Author Interview: Tor Udall

Tor

Today on Writers Blog, an author interview from Tor Udell about her debut novel A Thousand Paper Birds, which took six years and eight drafts to bring to publication – proving there is hope for the rest of us yet! A delightful interview, and a novel I will be picking up in the bookstore.

About the Author

Tor Udall studied theatre and film before co-founding a dance-theatre company. She spent most of her twenties directing, writing and performing. She lives in London with her husband and young children. @TorUdall

A Thousand Paper Birds is her first novel and is an intimate portrait of five inextricably linked lives, spanning one calendar year at Kew Gardens. After the sudden death of his wife, Audrey, Jonah sits on a bench in Kew Gardens, trying to reassemble the shattered pieces of his life. Chloe, shaven-headed and abrasive, finds solace in the origami she meticulously folds. But when she meets Jonah, her carefully constructed defences threaten to fall. Milly, a child quick to laugh, freely roams Kew, finding beauty everywhere she goes. But where is her mother and where does she go when the gardens are closed? Harry’s purpose is to save plants from extinction. Quiet and enigmatic, he longs for something – or someone – who will root him more firmly to the earth. Audrey links these strangers together. As the mystery of her death unravels, the characters journey through the seasons to learn that stories, like paper, can be refolded and reformed. Haunted by songs and origami birds, this novel is a love letter to a garden and a hymn to lost things.

The Interview

A Thousand Paper Birds is your first novel but with your career in dance and theatre, I wonder if perhaps storytelling is in your blood?

I think ‘creating experiences’ is in my blood. Capturing a mood, a glance, a moment. Having come from a dance background, which is all about communicating a feeling, the things unsaid, the push-pull of an encounter, I had to work hard to move away from a series of images and sensations to something with more narrative drive. I could, however, fall back on my theatre years to explore character motivations, the importance of an arc. I think, primarily, it is imagination that has been my fuel and anchor. Imagining different worlds, the infinite possibilities. Trying to make the familiar unfamiliar.

 

How long has this story lived with you?

It started in 2003 when I first moved to Kew and began jotting down notes about the Gardens. I was working on a different novel at the time so didn’t take much notice. Over the years, different threads began to form – including origami and the question, ‘Who is Harry Barclay?’. I was always struck by the abundance of life in Kew in juxtaposition with the commemorative benches. All those dead people who had ‘loved spending time in this garden’ only made me more aware of the beauty of the place and how fleeting the moment. This rub of death and life began to fascinate me. I started writing the novel in 2009 and it took six years and eight drafts before it reached Bloomsbury.

 

Loss and grief are central themes of the story, and your writing doesn’t shy away from the sensitive subjects of suicide and miscarriage. There’s a beautiful line where Jonah feels he ‘is clutching a newborn child, holding the exact weight of hope in his arms.’ Were you conscious of speaking about grief that is often kept hidden?

Yes. I suffered recurrent miscarriages between my first and second child, so I felt qualified to explore this difficult and often unspoken subject. Grief for an unborn child is real and yet intangible. I’m always interested in exploring the things that are in the mist, that you can only see the vague shape of – perhaps an outline here or there, the rest erased, amorphous. So I wanted to see if I could bring that yearning into being.

A close friend committed suicide when we were in our late twenties. It’s one of those things that leaves its mark on you and it turned up in my writing, unbidden. I think many of us have had some whimsical notion of suicide at some point – but I think there’s a huge chasm between thinking it and doing it. I’m really interested in what that is. The space between.

I have also witnessed friends die of terminal illness – and I’m interested in the grief of a dying person. I remember a day when there was a sudden downpour – a proper, constant dousing – and my neighbour, who knew he didn’t have long, walked out of his house with his umbrella and stood in the middle of the road just taking it all in. How do you say goodbye to that last rainfall? I think one thing the book tries to do is stretch that final moment. If I could press pause between my penultimate heartbeat and my last, what would my thoughts be?

 

The book remains hopeful, the idea of redemption ever-present – perhaps because the setting at Kew Gardens is so beautiful. Did you always know you wanted to set A Thousand Paper Birds there?

Yes. Kew always came first. I was living in a bedsit near the Gardens with only two windows that were so high I couldn’t see out of them. So if I had writing time, I would take myself off to Kew and set up my ‘office’ – which was always one particular bench by the lake. Eventually this became Audrey’s bench. If the weather was dreadful, I would seek refuge in the Palm House and perch on the hot pipes, surrounded by banana trees and palms. In later drafts, I would write in different locations depending on which character’s storyline I was working on; each character has a particular place that resonates.

 

The rhythm of the book was another source of joy for me; could you tell us a little about the structure and timespan the book is set over?

As a dancer, rhythm is vital to me: the rhythm of the sentences, the words, the chapter. It is important to me where the comma is, the dash. It’s Fred Astaire in a graceful spin, his arms wheeling, then a pause – oh, how important the pause is – before he stamps, shuffles, stamps again. Writing IS a dance.

As for the structure, I was weaving two timelines and five character perspectives. At first I worked in narrative order, then in deeper drafts I took the thread of just one or two characters and worked them from beginning to end, just polishing that particular arc. Then in the next draft I would braid them together again, checking the juxtapositions, the pace … and yes, most importantly, the rhythm.

 

Kew felt like a character in its own right, as did the origami cranes Chloe creates almost compulsively. What are your thoughts about the therapeutic properties of art and nature?

Both art and nature are sustenance to me. At an early age, I learnt from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden that nature has the power to transform. We enter a garden, and if we let it enter us, we leave changed. Ditto for woods, oceans, mountains – even a daisy in the crack of a pavement. It can totally shift my day.

The same is true with art. Many books have saved me. Music has lifted and consoled me. I have stood in front of a particular painting for hours, unable to leave. Often I don’t know why – just that it is making my soul itch. Dance has a profound impact. It touches on things we have no words for. It always breaks me and makes me bigger.

Fusing these two themes, I was interested in how humans strive to create and yet are systematically destroying the most creative thing of all: nature. Harry’s job is to save species from extinction. I’m dumbfounded by the vast variety of Kew’s flora. It’s enough to make you believe in a vast, divine imagination – but perhaps that creativity is coming from the seed itself, the atom. I’m curious about the urge to create that is in every living thing – the bud pushing through the soil, the ambition of a tree to birth an apple. In all of us there’s a striving to create, to be the fullest we can be.

 

I’ve been inspired to try and learn how to make paper birds by your book; are you a dab hand at origami yourself?

Sadly, no. I can do a few birds well. A couple of boxes. But it’s not necessarily about a big repertoire of models, but repeating the same bird again and again. There’s something very meditative about the process. But beyond my dabbling, there’s a whole world out there of origami masters making the most extraordinary things. Scientists use origami to solve mathematical equations. Leonardo Da Vinci, Houdini – many of the big thinkers have been enthralled by its mysteries and symmetries.

I love how many things can be created from a single square. How often can I unfold and refold the paper, changing it from a bird to a boat, a kimono, before the paper frays or tears? This was a metaphor for the writing process: how far can I push the form, fold in the different perspectives, and, particularly, how much can I crease the genres before something rips?

One of the best things about the book coming out is people telling me stories about origami birds being scattered in bookshops, left on trains, stranded at bus stops. People are picking up litter – a ticket, a chewing gum wrapper – and folding it into a gift for the next stranger … and the next. It’s a tiny act of resistance that says, despite everything, I still believe in beauty, in small gestures of kindness. A Chinese whisper.

 

As a destroyer of books myself, one of my favourite scenes is that between Harry and Audrey where they talk about books bearing the imprint of their readers – corners turned, pages smudged, words underlined.  Are you a careful or careless handler of books?

When I was a child, Roald Dahl signed a book for me. My copy had felt tip drawings in the margins, silly faces, doodles. He was charmed by it, saying the book had been well-loved, well lived-in. I won’t fold corners to mark my place – partly because I love matching books with bookmarks, but I will turn down pages to flag a favourite phrase. I underline often. I even scribble in the margins. Perhaps something I’ve read has set off a new thought about my characters, or a scene, so I’ll just begin to riff. It becomes a dialogue.

I particularly love holiday books. The ones that come back double the thickness because they’re bloated with sea water – or perhaps there’s sand in the seams, or an unspecified flower pressed between the pages. There may be dirt from a rickshaw. A squashed bug. My holiday has become part of the book – its story.

Some people might judge it as careless. But I believe the biggest compliment I can give a writer is to show them my copy of their book, all the corners turned, sentences underlined. Look. This is how much I loved this. This is how much I lived it. This is how much I cared.

 

 

 

 

Some of the Best Book to Movie Adaptations

Book-to-movies

Truth time: the book is not always better than the movie. What’s more, trying to figure out which version of a story is “better” isn’t always helpful. Film and print are two entirely different mediums, and we ask different things of each form. That said, here are the Book Riot team’s favourite book-to-movie adaptations, that capture the spirit of the original stories, while at the same time enriching them in the way that only film (or TV) can.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

I fell in love with the film, then read the book, then watched the film again to make sure I still liked it. While there are some major differences, Milos Forman’s adaptation captures the juxtaposing moments of insouciance and sorrow that take place in Ken Kesey’s novel. The cinematography is fantastic and the original score is haunting. Furthermore, it was filmed at Oregon State Hospital in Salem, the same setting as Kesey’s work. In the year it was released, the film won all five major Academy Awards, a feat only accomplished three times in total. Also, Louise Fletcher’s performance as Nurse Ratched is incredible.

Anne of Green Gables

I loved this adaptation because it was simply a pitch-perfect re-imagining of the classic books. There were no weird new characters added (and, let’s be honest – this was filmed in the ‘80s, there very well could’ve been an alien), no modern interpretations of plotlines or relationships, just the book’s own narrative, which is why we all fell in love in the first place. And they could not have cast better actors to play the lovely Anne, Marilla, Matthew, Gilbert, and Diana. Filming on location in picturesque Canada, and especially Prince Edward Island, did not hurt: I usually like to keep the images from the book in my own head, but seeing the White Way of Delight, Lake of Shining Waters, and Green Gables itself, so true to the book’s descriptions, was blissful. And it’s made PEI a bucket-list bookish destination for me, and many, many other readers.

Witches of Eastwick

For me, this is actually a case of the movie being better than the book. Way better. I’m not saying John Updike isn’t a great writer, but his portrayal of woman wasn’t exactly the greatest in The Witches of Eastwick. But the movie is amazing and it’s mostly due to the cast. Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon, Jack Nicholson, and…Cher. Let me repeat that. Cher. Admittedly, the movie is a little campy, but it’s the ’80s. I’m also a sucker for movies when women band together (a la 9 to 5) and for me, the movie is what the book should have been.

Jaws

This is my go-to example when people say “name a movie that is better than the book.” (This, and Die Hard. Yes, Die Hard was a book first! It’s also the best Christmas movie, but that’s an argument for another day.) It is easy to pick Jaws, because I’m sorry but Jaws is a horrible novel. I’m sure it was a great trashy beach read when it came out, but it’s quite ridiculous. But from its ridiculousness, Steven Spielberg managed to make one of the most perfect movies ever. Every shot in Jaws is magnificent. Quint is one of the best characters. The whole thing is eminently quotable. And Spielberg cut out all the nonsense from the book, like – spoiler alert – Ellen Brody and Hooper’s affair, and the death of Hooper. How awesome is it when Richard Dreyfuss pops up at the end?

The 25th Hour

The perfect book to turn into a movie is one with a simple and lean plot that still hits heavy themes, and this debut novel by David Benioff is a great pick. The film is a faithful adaptation (by Benioff) with great casting (one of my favourite PSH roles and that’s saying something) and a talented director in Spike Lee. The 25th Hour is about a small-time drug dealer enjoying his last day of freedom before a long prison term, which sounds like a perfect Spike Lee joint, but this is a story where much is unsaid. No one can talk about the reality the next day will bring, the awkwardness and the emotion underneath are all captured here, and Lee lets the movie breathe without pushing too hard. The movie somehow feels both vibrantly alive and slowly paced. Oh, and it does a few more crucial things: it adds a strong sense of place, beautiful cinematography, and a great soundtrack. Books can do a lot of things, but these elements of sound and beauty are where movies really shine and it’s where the best adaptations make their mark. Warning: while this sounds like a total guy movie (dude bonds with his dad and other dudes) it is a huge weep-fest at the end.

The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring premiered on December 19, 2001. Since then we’ve seen the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy brought to screen and three movies based on The Hobbit. But I’ll never forget the excitement and the wonder I experienced in that movie theater when Middle Earth for the first time came to life in a movie that was both beautiful and respectful of the source material. When the movie was over, I remember exclaiming, “Yes!” with great emphasis. I was overwhelmed, in awe, exhilarated. And I couldn’t stop smiling.

The Princess Bride

Like many children of the ’80s, I became intimately acquainted with this movie well before I knew it was based on a book. When I did finally pick up William Goldman’s classic, I was delighted to discover how faithful the film is, not just to the details of the story but the spirit of it. This is a silly, and often ridiculous, story, and the movie, with its crazy-looking ROUSes and intentionally unbelievable sound-stages-dressed-up-as-mountain-cliffs, is just perfect. I’m afraid that if it were made today, we’d see WETA Workshop-style creatures and too much CGI, so The Princess Bride gets my vote for being practically perfect, and perfectly timed.

High Fidelity

When people ask me what my favourite movie is, I tell them it’s Rear Window or The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s probably High Fidelity. For one, it’s a perfect adaptation. Even though it messes with the book’s setting and even its main character’s name, it captures the spirit of Nick Hornby’s book in a way that so few page-to-screen adaptations have managed. High Fidelity is quotable, its soundtrack (and the way it’s used in the film) is exceptional, it features a career-best performance from John Cusack, Jack Black and Todd Louiso as the most endearing set of goofball employees I can imagine, and a Tim Robbins cameo even better than the one he has in Anchorman. The whole thing orbits around Hornby’s music nerd obsessiveness, and we watch Cusack’s Rob Gordon rank and list every meaningful experience (musical and otherwise) he’s ever had, including his most painful breakups. I love this movie, and I might as well face it: it’s number one, with a bullet.

Coraline

Coraline is one of my favourite all-ages books out there, and I was so thrilled when it was adapted to film. This is a case where the story went through changes (of course it did), but not to the point where one wonders what the production team was thinking. The book is one creepy experience, and the film another, with fantastic atmosphere and stop animation. If ever there were a book and film adaptation pair that could coexist, it’s this one.

Romeo + Juliet

Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet made me think that Shakespeare was “cool.”  The delivery of the lines, most notably John Leguizamo’s Tybalt, is forever ingrained in my mind so that when I read the play now I hear them. I see the over-the-top versions that Luhrmann chose for the movie and the play will always be better for it. I say “better” not because it improves on Shakespeare (blasphemy!) but because it makes the play clearer to me as a reader, and helps me understand what is going on in the scenes. And that should always be the point of movie adaptations.

True Grit

True Grit is one of my favourite all-time books, and a classic work that you put down and go “I see why this is a classic.” A small, seemingly straightforward novel that has all of its cleverness buried just below the surface, waiting for you to notice it. It was adapted once back in Olden Days, as a John Wayne movie, about which I have no particular opinion. More interestingly, it was recently adapted by the Coen Brothers (who are godly filmmakers) starring Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin, among others. It’s a film that perfectly manages the sparse simplistic style of the novel (and understands why everyone in the story talks in the weird way they do). What I realised by the end of it, though, was it had got nearly all the book’s dialog in, word for word. I’ve suggested to some people that if you’ve seen the film, you don’t need to read the book. You’ve gotten the entire book, combined with excellent performances and a haunting soundtrack. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen a book translated 100% onto screen without the results being boring and forgettable. Masterful film.

Gone Girl

I go into movie theaters prepared to make excuses, register the differences, and generally side-eye any movie made from a film. That doesn’t mean I don’t often enjoy them, just that I take ‘em with a grain of salt. But Gone Girl was a pleasure to watch from start to finish. I’d read the book twice by the time I saw it, so the plot was firmly fixed in my brain – and the movie fulfilled its promise and then some. Every shot, every actor, every segue felt true to the spirit of the book and letter be damned! No one could have made better use of Ben Affleck’s chin; Rosamund Pike brought a smoky darkness to Amy; I’m now a huge fan of Carrie Coon; and I will never be able to forget Neil Patrick Harris’s, ahem, scene. Add to that the breadcrumbs that they strewed throughout the film, leading toward the inevitably shocking conclusion – and you have one of the most faithful film adaptations I’ve had the joy to watch.

10 Things I Hate About You

Heath Ledger serenading Julia Stiles with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and precious nerd-pants-baby-faced Joseph Gordon-Levitt trying to woo Alex Mack? How can this NOT be the best book-to-movie adaptation? I guess technically it’s a Shakespeare-play-to-movie adaptation, but would you rather see The Taming of the Shrew or 10 Things I Hate About You? Thought so. This is the movie that made us look at the smelly, borderline greasy dude in the leather jacket and think, “If I dance on this table to Biggie Smalls ‘Hypnotize’ and hit my head on a chandelier, maybe he will catch me before I fall, sing to me, royally piss me off by taking money from the guy who was on Party of Five and I think started his own religion in real life, then break into my car and leave me a Fender!” Maybe that was just me, I was 16 and apparently undateable when it came out. I highly recommend rewatching it as an adult. You’ll probably cry when Kat reads the poem to Patrick because… it’s really sad now.

The Shawshank Redemption

I spent a good portion of the ’90s rewatching The Shawshank Redemption over and over, and when I discovered that it was an adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” (from Different Seasons, if you’re interested), it recast the Guy Who Writes The Scaries into The Guy Who Has An Unbelievable Fictional Range in my mind. Tim Robbins is perfect as Andy Dufresne, the urbane and seemingly soft-but-actually-hard-as-fucking-nails banker sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife. Morgan Freeman is, well, Morgan Freeman (his speech to the parole board is one of the best moments in movie history). This is a hope-filled heart-breaker and classic film.

If you haven’t yet read these books or seen the movies, I highly recommend them all.

Via: http://bookriot.com/2014/12/22/riot-round-favorite-book-movie-adaptations

17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: May 2017

books-radar-may2017

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books they’ve read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Here are their recommendations for May 2017:

  1. Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
  2. The Wrong Side Of Goodbye by Michael Connelly
  3. Marlena by Julie Buntin
  4. Janesville, An American Story by Amy Goldstein
  5. Little Victories by Jason Gay
  6. The River Of Kings by Taylor Brown
  7. American War by Omar El Akkad
  8. A Brutal Bunch Of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski
  9. The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris
  10. Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli
  11. The One-Eyed Man by Ron Currie
  12. Recitation by Bae Suah
  13. The Warren by Brian Evenson
  14. Unbearable Splendor by Sun Yung Shin
  15. Hothouse by Karyna Mcglynn
  16. Make: A Decade Of Literary Art
  17. Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar

Click on the links above for a detailed synopsis of each book, or follow the following link to see what the Writer’s Bone crew had to say: http://www.writersbone.com/book-recommendations/books-that-should-be-on-your-radar-may-2017

The Bath Novel Award: 2017 Longlist

BATH NOVEL AWARD: 2017 LONGLIST ANNOUNCEMENT

This year a record 1,163 novels were submitted by writers in 48 countries.

Of the 33 novels selected for this year’s longlist, one third are by writers based outside the UK, including Canada, New Zealand, Netherlands, Switzerland and the USA. Novel settings range from the UK to Ukraine, time travel in Wales, earthquakes in El Salvador,  deadly Norwegian forests, even a sunless future Birmingham. Two thirds of the novels are by women writers and one male writer has two novels listed. Six writers have been longlisted by us before, either for an earlier draft or a different book. In terms of genre, literary, psychological suspense, thrillers, YA, women’s and crime lead our 2017 longlist, followed by historical, comedy, fantasy and speculative novels. Notable trends amongst the final 33 include the rise of the immigrant hero, activist lit and a distinct upswing in novels with themes about deception – by those in power and of ourselves – and the search for love, light and life in the darkest of days.

As our judges read “blind” we’ll be keeping the longlisted writers’ identities under wraps until the winner, as chosen by literary agent Laura Williams of Peters, Fraser Dunlop is announced on July 6th. Shortlisted titles will be announced on June 14th.

In the meantime, huge congratulations to the writers of these 33 standout titles:

  • After the Lunch
  • Alt
  • Brave Girls
  • Complicity
  • Enemies at the Gate
  • Finding Freedom
  • Forget Me Not
  • Hollow
  • Honeysuckle
  • In a Rushdie Winter
  • Iraqnia
  • Jacob’s Ladder
  • Jonathon Fairfax Must Be Destroyed
  • Lost Journals at Sundown
  • Lucas
  • Mountainous Regions of the Heart
  • One of Us
  • Over the Coconut Trees
  • Service
  • Start Wearing Purple for Me Now
  • Strangers on a Bridge
  • The Binding Frame
  • The History of You
  • The Light Factory
  • The Lost Sister
  • The Pact
  • The Pear Drum
  • The Proof of the Outside
  • The Silence of Shannon
  • The Still Gate
  • Translations
  • What Was Left Behind
  • Yet Wilderness Grew in My Heart

Via: 2017 Longlist: The Bath Novel Award

Short Stories: The Top 10 Classics

10-Best-Short-Stories

Continuing on with our Writer’s Blog Short Story Week, Writer’s Edit put together a reading list of top ten classic short story recommendations. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, the short story emerged as a recognised and respected literary genre throughout the 19th century. What better way to celebrate this literary form than by returning to some of the great tales and classic authors who helped shape this genre into the literary gem it is today.

Here is the pick of the top ten ‘must-read’ short story classics!:

10. ‘The Signal-Man

Author: Charles Dickens Year: 1866

Written by one of England’s greatest novelists, ‘The Signal-Man’ is an eerie ghost story about a railway signal-man who is haunted by foreboding, spectral visions.

Favourite Line: “So little sunlight ever found its way to this spot, that it had an earthy, deadly smell; and so much cold wind rushed through it, that it struck chill to me, as if I had left the natural world.”

No doubt the best aspect of ‘The Signal-Man’ is the way Dickens establishes atmosphere. An example of this can be seen in the quotation above. Here, Dickens succeeds in creating a haunting, supernatural atmosphere by not only suggesting the narrator has “left the natural world”, but also by describing the setting much like a graveyard.

9. ‘The Happy Prince’

Author: Oscar Wilde Year: 1888

‘The Happy Prince’ is a melancholy tale, reflecting the style of a fairy-tale or fable – which is, after all, where short stories found their roots as a genre. The story looks at themes of love and sacrifice, wealth and poverty, and the nature of true beauty.

Favourite Line: At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken. The fact is that the leaden heart had snapped right in two. It certainly was a dreadfully hard frost.”

This line is extremely effective and moving due to the dramatic irony of the narrator’s suggestion that it was merely the frost that had broken the prince’s heart. In contrast, the reader is able to recognise that it is the prince’s sorrow, and love for the poor, little swallow that has caused the “leaden heart” to snap in two.

8. ‘The Magic Shop

Author: H.G. Wells Year: 1903

The Magic Shop is a curious tale that follows a father and son’s experience of visiting a ‘genuine magic shop’. While the little boy explores the shop, seeing only joy and wonder, his father is confronted with much more sinister visions. The story therefore examines how we experience the world as children versus how we experience the world as adults. In doing so, ‘The Magic Shop’ forces the reader to consider whether innocence and evil truly exist in the outer world, or whether these are merely determined by our own perceptions.

Favourite Line: I felt him pull at something that clung to my coat-sleeve, and then I saw he held a little, wriggling red demon by the tail – the little creature bit and fought and tried to get at his hand – and in a moment he tossed it carelessly behind a counter… ‘Astonishing what people will carry about with them unawares!’”

The symbolic implication of this line seems to sum up the overall purpose of the story. The narrator, of course, believes the demon belongs to the magic shop, yet the shop owner claims that the narrator has been carrying the little devil around himself. This therefore begs the question – is evil born of our own perceptions?

7. ‘The Gift of the Magi

Author: O. Henry Year: 1906

‘The Gift of the Magi’ is a simple story about a young, married couple’s quest to find each other the perfect Christmas gift. In securing these ‘perfect gifts’, however, each partner is forced to give up something highly valuable, and precious to them, resulting in a rather unfortunate twist.

Favourite Line: But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest.”

This line is made all the more wonderful by the contradiction of the line immediately preceding it, which suggests that the couple were extremely “unwise” for giving up their greatest treasures. The delightful contradiction forces the reader to consider how the couple could be considered both “unwise” and yet also the “wisest of all”. In doing so, O. Henry invites the reader to recognise that, although the valuable sacrifices the couple make for each other ultimately reduce their gifts to irrelevance, their sacrifices were made out of love, and are therefore the most valuable gifts of all.

6. ‘Rip Van Winkle’

Author: Washington Irving Year: 1819

After falling asleep in the woods, the ‘henpecked’ Rip Van Winkle awakes to find his village deeply changed, and is startled to discover twenty years have passed. One of the greatest, classic short stories to emerge in America, ‘Rip Van Winkle’ takes a metaphorical look at the changing American Identity following the event of the Revolutionary War.

Favourite Line: I was myself last night, but I fell asleep on the mountain, and they’ve changed my gun, and everything’s changed, and I’m changed, and I can’t tell what’s my name, or who I am!”

Through this exclamation, uttered by Rip Van Winkle, Irving perfectly captures the crisis of identity he aims to represent. Through this line, more than any other, Irving portrays America as a nation that must struggle to map out its own, unique identity, after severing its ties from the previous monarch (much like Rip, after finding himself free of Dame Van Winkle).

5. ‘Désirée’s Baby

Author: Kate Chopin Year: 1893

Set in Louisiana, prior to the American Civil War (a time when slavery was still considered ‘lawful’), ‘Désirée’s Baby’ examines the injustices of racism and gender discrimination.

Favourite Line: “But above all,” she wrote, “night and day, I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.”

The sense of karmic justice in this final line leaves the reader feeling smugly satisfied. After expelling his wife and child from their home, merely for their mixed heritage, the reader takes great delight in discovering that it is Armand himself who is not entirely of white descent. Within this ending, Chopin highlights that all people are ultimately the same, and that not one of us, for any reason whatsoever, have the right to treat another person as less human than ourselves.

4. The Body Snatcher

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson Year: 1884

Inspired by the Burke and Hare murders of 1828, ‘The Body Snatcher’ is a gothic tale that follows two med students, involved in crimes of grave robbing, in order to keep their anatomy professor supplied with instructional cadavers.

Favourite Line: We were all startled by the transformation, as if a man had risen from the dead.”

What makes this line so intriguing is the way it seems to strongly foreshadow Stevenson’s grotesque, gothic ending.

3. The Yellow Wallpaper’

Author: Charlotte Perkins Gilman Year: 1892

Flying the flag for feminism in this story, Charlotte Perkins Gilman provides an interesting and unsettling exploration of the oppression of women in nineteenth century society.

Favourite Line: At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candle light, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.”

The rich symbolism of the emerging wallpaper pattern as we witness the narrator’s gradual descent into madness is definitely what makes this story so memorable and effective. It is clear to the reader that, just like the woman in the wallpaper, the narrator is being held prisoner by her husband, and is desperate to break free.

2. ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’

Author: Edgar Allan Poe Year: 1843

Of course, we couldn’t have a Classic Short Story list without including the ‘Father of the Short Story’ himself, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. It is always difficult to choose only one story from such a prolific writer, but in our opinion, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ serves as an excellent example of Poe’s prowess in the Short Story genre.

Favourite Line: “True! – nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?”

What makes this story so memorable is Poe’s brilliant use of the unreliable narrator. From the very opening line (included above), the reader is given the strong sense that the narrator is not to be entirely trusted. The structure of the introductory line is erratic and disjointed, creating the impression of mad ramblings. In addition to this, the narrator plants the seed in the reader’s mind himself that he is, in fact, ‘mad’. Of course, the wonderful irony of this is that the narrator is attempting to convince the reader of his sanity, and yet with every sentence, the reader only becomes more and more certain of the opposite.

1. B24

Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Year: 1899

Anyone who has heard the name Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would know he is most famous for his hugely popular Sherlock Holmes stories. But perhaps not everyone realises what a talented, and prolific writer he truly was – particularly in the genre of the short story. The Sherlock Holmes stories themselves are, of course, exemplary of this. Of the sixty stories, chronicling the adventures of the consulting detective, fifty-six of them are short (and all sixty are well worth the read, if ever you get the chance). But for anyone who has ever wondered what this author can do outside of the Holmes stories, ‘B24’ is excellent in highlighting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a master of the short story.

Favourite Line: “I have only you to look to, sir, and if you will clear my name of this false accusation, then I will worship you as one man never yet worshipped another. But if you fail me, then I give you my solemn promise that I will rope myself up, this day month, to the bar of my windows, and from that time on I will come to plague you in your dreams if ever yet one man was able to come back and to haunt another.”

Spoken directly from the narrator to the reader at the end of the story, this line is extraordinary in a number of ways. By addressing the reader in this way (both here, and in the opening) Doyle personally drags the reader into the story and places a great deal of responsibility on his/her shoulders. In doing so, Doyle establishes an acute sense of realism in the tale, allowing the reader to feel as though the narrator can, in fact, extend beyond the page and come back to haunt them as promised. The line is also notable for the seed of doubt it places in the reader’s mind, that the narrator may be unreliable.

Written from the perspective of a thief, attempting to convince us he has been wrongly accused of murder, the assertion that he will hang himself if we, the reader, refuse to help him, makes us question the narrator’s sanity (much like the narrator in the Tell-Tale Heart). If the narrator is mad enough to hang himself if he is not listened to, perhaps the reader cannot trust his testimony after all? In this way, the reader is left wondering, do they really know who the killer is?

Keep an eye on Writer’s Blog for our upcoming third and final article, celebrating Short Story Week where we will cover how to write a short story of your own.

Via: http://writersedit.com/top-10-classic-short-stories/

 

16 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: April 2017

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Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books they’ve read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Here are their recommendations for April 2017:

  1. Faces In The Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
  2. An Exaggerated Murder by Josh Cook
  3. No One Is Coming To Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts
  4. The Wanderers by Meg Howrey
  5. What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
  6. The Whore’s Child by Richard Russo
  7. The Stand by Stephen King
  8. The Art Of Fielding by Chad Harbach
  9. Mad Men And PoliticsCo-Authored And -Edited By Lilly Goren
  10. Dark Money by Jane Mayer
  11. The Good Assassin by Paul Vidich
  12. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  13. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  14. The Spy by Paulo Coelho
  15. Humans Are Underrated by Geoff Colvin
  16. Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner

Click on the links above for a detailed synopsis of each book, or follow the following link to see what the Writer’s Bone crew had to say: http://www.writersbone.com/book-recommendations/16-books-that-should-be-on-your-radar-april-2017

23 Movies You Probably Didn’t Know Were Based On Books

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The book isn’t always better than the movie, but most of the time (for me anyway) it is. I enjoy watching movies based on books to see how the story has been brought to life, and to find out whether the moving pictures match the ones built up in my imagination.

But some movies are so good you probably didn’t know they were a book first. Here are a few examples:

1. Die Hard (1988)

Based on: Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp

Not only is the Bruce Willis Christmas classic based on a book, but Nothing Lasts Forever is actually a sequel to The Detective, which was made into a 1966 movie starring Frank Sinatra. They made a few changes to the story so it wouldn’t clash with the original movie – for example, in the book the main character’s name is Joe Leland, not John McClane.

2. Forrest Gump (1994)

Based on: Forrest Gump by Winston Groom

Forrest Gump the novel was not at all well-known before it became the massively successful, Oscar-winning movie. It was also pretty different – in the book, Forrest uses profound language, and the author originally wanted him to be played by John Goodman.

“No one believes me when I tell them Forrest Gump was a book that was way out there with him going to space with a monkey and crash landing back on an island with cannibals that he has to beat at chess to escape being eaten.”

3. Mean Girls (2004)

Based on: Queen Bees & Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman

Tina Fey read Queen Bees & Wannabes – a self-help book for parents whose daughters are going through high school – and thought it had the potential to be turned into a movie. Obviously, though, the book is nonfiction, so Fey came up with the story and characters herself.

4. Jurassic Park (1993)

Based on: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

The book version of Jurassic Park actually originated as a screenplay, which author Michael Crichton wrote about a student who recreated a dinosaur. He decided to change the story after he decided that recreating dinosaurs would be an unrealistic academic venture, and would only make sense if it came from “a desire to entertain”.

5. Shrek (2001)

Based on: Shrek! by William Steig

You’d be forgiven for thinking Shrek – and its many, many sequels and spinoffs – was an original DreamWorks creation, but nope. It’s based on a picture book in which a terrifying ogre kind-of-accidentally saves a princess. The movie won the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, which is amazing.

6. Pitch Perfect (2012)

Based on: Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory by Mickey Rapkin

Similar to Mean Girls, Pitch Perfect was based on a nonfiction book. It was written by a senior editor at GQ, who spent a season following collegiate a cappella groups around the country on their quests for success. The Bellas were loosely inspired by the Divisi, an all-female a cappella group from the University of Oregon.

7. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Based on: Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine

The film adaptation of Madame Doubtfire follows Anne Fine’s young adult novel pretty closely – with one important exception: In the book, the two eldest children immediately recognise their new nanny as their father in disguise. Only their younger sister and mother are convinced it’s actually Madame Doubtfire.

8. Goodfellas (1990)

Based on: Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family by Nicholas Pileggi

The gangster classic Goodfellas is actually based on a nonfiction book written by journalist Nicholas Pileggi. It tells the story of Henry Hill, an informant who was once a member of the Mafia. Director Martin Scorsese believed the book to be the most honest portrayal of real-life gangsters he’d ever read.

9. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Based on: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King

The mega-acclaimed movie was actually based on a short story by Stephen King – you can find it in Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas. Oh, and one of the other stories in the collection was adapted into the classic coming of age movie Stand By Me.

10. Clueless (1995)

Based on: Emma by Jane Austen

Yup, teen classic Clueless is actually based on a Jane Austen novel. Obviously, it’s a modern retelling of Emma set in ’90s Beverly Hills rather than 19th-century England, but it’s cool to read the book and see what connections you can make with the movie that defined so many of our childhoods.

For the remaining 13, and some of them are corkers, you can visit the full list here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/movies-you-probably-didnt-know-were-books