24 December 2007

More Plotting, and An Awesome Book

I've now received two of the emails that accompany Holly's free Plot Outlining Workshop. The first was a rehash of the intro to the Create-a-Plot Clinic, and so mostly shrugged its way through my brain without being astoundingly useful.

However, I received the second email today, and things begin to look promising. I suspect it will be slow going, given I have to wait for each email to complete a step in the plotting process, but after completing step one today (mostly relating to the central conflict of the story) I have a suspicion that this will turn into a Really Fun Story.

Yet another one, since we're supposed to start a brand new plot for this workshop.

Too many stories, too little time.

On a related note, too many books, not enough time.

Our new carpet went in last Wednesday (thank goodness) and I spent some time rearranging my books (hoorah!). In the process, I discovered just how many I own that I haven't yet read. So this weekend, I decided I had to read one of the new ones. The book that came to hand was The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield.

This is Ms Setterfield's first novel, and I highly recommend it. The first chapter or so jarred me, because it's in first person and I haven't read first person for a while - I kept hearing the voice of my creative writing lecturer ringing in my head: 'Why are they telling the story? In first person narratives there must a be a reason for the narrator to tell you their story...' - but the question is satisfactorily answered in the closing chapters, and the story was interesting enough to draw my in regardless.

The Thirteenth Tale is a gothic mystery, of sorts, heavily influenced by Jane Eyre. Reading it reminded me quite strongly of reading Du Marier's Rebecca, which is a good thing as I enjoyed Rebecca. It has all the traditional trademarks of the genre - female protag, large house fire, mad women secreted about the house - but is delightfully different nonetheless.

The narrator, one Margaret Lea, works in the family's second-hand bookstore and is an amateur biographer, though mostly for people long-dead. In the opening chapter, she is contacted by a famous and brilliantly successful contemporary novelist, Vida Winters, who wishes to have Margaret write her biography - an interesting request, given all previous attempts at a biography of Ms Winters have been met with lies upon fantastic, entertaining lies.

Despite her misgivings, Margaret agrees to hear Ms Winter's tale, and what follows is the beautifully crafted gothic mystery that reels you in and intrigues. At the same time, though, it's a puzzling book to enjoy - often I found myself wondering why I wanted to know what was going to happen, when nothing particularly breath-taking had.

But the writing is beautiful, and for all its quiet, understated beginning and middle, then end is satisfyingly dramatic, and the mystery is revealed to be much more mysterious than I felt it was.

It's the kind of book you just have to go back and read a second time, now that you know the ending.

Anyway, merry Christmas, and stay safe for the New Year.

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