Literary Boston

So as I discussed on my youtube channel yesterday, I went to Boston a few weeks ago. On my channel I showed my mini-bookhaul (link here!), but I also saw some literary stuff in Boston. Now, this was mostly a writing/personal trip so I didn't see everything there is, but I just wanted to share some of what I did see!


Now when I got to Boston on Thursday, the first thing I wanted to find was a Barnes & Nobles. I dream about B&N and all the gorgeous books they have and the wide selection and... I needed B&N to fight my jetlag. I found one in the Prudential Centre WHICH ALSO HAD A STARBUCKS IN tHE STORE!!! Absolutely amazing. Added to that, they had an amazing selection of YA books AND Trouble by Non Pratt and One by Sarah Crossan! I love seeing UKYA books out in the wild in the US - with gorgeous new covers too!

Some of my favourite YA books - HELLE WE WERE LIARS!!

Some of my favourite YA books - HELLE WE WERE LIARS!!

While I was on my way back to the hotel from B&N, and had been up for 24 hours, I bumped into a gorgeous building. At the time, I couldn't piece together quite what it was, but the next day I discovered that I found Boston's public library. And it's beautiful. It is honestly one of the biggest and most stunning buildings I've ever seen and I fell in love with Boston the moment I knew that it's a city that values libraries so much. Yes.

Look at this building! Isn't it just so official and gorgeous looking? One of my favourite libraries I've seen so far!

Look at this building! Isn't it just so official and gorgeous looking? One of my favourite libraries I've seen so far!

But I didn't want to focus mostly on books - we have books in the UK too and everyone knows I already have too many to still read - but I wanted to see some of the houses where writers I admire have lived. Clearly where you live inspires your writing a great deal and I hoped seeing their environment (although many years later) could give me some of their inspiration.

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott lived in various places in Boston throughout her life and I decided to visit two; both of them located in the Beacon Hill area, which is in my opinion also the nicest Boston area.

First, I saw her childhood home (20 Pinckney Street), which is commemorated by an official plaque on the front of the house which explains about the family and their role in Boston.


Afterwards, I went to a square where Louisa May Alcott lived when she was older. Unfortunately, they were refurbishing the house so I couldn't really take pictures of it, but here's an impression of the gorgeous Louisburg Square none the less. Louisa May Alcott clearly lived long before Boston was what it is today, but it was still really cool to see her house and to see that it's still reserved, even though so many years have passed since then.





Nathaniel Hawthorne

Now I have mixed feelings about The Scarlett Letter, but when I read that Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in the same street as Louisa May Alcott (at different times) I couldn't resist just peeking at his house too - which is by far the most gorgeous house in Boston that I have seen from the outside. Look at that white window! I'm sure there has to be an amazing reading bench right in front of it.

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

Right before I went to Boston, I got a little bit obsessed with Sylvia Plath. I started reading her diaries and fell in love with the way she's so relatable and writes so beautifully about the most simple things. So even though Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes only lived on 9 Willow Street for a few years, I still had to go see it for myself - just to feel kind of close to Sylvia Plath for once.

This is the building they lived in, though it looks really modernised so I'm not sure how much of it still reflect the way the building looked during Plath and Hughes' years, but it was on a gorgeous quite street in the middle of Beacon Hill - a great location!


Besides those houses, I saw Cambridge with the Harvard Library and Harvard bookstore, Edgar Allan Poe's statue and a gorgeous bookstore called Trident Bookseller and Café. If you want to see what all of that looks like, I included a slideshow of some pictures I took.

Can't I just watch the movie?

There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.
— Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

We all know that feeling: we want to know about a certain story, but just can't be bothered to read the whole book. And then we ask ourselves: 'Can't I just watch the movie?' 
This post is created to answer that question for you. I'll be reading classic novels and watching several adaptations to find out if you can watch the movie and why/why not. I have not included series in this post, because if you want to spend 12 hours watching an adaptation, you might as well read the book (especially since Oliver Twist is a way faster read). Also, hello high school/ college kids who will no doubt end up on this post to avoid school work. I hope I can help.

Oliver Twist (1948)

Can't I just watch this movie?

Yes, you absolutely can.

I was very weary about this film. A big part of Oliver Twist's story has to do with Fagin, who is also called "The Jew" and is portrayed pretty anti-semetic. With the release of this movie so close after World War II, I wondered how true they could stay to the story without offending everyone.

Though it turns out that they did pretty much offend everyone, I actually think this adaptation is the best one created. The moment the film starts, which is shot completely in black and white, you get the feel of the Dickens novel: Victorian England is gross and a lot of people in it are awful. 

Mr. Brownlow: The law assumes that your wife acts under your direction.
Mr. Bumble: If the law supposes that, then the law is a ass, a idiot! If that’s the eye of the law, then the law is a bachelor. And the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience.
— Oliver Twist (1948)

Especially when Oliver gets to London, you really see how disgusting the place was and how overwhelming this must have been for Oliver. If you want to see Dickensian London, this movie is perfect for it. Fagin, the reason for all the controversy, is also exactly like described in the book, but is never called "The Jew". Is this anti-semtic? Yes, because everyone knows he's actually a Jew and he displays all the negative Jewish stereotypes, but it does stay true to the original story. 

However, Oliver Twist is a really long book and there were cuts that had to be made. Though the movie stays true to the story in spirit, there are certain characters cut out. While in the book, a major burglary takes place that connects Oliver to Rose Maylie and starts his stay there, this is removed from the movie. Rose Maylie is never mentioned, instead the focus is heightened on Bill Stiles - who is actually a well rounded character, just like in the book. 

If you want to just watch the movie, you'd miss one big thing: first off, the reader never knows anything about Oliver's mother until the end, while the movie starts with it, and Oliver is not Mr. Brownlow's grandson and he's actually Monks' half-brother; a character that's in the movie, but never really mentioned. However, you do get a great sense of Dickens' world and the intricate plot, with the many complicated nuances between good and bad, he created in Oliver Twist. 

Oliver! (1968)


Can't I just watch it?


Whether or not you can just watch Oliver! depends on twi things. One is that you need to be able to watch endless songs and dance routines and two is that if you are getting tested about Oliver Twist in school, this one won't do.

But besides those points, this is actually a really good adaptation. Just like the 1948 one, Dickensian London is depicted in all its gore and the musical numbers are really opportunities to see more of the set and amazing clothing designs. The casting of characters was also really good, so you'll get a great feel about who is who and what they represent in the novel. (Especially Bill Sikes and his dog were amazing here; I doubt anyone wouldn't be scared of them)

Even though this movie is 2 and a half hours long, there have been major cuts in the plot. Once again, Rose Maylie and the burglary in her house is never mentioned - it's a different burglary at a irrelevant house. The events of the movie are also all shortened; we start later in Oliver's life and many events are merged (very successfully) together throughout the movie. So if you need to know specific plot details, this movie just won't cut it. 

What I appreciated about this adaptation is that it's the only one out of the three that really highlights the complexity of Nancy; the only character who actually struggles with being good or bad. Again, some liberties have been taken here compared to the original plot, but I found them all in the spirit of the original story.

What Oliver! does is transform the story to modern times; it is more comical than any other adaptation, but we shouldn't forget that Charles Dickens was a funny writer. We might not appreciate all of his jokes in this time, but the movie translates them well. The only thing they really changed is the ending, which is suddenly a happy ending for all (besides Nancy and Bill), which is quite different from the book.

So this adaptation is highly enjoyable and gives you a great sense of how contemporary readers would have experienced the story and characters, but it does leave out major plot points and simplifies the story in many different ways. 

Oliver Twist (2005) 


Can't I just watch this movie?

Probably not.

Though Roman Polanski's version of Oliver Twist is a very enjoyable watch, it does not really accurately represent the book in all its complicated nuances. 

In short, 2005's Oliver Twist is the Disney version of the story. You get a sense of what the story is about, but you miss most of the nuances and dirty scenes that are included in the book. It's a great way to get familiar with the story so you can speed read the book and especially the first part of the movie (until Oliver gets taken in by Mr. Brownlow) is particularly accurate and interesting.

Clean, pretty Victorian London

Clean, pretty Victorian London

The main thing you miss out on is how incredibly disgusting Oliver Twist's London was. Yes, there are rats, but it's light, it's never too crowded to see our characters and even the dirty house of Fagin has its charm. Dicken's London on the other hand is thoroughly disgusting and dark - nothing like this movie version. Also, the characters are way too clean and pretty. Fagin isn't disgusting at all and Bill Sikes' dog, the dog everyone in London is scared of, looks more   like a cute puppy than a killer. 

Connected to that point, is the fact that there are big chunks of story line missing to make the movie more Hollywood. Does it make the story easier to follow? Yes. Does it mean you'll miss out on the complexity of Dickens? Also yes. The whole family of Rose Maylie is cut out and there's no discussion about Oliver's parents at all. In this movie, Oliver ends up well because he's a good boy - in the book he ends up well because he was born to rich parents and rich people always end up well. While all the other adaptations also cut out plot points, here I just found there was too much missing for it to stay true to the novel. If you really want to understand why Dickens was such a master of plotting, this movie just won't cut it.


An Evening with Andrew Smith and Michael Grant

So tonight I had the pleasure to attend a talk at the wonderful Waterstone's Piccadilly (honestly they hosts the best talks) to listen to Michael Grant and Andrew Smith reading from their work and answer Q&A's. (And yes, for the FIRST TIME EVER, I asked a question!) As usual, I did a little write up so all the fans who couldn't make it can enjoy the event as well!

First up, I have to admit that I've never read Michael Grant before, which I know is a sin in the YA community but I just never got around to it. So I probably missed a lot of the references he made to his own books due to my lack of knowledge. However, I have read Andrew Smith and LOVED Winger so I think I got most of his things down.

First the guys introduced themselves and it was immediately clear that 1. Michael and Andrew are great friends and 2. they are also very different. Michael called himself a high school and college dropout and talked about the wide variety of, not always legal, jobs he had before writing. Him and his wife eventually started writing together to start a career and he has written MORE THAN 150 BOOKS! And if you're like me and thought you've never read a book by Michael Grant, just be rest assured you probably have without knowing it. He wrote for Harlequin, Sweet Valley Twins and Disney (about "The Duck, which I can say now"), so the odds that you've ever read one of his books is pretty damn big.

Andrew on the other hand has written his whole life but hid it from everyone he knew. He actually finished several manuscripts without showing them to anyone, because he just always wanted to write. When his son was 9, he said he wanted to be an author and to be supportive, Andrew submitted one of his manuscripts to a literary agent. When did his wife find out? When he had already sold the book to a publisher in NYC - she said she was relieved that he wasn't spending so much time in his office having an online affair!

Then both Michael Grant and Andrew Smith read from their books and showed us why they call it the "Masturbation or Murder tour"  - Andrew read a part of Grasshopper Jungle that discussed masturbation while Michael Grant read a part of Messenger of Fear where someone catches fire - very graphically.

Andrew Smith reading from Grasshopper Jungle. 

Andrew Smith reading from Grasshopper Jungle. 

Then there was a Q&A and luckily, the audience had some great questions! This was quite a long Q&A so I'll just put little titbits of info both authors shared!

Both Andrew and Michael says that they don't write with a genre in mind, but unlike Andrew, who believes that he always writes YA ("YA is any book that deals with adolescent experience"), Michael Grant has written in almost any genre imaginable. He sees himself more as a craftsman and considers his early work the way he got the hang of it. This craftsmanship is also expressed in the way he goes about writing his book - Michael makes a "series bible" (he definitely prefers to read and write series) in which he figures out what will happen and actually picks head shots for all of his characters. He then sends this to his editor and he'll get money to write the story. Andrew said he never sells a story before he wrote it and just writes straight through them in a chronological order. 

Michael Grant reading from Messenger of Fear

Michael Grant reading from Messenger of Fear

For the kind of scenes they like to write, Michael thinks the gross action scenes are easiest  and doesn't like exposition or romance scenes too much. As any reader of Andrew Smith might know, he doesn't shy away from sex scenes and says he particularly liked writing the ones in Grasshopper Jungle since they involved bugs having sex. 

There was the question which character is most like them and Andrew said that all characters, good and bad, are a part of him, but he wants to be most like Robbie from Grasshopper Jungle because he is so fair and kind. Michael says he's most like Quinn from Gone because he makes a journey towards being a better person in his books.

And then I asked a question. For the first time ever. And I almost died. But I noticed that Andrew Smith is always praised for including a diverse cast in his book - often with good representation of homosexual characters. I wondered if that was a deliberate decision the authors made or whether it just kinda happened. Both answered that it's not deliberate, but it's just a reflection of the world they see around them. To not have diverse characters would actually mean they'd have to exclude people from their real world and that just wouldn't make any sense. However, they said that forcing diversity would never work and I was so happy to hear two authors say how easily a diverse cast comes to them - it's really inspirational!

That's the end of my little write up - there was LOTS more that was talked about, but as a writer, these were the highlights for me. It was great to meet Andrew Smith and find out he was just as wonderful as all of his books and it was also great to meet Michael Grant and get an introduction to his books - I highly suggest you read some of them if you haven't. (First on your list should be Winger, but I might be a tad biased!)



YALC Day 3

YALC is finished! And the last day of YALC 2015 was panel day: I attended four amazing panels!

So unlike the last posts, I won't give too much detail here, because it will be too text-y. If you want any inside scoop, I have lots of notes and can tell you whatever you want to know. But for now, here are the summaries of four amazing, and very different, panels.

1. Mental Health with Holly Bourne, Matt Whyman, Annabel Pitcher, and Brian Conaghan

This panel talked about the problems with writing a book that deals with mental health issues. Both Brian and Matt grew up in the 80s and talked about how there really weren't any books that dealt with anything mental health related - if there were, it usually was in horror books and involved psychos (often literally). That's why all the writers thought it was important to discuss those issues in their own books.

Ben has Tourette syndrom and wanted to write about his own Tourrete's through his character Dylan. Matt was exposed to lots of teens dealing with issues through his job as Agony Uncle and wanted to help them. (Disclaimer: Matt's first Agony Uncle letter was from a boy who feared he had lice in his pubic hair and sticked a piece of his hair to the letter!) 

Annabelle stressed the importance of having hope in the stories, though that doesn't mean the books need happy endings. Matt disagreed and said that life is not always hopeful, so neither should the books.

What all authors agreed upon is the fact that they don't write "mental health books". Holly said that everyone has mental health, just like physical health, and that no character or person should be defined by their depression, anxiety,... All authors were very aware of that and always tried to make their characters 3D instead of just a disorder, which also ties back into the hope for the reader.

2. Bring Sexy Back : This panel featured Louise O'Neill, Non Pratt, Lucy Iverson and Tom Ellen and was chaired by the wonderful James Dawson. 

This panel was completely different and perfect after the seriousness of talk one. I took a ton of notes, but honestly it was one of those things if you weren't there, a lot of it won't make sense (especially the fun facts), so stick with me.

The panel was asked if sex in YA literature is still a big deal and Non said it is, because sex is a big deal for teenagers. Lucy expanded by saying that everything is a big deal if you want to do it, but haven't done it yet - which is usually the case for teenagers and sex. Attached to that was the author's responsibility to combat the pornographic sexual images teenagers are exposed to and to show the more real side of sex. Lucy and Tom do this in an awkward funny way and draw on their own experiences, while Non writes for her 14 year old self who was horny and curious. 

And then there was Louise. If you know anything about Only Ever Yours, you'll know that there is no positive sex in it. Louise's new book Asking for it (which I CAN'T WAIT TO READ) deals with rape and rape culture. Louise was asked why her book-sex is always so unpleasant and she felt like teenage girls often see sex more as a performance than as something enjoyable and she wanted to represent that in her books.

And to counter that darkness (but so true), a little fun fact about every author:

- Lucy read a book as a teen in which there was a scene where a goldfish was pushed inside a woman's vagina.... And just like her, I can never look at goldfish the same way again.

- Tom would like to have sex with Fleur Delacour

- Louise hates the word moist

- Non wants to have sex with a character she wrote herself (more precisely, Stu from Remix)

- James was my cosplay winner of YALC - as you can see in the picture

3. Between fantasy and reality: This panel featured Sally Green, Melinda Salisbury, Amy Alward,  Frances Hardinge and Ben Aaronovitch and chaired by James Smythe

This panel talked a lot about writing fantasy and since I don't write fantasy (or barely read it, sorry!) I didn't take that many notes. But here's some stuff that might be useful for you, fantasy lovers!

The panel all emphasised that the main thing of fantasy books is character, though Amy warned budding authors that you shouldn't let the character overtake world building. Melinda avoids this by starting with world building in the most interesting way I've heard: she makes up a religion. Since religions play such a fundamental role in societies, a story usually evolves from the creation of a new religion. 

The best question I've heard today was asked at this panel: what were the authors most common editorial notes? 
Ben: When will you deliver?
Frances: Cut out phrase.
Amy: She didn't know what her most common editorial note was, which is probably because The Potion Diaries was immediately amazing!
Sally: This is great, but...
James (whose editor used to be Amy!): Stop editing!

I hope this encourages some of you fantasy writers that editorial notes happen to the best of us - even this amazing panel. 

4. The final panel was Troubled Teens with Jenny Valentine, Clare Furniss, Sarah Pinborough, Moïra Fowley-Doyle and Kevin Brooks 

This panel was immediately asked why teens are so drawn to dark subjects. The reason, according to Sarah, is that we live in a trigger warning society where kids aren't expected to deal with anything heads on. But because the world isn't safe, not even your own body, teens like to read about the more dangerous things. Everyone agreed, but Jenny said she doesn't think about what teens want to read - she writes what she wants to write. 

Kevin talked about his book, The Bunker Diaries, which he spend 10 years trying to publish. Publishers thought his ending was too dark and tried to make him change it, but Kevin refused and is now happy to finally have the book with his ending published. This let to the hope talk (just like the mental health panel!) and whether it should be included in the book. 

The panel believed there didn't have to be traditional hope in the way of happy ending. However, every story has some element of hope in it - whether it's at the beginning, middle or ending of the book. 

The authors then raved about J.D. Salinger (yaaay!) and the Stephen King books they read as teenagers. Then there was the question what they would describe their book as if they couldn't use the word 'dark'.
Clare: uplifting
Sarah: rectangular
Moira: dreamy
Jenny:  short/ heartfelt
Kevin: "Dark is good enough"

And that's my last, rambling YALC post! I want to thank everyone for reading these blog posts - I've had so much feedback and it makes me so so happy! I loved meeting everyone and had a fabulous time AND I'LL SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!


YALC Day 2

Day two is a wrap! And because I know myself, I left in the afternoon because 1. I'm already exhausted and want to have all my energy for tomorrow and 2. IT WAS SO BUSY. Honestly, never go to LCC on a Saturday if you value your life.

So what did I do today? I attended 3 talks: YA: The Next Generation, Publishing 101 and Being A Girl. AND I took more pics of YALC, so if you're just here to see those - there's a little collage/gallery thing at the end of this article.


I started the day with YA: The Next Generation talk, which featured Alice Oseman (of the AMAZING Solitaire), Lucy Saxon (who was in an amazing cosplay outfit), Helena Coggan and Taran Matharu - all young published authors talking about what it means to be a writer before you're even in your 20s!

So as usual, all the authors introduced themselves and then said how they got into writing and interestingly enough, both Alice and Taran's stories started during Nanowrimo. This again shows how important projects like that are to get people writing. Even though Alice only wrote 20,000 words and then deleted them all after - it was the start of Solitaire.

I loved hearing how Taran's story got discovered. He not only wrote the 50,000 words for Nanowrimo - he simultaneously uploaded the chapters on Whattpad and got discovered when his unfinished story hit one million views in four months. All the other panelists went the more traditional publishing route, so they found an agent first and snowballed through the process.

The panel then talked about how their age influenced their writing career and Lucy immediately said that she has been 17 for about 3 years, so everyone seemed keen on keeping her as young as possible! Helena, who was just 13 when she wrote her book, said that people look at her like "a goldfish who can talk" and all writers agreed that, even though their age is used massively for marketing reasons, it is also harder to be taken seriously. 

Just like yesterday, the authors were asked how aware they were of the genre while they were writing their book. More specific for this young panel was the question whether the authors felt like they had to write YA, since they are/were teenagers themselves. This is something that is often discussed in publishing and I loved that none of the authors seemed to actively write YA books. Alice just wanted to write about people her own age, Helena didn't want to write someone too old in fear she wouldn't understand them and Lucy and Taran said they just wrote for themselves and that happened to feature a teen character.

The panel ended with a very important question: do the authors feel responsible to add diversity to their stories? And what I LOVED here is that both Lucy and Alice immediately said that they wish they added more diversity in their first books. They both admitted they weren't aware of it and Alice said it's the thing she hates most about Solitaire. Taran actively tries to be a role model and open the door for minority groups to get into publishing and writing. 

Their advice for us writers? 
1. Keep writing.

2. Find out why you love the books that you love.

3. Write the book you really want to read.

4. Write yourself represented to create diversity.


After that, it was time for the publishing 101 talk. This was mostly a lot of explanation of the process by the lovely Gemma Cooper. I took a picture of the handout she gave us to give you an idea of what it was like, but mostly importantly, the agents stressed the need to be professional and polite. And make sure you never pay an agent! They work on commission and anything else is something you shouldn't even consider. Again, just like yesterday, this talk is amazing to attend, but shows you how unpredictable the publishing process is.


Then it was time for the most interesting talk of the day (and maybe even YALC): Being a Girl. The authors on this panel were the wonderful Malorie Blackman, Hayley Long, Holly Smale, Laura Dockrill and CJ Daugherty. 

This panel was my favourite one, because the topic is closest to my heart and I disagreed with some of what was said. I always love attending panels where speakers dare to be controversional and have the audience against them - in this panel, I felt like that was the job of Hayley Long. This also means that I took the least notes, because I was too obsessed with the awesomeness of this panel.

Early in the panel, the discussion turned to the term "feminism" and whether it works. Hayley said that she doesn't feel like she needs to label herself as a feminist, because everyone should be for equality. She later suggested we should label people who don't believe in equality.  As prominent as that thought of mind seems to be, I was very happy Malorie immediately disagreed and said that there wasn't equality and if you did believe in creating that, you should call yourself a feminist. The ladies stressed how important it is to teach the younger generation exactly what feminism means.

Besides the quite prominent discussion of the label, the authors also talked about creating feminist characters and they all agreed that it's about creating realistic characters. Holly said she tries to create someone who represents women as amazing as they are in real life - and that means they are complicated and strong. Laura pointed out that it's also important for female characters to support one another, and CJ even suggested they could save one another, instead of always having a man save a woman. 

The panel all agreed that they don't actively try to write feminist characters (honestly, all these writers seem to just magically write amazing stories), but they just write women they see around them and the women they would want to be. Holly said that feminism has always been a part of her (she hit a boy when she was four when he said "she couldn't do something because she was a girl") and it always automatically comes out when she's writing. Malorie let her characters have their flaws - flaws that, especially boys in out society, are expected to hide. Laura created a fantasy world where female mermaids are in charge, so there was no way her story would end up not feminist. 

They then discussed the term feminism some more and all, except Hayley, agreed that it should still be called feminism, even if there is a negative connotation. Holly said it remains feminism and we shouldn't let bad publishing ruin our term. I couldn't agree more.

And that was the end of day 2 for me. It was exhausting, but also so educational. I loved hearing all the panelist talk and discover new writers, like Holly Smale who had never been on my radar before. I can't wait until tomorrow and a whole morning of talks!