How I Write of Castles

I realised, after having reviewed castles (and, actually, historic sites of all types: palaces, temples, hills) that I have not said what I look for when I visit these places. While it is not that difficult to get the sense of what I say and don’t say, this might not be too helpful for people looking for some concrete facts or a detailed picture-overview.

Neither of these is in the realm of what I aim to do here. What I aim to do is to offer some snippets of historic curiosities, events which made me laugh or think or cry when I read about these places. That Tantallon’s lords liked going shooting on the nearby granitic outcrop, the Ailsa Craig of the eastern coast, or that James VI heard of his accession at Falklands and made it into a local title, or that a lord Cassilis of Culzean went and shot his umbrella-holder in the rainforests of Gambia…

These are stories which bring these places to life. They illustrate how living people treated each other and themselves in times gone past. What they laughed about and what they might not have enjoyed as much. All of these snippets help me build a better, clearer, window to look into history.

And I visit these places mostly to expand my understanding of history. This understanding takes many shapes. I do not particularly like reading about places and not being able to visualise them in my mind, and yet not many a text would describe Dunnotar Castle as well as the effort of climbing those steps to reach the peak of that peninsula. But this understanding also takes the form of the farmers at Alpsee who have ever lived looking at two or three castles on their nearby peaks. How do they relate to these? Is it a symbol of hope and strength, or does it merely represent wasted fortunes?

Naturally, all of these could be answered by other methods in the modern day. Yet, the feeling of going to somewhere and seeing it in its natural climate — no matter whether the result is a wintery Schloss Linderhof, sunny Mull of Galloway, or a rainy Rothesay — helps put that place into its natural context.

So… what I look for is emotion, a feeling, any feeling, that would relate to this place I am writing about. How this place fits into the world I have seen and into the lives of the people who were involved with it. How a representation of this place can carry the message that was dearest to my heart. How the inhabitants of this place would have looked about in the beginning of their day or at the end of their toils.

How I Review Books

Books can be looked at from many points of view. My one most strenous belief is that when I talk about books, you should not hear the plot in too great a detail (unless the author intends the ending to be known before the book begins). Hence, I rarely comment on plot devices or any story development as I feel I could be shortchanging the reader of the review.

So, I have to look (and like looking in any case) at the other aspects of the book instead. One of these is the writing — very important indeed for me, and I hope for most people, but I need to feel comfortable reading the book. It should not feel forced (again, unless that is the intent), and it should feel good. I should get the sense that the author enjoyed writing it, and if their words are put to paper with such skill that I lose myself in their world, even better.

Part of the above is how well the characters come out. I think I here quite often contradict what some other people say, or at least when I have compared reviews on Goodreads it is quite obvious that characters I liked very much were considered incomplete by others and vice versa. I cannot quite explain it, except perhaps I look for the establishment of the character in something more than the written person. They must feel consistent throughout, and they must feel logical. They must have culture (if that is their background), and they must act as if they belong to wherever they are from.

The above is not always the case. However, I have also noted a lot of people have preference with respect to how much text is descriptive vs dialogue (say Tolkien vs Asimov for an easy one here). I think both of these can be similarly splendid, but they must be appreciated for what they are and how they are. The being of Asimov’s characters will come through their words, while Tolkien’s characters get constructed perhaps even before they say their first sentence. That is the difference between various authors.

Next, I am always partial to an interesting story which is interlaced with enough background for it to feel real. This includes an aspect which is not directly related with either of the above, but which is indirectly connected to both of them: there should be some wisdom in the book. No matter what form or method it takes to come across, either the narrator or a character, whether or not it is picked up on and used or not.

But, lastly, and most importantly, the writing must be good enough for me to feel what is going on. This I’d term as emotion. And, indeed, in my reviews I often go with whether something feels right or wrong and what other emotions the story created. How the characters felt and whether they were right is another aspect. This, for me, that a book feels a certain way, is maybe my own classification, but very useful in the sense that if I am feeling a certain way it is quite nice to pick up a book which complements it. There is, after all, no point in reading a fact-oriented history (as opposed to a story-oriented) when looking for amusement or philosophy, or looking for sarcasm from high fantasy.

The above is not perhaps the most perfect description I could give, but I know that my book recommendations follow this. I know my friends well enough and try to recommend books to them if what I felt in that book seems to match what that friend is like. Sometimes I am wrong, sometimes not. Nonetheless, I have always taken great care if I recommend something (or, at least, I would like to think so).

And, I hope, that derives from me considering more than just the plot. For, indeed, the plot is just the first glazing on the house that is the book, and that is also why I nearly always recommend picking an old book up after years have passed to read it anew.

The Motivation for Writing

Why does anyone write?

What do they want to express? Who do they want to be? What is it worth writing about publicly?

I’ve had the wish to continue writing actively for a long time — ever since I stopped in 2014 (Goodreads’ reviews don’t count), but I never found the time as it’s so easy to make excuses. And, I think in the time I could have been writing, I was reading. So, perhaps I’ll write better now? Who knows…

But, earlier on this year someone (no disclosure, you know who you are) said that they enjoyed reading what I wrote and asked me whether I was still going at it. The answer, to be accurate, would have been a “no”, but I phrased it as a “maybe” — and it definitely kicked me into motion faster than otherwise. Still, it has taken me two months and 19 days to get this far, but I am here. Which is a start.

What has changed? My (probably) favourite answer to this comes from the film ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ where Salah ad-Din so graciously says “Nothing. Everything” to a different question.

The one thing I have enjoyed writing about in all the time I haven’t made actual blog posts has been books, and my reviews for things on Goodreads have at least kept that alive. I also think it’s quite interesting to see how various people review books, but that’s a topic for another time. I feel that what is worth writing about is the cultures we experience and what the thoughts they bring up in us are. Hence it might entirely be I’ll take a step back over the last three years and look back at some places which come up again and again in my mind.

But, to end where I began, I will answer the question I began this by: I write for myself, but there’s more of a reason to “write out loud” when someone else is also interested in those selfsame thoughts. At least that is how I feel right now. Times change. And yet, the more they change the more they stay the same.

Of Typesetting and Writing

It will give you, my reader, an indication of my trust and faith in the WordPress engine that until a few days ago I did not believe that justifying text was possible here. That mistake has been resolved.

That is a suitable lead-in to the topic of typesetting — it is something most people spend very little time on, but after my dissertation and other university works definitely one of the more notable issues in my mind. Presentation, in the end, is everything. Especially when we talk of written pages where no conversation can add to what the reader sees. A question arises: If the written work has no form, no beauty, what value could its content have?

An example of great importance is the use of non-breaking spaces and dashes. It adds so much if one knows that the writer of the piece aimed for that superb elegance of correction in how lines start and in what pairs of words (or numbers) appear together.

Dashes are another thing — which one to use (how many people even know of the different ones and their proper application?) and how to create it. I only lately discovered a way in MS Office to create an em-dash. But these differences are the key.

Mostly because of those differences, I have had it in mind to re-process some of my university works to eradicate such errors for future purpose. It would be of very little benefit to anyone, but just maybe worth it in case someone wanted to read anything. I don’t know if they will or if they even should, but at least that would be being prepared.

In the end, what we write in this day and age is so much of a reflection of who we are that the small differences are what will matter and keep on mattering. For that reason if for nothing else (I personally find typesetting a very interesting topic in itself), it is worth knowing the correct way of doing things. And it is worth using that knowledge.

Also: How is it that ski commentators always seem slightly insane?

Chiaroscuro

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

1
: pictorial representation in terms of light and shade without regard to color
2
a : the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts in a pictorial work of art
b : the interplay or contrast of dissimilar qualities (as of mood or character)
3
: a 16th century woodcut technique involving the use of several blocks to print different tones of the same color; also : a print made by this technique
4
: the interplay of light and shadow on or as if on a surface
5
: the quality of being veiled or partly in shadow

For some reason, I really like the sound of this word. Why? I can’t really put my hand to it, but the sound of it when one says the word — it is ethereal. Otherworldly.

Now, I have to admit that I have not heard it used once in everyday conversations, and I have seen it in literature for only a handful of times with the majority of these being in one novel (that I have reread). However, every time I read/listen as it goes by, I feel that the word has a personality. Mind you, if it was a person, it would probably be a bit too pretentious — but as a word I would really like to know it better. I would like to use it… but not too much.

For the etymologically inclined, it would seem that the root of the word is Italian — the words chiaro and oscuro, light and dark. Maybe that Romance heritage is what gives the word some charm in an English sentence, although it could be something else.

It could also be that if I knew what made me like this word so much, I would not like it any more. So I shall let this mystery be, at least for today…

The Second Benefit of Queues

I recently posted on how I enjoyed the feature of scheduled posting. That is still so, but now — around half a week into this experiment of mine, I can safely say that I forgot about an important part of this style of writing that I couldn’t really imagine before. Well, when I say “forgot” and “couldn’t really imagine”, I am speaking against myself, I know that. Do forgive.

However, what I wished to say is that when I schedule my posts I remember what I have written, and I get the wish to go back and change the words. I want to edit the post at least once so that when I read it through myself the next day (far less time consuming than writing itself), I get no bad feelings about anything I say. The wording might change and I might be improving the thoughts I wished to convey, but their internal inconsistency might have been the biggest downfall thus far with my posts.

So, there we go — another point for scheduled posting. =)

The Benefit of Queues

I have recently started writing posts in advance and then queuing them so that they are published throughout the week. This seems to be the approach that works better for me for otherwise I need to find the time and opportunity to come here every day (or every time when I have something to say), and to expand on my thoughts there and then. This clearly has not worked very well in the past so maybe this new way will do better.

For example, the posts this week on this site and on my literature blog both were written on Saturday evening when I had a moment to myself that I used to the best effect I could have thought of at the time.

It could be that in a sense I am losing the moment of “I am here, right now!” if I continue to think of what to say on a certain day in the future (or in the past).

Also, since my mood on that Saturday evening (well, it would be so much easier to say ‘right now’ but that wouldn’t be *the right now* when this post will be published so that I do not really want to do that) was a bit philosophical I am clearly avoiding writing of the world in favour of the topics that have a bit less to do with any tangible place and more with those passing feelings.

One benefit I do feel to be present though is a more consistent style. I could be mistaken, but these would probably read better overall than my posts from say November or December which were far more intermittent. Those posts were also written in a more hurried way — the time I had for them wasn’t really meant for them, but potentially a simple stolen 5-minute gap between eating and running out of my house. It would be interesting to see how this actually represents itself in the words you are reading though.

My next challenge therefore — if I am to continue this scheduled writing — is to find a way to encompass the world into the topics. I am certain that I can do this, although I might require some sort of incentive. I think that looking at National Geographic’s published photos or something similar would be enough though.

For anyone in a similar position as me — that is, feeling like writing at certain moments and not at others where thinking is the realm you’re in — I do suggest trying this scheduled posting way of writing.

Of Tyrants and Dictators

I generally abhor the misuse of any term which has a specific meaning, and recently it has come up in discussion that one was again misused — or misused as I see it. Indeed, I much prefer the original Roman meaning for dictator and the Greek meaning for tyrant. I find that every subsequent use has degraded the original and added a connotation that they not necessarily deserve.

A problem arises thereby when the word would still be used in the original meaning, say Dictator for a Roman dictator, and a modern person would think that we are dealing with an unlawful person who torments and tortures everyone he can see. It would simply be untrue!

So, I would firstly reiterate what I see as the ‘correct’ terminology:

  • dictator: from Latin dictātor, originally signifying an official chosen/elected to the highest position with the important distinction that there could be only one dictator at a time, and he would be the authority. [And I dare say elected because as far as I can see, the person’s reputation was relevant and would be decisive in whether a dictatorship would be given to a person.]
  • tyrant: from Greek τύραννος, originally signifying anyone in power who had gained it by unusual means (unlawful means), and could imply something more than government just by a single person. This seems to have picked up a negative connotation soonest (although sometimes governing outside the law would probably be less bad than in other cases).

The reasons why I would keep on using these in the limited instances they apply in is that we actually do have a better word to imply the government by a single person as either of these is often used. And indeed, that third word, to me, also has an inherent negative sense that I cannot get rid of in my mind — quite possibly because it carries with it a sense of power that dictator and tyrant have given to law (even if operating outside of it).

This third word, a new(er) one, that I am speaking of, is αὐτοκρατής, or autocrat (autocrator) — a term used in history for (very legitimate) Eastern Roman Emperors, but still carrying a sense of power without restrictions that both dictator and tyrant seem to grapple with for me.

So, there we go — problem solved. Or, solved for me, at least. 🙂

Style

It is so very different — who I am writing to decides exactly how and what I write, and what I begin the sentence with, and whether I use the Oxford comma and all those things. And that’s true in both Estonian and English (and the styles are still rather incomparable).

It is just confusing.

For example, how do I know that for person A the proper greeting is “Tervist” instead of “Tere” or “Hei” ?

Mind works in mysterious ways.

The Kindle (and its Possibilities)

 So, recently I’ve been trying to make an informed decision about the Amazon Kindle 3. It’s been tough, but I think I’ve managed to make one.

However, with searching for information about it I also managed to come upon a rather decent amount of self-publishers (including a man named JA Konrath who has a very interesting blog, which I recommend!) that are making a decent profit out of their avantures on the Kindle. So, I’ve been taking a look at that side as well (KDP: Kindle Digital Publishing, for anyone interested) for both myself (future) and possible AE functions. Which incidentally means I went and checked what’s happening on AE.

Significant? Only if the idea turns out to be a good one. 😉

If.