Monthly Archives: May 2012

Review: The Woman in Black (Spoilers) – Susan Hill

The Woman in Black

Arthur Kipps is an Edwardian lawyer sent out to settle the estate of a dead woman who lived in a very remote house in the middle of a marsh. He discovers the house and village nearby live in mortal terror of a ‘Woman in Black’ whose appearance heralds the imminent death of a child.

A short book, more of a novella actually – it only took me two or three days to read. Because of that, the pacing was quick, and the book doesn’t hang around getting down to the main story, and the atmosphere around the haunted house and the marshes was handled nicely. There was more expectation of terror than any actual terror, and The Woman in Black didn’t really do much; she appeared and then vanished, then did it again a few times. Pretty much the worlds most passive ghost.

We’re told late in the book that whenever she appears, a child dies, which is immediately contradicted since she appears four or five times and only one child dies.

About three quarters of the way through, there’s a painfully constructed sentence with at least six commas in, a paragraph in length, which, also, does not flow, that is to say, is constructed clumsily, kind of like, almost, perhaps, this paragraph. Ugh.

It bounced me right out of the book in what should have been a tense scene, and I couldn’t settle back into the book after that. I kept looking for more clumsy paragraphs…and finding them.

The ending was rushed into the last five pages, and the deaths of the Stella (Arthur’s wife) and Arthur Junior had no impact at all – not surprising, since they were barely in the book and I didn’t get a chance to ‘know’ them.

In the end, a nice try at an Edwardian / Victorian Gothic ghost story, but clumsy sentence construction and rushed pacing at the end spoiled it for me.

I was expecting The Woman in Black to come rushing for me, but she only stood there and watched.

2/5. Amazon

Watch your language

I once saw a quote that said, “Every age has a language of its own”, and that’s especially true of YA. Writing contemporary YA has a peculiar wrinkle to it that I think is unique in any genre – slang.

What about, for instance, the evolution of the word gay.

Happy? Homosexual?

Or by dipping into the wonderful Urban Dictionary, you also come up with “…hilariously immature way of calling something bad.”

So let’s try bad.

Evil? Not good?

How about, “describes someone sexy”

See what I mean?

The words you put into your characters mouths to make them sound contemporary and up to date will do exactly the opposite in a few years time. Are there a lot of YA readers out there who still think something is groovy? Any of them say, Swell, daddy-o? No, didn’t think so.

And presumably, you want your story to be around for a while before you retire it to the Great Kindle in the Sky. You don’t want to cause a riot of laughter when your characters are trying to do something serious.

The only exception I can see to this rule seems to be the word cool, which has been around since the 1950s and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Steer clear of the latest celebrities as well. Stay away from saying Someone Bent it like Beckham, or Had a Kardashian. Being a Star Trek fan, I think you’re talking about are the lizard guys with the spoon rests on their heads – the Cardassians – anyway.

One of my hobbies is reading Victorian literature – Dickens and Wilkie Collins for instance, and the references they drop in to contemporary characters all need a footnote now.

Think about that for a minute…If you write, ‘Oprah was on the tube’, (that’s a real example, by the way) in a hundred years from now, that’s going to have a little number after it and someone has to explain what you meant.

And remember your characters voices are always going to be secondary to the story anyway. Show a reader how they act and interact, and their voices are going to be less important. I won’t care if they think something is bad because it’s sexy or gay because it’s bad.

An interesting way of getting round this problem is to invent your own slang and language – even make up your own celebrities. Have a character come up with the profanities as well. This worked so well in the Red Dwarf TV series, they could happily write a character saying, ‘Oh Smeg! What the smeggin’ smeg’s he smeggin’ done?!’

Now that’s bad.