Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: female characters (page 1 of 2)

Victoria Holt – Mistress of Mellyn

Mistress of MellynMistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let’s see now…

Setting in a castle or large house — check
Said house or castle holds dread family secrets — check
Woman in distress — check
Woman is in awe of powerful, often tyrannical male — check
Male hero is of the Byronic variety, handsome, troubled — check
Strong, engaging emotions — check
Omens and portents — check
Strange events that appear as supernatural experiences — check

Yes, it all comes together. What we have here is a Gothic novel, by golly! And even though it wears its Rebecca and Jane Eyre influences proudly on its sleeves, this story holds it own quite well. The protagonist, governess Martha Leigh, isn’t the fainting, gasping maiden found in many other books of this kind. No, she’s more like Jane Eyre – a conscientious, somewhat knowing young lady who sees through flattery and devices for what they are. But like Miss Eyre of yore, Miss Leigh is still susceptible to being swept off her feet by the loving pronouncements of the towering Byronic hero.

There’s not a new idea anywhere to be found in this novel, but that’s really beside the point. It’s an enjoyable outing into the world of Gothic fiction and should please adherents of the genre, as well as those looking for a solid romance to bite into.

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Critical review – exegesis

An essay I did for uni. This is an exegesis for the story posted here.

My story is a pastiche of two separate previously published works, the novella The Time Machine by the English author H. G. Wells (Wells 1895) and The Outsider, a short story by the American author H. P. Lovecraft (Lovecraft 1926). The text I used for The Time Machine is the British Heinemann edition which differs textually from the American Holt edition (Bergonzi 1960).

The story is a pastiche in the sense that it imitates the style and form of these two stories, as well as the themes inherent in them (Greene et al. 2012). As such, it is also a work of writing back, a form of intertextuality. The moods I wished to convey in the story were alienation from society at large, sundered romance, and the deep oppressive landscapes that were common in Gothic horror fiction. With the 4000 word draft, I explored differing viewpoints, first and third person, and with Wells’ character of Weena I used both techniques, where for the Outsider, I remained in first person for his entire narrative.

One experiment I used was to convey Weena’s first person narrative in italics, but with advice from the assessor, I deemed this approach to be unsuccessful. Likewise, shifting tenses from past to present with Weena’s different viewpoints also did not work effectively in the story. I struggle with tenses in the course of my writing in any case, and this extra piece of literary flair added a level of unneeded complexity. So, in the final draft, I shifted all the tenses to past and removed the italics.

In creating the pastiche, I needed to look at what the strengths were of both stories. The Time Machine can be read as a socio-political discourse on the differences between the working class and the privileged who live off the former’s labour. The Outsider is a story that posits the existence of a lonely being, what English author William Hope Hodgson termed the “abhuman”, used first in Hodgson’s novel The Night Land to describe those who live in complete separation from normal human society (Hodgson 1912). This is to say the Outsider ordinarily dwells beyond all human contact and companionship, and indeed in Lovecraft’s story, when he encounters other people, they react in fright and flee from him as if he is something grotesque.

My Outsider was written with similar intent. He is a nameless entity who exists as an abhuman, separated from any lasting or meaningful contact. I stress meaningful here as his meeting with Weena is more enigmatic for him than any other emotional aspect in the end. He questions what and who she is, but eventually accepts she is something transient traversing his world. One of the keystone characteristics of Lovecraft’s writing was that he purposefully left many things unexplained, frequently using words such as “unmentionable”, “inexplicable” or “indescribable” (Smith 2011). Therefore the Outsider, what he is and what he may represent is mostly up to reader interpretation through allusion and mood, something I believe I have achieved with my story.

The character of Weena is not so nebulous. Wells describes her and her core nature solidly in The Time Machine and speculates on the evolutionary history of her race, the Eloi (Wells 1895). He depicts her and the Eloi as simple-minded hedonists however Wells goes beyond this modest type analysis with Weena once the Time Traveller rescues her. He states earlier in the novella that the Eloi have a distinct lack of interest in him after initial curiosity (Wells 1895, pp. 41-42) yet Weena remains a faithful companion until the end, sleeping in the crook of his arm.

This possibly indicates that the latent humanity in the Eloi has been awakened, and the desire for on-going love and attention goes outside of any hedonistic need. In several places through the novella, the Time Traveller puts Weena before more urgent concerns. In fact, one scholar suggests that Weena almost derails the novella (Sayeau 2005) by distracting the Time Traveller from his quest to restore his machine and leave her time.

Perhaps then Wells was inhibited by mores and self-censorship to want to go beyond the child-like clinging nature he imbued her with. I have gone some way to redress this lack of adult feminine character by giving Weena a voice. She is in love with the Time Traveller, whom she names the “Tall Man”. It is a new and wondrous experience to her and when the Time Traveller apparently abandons her in the forest fire, she feels heartbreak and rage at his supposed betrayal. She further laments that she and the Time Traveller never connected at a romantic level due to them misinterpreting each other.

Her character at this point ties in with that of the Outsider as they are both people who are figuratively and emotionally lost. One of the key points the assessor made with the draft was the two stories needed to be tied in together more effectively and with my edits for the final draft, I emphasised the abject loneliness each of the two characters felt trapped in dark worlds they did not understand. I stressed this characteristic as it is one of the hallmarks of Gothic fiction (Gamer 2006). Where the Outsider’s loneliness was something he knew he was fated to have, there was a momentary need for companionship when he saw Weena.

Her loneliness derived from being outside of her comfort zone, away from the river and the huge decrepit building she called home. In the Outsider’s world she had an opportunity to go somewhere else, a choice not possible to the Outsider. He understands then, or at least theorises, that his world and hers are polar opposites. Unlike the Time Traveller, the Outsider perceives Weena to be an adult and thinks of her as a woman by the story’s end. Accordingly, he believes his own world to be an invention of his psyche and Weena’s presence to be symbolic of things denied to him.

In summary, this story was difficult to write and revise as my sympathies lay with the character of Weena. There was no emotional detachment in her nature like the Outsider possesses. She is deeply emotional and empathetic, and readily hurt and confused by the new feelings the Time Traveller placed upon her. In the end they were not that dissimilar, as there was nothing else like them either in her world or his. They were both outsiders.


Bergonzi, B 1960, The publication of The Time Machine 1894-5, The Review of English Studies, vol. 11(41), pp. 42-51

Gamer, M 2006, Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception and Canon Formation, Cambridge University Press, UK

Greene, R,  Cushman, S,  Cavanagh, C, Ramazani, J, Rouzer, P, Feinsod, H, Marno, D & Slessarev, A (eds) 2012, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Princeton University Press, New Jersey

Hodgson, W 1912, The Night Land, Eveleigh Nash & Grayson, London

Lovecraft, H 1926, The Outsider, Weird Tales, April

Sayeau, M 2005, H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and the “odd consequence” of progress, Contemporary Justice Review, vol. 8(4), pp. 431-445

Smith, P 2011, Re-visioning Romantic-era Gothicism: An introduction to key works and themes in the study of H.P. Lovecraft, Literature Compass, vol. 8(11), pp. 830-839

Wells, H 1895, The Time Machine, William Heinemann, London

The 85000 word challenge

Over at the writing thread of the Whirlpool forums, a challenge was issued recently. Before the 31 March, 2016, the takers of the challenge are to write an 85000 word novel. I accepted the challenge, despite the fact I’m working on a couple of other stories.

When I write, I usually revise what I’ve written the next time I look at it. Not on this occasion. There’s minimal editing and I’m simply putting down whatever comes to mind, and going with the creative flow.

The story? Science fiction, and it’s based around an idea that I’ve had developing for some time. Several hundred years in the future, most people have left Earth for other worlds. Left behind were about 100 million people and they banded together to redesign the world in a self-sustaining ecological manner, and based their society on an anarchic meritocracy.

Through huge engineering projects, the old continents were broken up or shifted around, allowing for better oceanic flow, thus allowing the world’s land to receive more reliable (and higher amounts of) rainfall. Then the world was divided up into preserves for nature, called Greenbelts, which humans living in smaller regions surrounded by the Greenbelts.

The tale starts with a character called Jacqueline 5146 Advanced, who finds herself on trial for manslaughter and possession of alcohol and cocaine. She dodges the manslaughter charge, but isn’t so lucky in regards to the others as drinking booze and doing drugs are serious crimes in the future age that is dominated by logic and reason.

The trouble is, she was employed at the time by one of her world’s more influential people…and questions were asked: why did he have booze and cocaine? Some people are not happy about these polite enquiries and seek to eliminate anyone that knows anything. Including Jacqui.

Life has now become very interesting for Miss 5146 Advanced…(and yes, there is a perfectly logical explanation for her silly name.)

Once this tale is done, and I’ve edited it, I’ll put it up here.

Ed Greenwood – Hand of Fire

Hand Of Fire (Forgotten Realms: Shandril's Saga, #3)Hand Of Fire by Ed Greenwood
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Wow…I struggled to finish this. It’s just that bad. Which is a shame as you don’t want your Forgotten Realms books to be bad – you want them to kick ass (even if it’s all popcorn). But when the milieu’s creator writes an execrably bad book, then what can you say?

Basically the protagonist and her whiny husband nuke, obliterate, annihilate, incinerate, deep fry, fricassee, broil, roast, scorch, blast and excoriate every one of the legion of over-confident bad guys that contend with her. Just endless waves of them. It’s like the literary version of Serious Sam 3.

That’s it. That’s what happens in this concluding tome. There’s zero character development at all, no suspense, and the marvellous world the author created barely gets a mention. Every dangerous encounter is swept aside by Shandril’s super-powers or the timely arrival of her equally faceless Harper allies.

Oh, Shandril dies at the end but she’ll come back as a ghost to keep a watch on Narm, who gets sent off to find himself another wife. Narm…urgh, through the course of these three poorly written adventures, he’s the common denominator that weighs them down. What a nobody! His single purpose is to provide a pillow and a shoulder for Shandril to cry on after she’s finished vaporising the opposition for the day. He’s an ineffectual and annoying cipher.

Summary: a godawful book. On to fresh woods and pastures, etc.

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Ed Greenwood – Crown of Fire

Crown of Fire (Forgotten Realms: The Harpers, #9; Shandril's Saga, #2)Crown of Fire by Ed Greenwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

More of a 2.75 out of 5. It’s better than its predecessor, but not by much. Arguably stronger writing, more focus in the storytelling and the narrative doesn’t drift as much. None of the characters within escape their cardboard boxes though, and there are too many deus ex machina elements for my liking as Gandalf Elminster saves the day once too often. Still, Ed Greenwood is having fun in the world that Ed Greenwood made and I can relate to his enthusiasm.

All taken, this book is slightly above average popcorn fiction.

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Jes – an introduction

For some time now, I’ve wanted to write a pure sword and sorcery style of tale. Nothing original or ground-breaking, no wordplay, no postmodernism or experimental styles of fiction, just plain blood and iron hack ‘n slash, in the best Robert E Howard or Lin Carter traditions. So I’ve come up with the character of Jes, a strapping female adventurer who lives life to the fullest and dirtiest. She’s a wanderer, pillaging old tombs, fighting and dodging the law, romancing men and women who probably shouldn’t be romanced and having a cracking good time doing it. Good, cheap, entertaining fun, in other words.

Again, it’ll be nothing that hasn’t been written before genre-wise, perhaps thousands of times, but it’s a type of tale I’ve wanted to delve into for ages now, just letting the imagination run free. Her world is a strange one and I’ll put a precis of it here soon.

Oh, and I’ve managed to get my oldest daughter to illustrate her.


Jes, courtesy of Hotaru

Jo Spurrier – Winter Be My Shield

Winter Be My Shield (Children of the Black Sun, #1)Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I tried my hardest to wade through this book but in the end, it was simply not possible. I’ll agree with other reviewers here that the book does possess a lot of originality, but I can’t empathise with their enthusiasm for it.

My issues with this book are many – for starters the characters for most of the book, do nothing except wander about in seeming circles from one snow-bound location to the other. There’s lots of dialogue, lots of going back and forth, but little of substance happens. Nothing really happens in the first fifty pages of this book and while that is unfortunately par for the course with fantasy novels, you do live in hope someone will buck the trend. Not today, big guy, not with this one.

Next is the motivation why anything is happening to begin with. There’s a three way war between the natives and two competing empires/kingdoms but we’re given no indication why this is happening. What makes the Ricalani so seductive that two different powers want to subdue them?

Then there’s the characterisations themselves. People do and say things in this book that run contrary to what’s in their face. Not just one character – which is forgivable and indicative of real life itself – but they all do it, villain and hero together. Show them a red ball to the west and they’ll call it a yellow ball and head east. That sort of thing.

It’s all very frustrating to read. And there’s a couple of characters in this book that serve no purpose than to provide opposition to the protagonist’s actions and words for the sake of opposition itself.

In other words, what we have here with Winter Be My Shield is a well-written account of slightly nasty, but generally faceless people puttering about in a magical land of snow.

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Paolo Bacigalupi – The Windup Girl

The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Actually, I’d give this a 4.75 out of 5, but there’s no way to do that here.

I knock it down from a perfect score simply as I don’t believe the energy future the author has created. He expects us to believe that in the 23rd Century, everything runs on spring-laden potential energy or pedal power? Really? No hydrogen, no solar, no fusion, no wind, no hydroelectricity, no tidal, nothing? Nope, not buying it.

With that out of the way, what we have here is a masterpiece. A horrible, bleak future where GMOs have virtually destroyed the world, where the empires of old have crumbled and all that remains are petty states eking it out. But we have Thailand, a dragon amongst skinks, and that is where this story takes place.

Ostensibly, it’s about the titular windup girl, a Japanese GM female engineered to be a servant, but her story takes a back seat to oily politicking and industrial espionage. The real battleground is the political arena. Emiko, the girl in question, does tie everything else up but this is hardly her story.

No, this is a cautionary tale, a world gone mad with genetic engineering and global warming, rife with racism and neo-colonialism. The author pulls no punches here and ought to be congratulated to taking the anti-Western stand he does. It’s refreshing to read.

Still don’t think it’s an accurate description of the future, but that’s a minor quibble.

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Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I like what the author is trying to do here – make a novel from the viewpoint of organ-donating clones who don’t see anything remotely wrong or amoral in what they’re in this world for. The trio in this book are simply three ordinary English people who potter and stumble about like nearly anyone else in this world. Even when two of them “complete” (die from donating one too many organs in the novel’s parlance), the third one doesn’t actively question her life or her purpose-bred role.

That aspect of it makes this book very convincing in one way – the ignorant sheep bred to provide others with healthy, functioning organs, only to drop dead blissfully when their own bodies fail them. It’s all part of life’s rich pageant.

So why only two stars? Because the book itself is written in such non-engaging, understated, mumbling language. A good two-thirds of it is, quite frankly, boring filler with Kathy just rambling dreamily on about one la-di-da thing after the other. But when the author gets to the brass tacks of this story – it’s a killer.

In summary, it’s an overall dreary book with very cogent and engaging moments. Not enough of them though. The parts don’t make the whole here.

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Gone Home – short but sweet

I spent $18 on Gone Home on Steam after reading a glowing review of it on Gamespot. I’m still undecided on whether it was worth that as you only get about two and a bit hours of gameplay out of it. There’s probably minimal replay potential in it too.

Oh well, it’s mine now.


The game has gone pre-Raphaelite

There’s no fighting, no puzzles…just you (Katie) coming home from Europe to an empty house in Oregon. Little by little you piece what’s happened while you’ve been away. Essentially, little sister Sam is growing up and Mum and Dad are trying to get their middle-aged lives back in order. Nothing too serious – no skeletons jump out, no zombie apocalypse, no bodies in the attic (though I did expect the last). It’s all very tame in that department.

The game is 90% about Sam and her lovelorn issues. Really, I shouldn’t be too flippant about it, but I could never connect with her problems. From a selfish point of view, I never had these sorts of dramas in my life at seventeen and so there’s no empathic connection. But yes, it is all very touching. It certainly touched the psyches of many of who’ve played this according to reviews and commentaries.

Cobain in the groove

One of the wall posters in the game

It’s funny, the house layout (a little bit hard to believe) reminded me of the mansion in Realms of the Haunting. I wonder if there was any inspiration there?

A funny thing is the lack of computers in the Greenbriar house. They did exist in the family home in 1995, trust me. The internet was new, but since the father is a novelist, I thought he at the least would’ve owned one. Negative. There’s nought to be found.

Calling Gone Home a game might be a stretch too. There’s minimal interaction save a lot of reading and listening to Sam’s diary entries. There’s none of the adventure game thing where you mess with your inventory or solve puzzles to advance a plot. It’s certainly entertaining though…but it’s too damned short.

Actually, for a very poignant review, try this. Summarises it better than I can.

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