Why Bella Swan is a villain

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We were discussing Harry Potter the other evening, as you do. Other Half (who has not read all the books) asked whether Voldemort went on the rampage before or after Harry was born. After pointing out to OH that obviously it started before (he killed Harry’s parents, remember?!), we got onto how that contributes to Harry being a hero at the end of the story. Harry, like Frodo in Lord of the Rings, gets thrown into a nightmarish situation not of his own making, but he doesn’t run or hide or try to leave it up to someone else to sort out – he’s willing to pay the ultimate price to end the evil. And by the end of the seventh book stuff has changed: Voldemort is no more. At the end of LOTR, the Ring is destroyed, and Sauron is no more. At the end of Mockingjay, Presidents Snow and Coin are dead. That’s the mark of a hero, surely: that she takes a terrible situation and at least tries to fix it. That something changes as a result of her actions.

So where does that leave Bella Swan?

I like Twilight a lot. I’ve read all the books and I’ve seen all the films; it’s a great, page-turning story. But I don’t think Bella is a hero, apart from in the very limited sense of ‘makes Edward’s life more enjoyable.’ At the start of the series there are good vampires and bad vampires, and most humans aren’t aware of the existence of either. At the end of the series, the situation is exactly the same. Apart from…

….Apart from all the people whose lives are over / screwed up because of Bella getting together with Edward. Think about the third book, Eclipse. Victoria (bad vampire, for any reader not up on his Twilight) creates an entire vampire army just to get revenge on Bella and Edward for the death of her mate (a death directly attributable to their romance). And in the fourth book a whole bunch of teenage Quileute are basically forced to become werewolves because of all the vampires hanging round the area (again, a direct result of Bella and Edward).

Bella doesn’t get rid of the Volturi or convince all vampires everywhere to become ‘vegetarian’. Instead, she just makes her own life better, while accidentally causing the death / animal-hybridisation of a bunch of random people.

Sure sounds like a villain to me. But what do you think?

Some thoughts on death

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So.

Sister and I went through a bereavement recently. Some one we loved lost his battle with cancer. It’s not the first time we’ve had this experience: our mum died from cancer more than ten years ago now.

But this time, it was different. The person who died was our age, and he went from fit and healthy to dead in less than 20 months. Watching someone from your own generation die really brings home one’s mortality. I’ve been thinking of the lines from John Donne (though not in the sense he meant them): ‘never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…’ And more prosaically, the National Lottery motto: it could be you!

More random thoughts, just based on my own experience…

– I’ve seen quick deaths and slow ones. Quick is better. That doctor who said cancer was not a bad way to die is an idiot.

-The time in between the death and the funeral is kind of like the time in between Christmas and New Year (but with less tinsel and turkey): it has the same feeling of being slightly dislocated from the real passage of hours and minutes.

– Sitting in a hospital room is not conducive to creativity. I couldn’t even manage a blog post, let alone a bit of a novel.

– This may be just because I’m a nerdy introvert, but I found in the last few months that I’ve been even more introverted. I got fed up with replying to the question ‘how are things’ with ‘oh, everything is fine’. Because it wasn’t fine. It was easier just to stop interacting with people.

– Good things can come out of terrible things. Sometimes you don’t know how wonderful your friends and family are until you have to face a tragedy, and find that they are right there in the trenches with you.

That’s about it, really. The sun is shining, and on this particular day I’m alive and healthy, so I’m going to get out there and enjoy it. Hope you can do the same.

Call yourself a writer?

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Er, no.

Not so far, anyway.

Sure, I’ve had ‘writer’ on my twitter profile for a while. But when anyone asks me what I do, the closest I get is ‘I’m trying to be a writer’, or ‘I’m sort of a writer’, which makes me sound confused at the very least.

Now, I could claim that I’m ‘trying’ to be a writer because I’m a newbie. I’m all about honing my craft, learning by doing, and none of us can ever claim to know everything there is to know about such a limitless subject. And that’s all true.

But if I’m being totally honest, the reason I never claim to be a writer is because I’ve never put any of my writing into the public domain. And the real reason for that is – I have a problem.

I call it ‘gold star syndrome.’ And I blame the education system.

From the age of about seven until twenty-six, I did exams. Music exams, dance exams, entrance exams, school, university and professional exams. Learn stuff, show someone what you know, get a certificate. And, on the whole, I did pretty well. I got used to being judged and rewarded by an appropriate external authority.

And then, about four years ago, I started writing regularly.

At first it was okay. I could handle it. I took a few courses, and the tutor gave me feedback on my flash fiction and occasional short story. Quite often there were compliments – gold star box ticked.

But then my sister asked for help with a novel she was working on. Come on, she said, it’ll be fun. We can stop whenever we want to. And no one need ever know.

She was right. It was fun – too much fun. And you know how it is with stories: they want to be read, and not just by your unsuspecting family members who have no choice.

So we did the obvious thing and…didn’t self-publish. This is not because I’m a publishing snob. I’ve read wonderful self-published books, and terrible traditionally published books. But both sister and I decided we wanted our hands held by an agent. And like I said, I’ve got a problem. I was looking for the gold star.

Of course, it turns out gold stars (in this case, agent representation) are not that easy to come by. We edited, redrafted, edited again, but the furthest we got with our first novel was two full manuscript requests, and that was over the course of about a year and half of submitting. Still, it seemed like our writing didn’t entirely suck. We’d had some nice rejections. So we abandoned our first baby and started something new last summer. By Christmas it was finished and polished. In January we started submitting. And…

And something amazing happened.

Within two weeks of submitting to our first agent, we had three full manuscript requests.

Five days later, we had three offers of representation. Three gold stars.

Sister and I know we have a long way to go. Agent representation isn’t a publishing deal, and a publishing deal doesn’t mean anyone is going to buy (or like) our book. We’ve reached Lothlorien, but we’re a long way from Mount Doom. (On second thoughts, that may not be the best analogy, but you get my point – we’re not in the Shire anymore, Mr Frodo). And yes, my need for external validation is a tiny bit pathetic. But at least now I’m pathetic and happy.

Hello, my name is Katharine. And I’m a writer.

First loss, or, What I almost did on my summer holidays

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It’s January 31st, close to the start of a new year. And this is a new blog. So I’ve decided my first post should be inspired by something I didn’t quite get around to last August. Obviously.

Do you remember the first book that left you devastated? Not because it was miserable or terrifying, but simply because the story ended, and you couldn’t bear for the reading of it to be over?

For me, that book was The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper. I remember picking it out from the school library display when I was about eleven. (By ‘library’, I mean two collapsible tables with some books on them. My primary school didn’t run to an actual room.) The photo below is a paperback version I was given later, but it has the same cover as the hardback I first read.

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Recently, I’ve been trying to figure out why the book had such an impact on me. The Dark is Rising, for those of you who haven’t come across it, is the second in a five book fantasy series of the same name. The books are tightly written and imaginative, based on Arthurian legend but set in twentieth century Britain, with a well-drawn cast of interesting and relatable characters. So far, so obvious. But, I had read lots of fantasy and fairy stories before I discovered Susan Cooper. My copies of the Narnia books were in shreds, and I loved The Princess And The Goblin (George MacDonald) too. So it wasn’t like I was discovering a new genre. Was the violence with which I fell in love with The Dark Is Rising to do with my age? Adolescent hormones affect your emotional engagement with real people. Why not with book characters too?

Still with me?

Wondering what this has to do with my summer holiday?

Well, if you’ve read the series, you’ll know that the last book, Silver on the Tree, is set in Wales. In August, we decided to take a short break on the north Welsh coast. I looked at a map of the area and I spotted nearby (as I thought) the towns around which the action is set: Aberdovey and Machynlleth. Even more exciting, I found the Bearded Lake; the lake from which the monstrous Afanc arises to torment Jane, one of the main characters:

‘It was wrong, this thing from the lake: malevolent, vicious, full of the festering resentment it had nursed through the centuries of some terrible nightmare sleep. She could feel its will groping for hers, just as the blind head groped through the air before her.’

That was it: we were going to explore the towns, visit the lake, and I would be able to experience for real the landscape I had imagined so often in my head….

Of course, we didn’t make it. I’m not very good at distances, and I didn’t realise that Conwy to Aberdovey is a two hour drive. Too hard to fit in when we were only there for three nights, and we had all those castle turrets to climb.

But never mind. Thinking about the books, thinking about Cooper’s evocative description of the landscape, was enough to recall the wonder I experienced back when I was eleven. In my head, I’ve already been there.