limitless.I was disappointed with the ending. It ends with the heroine starting out on a journey and then the words '...to be continued.' (I didn't know there was to be a sequel.)
What a swizz! Oi, come back here and write the end of this story! I was reading faster and faster in the expectation of some sort of resolution and accompanying feeling of achievement. And then I didn't get either of them. A book as well-written as this should not end like an episode of the old TV series of Batman!
But all these things make me think about what I might or might not write next myself.
My wordcount is now well over 106,000 and I have exactly one more chapter to go. I shouldn't think I can fail to finish it before long!