As well as the books I am narrating I usually have two other books on the go; one a non-fiction title that I read in the mornings, after meditating; and the other a novel that I read at night before going to sleep. And yes, I am a little addicted to books…
Lately I’ve read a couple of hilarious and heart-warming novels about women struggling with addiction and mental illness. The first was Again, Rachel by Marian Keyes, which came on holiday with me.
I am a huge fan of Marian Keyes and find myself returning to her writing at times when I’ve found a few books a struggle to connect with or just hard-going. I know I will find a friend there, in her pages, a storyteller who will tell me everything is going to be grand and who will guide me through a sometimes dark story with wit, humour and compassion.
I was not disappointed. I read Rachel’s Holiday many years ago, about Rachel’s return to sobriety after a stay in a rehab clinic. Now Rachel is back in a rehab clinic, but this time she is their lead addiction counsellor. The book starts with Rachel back in Ireland, near the rest of the Walsh clan, from New York, her complicated love life and the tangled lives of her patients forming the basis of the story. The last few years unfold and Rachel faces the reasons her marriage failed, leaving her free to love fully once again.
Another book about complex, grown-up love, is Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. Martha suffers from crippling depressions and is loved from her teenage years by Patrick. Martha doesn’t know why her brain exploded at 17, leaving her crumpled under her father’s desk, unable to move as the depression washed through her.
Martha’s family is complicated and doesn’t always know how to support or help her. Martha doesn’t know how to help herself. Neither does Patrick, who has loved Martha since he was 14, know or understand why she behaves the way she does. All he knows is that he loves her.
This novel came about after an abject failure by Meg Mason, during which she ditched a book she was writing. Through Martha’s story we take a look at how love works, how hard living can feel and how we might find a way to let go of our role as victims and take responsibility for our lives, however imperfect.
It is, unexpectedly, extremely funny as well as elegantly affecting. It is a book by someone who understands the complexity of family, of long relationships, of how we hurt those we love most, of how we can be unbearably angry with someone and need them at the same time, of how we can fall out of love and back again, and of how we need all sorts of different love to support us through this adventure called life.
The love affair between Patrick and Martha is beautifully observed, their imperfections sometimes helping and sometimes hurting, with no simple answers. Beyond that though the relationships between Martha and her sister, Ingrid, and her parents are beautifully and humanely drawn. And at the centre of these relationships, a willingness to forgive, to forget, to look again, to try again and not give up on hope.
In my non-fiction reading I have just finished “The Anatomy of Story” by John Truby. It is a guide to how to write a compelling story using 22 steps to become a master storyteller.
I am writing a book, again. It is a novel based on real historical events. I have been reading lots of source material – letters, books, biographies, articles – all of which tell me who did what, what happened when and give me an idea of the time in which they were operating.
However, it doesn’t tell me to turn this into a compelling story.
This is where “The Anatomy of Story” comes in. I have read it once and will read it again as I move into the planning stages of my novel. I’m hoping it will help me avoid the first draft that circled the drain and moved nowhere, that I wrote for my first novel. And the baggy, meandering second half that can be found in many stories.
It is a very well-considered book written by a master of the art of storytelling and drawing on well-known movies to illustrate the points made. It is mainly aimed at those writing screenplays but the elements that make a story are the same in all genres so I’m hoping the advice will translate seamlessly to the novel form. We shall see. I’ll be very happy if it helps my shitty first draft be a little less shitty!
What are you reading?