Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Accidental - Ali Smith

Ali Smith is one of those authors who, until now, I had repeatedly not read. How To Be Both has been on my radar for a while, highly acclaimed and alluring, but somehow a bit intimidating too. And, when I finally bought The Accidental from the Books for Syria table at Waterstone's last week, and read the blurbs for Smith's back list,I recognised the strangely-incomplete titled There But For The as another book I'd picked up many times but never quite brought home with me. Smith has a reputation for being very clever and lyrical, but somewhat experimental in style, which had slightly frightened me for a long time. But this was for a good cause - a charity donation that gets you a free book, right?

The Accidental focuses on the Smart family: two parents and two adolescents, all of whom have their own struggles and unhappinesses. Astrid, aged twelve, is a lonely teenager, trying to make sense of her world through her video camera. Magnus, who is about sixteen or seventeen, is eaten up with guilt after his involvement in an incident at school with tragic consequences. Their stepfather, Michael, is a creepy college professor with a midlife crisis and lots of affairs, while their mother, Eve, feels the weight of unhappiness of her family, her marriage, and her career as a writer.

Into their lives comes Amber, a strange woman who shows up at their house one day. Everyone thinks she's here with someone else, but who is she, really? Each member of the family perceives her differently, either finding what they long for or need in her, or perhaps projecting their wishes onto her. She is the narrator, probably, of the first-person passages interspersed with the Smart family point-of-view chapters, yet we don't really know much about her. She doesn't quite seem real. Some of the characters think she must be an angel, but if so, she is an unstable, maybe even dangerous one. At the end of part one, she starts to give you a few answers - surprisingly early on, I thought - until: "Well?" she said. "Do you believe me?" I didn't think to do otherwise until that point, but the question throws it all into doubt. But that's all the answer you get.

The Accidental is a story about story, structured tidily into three parts: beginning, middle and end. About how stories grow and change in the telling, mutating and shaping the perception of truth. We see this expressed in different ways throughout the novel, for example in Eve's book series called "Genuine Articles," in which she takes real stories from history, but rewrites them to give them happy endings and "what ifs."

The language is lyrical, poetic - one section being made up of actual poetry, in Michael's "middle," the changes in form showing his world and his mind unravelling somewhat as the style turns from conventional sonnets in the Shakespearean rhyme scheme, to a frantic, disjointed style, to words just apparently thrown at a page. For Michael, Amber represents an incorruptible purity, and is the woman immune to his attempts at seduction. And his sense of entitlement can not deal with rejection. He is a repulsive creature.

Ali Smith's narrative contains some stream-of-consciousness, luring you to read on, but also to take your time thinking about her word choices. I found The Accidental engrossing with lots of food for thought, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. She's not necessarily a new favourite author, but definitely someone I want to read lots more from in the future.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Month in review: September

Hello. Sorry I haven't posted much recently. I'm expecting it to be quiet for another couple of months here on the blog, as I'm trying to focus on my novel-writing, and next month being NaNoWriMo I don't expect to get a lot of reading done. But I've been reading lots and plan to at least do some mini-review posts over the next few weeks. I've also got an idea for writing about modern adaptations of classic novels, in book, film and webseries formats, so watch out for that.

I've managed to carry out my read-2-buy-3 rule up till the end of September, getting my to-read pile down from 38 books to 21 (22 if you count what I'm reading at the moment.) But this month, being my birthday and having scheduled a couple of book-shopping trips, I don't expect to keep to it. (I know that's another £20 I owe to the Beanstalk fundraiser, Bex. I'll pay that next month. I'm keeping track.) November and December I don't intend to buy any books for myself, due to NaNoWriMo and Christmas, so hopefully it'll balance out by the end of the year.

What I've bought:

I've been quite restrained with my book-buying over the summer, I think, but last month I've had a bit of a splurge and brought home the following:

  • You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) - Felicia Day
  • The Gracekeepers - Kirsty Logan
  • The Teahouse Fire - Ellis Avery
  • Love in Idleness - Charlotte Mendelson
  • The Children who Lived in a Barn - Eleanor Graham
  • The Girl Who Couldn't Read - John Harding
  • All of the Above - James Dawson
  • Finn Fancy Necromancy - Randy Henderson

And today, I bought The Accidental by Ali Smith from the Waterstone's Books for Syria table. Guilt-free book-buying, as it all goes towards helping your fellow human beings.

What I've read:

  • You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) - Felicia Day
  • Goodnight Beautiful - Dorothy Koomson
  • The Shepherd's Crown - Terry Pratchett
  • The Martian - Andy Weir
  • First Term at Malory Towers - Enid Blyton
  • 11.22.63 - Stephen King
  • The School at the Chalet - Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
  • Charlotte Sometimes - Penelope Farmer
  • The Girl in the Blue Tunic - Jean Ure
  • Fingersmith - Sarah Waters
  • First Term at Trebizon - Anne Digby
  • Cell - Stephen King
  • Miss Brill - Katherine Mansfield (a Penguin mini classic)
  • All of the Above - James Dawson

I haven't made a to-read pile for October, as it's my birthday on Sunday and I expect I'll get some more books to add to my list (at least, I hope so.) But I'm excited about reading The Gracekeepers, which the bookseller I bought it from raved about, and which I've had my eye on for a while. Ali Smith is an author I've kept coming across in the past few years, but I've never actually had any of her books until now. And I'd like to read some more of the proper sci-fi and cheesy sci-fi I've picked up over the last year, mostly second-hand.

I'll be turning thirty this weekend, which I've been dreading for a long time. When I left university in 2007, I consoled myself with the thought that it might be a struggle figuring out what I was going to do with my life, but by the time I was thirty I'd surely have things sorted. And the years passed by, quicker and quicker, and I still have no idea what I'm meant to be doing after all. But in the last few months I feel more at peace with that, My life may not be where I thought it ought to be at thirty, but I'm seeing the good in my situation. I work part-time - but that means I have more time which I can focus on my writing. I am writing again, and that means I feel like I've got back in touch with who I'm meant to be. No, I'm not published yet, but I'm walking back towards what Neil Gaiman referred to as my "mountain" - I'm heading towards of my goal. It might be a long way off still, but I'm walking in the right direction again.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Rereadathon 2: Epilogue

Apologies that this blog went silent after about the first week of the rereadathon. I've been keeping up my rereading, fitting it around work and writing, but haven't been making notes as I went along. But it's been a great fortnight of rediscovering old and more recent favourites, and although I didn't get through my entire pile, I read the books I realistically expected to.

Final Stats:

Number of books read: 8
"Big" novels: 3
Which were: The Martian - Andy Weir
11.22.63 - Stephen King
Fingersmith - Sarah Waters
School stories: 5
Which were: First Term at Malory Towers - Enid Blyton
The School at the Chalet - Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
Charlotte Sometimes - Penelope Farmer
The Girl in the Blue Tunic - Jean Ure
First Term at Trebizon - Anne Digby
Total pages read: 2402
Favourite reread: 11.22.63

A few last thoughts.

It was an absolute joy to reread my two favourite books from last year, and one which I reread a couple of years earlier. Of these three "big" books, 11.22.63 was the one which kept me every bit as gripped as on the first reading, and has probably earned itself a place in my top five books of all time. I wanted to read The Martian again before the film was released, not realising it's coming out at the end of next week - just in time for my birthday! It's a really believable science fiction novel, a tale of survival, and a celebration of human creativity and spirit against incredible odds. I'm really looking forward to seeing it on the big screen. Fingersmith is a mischievous adventure full of scoundrels and rogues, skulduggery and double-crossing, although on a second reading I was a little bit more critical than the first time around, noticing in a few places when the plot was just a bit too contrived. But it's a lot of fun, nonetheless.

On boarding school stories

I read through a range of boarding-school stories in preparation for my NaNoWriMo project for this year, written between about 1926 and 1997. It's interesting just how many books and series in the genre begin with the protagonist being a new girl in her class, when everyone else has settled into school for a few terms and got to know each other - four of the five books I read conformed to that pattern, and in fact I intend to use it myself this November. Harry Potter, while drawing on the grand old tradition of British Boarding School literature, is unusual for introducing an entire new class at the same time - there are never any new kids or transfer students at Hogwarts, except for the first years each September.

Three of the books were conventional school-stories of lessons, games and pranks, while two had a fantastical or supernatural plot to them - ghosts and time-travel, the latter of which (Charlotte Sometimes) has a similar premise (in reverse) to my planned story, of a schoolgirl finding herself in a different time period and having to adjust to an alien way of life, while being mistaken for someone else. I was struck by how short the books were - most of them under 200 pages - and am aware that this is going to be a challenge for me, as I have a tendency for rambling on. My current work in progress is at nearly 100 000 words and only just past the halfway mark. I'm starting to grow concerned, although I expect to cut a lot in the next draft. If my NaNoWriMo target is 50 000 words in a month, I want to reach that word count without having too much more left to write afterwards.

What to read next?

Since this year, I've been sticking to a "read 3, buy 2" rule, which has lasted eight months, but now my to-read shelf is looking sadly empty, so I've decided to relax that a little. I'm certainly overdue a good old book-shopping spree, and in October I'm going to Hay-on-Wye and all its bookshops, as well as, hopefully, Stratford-upon-Avon with some of the other bloggers. (Is that still going ahead, guys?) I've picked out a few books for the rest of September, but that is, as ever, subject to my moods and whims. It does look as though I need to buy some books that aren't from the science fiction, fantasy and horror shelves, though!

Not pictured: Wintersmith and Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, borrowed from my dad, and 3 of the 80p Penguin Mini Classics books.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Rereadathon 2: part 2 Wednesday 9th-Friday 11th September

Hello! I haven't had an awful lot of rereading time in the last couple of days, as I was at work Wednesday and Thursday. Tuesday night, for some reason, I just could not get to sleep, and by the time about 2.30AM rolled around, I decided to get out one of my books to help wind my brain down. I finished The Martian on Tuesday evening, and so for that stupid o'clock read, I picked up Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's The School at the Chalet. 

The Chalet School series is one of the longer-running girls' boarding school series, running to about 60 books, begun in the 1920s and ending in the '60s. As you might expect, it changes a lot over the course of the books, and this week I decided to go back to where it all began. 24-year-old Madge Bettany decides to start an English girls' school in the Austrian Tirol, near a lake a little way from Innsbruck. Her first pupil is her twelve-year-old sister Joey, who is a bright spark, with a big heart and a passion for life, but whose physical strength does not match up to her boundless enthusiasm. There are only nine pupils on the first day of term: as well as Joey, there is another English girl from the same school, Grizel; Simone Lecoutier, the shy and clingy niece of the French mistress and deputy head, and six Austrians from the nearby village, ranging from nine to sixteen. It's been a long time since I went right back to the beginning, where there is a really cosy, intimate setting, and you get to know all the characters really well. The school grows and grows, and before long Madge leaves the school to get married, but new teachers come in, and pupils from across Europe and beyond. (Although entirely white, except for one Indian girl in one book, despite a couple of the books having misleading titles. I wanted A Chalet School from Kenya to be about an actual Kenyan girl, not an English child whose parents worked abroad!)

Of course, when Elinor Brent-Dyer started writing her school stories in the mid-1920s, she had no way of knowing that real-world events would force the plot to take a drastic turn if it were to continue in 1939, resulting in the excellent Chalet School in Exile. This is outstanding, not just in the series, but in the literary canon in general, as a contemporary account of Austria during the Anschluss, as seen from Britain. It's a hair-raising tale of adventure and courage, as well as sadness, as Madge and Joey, who, although this point are no longer part of the Chalet School, are still attached to it, have to close down their beloved school which they'd built up from one chalet and a handful of children, and escape and start again. On Guernsey, for a little while, then onto the Welsh border for the duration of the war.

I suppose there are three main segments of the Chalet School series: the Austrian years, mostly when Joey is a schoolgirl, then the war years, during which the school moves around several times, and then, finally, returning to Switzerland for the rest of the series. By this point, Joey is married, and the focus moves onto her eldest daughters, triplets called Len, Con and Margot - as well as an older girl called Mary-Lou, who readers either love or hate. I find her a bit too good to be true. She gets away with more than her contemporaries, has to make a project of "improving" any new girl who doesn't quite fit in, and is far too familiar with the teachers, but this is excused because "it's not cheek, it's just Mary-Lou." She really takes the biscuit in one of the books when she is made head girl of the school and her response is "oh, no, I couldn't possibly" after being the unelected leader of the senior school for years. And then, the very next chapter, she gets a special award for - I don't know - being Mary-Lou. "Oh, no, I couldn't possibly." Stupid or false modesty just comes across as stupid and false.

The other book I've been rereading is Stephen King's excellent 11.22.63 which I'm just about used to writing the date the wrong way round now. The hero, Jake, is currently living in 1950s Derry, Maine, in the aftermath of IT. Now I've read IT, the setting is even more eerie and unsettling, and I'm able to appreciate all the references to the previous novel. I haven't got as far into it as I'd hoped, as I spent this morning having a writing session (forsaking my usual local coffee shop for Starbucks - I am ashamed!) and then wandering around the town, looking in the other bookshops and admiring the autumn fashions, with their turning-leaf colours and chunky knitted jumpers. I've bought some wool to make myself a hoodie, in multi-coloured blue and purple shades, and I've also just started teaching myself to crochet with a new magazine partwork, each one teaching a new stitch or two, and with a pattern for a different kind of granny-square which will join together to make a patchwork blanket. I don't intend to buy the entire series - I've no idea how many will be in this series - but enough to make a variety of blanket squares. But I can't crochet and read at the same time, so I'll start knitting the hoodie this evening.

This weekend is the Bestival festival, at Robin Hill Country Park a few miles from my house. I always kind of dread this festival. the Isle of Wight music festival is closer to home, but at least the music stops at about midnight. It's not been unheard of for Bestival events to keep me awake until 4 in the morning with thumping bass on a Friday night. And I have to get up at half past 7 for work on Saturdays. Ugh ugh. So I'm prepared for a long reading night tonight, although I might also take my duvet downstairs and sleep on the sofa, as I don't think it is as audible from the front room. We'll see.

Bex's Rereadathon Challenge

Last time, Bex asked which is the one book you reread over and over again. This time, she wants a list. Book bloggers love lists, right?

  • Anne of Green Gables. C'mon, you know me better than to expect me to omit this one! I'll reread at least one of the Anne books pretty much every year. Not necessarily the entire series, but I can't go very long without spending some time with my favourite redhead: Anne of Green Gables, Anne of the Island are the usual candidates, but also Rilla of Ingleside (although that is more centred upon her children as young adults.)
  • The Lord of the Rings. Back in my sixth form and student days I just could not put these books down. I'd start reading every November, at first in preparation for the film adaptations, and then because it had become tradition. I don't read it quite so frequently any more, but I have read it three more times since starting my blog seven years ago.
  • Harry Potter. The ultimate in comfort reading; I start getting the urge for a reread about every two years, usually in the autumn or winter.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia. These have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I saw the BBC adaptation back when they used to show serialised children's classics on a Sunday night in the lead-up to Christmas, and when I was about seven, Dad sat me down and began to read: "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." I was thrilled to discover this was part of a series with my beloved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I stuck little pictures to the back of my wardrobe and would sit in there and imagine myself away. And I always try to reread The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe before Christmas, and some of the other books in the series in the appropriate time of the year: The Magician's Nephew in spring, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader at the end of Summer (hmm... must be about time to reread that again...) etcetera, etcetera.
  • Neverwhere. This was the book that made me fall in love with Neil Gaiman's writing. He created a new mythology for London, out of the names of the places, and it just made sense. It was like just scratching away the surface to make sense of a city that is, when you come to think of it, quite strange. I've reread all of his books on my bookcase at least once, I think, except for the Trigger Warning collection which only came out this year. American Gods and Good Omens should also feature on this list, as I've reread them at least three times since buying them. American Gods, in particular, I find new things on every reread (and is also on my reserve rereadathon pile) and Good Omens is just so funny.
  • Discworld. With 41 books, of course I don't do a complete reread every year, but there are certain sub-series within the series that I return to most often. Top of that list are the first few Watch books: Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms and Feet of Clay, as well as the masterpiece Night Watch. Then there are the Witches books: Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies and Maskerade. Hogfather gets read a lot at Christmas, and if I don't read the book, I'll watch the TV film. And Going Postal and Monstrous Regiment are others that appear regularly. I'm filling in the gaps this year; there are now only 4 left I haven't read.
So, what about you? Do any of these books or series appear regularly on your reading list, or are your favourite rereads completely different? 

Monday, 7 September 2015

Rereadathon 2: part 1 - Mon 7th & Tues 8th September


Hurrah! The long-awaited Rereadathon 2.0 is here at last. We had so much fun rediscovering old favourites back in April that Bex decided to bring back a bigger and better Rereadathon for the autumn; just the right time to settle down to a day of reading books that you know you'll love because you've read them before. Guaranteed no duds!

After a lot of deliberation, I've narrowed down my to-read list to a manageable amount (even if the resulting stack won't fit in a single pile on my shelf.) I've chosen five books I've discovered in the last two or three years: The Martian, 11.22.63, Fingersmith, American Gods and Fangirl, but interspersed with these big reads (and some of them really are doorstoppers) I've also picked out a few of my favourite school stories from childhood, to read in preparation for this November's NaNoWriMo project which will draw on that story tradition and mix it up with a bit of time travel and geekery. From my school-stories box I've selected The School at the Chalet and Jo of the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer First Term at Malory Towers, The Twins at St Clares and The Naughtiest Girl in the School from Enid Blyton, Anne Digby's First Term at Trebizon (a slightly more contemporary boarding school series) Charlotte Sometimes which features time-travel in a similar but different way from my project, and The Girl in the Blue Tunic by Jean Ure, which is a ghost story. So quite a variety within the genre.

But for today, I'm starting with Andy Weir's The Martian, to remind myself of it before the film is released. I've just discovered that the cinema date for the movie has been moved forward to the weekend of my 30th birthday at the beginning of October - what a treat! I've found it easier to get into this time around, as I've remembered most of the astronaut terms that befuddled me the first time around, but it's still quite a slow start, very science-heavy, and I didn't really like science at school. (More to the point, I don't think I liked science lessons. It was an all-girl class, and there was a lot of pairs work, and I was usually the odd one out having to tag on with another two people's experiments. But I quite liked physics and some chemistry, and science fiction has reignited my interest in actual science, especially if it involves space.)

Monday Stats

Books read today: The Martian
Today's page count: 230
Books finished this week: 0
Quote of the day: "Fear my botany powers!"


I've recently discovered that I can have good reading days and good writing days, but it is very difficult to motivate myself to start a writing session once I've got myself lost in someone else's good book. Yesterday was a prime example of that. I scheduled a mid-afternoon writing session to break up my reading day. That got shifted to after dinner... which slipped back to about ten PM before I actually got started. Whoops! So I determined that today, I would take my laptop down to my favourite local coffee shop for an hour or two before my scheduled hairdresser appointment this afternoon. But it was too early to really set out, so I picked up the first Malory Towers book... just for a chapter or two...

Oh, Katie.

First Term at Malory Towers was my introduction to the girls' school story genre, when I was about 9 years old and would read almost nothing but Enid Blyton books. I wasn't expecting a school story, and was very confused at first by the main character being called Darrell but having female pronouns. (Remind me to tell you about my primary school recorder teacher, Mr Ashley, who wore a skirt and and was referred to as "she." It wasn't until I saw her leaving card when she retired that I learned her name was actually Miss Rashley...)

Objectively, the Malory Towers books aren't very well written. The first one starts off with my most detested trope of all: the character standing in front of a mirror and telling the reader - out loud in this case - what she sees. But it has a really vivid sense of place and character, and I absolutely loved it. But there are a lot of things in the book that have always bothered me, big and little (as well as finding new things to pick holes in later on.)
  • The big one: Gwendoline Lacey. She's a dreadful character: vain and spoilt, lazy, underhand and a bully. And yet I've never felt that the books treated her very well. She's written off before she ever sets foot in the school. No one really gives her the opportunity to become a better person, and she spends six years utterly unhappy. For all that people keep saying "Malory Towers will do her good," we never see this in action, and she leaves school at eighteen just as lonely and unpleasant as she started. It's probably the most grimly realistic part of Enid Blyton's school stories, but stands out because she's so keen to make morals out of most things, but never do we get the sense that the intended moral of Gwendoline's story is, "if a person is dismissed as a spoilt brat she'll never learn to be anything else." They wouldn't stand for that in the Chalet School, I'll tell you that much. And I really want to write an alternative version of events where Gwendoline does find encouragement and friendship at school, and does become a decent human being.
  • What kind of school has its very own operating theatre in the sick room? When Sally Hope falls ill with appendicitis, instead of rushing her to hospital, they call in a surgeon, and because their "usual" surgeon is away, they get Darrell's father who just so happens to be in the area (despite it taking an entire day for Darrell to take the train from her home to school. They had both lunch and tea on the train.) I realise it's needed for plot purposes, but really?
  • The tenth member of the North Tower dormitory is mentioned only twice: a "shy, colourless child" called Violet who no one ever noticed if she was there or not. I notice her, because I always liked the name Violet (at least since I played Violet Beauregarde in my year 4 school play of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Twenty years on, the protagonist of my novel is also called Violet.) By book two, even Enid Blyton has forgotten she ever existed. I'm hoping she got transferred into one of the other tower boarding houses and made some friends there, but I have an alternative headcanon which shows her fading away like that girl (was her name Marcie?) in Buffy, and becoming a vengeful ghost...
  • There's a lot of silliness of exclusive friendships, with Darrell being so disappointed that Alicia already has a friend, because apparently at Malory Towers your best friend is your only friend...
  • In what universe can a brown and orange school uniform be described as "jolly nice?" And yet the Chalet School use the same colours as Malory Towers. I've only ever seen one brown school uniform in my life. It was... pretty drab. When I was a kid, I was always designing school uniforms for my fictional boarding schools. This was never a colour scheme that appealed to me in the slightest.
  • They use purple ink for school work? The climax of the first book revolves around a fountain pen with violet ink. Now I use violet ink in my pen, but for schoolwork it was strictly blue or black, and I would have thought that would have been stricter in the 1940s when this was written. (I told you some of my nitpicks are pretty small.)
I did manage to get a scene written this afternoon, which means that this evening I can concentrate on finishing The Martian. It's really getting exciting now...

Tuesday Stats:

Books read today: First Term at Malory Towers
The Martian
Pages read today: 172 so far
Books finished this week: 1
Quote of the day: "As with most of life's problems, this one can be solved by a box of pure radiation." (This quote from The Martian, not Malory Towers!) 

Friday, 4 September 2015

The Shepherd's Crown - Terry Pratchett

The publication of the forty-first and final book in Sir Terry Pratchett's beloved Discworld series last Thursday was the saddest book launch I've ever known.* I sold two copies to a lady with tears in her eyes on the day of release, and, indeed, every time I pass the display stand I feel that twinge of sadness -  and I have not yet got used to reading the biographical blurb written in the past tense without wanting to hit something. There's been a sense of solidarity between bookseller and customer, a shared grief and love. The effect has been extraordinary.

Of course, favourite authors and people are always dying. Last year so many customers were grieving actress Lynda Bellingham, and we've lost Maeve Binchy, James Herbert and Iain Banks over the last few years; all of whom have been missed. Terry Pratchett was more personal. I first discovered the Discworld series in about 1999, around the time I turned 14 - these books have been close to my heart more than half my lifetime. And for a series for adults running to over 40 books is quite remarkable; I can't think of any others comparable. It's been going on so long it's hard to say goodbye.

But I think there is more to it than that. Terry Pratchett had a reputation as a writer of comic fantasy, a parody of fantasy tropes, and certainly that's how he began. But he was so much more than a sprinkler of cheap gags. As Discworld progressed, it gained a grounding in reality, thanks to its humanity, insight, the profound and hard-hitting truths cushioned with perfect wordplay that makes you think deeply as you laugh. He could skewer the flaws in people with a sharpened phrase; he also knew we could be so much better, and used his novels to spur his readers on, to be the best humans we know how to be - the rising ape. And so the setting became unremarkable, because despite the witches and wizards, werewolves and trolls, it was our world shown in the fairground hall of mirrors - strange, but showing the essence of reality in an unusual way.

"Times they is a-changing."
The Shepherd's Crown may not have been intended as the final book in the series, but there's no doubt that Sir Terry was aware that it could be, and I don't think you can divorce the novel from the context in which was written. There is a sadness within the pages, especially in the early chapters, a sadness but also comfort ant beauty that feels very, very personal, as Pratchett shapes his world with words. It weaves together story threads from throughout the series, especially the witch books (elder and younger generations) as well reflecting a poignant scene from Reaper Man and referring to the penultimate book (one of the four I have not yet read) Raising Steam. It very neatly bookends the series with Equal Rites which, while not being the first Discworld book, is the one that marked the series as being more than mere parody of fantasy.
"There will be a reckoning."
The Shepherd's Crown focuses on young witch Tiffany Aching, who is trying to protect her world from an invasion from fairyland. And these are no cute little fairies who grant wishes; these are the utterly amoral and terrifying. Pratchett creates an atmosphere of waiting and melancholy, of foreboding menace. It strikes me that the Discworld books for "children" have a darkness to them that is not featured so much in the books written for "adults" (although the line between these audiences is very fuzzy indeed.) It's a darkness of difficult decisions and everyday villainy, and Terry never talked down to his young readers.

But there are still lots and lots of punes, or play on words, and cultural references from the roundworld, and one of these made me groan so loudly that I alarmed my dad, who had read a few chapters but not yet finished the book.

There is a note from Terry's assistant at the end, explaining that although there is a beginning, a middle, an end, and all the bits in between, it is not perhaps as finished as it would have been if Pratchett had lived longer. And you can see that it is a bit rough around the edges. There are several very short paragraphs with elipses, and I wondered if they were intended to be longer. And perhaps the language is less polished than usual, the dialogue a bit more stilted, the subplots needing a bit more fleshing out. In some ways, The Shepherd's Crown is a skeleton novel. But Discworld fans know just how much life, warmth, wisdom and humanity can be found in Sir Terry's most famous skeleton. Terry continued to defy his "Embuggerance" to the end, as even in a slightly less-finished state, The Shepherd's Crown is one of the best things he's written in years.

And so, in a mixture of triumph and sadness, we've reached the end of the series, and it is a worthy and satisfying finale. But a world that stretches across continents and decades does not simply come to an end. Sam Vimes and the city watch still patrol the streets of Ankh-Morpork. Rincewind is still fleeing from one misadventure to the next, the Luggage hot on his heels. Right now, Nanny Ogg is probably quaffing scumble and carousing the seventeeth verse of the Hedgehog Song. Great A'Tuin swims on among the stars, and our beloved characters are still continuing about their business on his/her back, even if their exploits go unwritten now. And there are others, too, in another world, and we know that they in the good company of a reaper with a white horse called Binky and a love of cats. And perhaps, too, there is a man with a white beard and a black hat, a fire in his heart and a wit as sharp as Death's scythe.

Thank you, Sir Terry.

*although E.L. James's Grey earlier this year also made booksellers weep across the world. That was for very different reasons.

Sunday, 30 August 2015


It's getting started that's the hardest part. Sitting down at the desk and being greeted by the blank page, or the new document, and the sure and certain knowledge that no words you put down are going to live up to the glorious vision of excellence that exists in potentia just beneath the surface of all that pure white. That writing the wrong word, an awkward phrase or failing to capture that perfect image will ruin your literary masterpiece forever, set it in stone as inferior to the novel that exists in the library of the never-written.

That's nonsense, of course. There may be book clubs and literary awards in the realm of dreams, but they are of little use in the physical world. Think of your favourite novel. At some point, its author had to push past the idol of the perfect novel and actually commit their words to paper. And aren't you glad they did?

I am a notorious procrastinator. I love writing, I really do. During a dreadful period of writer's block, my friend Hannah said to me with concern, "Katie not writing isn't really Katie at all." Didn't I know it! Perhaps it is reflective of me being unable to deal with reality without an escape into my own invented world, where I am the queen and control the things that are out of my hands in real life. But who's to say that's a bad thing? Perhaps it's true that we humans need a little madness to stay sane. I make sense of the world by translating it through the medium of story. It's how my brain works, for good or bad. And without that, life can become incomprehensible, overwhelming. Getting stuck into a story, moulding it, dreaming it, breathing it - that is when I feel most like myself, like I've found my purpose. And yet, to sit down and start putting words into some intelligible order is the hardest thing in the world. Some of this is the aforementioned fear of the blank page. But even with the acceptance that the first draft will probably be dreadful, (and that doesn't matter, honestly it doesn't, just put it on the page and you can perfect it in the editing stage,) the fact remains that writing is hard work, and, especially now you can get the internet in any room of any house, without even needing to plug in a wire, distractions are everywhere, and easy. I think that is why I write mostly into the evenings, and sometimes into the early hours - out of guilt about having nothing to show for a writing day except a handful of social media updates and perhaps a page of my colouring book for grown-ups.

Since I rediscovered creative writing in time for last November's NaNoWriMo*, I've tried to become more disciplined in my writing habits, and adjusted my outlook on my life and work situation to view living with my parents and working part-time as a gift, an opportunity, not a sign of failure. I'm most productive when I have a routine, especially when I have more than one day off together. Yes, I still waste a lot of time, but I have a collection of useful tools and rituals to help me to get focused.

There was a time when I wrote best in ink on paper, and certainly I still find some benefits in that. For one thing, they have not yet - to my knowledge - invented an internet-connected pen. And there is something about handwriting that makes me feel as though inspiration itself is flowing out through my hand, down the pen and onto the page. I pretty much write exclusively in fountain pen these days, with bottled violet ink. Not only does this make me feel like a "proper" writer, but it must be better for the environment, and in the long run, my purse, than buying dozens of biros that vanish into the abyss in every woman's handbag.

But I really only do my brainstorming and planning in ink. I outline each chapter, scene by scene, in a writing journal, but the stories themselves get typed into Scrivener. I've tried a couple of different writers' programmes, but Scrivener is the one that stuck. Not only does it allow you to create separate documents for each chapter or scene, but there is room for all your notes, character profiles and research, all in one place. The scene-by-scene layout has given me more freedom to move on, knowing I can easily find where I left an unfinished section, to write scenes out of chronological order, or to rearrange my story in different ways. There are tools for searching within a novel, reading all the parts of each subplot together, storyboarding and wordcount targets, even going back to previous drafts if you realise you liked it better before making modifications.

The other useful software I've discovered is called Freedom, which cuts out your internet connection for a period of time, forcing you to work on what you're actually supposed to be doing. But surely just switching off wi-fi will do the same thing? you say. Aha, I reply, but it's just as easy to switch it back on again. Freedom won't let you do that before your time is up, not without rebooting your machine. And that's probably too much effort for the sake of a bit of procrastination.

But even without the internet, there are a myriad other ways to distract myself at home, and if my mind just will not settle, sometimes it's worthwhile to take myself to my local coffee shop for an hour or two.  LoveCoffee in Newport has a spacious upstairs, and is rarely so busy that I feel obliged to vacate my table as soon as I've finished my drink. I can quite happily spend a morning there outlining, journalling, or working on my draft.

For Christmas last year, I was bought the Ready, Set, Novel! writing journal from the creators of NaNoWriMo. Now, after studying creative writing for three years at university, I've concluded that there is only so much writing theory that one can learn from books before one has to learn by doing. And a lot of writers' idea books are more of a distraction than a help, good for brainstorming, but bearing little relevance to an extended project. But Ready, Set, Novel! has proven an exception for me, so much so that I bought a second copy to start planning for this year's NaNoWriMo. Even if you are completely lacking in ideas, Ready, Set, Novel is designed to help you to discover what you're actually interested in writing about, and when you have your initial ideas, takes you through the process of honing them into a novel, fleshing out characters, finding the tone through the use of setting, and discovering not only what happens in your story, but what it's about. It's helped me to discover more about my characters, the shape of the main plot and even to make sure that all of the subplots are satisfactorily resolved.

And then, onto the writing itself. Some people create music playlists to help them to get inside their character's heads, and in the right frame of mind to write. Personally, although I do have music I associate with my characters, I can't have it on during a writing session, because it's another distraction. What I do have is a carefully selected scented candle which is appropriate to the theme, characters or setting of my work in progress - at present I'm using Yankee Candles' "Champaca Blossom." Allegedly, smell is the most evocative of the senses. I'm trying to train my brain into associating a particular scent with settling down to work on a particular novel.

But even so, it takes a lot of willpower to get started. I bully and bribe myself just to reach this word count, to spend an hour writing, to finish this chapter by this date. And for a while my brain protests. It's looking at the clock. It's checking the word-count gadget after every sentence. But gradually, the characters wake up, and sometimes they do what I wanted them to, and sometimes they surprise me. From time to time, I'll discover that I've just solved a plot problem that's been troubling me for weeks, without even noticing until it's there before me in black and white (or purple and cream.)

Maybe your story doesn't really write itself, and maybe the characters don't really make their decisions on their own. But on a good day, the pieces come together in the back of your mind, and the result makes so much sense that you can't quite believe that it came from inside yourself. That is when your story comes to life. It's the best feeling in the world.

*National Novel-Writing Month

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the companies whose products I have mentioned in this post, nor am I receiving any payment for recommending them. Any opinions are my own,

Monday, 17 August 2015

Bout of Books 14

Bout of Books

Monday 17th August

3.30PM: Well, here we are in the fourteenth Bout of Books readathon! For those of you who don't know me, my name is Katie, and I work part time in a bookshop on the Isle of Wight (a small island off the south coast of England.) When I'm not working, I write fiction (although I'm as yet unpublished,) and am currently writing the first draft of a geeky chick lit novel. Although right now, I seem to be finding all sorts of ways to avoid writing! I've set myself two more scenes to write today, but perhaps I'll find my brain works better if I take a break and read for a little while...

4PM: ...or maybe not. Instead of a reading update, allow me to present my Fictional World Travel challenge entry: the challenge is quite simple, to show off a selection of books set in different countries around the world (not your own.) I've also omitted the USA, because, let's face it, probably a good half of my books are set there, if not more.

The Fictional World Travel challenge was created by and hosted at
Between Library Shelves

The Book of Tomorrow - Cecelia Ahern (Republic of Ireland)
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage - Haruki Murakami (Japan)
A Man Called Ove - Frederik Backman (Sweden)
The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton (The Netherlands)
Pink - Lili Wilkinson (Australia)
Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery (Canada)

To those of you who don't know me, let me say that Anne is one of my greatest loves, and so don't be surprised if you see her pop up again over this week.

I'm going to shut down my computer until 5, and see how much of A Man Called Ove I can get read by 5PM.

Monday's Stats:

Currently reading: A Man Called Ove Frederik Backman
Pages read today: 260
Books finished this week: 0
Quote of the day: "People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was colour. All the colour he had."

Tuesday 18th August 

Today already hasn't gone to plan. It's my last day before going back to work, and I was trying to have an early night and earlier morning to try to ease myself back into a workday routine - but I couldn't sleep. I used the time to finish off A Man Called Ove, which is a really lovely book. The titular Ove is a grumpy old curmudgeon, probably a Swedish relation of "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells," who seems to live to complain. But as the book progresses, we see how Ove has come to be this way, and how underneath it all he's really a very kind, very lonely man. A Man Called Ove is in turns sad and funny, often both at the same time, with a wonderful cast of characters, a story about how one person has an effect on a community in many small ways. 

Today was going to be another writing day, but I'll save that for the evening, I think. I have less than one scene before I finish the chapter, hopefully a bit of humour after all the melancholy I wrote yesterday. I'll be having a beach barbecue with my friends this afternoon, but now I'm going to make myself a big mug of coffee and maybe some cake, and curl up with my next book: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. 

Tuesday's Stats:

Currently reading: The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing
Pages read today: 150
Books finished this week: 1
Quote of the day: "There is a female chivalry, woman for woman, as strong as any other kind of loyalty.Or perhaps it was we didn't want brought home to us the deficiencies of imagination in our own men."

Wednesday 19th August

I think today is not going to be a reading day. I went back to work after a ten-day holiday today. It wasn't terrible, but it has marked the end of summer for me, and autumn in retail brings its own particular struggles. Perhaps I'll have an early night, and read a bit of a Discworld book in bed. I'm enjoying The Golden Notebook, but it's perhaps not a book designed for speeding through on a readathon; it's full of politics and feminism and big ideas about the compartmentalisation of life and personality. The protagonist keeps a series of journals on a variety of themes: politics, writing, and personal life, and the novel features segments from each. But right now I don't feel much like reading it, instead flicking about on the internet. I'm feeling the urge to settle down to rewatching some youtube videos instead - maybe rewatch some of Green Gables Fables in preparation for the new season covering Anne of the Island in a modern-day university, which is coming very soon. 

Thursday 20th August

7PM: Maybe it wasn't the best of ideas to take part in a readathon in the week I was due to go back to work for the autumn. Yesterday's reading was a grand total of about seventeen pages. The evening was spent faffing around online, watching Green Gables Fables and colouring. Today, although the back-to-work blues are still hanging around a bit, I'm feeling a bit happier and more relaxed, so I'll push on with a bit more of The Golden Notebook. You do really need to sit down for a long stretch of time and get stuck into that book; it's not very good for reading just a few pages over lunch break. I've just got in from work, and on my way I accidentally picked up a cute and funny little "Happiness Is..." book from the gift section at TK Maxx, and another "colouring therapy" book from the supermarket. I'm going to make a toastie and some soup for my dinner, and read a while, then, later, I might do a readathon challenge, and watch more of Green Gables Fables. 

Thursday Stats

Currently reading: The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing
Also read: Happiness Is...
Pages read today: 117, plus approx 250 in Happiness Is... (the latter had about 2-10 words on each page so doesn't really count.)

Friday 21st August

3.30PM: Friday is my Saturday, as I'll be working tomorrow, so I spent the morning doing chores: tidying, cleaning, two loads of laundry. I'm now settling down with some more of The Golden Notebook, which I'm finding very interesting as I can relate so well to Anna, with her many notebooks and journals. I have so many notebooks, each with their own purposes: about the novel-writing process, book review notes, and one just for favourite quotations. Then there's the different versions of me I present online - I do not sync my Facebook and Twitter accounts, for instance, but choose what to write for which audience, even in a simple status update. But I might switch to a different book later on.

Friday Stats:

Currently reading: The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing
Pages read today: 244

Saturday 22nd August

Work again today - but it was decidedly quiet for a Saturday, especially one in the summer holidays. It was really hot and sunny when I ventured out at lunch time, so I suppose most people were on the beach or in their gardens, making the most of the good weather. A couple of days ago I was sure autumn had arrived, and I've been wearing sweaters and fluffy slipper boots already. But summer was apparently not as over as we'd thought. (I've seen the weather forecast for next week, though. Sigh.) I made the most of the peace and quiet to start clearing some space in the stock room for the autumn new releases and Christmas gift books, which could start arriving at any time. We've already got a few annuals in! I swear it gets earlier every year. I also had the chance to sit down and talk to my manager about something that had been weighing very heavily on my mind - part of the reason that my reading's been so difficult the last couple of days. I find it very difficult to admit when I'm struggling, but I knew I couldn't carry on bottling things up, and now I feel a lot better after talking things over with her. 

I finally finished The Golden Notebook, which I've really enjoyed reading - it's a very different sort of novel, a kind of examination of everything that goes into the writing of a book, all the things behind the scenes that might not make it onto the final draft, but which contribute nonetheless. However, I'm glad to have reached the end of it, and am moving on to one of the few Discworld books I've never read - Thief of Time. The final book in the series is released next Thursday. I still can't believe it's ending, though Sir Terry has been gone for nearly six months now. 

Saturday Stats:

Currently reading:
Thief of Time - Terry Pratchett.
Also read: The Golden Notebook
Pages read today: 120
Books finished this week: 2 (or 3 if you count Happiness Is...)

Sunday 23rd August 

5.30PM: Okay, so I haven't actually read anything today, or done any of the jobs I'd planned. I got up quite early for a Sunday, but unfortunately migraine struck. I've had a nap, and the pain's mostly gone, but the visual part has remained so everything looks shadowy - not good for concentrating on a book. Probably sitting at a laptop isn't doing it any good either, so I'll put that away for now. I'll try to read a bit after dinner.

11.30PM: The worst of the migraine's gone now, and I've read a bit more of Thief of Time. I didn't realise that this was a book featuring Susan, Death's granddaughter, in a prominent role! Yes, there was a book about some of my favourite characters which I hadn't read or known about! What a lovely surprise. It's wonderful to lose myself in the Discworld, with Terry Pratchett's trademark wit and wordplay, and it looks as though it'll be a worthy sequel to Hogfather in some ways. 

Sunday Stats:

Currently reading: Thief of Time - Terry Pratchett
Pages read today - 65 so far
Books finished this week: 2 (or 3 if you count Happiness Is...)
Quote of the day: "When you look into the abyss, it's not supposed to wave back."

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Sunday Summary (16/8/15)

Five things that made me happy this week (with special thanks to Ellie the Lit Nerd.)

1. Having a week off work. It's been fairly crummy weather, although there were a couple of gorgeous sunny days, and last Sunday I went to Ventnor beach with my family, swam in the sea twice, and then had hot chocolate from my favourite beachside cafe, Lady Scarlet's. They also do lovely ice cream and sundaes gluten-free cakes, and if you have coffee, they give you milk in one of those old-fashioned 1/3rd pint glass bottles.

2. Writing. Despite not working, I seem to find my natural writing time is late into the night. I find it's easier to get into a routine when I have several days off at a time, rather than just one day, and I've finished one chapter of my work in progress this week, and am aiming to get another one done before I go back to work on Wednesday.

3. There were, however, a couple of days when I didn't manage to get any writing done at all, and on Friday, I switched on my laptop to find it wouldn't boot up past the "welcome" page, before turning to black. I've had that computer a long time, and had a lot of work done to it, so I decided it was tuime to treat myself to a new laptop. I bought a very petite, blue one - it looks a bit like a "my first laptop" toy. I do intend to get my old one fixed, if I can, though.

4. Last week was also Cowes Week, the big sailing regatta, when lots of posh and boat-obsessed people come to the Isle of Wight. We're not so interested in the boats, but there was lots of street food, and a falconry display in Northwood Park, where we watched a bird called Swoop doing some very impressive flying and diving - to the song "Danger Zone" from Top Gun! And on Friday it was the annual fireworks event, which is a bigger deal on the Island than November 5th! The weather was a bit drizzly, but it was better than last year, and my friends and I congregated on Cowes Green for the evening to watch the fireworks.

5. One of my family friends, Lois, threw an Alice in Wonderland themed tea party yesterday afternoon, and my mum, dad and I were among several of the guests who went in costume (I was the Mad Hatter.) Lois has recently retired from working as a librarian, and threw the party in celebration of the novel's 150th anniversary.

Bout of Books: 

Bout of Books

I've also decided to sign up once more for the Bout of Books readathon, which begins tomorrow, although I'll have to share my reading time with my writing. Still, I'd like to get my current book finished (A Man Called Ove) and read three more from my to-read shelf. These may or may not include The Rook by Daniel O'Malley, Goodnight Beautiful by Dorothy Koomson, Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, and/or Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett.
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 17th and runs through Sunday, August 23rd in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 14 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. 
- From the Bout of Books team
Will you be taking part? If so, what books are on your pile - or do you prefer to just read whatever takes your fancy at the time?

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Month in review: July

Hello to you all. In the books world, July was all about Go Set a Watchman. Whether you couldn't wait for it, or were nervous about it, or tried to avoid it entirely, it was everywhere. I used the two weeks running up to Watchman's release to read through the small pile of library books, loans, and gifts, which I did not count towards my "read 3, buy 2" policy for this year. After Go Set a Watchman, with all the hype and discussion, I fell into a little bit of a reading slump, a sense of "Now what?" It may not be a full-on reading slump; I've still read four books (plus a penguin mini-classic) in the past two and a half weeks, which is still pretty good, but I haven't felt that draw to my bookshelves, or that immersion into a really engrossing novel. That's okay. It happens, and it's nothing to beat myself up about.

What I read

Abarat - Clive Barker
The Rabbit Back Literature Society - Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen
The Coincidence Authority - John Ironmonger
The Outcast Dead - Elly Griffiths
Nunslinger - Stark Holborn
The Night Guest - Fiona McFarlane

The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick
Go Set a Watchman - Harper Lee
The Beginner's Goodbye - Anne Tyler
Weirdo - Cathi Unsworth
Interesting Times - Terry Pratchett

And (Penguin Mini Classics)
The Fall of Icarus - Ovid
The Night is Darkening Round Me - Emily Bronte
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime

With a new to-read pile for August, I'm starting to feel a bit more excited about reading again. I bought two new books yesterday, both from the children's section: First Class Murder, the latest in the Wells and Wong series about schoolgirl detectives in the 1930s, and Katy by Jacqueline Wilson, a modern-day retelling of What Katy Did. I'm often very wary of retellings, but I think that some of the literary webseries, such as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Green Gables Fables (as well as, recently, Project Green Gables.) have softened my purist's attitude, and I find it very interesting to see how they translate to the modern day. And What Katy Did is a book full of really good characters, incidents and stories... but it is ultimately very Victorian in its moralising in the second half, and the "character development" turns an adventurous, ambitious, feisty little girl into a dull, sanctimonious little angel. I think the characters and family life of Katy and the Carrs would fit quite well among Jacqueline Wilson's original novels: she writes about dysfunctional families, often with lots of children and maybe a single or remarried parent, and her characters are believable children. Let's see how she handles this classic.

Provisional August To-Read Pile

Thief of Time - Terry Pratchett
First Class Murder - Robin Stevens
A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula Le Guin
When We Were Orphans - Kazuo Ishiguro
Dark Places - Gillian Flynn
HhhH - Laurent Binet
Goodnight, Beautiful - Dorothy Koomson
Reasons She Goes to the Woods - Deborah Kay Davies
Katy - Jacqueline Wilson
The Rook - Daniel O'Malley

I've really got stuck back into my writing in the last month or two. Where I work part-time, I'm trying to make the most of my days off as an opportunity to work on my novel, which I began for NaNoWriMo last year. I'm setting myself achievable targets and am really pleased with how it's coming along now. And I've also come up with my idea for this November's project: a children's book set in a girls' boarding school, involving time travel. But unlike the usual time-travel narrative in which someone goes back from the present day into the past, this girl, Olive, comes from 1940 and has to figure out how to pass as a 2015 teenager, with many lessons to learn, while trying to get back to her own past and her family. It's taken inspiration from Charlotte Sometimes, Cross Stitch and Captain America, and I'm going to have to reread a load of my old school stories from childhood, in order to figure out Olive's character and world. 

Which is handy, seeing as Bex is organising another ReReadathon for September, not one but two weeks this time. I fully intend to reread last year's favourites: 11.22.63 and The Martian, as well as at least one Sarah Waters novel, but I'm sure I'll have plenty of time to read a Chalet School, Malory Towers and maybe a Trebizon or two for comparison. 

And away from the world of books, reading or writing them, I've finally got around to buying Star Trek: Deep Space 9. We don't have many places left on the Island which sell DVDs, and especially not older ones or box sets (although CEX the exchange shop opened this week - yay) so I'd been looking in every HMV or CEX whenever I went to the mainland, with no joy. But suddenly I remembered that Hive sells DVDs as well as books. Hive is an online shop I don't mind using - normally I go out of my way to buy in a shop if at all possible - because it supports local independent bookshops.

My Trekkie friends either seem to like DS9 best of all, or hate it. I'm really impressed with it so far; I've only seen about half a season, but I already like it more than The Next Generation. (Gasp! Controversial!) TNG is pretty much how I imagined Star Trek to be before I ever had any interest in Star Trek. It's got some good characters, and some really interesting, thought-provoking storylines, but I never quite warmed to it the same way I did the original series. I felt like it was trying to be more of the same. Picard's crew is still seeking new life and new civilisations, boldly going where no-one has gone before, their ship is even called the Enterprise. DS9, by contrast, is set on a space station, and it's not even a Federation space station; instead, a team from the Federation has been called to work alongside the Bajorans, whose space station DS9 really is, and there is the conflict as the two teams learn each other's ways.

Deep Space 9 ties in nicely with the franchise so far. The pilot opens with a flashback to the biggest season finale of The Next Generation - the Borg attack in which Captain Picard was assimilated, and the battle of Wolf 359, where a Starfleet officer's wife is killed. This officer is Benjamin Sisko, three years later the commander of Deep Space 9, who has been bringing up his son alone. It was good to have some of the issues I'd had with the series so far addressed: the throwaway nature of the doomed redshirts and unseen nobodies, and why it is really not a great idea to have civilian spouses and children onboard the Starship Enterprise. Yes, she is a ship of exploration, not of war, but you might be forgiven for forgetting that, considering the number of space battles all her incarnations have seen, and of course the redshirt mortality rate!
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