Archive for February, 2012

I have just found this really fascinating article on the BBC about the way we sleep.  I’ve been a poor sleeper all my life, suffering from quite bad insomnia up until the age of 18 (I would regularly have 4 hours of sleep, sometimes less and it would take me 3 hours or more to get to sleep), so I was instantly drawn to the title: The Myth of the Eight-Hour Sleep.

I’m just going to outline the bits I found interesting in the article, so do go and read it for a fuller account, together with interesting quotes from proper historians!

It seems that the natural pattern of sleep for humans is to sleep for around 4 hours, then be awake for an hour or two, before sleeping again for around 4 hours.

This apparently ancient pattern, old enough to be mentioned by Homer, began to change in the late 17th century (my second favourite century!) with the advent of open-all-hours coffee houses and the new acceptability of being up and about all night.  Prior to the 17th century, the article tells us, the night was a time for, well, ladies of the night and other figures of ill repute.  However with coffee shops and better lighting at home and on the streets (in 1667 Paris became the first city to light its streets), it would seem that ‘partying all night’ became fashionable, but left little time for a two-stage sleep, so we began to sleep all in one chunk.  

The change also appears to be linked to The Industrial Revolution’s new interest in efficiency, with the double-sleep taking up too much time that could be spent in productivity!

So, if, like me, you’ve suffered from insomnia, it might well have its roots in this change … I would find it very interesting to try out this sleeping pattern.  The article even mentions that traditionally people often spent their gap between sleep visiting neighbours, getting steamy(!) or writing, so perhaps it’s a way of making time to write without feeling harried and tired by doing it after a long day at work or feeling tired by doing it before work.  It even sounds as if this time between sleeps is a relaxing, peaceful period where you feel awake and invigorated… All very interesting stuff.

If I work out a way to try this out, I’ll let you know!


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The Night Circus – Not a Review

So it’s been a while since I asked who had been to The Night Circus and I’ve taken some time to think about it.

On the surface this book appears to be a fairly straightforward romance in a magical 19th century.  But once you plunge into the circus, you find that you’ve inadvertently fallen in love with a piece of (and I whisper this) postmodernism.  Very sneaky, Ms Morgenstern.

I bloody hate postmodernist fiction.  Or at least I thought I did.  All that wink and nod to the reader, the arched eyebrow of the author’s self-conscious highlighting of the fact that the reader is, in fact, reading.  Woo-flipping-hoo.  I won’t rant on about it, but it’s just never floated my achingly ironic (or should that be post-ironic?) boat.

But that tricksy Ms Morgenstern … her creation flew in right under my postmodernism radar.  It charmed me with its premise (a mysterious circus, a magical battle and a dangerous love, all wrapped up in a delightful late Victorian setting) and it was only after I was already sucked in that I realised this novel wasn’t so much about entertaining me with a dramatic narrative and intricate characters … it was about drawing me into its world, making me feel that I was there, that I was reading true accounts of a circus full of beautifully impossible exhibits (such as bottled scents that tell stories).

The author uses present tense and, at times, the second person (and thus breaks all those rules about ‘how to get published’ that some espouse) to remind the reader that they are, in fact, reading a work of fiction … or truth … or does it even matter what is truth or what is a fiction, a dream?  She invites us to consider the very nature of imagination.

So while some have criticised her novel for not providing enough narrative satisfaction, I would suggest that that isn’t the focus of this work.  The writer’s interest lies in crafting exquisite tableaux that invigorate the reader’s senses and inviting that reader into her world … and even to expand it – the subject implicitly invites us to invent our own tents within the circus and the author explicitly invites us to play in her world (through a game and by emailing one of the characters).

And I, for one, am quite delighted by the invitation.

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A de-motivational poster, but it could be a motivation for your character.

I love a good bit of synchronicity …  I’ve been reading Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy recently, having already read and loved The Liveship Traders.  One of the things I love most about her work is how damn real the characters are.  They make the wrong, slightly illogical choices because of their emotions; they hurt others because of their own flaws; they don’t have an easy time because they know what they want, but they don’t always know what they need.  Robin Hobb doesn’t let them off easily.

So I’ve been thinking about character flaws, when what should appear on my blog feed, but a short’n’sweet article by Rachelle Garner on Why Your Novel Characters Need Real Flaws.

As writers, we love our characters, even the villains, but especially the heroes.  Which means it’s hard, sometimes, to give them a hard time or to let them hurt each other.  In particular, it’s difficult to find that balance between the likeability of the character and the realism of giving them actual flaws that have a negative effect on those around them – their friends, families, lovers …

Rachelle briefly discusses the difference between the real flaw and the cosmetic flaw … but fear not if you suddenly realise your characters have cosmetic flaws, because often the cosmetic flaw is but a watered down, victimless version of the real flaw and all we need to do is look at the darker side of their perfectionism or insecurity and how it makes victims of others.

Check out her article, and I’d love to know if you have any other tips or articles!

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Absence & Illness

I feel as though half my posts on both my blogs are apologising for not posting in a while!  Recently I’ve been suffering with medication for my illness, because it’s been too effective.

I have Graves Disease, which makes me have an overactive thyroid.  I’ve reacted so strongly to my medication (much to the surprise of my consultant!) that it’s swung the other way and is now underactive.  As you can imagine, it’s hard to keep up with these constant changes in my physical and mental states.  I’ve, rather boringly, been doing a lot of eating and sleeping – not exactly blog-worthy!  Have been really enjoying reading Robin Hobb, too – I have author-envy!

Before I had it, I had no idea how much of an effect that little butterfly-shaped bugger in the throat could have on the body.

So, yes, I am still around, just not all there.

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