Friday 28 November 2014

11.22.63 - Stephen King

Wellll... my October blogging hiatus seems to have stretched through November as well as I got attacked by the plot bunnies on the eve of NaNoWriMo and have been putting all my writing energies into getting this new story into some sort of shape. Meanwhile, the list of things I really want to write about gets longer and longer... Some of it will probably have to go, but Stephen King's time-travelling epic 11.22.63 is not one of these, as it has shot right to the top of my Books Read In 2014 list, even overtaking The Martian which held the top spot for so long. It was a birthday present from Hanna, who wrote the review persuading me that I absolutely had to read it right now about two years ago. Whoops.

What if Kennedy was never assassinated? This is the question posed by Stephen King in this novel. Jake Epping, a teacher in his thirties, is shown a portal to the past by his dying friend Al. This gateway through time, in the back of the pantry of Al's diner, leads directly to 1958. Always the same time, always the same place. Al gives Jake the mission: to alter the course of history by preventing Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating President John F. Kennedy. But what neither of them count on is for Jake making himself a new life in the 1960s and falling in love.

11.22.63 was very different from what I'd expected - my preconceptions were that the story would mostly focus on how the Kennedy assassination changed the world, and how different everything would be if it had never taken place: the impact of drastic changes to the timeline. In reality, the time portal sends Jake back to 1958, giving him five years to prepare, and to immerse himself (and us) into the world of the past. King paints a full picture of different places in America over fifty years ago, from creepy, unfriendly Derry (setting of his even bigger brick of a book IT - can't sleep, clown'll eat me!) to the seedy part of Dallas that was home to the Oswalds, to the place Jake comes to call home: Jodie, Texas, with its wholesome yet entirely human teenagers, good friends and of course, the lovely library Sadie Dunhill. You really live within these pages, grow to care about the characters, and I would have been quite happy reading 750 pages just about Jake's day-to-day life in Jodie, with Sadie. Everything seems wonderful - or at least, mostly a success; despite the past's resistance to Jake's every move, he seems to be mostly victorious. But through it all is an undercurrent of foreboding, thanks to the prologue in which a horrified Jake laments, "What have I done?" We can't quite forget, much as we'd like to, that some terrible consequences must come as a result of Jake's meddling. I've said it before: this is how Stephen King gets his readers. He makes us love his characters so that we feel so much worse when everything goes wrong.

You don't need to know too much about 20th Century American history. King educates us by sending us back in time with someone who never paid a lot of attention to history class, and immersing us into the middle of things we may know about but might not have thought about too deeply, illustrated with details that remind us that ordinary and extraordinary people lived through this time; it was more than just dry information on the page. I was well aware of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, that everyone thought that nuclear war was inevitable, but I hadn't thought before about how it would have affected people in their day-to-day life. But King recreates that atmosphere of fear, that certainty that armageddon was only a matter of time, and I could not help but remember the days after 9/11 when the western world had to come to terms with the idea that we were not invincible after all.

The rest of this review could be considered spoilery.

"The past is obdurate. The past harmonises." 
Stephen King brings a fascinating new version of the time-travel narrative which has coloured my thinking every time I encounter the trope, every time I watch Doctor Who or Star Trek or Heroes. Because in this universe, the timeline is fixed in a certain way. Every time Al or Jake travel in time, they hit a reset button. Any changes they might have made on their last visit to 1958 will have reverted back to their original course, causing the list of things to be "corrected" to grow longer and longer on every visit. But the more you alter the past, the harder the universe fights to resist your efforts. With that in mind, the ending was the inevitable catastrophic success, which did not prevent me from feeling genuine terror when Jake is told, "You need to go back and see exactly what you've done." 

"I thought of an old ad for Memorex audiotape. It showed a crystal glass being shattered by sound vibrations. By pure harmonics."

Other (spoiler-free) reviews of this book from Hanna and Charlotte

Sunday 16 November 2014

Sunday Summary: NaNoWriMo and fancy gadgets ancient and modern

Hi all. My laptop and I have migrated downstairs today from my bedroom to the dining room, where there is warmth and coffee. NaNoWriMo has delayed my return to proper blogging. Considering that I'd had no thoughts of doing it this year, I'm rather pleased that I've just passed 23 000 words and am getting really stuck into my story. This does mean, however, that there hasn't been much reading this week. I will get reviewing soon, I promise. At the very least, I want to rave at great length about Stephen King's 11.22.63. 

This month I've fallen back into my long-lost late-night writing habits formed during my student days, finding myself getting very productive between about 11PM and 1AM. I'm really rather excited to have got that part of me back, although it's not so good when I have an 8.30AM start at work the next day. But this month I've been working more shorter working days, which fits in my writing pattern quite well. It's such a relief to get so invested in a story of my own making again, to have the creative part of my brain ticking over even in the background - although I'm sure it's making me ditsier and more scatterbrained than ever.

One of the NaNoWriMo pep talks, from Divergent author Veronica Roth, gave some advice I took on board: to break out of one's own well-established writing habits and see if any other ways work. I've long been a strictly linear writer: start at the beginning and carry on until I get to the end (or, more often, lose interest and give up.)  This time around, I've done a little bit of skipping around in the story, writing later scenes and leaving some of the joining scenes until later. I use Scrivener writing software (after an unfortunate incident where I was accidentally saving it as an OpenOffice document to a shared dropbox, completely unsuited to the purpose, and someone else deleted it, surely having read enough to know that it was not meant to be there. NIGHTMARE!)

I fear I'm rather a hardened cynic when it comes to romance, so it's been a real challenge to switch off my inbuilt censor which screams "NO, NO, THIS IS TOO CHEESY AND PREDICTABLE!" whenever my character even, say, notices that another person is attractive and likable. I don't want to be a bitter old spinster! I am not writing a romance novel, but there are love relationships in my novel. At uni I took a course in genre-writing, and we were due to study a Mills and Boon book, but the tutor took pity on us and dropped it from the course. So now I started introducing my character's love interest and realised I didn't know how to describe them, or show growing friendship and attraction. So I've downloaded a couple of free ebooks that I probably wouldn't even get out of the library using the self-serve machines, and am reading critically, thinking about what I like and what I don't like. I can't be having with too much of the characters talking about their feelings, for example, and there needs to be more of a plot than just the mushy stuff.

Yes, you read it right. I, Katherine Edwards, ink-and-paper loyalist, have downloaded some ebooks. No, I have not been won over to the dark side and bought an e-reader, but I did invest in a shiny new smartphone and downloaded the Kobo App, for emergency bookless situations. Anne of Green Gables was, of course, my first freebie. (That's four, when added to my hardback and two paperback copies.) I'm undecided whether e-books count as additions to the to-read pile or not. I've also started an Instagram account, although so far it just has a couple of trial-selfies (with ridiculous faces) and shelfies.

I've also inherited a sewing machine. It's a vintage (read "old") Singer that my Grandma bought in the '70s, but still seems to be in good condition. Since she moved into a nursing home earlier this year, it has been passed on to me. I'll admit I'm a bit scared of sewing machines - they have a tendency to get out of hand when I try to use them. But Mum has promised to help me figure out how to use it, and I already have grand dressmaking plans, and a Great British Sewing Bee book to help me get started.

This week I have been:

Reading: The Last Battle by C.S.Lewis. Never my favourite of the Narnia books, it's got some great stuff in it but I've always found it troubling and uncomfortable.

Also the aforementioned cheesy romance novel on e-book, which I will not name and shame. It is not terrible, but it is not my cup of tea.

Watching: Not much, but a bit of Star Trek and Heroes. I'll be honest, the main reasons I'm still watching Heroes is because of Sylar being enjoyably psychotic, Hiro and Ando being adorable, and Claire's story is still a bit interesting. I'm a bit lost among the other characters and subplots, but I don't like giving up on a story partway through.

Stuck in my head: Taylor Swift: "Shake it off," Kansas: "Carry On Wayward Son," "I'll make a man out of you" from Mulan, and "Little Talks" by Of Monsters And Men. Also some of the songs from Mary Poppins.

Looking Forward To: This time next week I'll be on holiday. I wasn't planning to go away during my time off, but I found out that Cary Elwes, who was Westley in The Princess Bride - one of my favourite films of all
time - is signing a book he wrote about making that film, in Forbidden Planet in London. At first I muddled the dates and thought it was the Saturday, my last day at work, because things are always on Saturdays and it seemed inconceivable (ho ho) that it would be any other day. Then I checked again, and it's actually the following Tuesday. The book was on my Christmas list, so I decided I would break my book-buying ban and go up for the signing, and do some Christmas shopping, and see my sister all at the same time.

Monday 10 November 2014

Readers Imbibing Peril IX wrap-up post.

Apologies for the lateness of this post!

This year I took part in RIP IX (Readers Imbibing Peril, organised by Carl Anderson at Stainless Steel Droppings.) My chosen challenge was Peril the First: to read four dark, spooky and intriguing novels in the space of two months, and you can see my sign-up post with its goals and suggested reading list here. I'm pleased to announce that for perhaps the first time since I started this blog, I've managed to reach my goal!

The books:

The Silkworm by "Robert Galbraith." The second of J. K. Rowling's crime novels featuring Cormoran Strike lives up to and goes beyond the standard set by The Cuckoo's Calling, and shows that her magical storytelling is not limited by genre. I could not put this down.

The Coldest Girl In Coldtown by Holly Black. A vampire novel for the reality TV and social media generation, combining the danger of the monsters of old with the glamour of the more recent species - but no, they do not sparkle.

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King. A collection of novellas that pose the question: what might drive a person to commit a crime? As I found with his own son's book, Horns, there is no horror quite as unsettling as the perfectly mundane awfulness that can be found in seemingly ordinary people.

My last book did not come from the original to-read pile but was a birthday present from Hanna. I'm not entirely sure that 11.22.63 counts, as it's not exactly horror, but it is written by Stephen King. An immersive, fascinating, world-changing novel. I did not want to finish this book. Definitely one of the best books I've read this year. (I intend to write a full review very soon.)

Sunday 2 November 2014

Sunday Summary: fly-by post 4

Well, my manic October is over and now I go back to having weekends of a sort again, even if, as is the case this week, actually in the middle of the week. Hurrah! But although I'm doing fewer hours at work, with Halloween over, the world is ready to catch up with the retail calendar and launch into Christmas, and of course things will only get busier. This Thursday I actually ran out of tasks to do. (There is never actually nothing to do, even if it's just cleaning and replenishing the shelves, but I stopped chasing my tail for a moment, making the most of the fact that this was probably going to be my last afternoon like that.

This week I have been:


The last part of 11.22.63. Beautiful, devastating, a wonderful book (that has already altered the way I think time travel in other fiction, such as last night's Doctor Who.) Stephen King does it again! I plan to write a proper review of this one later this week.

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide, a novella about a thirty-something Japanese couple who get adopted by their neighbours' cat, and form a bond with this darling creature. A pensive, poetic read that is worth taking time over, despite its short length.

Rereading Redshirts, one of my top books of last year, and one which I recommend to anyone who has affectionately noticed the absurdity inherent in certain kinds of science fiction TV shows. A must-read if you like the film Galaxy Quest.


A bit more of Heroes - season two is a short one, due to the writers' strike of a few years ago.

Captain America, to remind my dad of Steve Rogers' story so far, before we watch the sequel. (The Avengers is, naturally, also on the cards.)

A bit more Star Trek: The Next Generation. There are some great, thought-provoking episodes of this series, but the fact remains that it doesn't capture my affections as much as the original series, the original cast. I do like Worf and Data, though.


The Addams Family, on Netflix. It seemed appropriate Halloween viewing, with hot chocolate and marshmallows, while tucked up with a rotten head cold.

Doctor Who. The first part of the season finale was powerful stuff. I've been a bit ambivalent about this season, enjoying each episode well enough, but not really hanging on to the story during the week. A recurring small character through the series really gave me the creeps in a way I term "the Umbridge Effect" - making the watching experience less enjoyable when the character is on screen. But a few weeks back, I stumbled upon someone's apparently random idea about this person which, if it were true, might make me rethink my approach to them.

Last night's episode was really powerful. An unforeseen* major event within the first minutes, some fine acting, especially from Jenna Coleman, some fantastic lines (including a reference to Peter Capaldi's most famous previous role), a journey somewhere that seemed impossible even for the TARDIS, and some huge plot twists that were unusual in being none the worse for being anticipated.

Scaring myself with: just the thought of getting scared by certain Stephen King books. Perhaps it is not a good idea to read his "Nightmare fuel" page on TV Tropes just before bed. I was the child who had to be taken out of birthday parties and school assemblies because I'd freak out when I saw a clown. Guess which book is not on my immediate to-read pile!

Can't sleep. Clown'll eat me.

But who needs Stephen King when you've got some of the stuff in that last Doctor Who episode? There was a time watching that episode that made me really wonder if the show had crossed a line, gone too far - and I like it when it goes dark. There were some ideas that will linger uncomfortably for a long time, I think.

Sneezing: A lot, especially (naturally) on my day off.

Writing: Well, I've made a start on NaNoWriMo, although I didn't even manage the wordcount for the first day. That's fine. For me it's not about reaching the 50 thousand words, so much as getting back into writing stories, and sticking with it. I don't know who I am when I can't write, and it's been such a long time.

Also, this week I hope to get back into some proper reviews for the blog, now I've (potentially) got a little more time on my hands.

SPOILER in white text >>> 

Actually, I did think for a moment, "Danny's too close to the road" before the phone went silent his end.  <<<
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