findingtimetowrite

Thinking, writing, thinking about writing…

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

Song Lyrics Poem

As a bit of a change from my usual rather intense and depressing poetry, I decided to have some fun today with song lyrics.  It works a bit like the book spine poetry which Breathing Space  or Bettina Forget  or DP Bowman do so well. Except that you choose song lyrics (rather than just titles) and, in my case, I stuck to David Bowie exclusively this time round.  Not quite as good when the music is missing, but I happen to think there is some great poetry in these songs too.  See if you can spot which songs they are from…

‘Can you hear me, Major Tom?’

‘Oh, no, not again!’

‘I thought you died alone, a long, long time ago…’

‘I never did good things, I never did bad things,

I never did anything out of the blue.’

‘Maybe we’re lying -

then you’d better not stay!’

This is ourselves under pressure:

the return of the Thin White Duke

throwing darts in lovers’ eyes…

It’s a godawful small affair to the girl with the mousy hair,

she’s lived it ten times or more.

And the planet is glowing…

Let the children use it,

let the children lose it

like some cat from Japan,

like a leper messiah

Up every evening, bout half-eight or nine.

She says:

‘Time may change me

But I can’t trace time,

So I will sit right down ,

waiting for the gift of sound and vision,

drifting into my solitude, over my head.’

Ships in the Night

She would do

Make do

A shrug as you count and find

Slightly wanting.

Nearly there

Almost perfect

Rather very but sufficiently nice.

Vainglory flows from the cups we have shared.

Satiated and  plump, we each go our way.

 

We shape this damp shroud between us

We cast it pearls to rummaging snouts

We batter some life in things long left dead

We scratch our wounds raw.

After the party

We linger and drain once-intimate gestures

of meaning, magic and trust.

Empty cups, vain promises,

Hopes unsated, we  just miss.

More Scandinavian Crime Scenes

I am delighted to be a book reviewer for that very informative and fun website Crime Fiction Lover, not least because it helps me to be more focused and thoughtful about my reading. I do tend to read a lot of crime fiction anyway, but sometimes it is just swallowed down whole, undigested.  I have even have been known to read the same book twice (having forgotten it) and only realised halfway through that I know who the killer is!

Suitably overcast image of Visby

For Crime Fiction Lover, I am the ‘exotic settings’ specialist, which fits in well with my peripatetic (not pathetic!) existence, and also exposes me to authors who are perhaps less well-known in the English-speaking world. At the moment, there seems to be an endless appetite for all things Scandinavian.  I recently reviewed a new (to the English audience) Swedish writer Anna Jansson for the website.  You can read the full review here, but on this blog I want to compare her work with that of another Swedish author who uses the same location.

Welcome to the pretty medieval town of Visby on the island of Gotland, just off the coast of Sweden in the Baltic Sea.  Full-time population: 20,000.  Number of summer visitors: 800,000. The perfect place to celebrate Swedish Midsummer, let down your hair and get away from it all.  Or the perfect place to commit a murder and get away with it?

This year, it’s not just one, but two Swedish thriller writers who introduce us to this ostensibly idyllic world, making Gotland the backdrop of their crime series. Both of them are well-known in Scandinavia, and both series have been adapted for Swedish and German television, but they are only just beginning to find an audience in the English-speaking world, thanks to the translations now available from Stockholm Text. However, neither of the two books are the first in the series (Jansson has written 13 so far and Jungstedt 9) , so there may be some character developments and allusions that I am missing out on.  However, that shouldn’t impact on your enjoyment and understanding of the stories.

‘Killer’s Island’ introduces the feisty detective Maria Wern, who, on her way home from an evening out with her best friend, intervenes to rescue a young boy who is being beaten up by a gang.  In return for her efforts, she herself is beaten and stabbed with a syringe filled with blood, thus spending much of the rest of the book worrying about whether or not she has been contaminated with the AIDS virus. The same gang also assaults a tired, insomniac nurse, Linn Bogren, who is facing personal and professional turmoil of her own.  Linn is saved on this occasion by the timely intervention of her neighbour Harry, but not long after she is found dead, bloodless, dressed in white, with a bridal bouquet of lilies of the valley in her hand.  Someone is trying to draw their attention to the myth of the White Lady of the Sea, who lures men to their doom in the dark undercurrents surrounding the island.

Maria and her colleagues at Visby Police Station, including her rather suicidal boyfriend Per and afore-mentioned best friend and forensic scientist Erika, are confronted with further attacks and murders, providing an increasingly complex case.  The only link between these apparently unrelated crimes seems to be Erika’s new lover, Dr. Anders Ahlstrӧm.  But how can such a compassionate man, who always finds time to listen to his patients and is such a loving single Dad to his 11-year-old daughter, be involved in such a sordid series of murders?  And what is the connection between a hypochondriac, sleepwalking and a jealous daughter?

It becomes a race against time, as it becomes clear that the detectives themselves are also being closely observed by a highly intelligent and manipulative killer, able to taunt and provoke the police through superior computing skills.

Meanwhile, in ‘The Dead of Summer’, Visby’s finest sleuthing team consists of DS Anders Knutas (reasonably happily married), his glamorous sidekick Karin Jacobsson and the rather interfering journalist Johan Berg. They are investigating an execution-type murder on the beach just outside a campsite. The victim, Peter Bovide, was a happily married co-owner of a successful construction company.  At first, the police suspect he and his partner may have been using illegal Estonian labour. The murder weapon, however, is unusual: an 80 year old Russian pistol, so suspicion turns to vodka smugglers aboard Russian coal ships. At the same time, flashbacks to 1985 suggest an alternative storyline, with a German family coming to explore the wildlife off the coast of Sweden.  I found these flashbacks a little too intrusive and heavy-handed, providing clues that gave away the ending rather early on.  I also found Johan’s on-and-off relationship with the drippy Emma a little wearisome, without adding much value to the story. Perhaps if you read these books in order (the four previous ones in the series are available in English), you might care more about their future together.

I couldn’t help comparing the two books while reading them, and not just because of the location.  Both are police procedurals at heart, albeit with an extensive focus on the private lives of the members of the investigating team.  Both are stylistically quite similar, with short scenes, moving quite rapidly from one viewpoint to the next, the pace quickening all the while to a dramatic climax. Anna Jansson is a practising nurse as well as a writer, so unsurprisingly both characters and clues are closely linked to the medical profession.  Mari Jungstedt is a former journalist, so there are lots of realistic details about both local and national TV stations and reporters.

Of the two, I would say that Jungstedt makes better use of the atmospheric island setting, the isolation, the lovely long stretches of beach, while Jansson offers more rounded characters, a less predictable storyline and a more confident narrative voice.  Both are less bleak than some of the typical Scandinavian fare, so perhaps a good alternative for those who prefer their crimes less graphic and their detectives less moody.  Both are enjoyable fast-paced narratives to while away an evening or two.  The next Henning Mankell or Stieg Larsson?  I think not. Which, given how I feel about Stieg Larsson’s literary abilities, is perhaps not such a bad thing.  I look forward to seeing how these series evolve.

 

About Inspiration and Awards

Who or what inspires you as a writer? What fuels your passion and your life?  What makes you forget about time, eating, an aching back or even your friends and your children’s supper?  Not that I would recommend the last of these.  And I have only done it very occasionally.  Hardly worth pointing out, really.  Even if afore-mentioned children and friends do remind me of it on a regular basis.

So here are some of my favourite sources of inspiration in random order (ah, but is ‘off the top of my head’ really random?):

1) mountains and seascapes, preferably both together, as in the picture above

2) Shakespeare, especially ‘The Tempest’

3) the music of Brazil, almost any kind of jazz, plus David Bowie and a few other heroes

4) reciting or hearing poetry, the rhythm and roll of the images flooding your ears

5) when reading, finding the perfect phrase, the thought-stretching twist, the heartbreaking confession or the remarkable plot which makes me think:’yes, this is it, this is what life is all about’ and turn slightly green with envy that I could never write anything like that myself

6) the beauty of small creatures and shy buds, everyday things that are the last to be noticed and the first to be forgotten

7) the kindness of strangers, given without forethought or afterthought: things that make me believe once more in the generosity of the human spirit

All this is leading up to the Versatile Blogger Award that Polly Robinson has so kindly insisted I should have.  Thank you, Polly, you are one of the most encouraging people I have had the pleasure of meeting on the Internet.  I can always count on her to read my poems and make some comments.  I don’t know when she does it all, write her own poetry, organise events in her local area in Worcester, United Kingdom, setting up writers’ groups and open mic evenings… she is just amazing!

The rules for this award are typical of many others: share 7 things about yourself (my sources of inspiration, above), thank the person who nominated you and nominate 15 bloggers whom you recommend unreservedly.  I know that to some of them these awards (because they receive so many of them) can be a pain, so there is no obligation.  Unless they wish to leave a small comment below sharing perhaps not seven, but at least one thing that inspires them.  That would be wonderful!

I would so love to hear that from you all, and not just the people I am nominating below.  I am trying to nominate some that I haven’t mentioned before, so they are all fairly recent discoveries to me, although some of them are very well known.

Poetic magic

The Thread Is Red

Marousia

The Wheel and the Star

KD DeFehr

Jeannie Leflar

Stars Rain Sun Moon

Anything but prosaic

Andy’s Words and Pictures

Eric Alagan

Lisa Ahn

Write What You Know

Thought-provoking skullduggery

Crime Fiction Lover – and I loved them even before I started reviewing books for them!

It’s a Crime

Nicci French

Jeff Goins

A picture says more than a thousand words

From the Right Bank

An Afternoon With…

Shedworking

A Year’s Worth of Haikus

A light-hearted read for the weekend: haikus for every season, and a good excuse to upload some favourite pictures.

 

January

Perfect crunch on ice

Spiked boots and burning muscle

Welcome warmth of soup

 

February

Where are friendships now?

The chalet sighs for Christmas

Lights buried in snow

 

March

How much hope, what joy,

When stubborn hardy rootling

Gushes forth from sod!

 

April

Long before the fall

The camellia’s head hung low

Blushing memory

 

May

Scented white lilac –

However brief its glory

There is no contest

 

June

No cherries this year.

I wonder if this season

Will greet me again.

 

July

So much life and hope

Drinks and laughter lighten

On long summer days

 

August

Annual body roast.

Not a second on the beach

To savour salt air.

 

September

Back! Back! They twitter.

Settling nicely in the groove,

Keeping tan well creamed.

 

October

Demented squash shapes

Stretch out arms imploring, catch

Chill hush in the air.

 

November

So it closes in:

Each year a little harder

To bear the long-streaked rain.

 

December

Not naughty, not nice –

Can it be time already

To freeze our desires?

 

Gossip

They hoarded secrets like a mist:

revealing cacti one swirled swoop

then blanket dullness

senses agog

sounds enhanced

in chilly fold

of disapproval.

 

Those feathered gatherings would peck

and peck

tormentor turned in briefest glimpses

piranha-like they razed to bone

then spat him out like worthless junk.

 

You hear the whisper -

don’t you? –

the sullen sigh of barely there?

No matter how, no matter when,

the ooze will seep

and knead

to stick.

I’ve Lost My Poetry Book

I’ve lost my poetry notebook.

That slender scribbler with blue and white boats on the cover

fitting instantly in pockets

unobtrusive on nighttables

familiar with coffee shops and handbags, desks and grassy mound,

alert and keen

it waited for flighty inspiration.

I’ve lost the mad jottings,

the crossing out, the changes,

synonyms in endless lists,

invented words mocked by their conservative neighbours.

 

I’ve lost my mind

my moment of respite

my calm in eye of storm

the grips that hold me onto life.

 

And in the world I know

nothing is ever fully replaceable.

Poems That Mean the World to Me

There are two poems that I would keep under my pillow if I were in the habit of doing that.  As it is, I have them pinned to the noticeboard in my study and below are my favourite fragments from them.  They seem to speak my words, my thoughts, my heart (but so much better than I ever could).  The first one I discovered a long time ago, as a teenager; the second one I came across only a few months ago, but it sparked my creative renaissance. The sentiments seem to lie at opposite ends of the spectrum. Yet, we all have contradictions within ourselves, don’t we?

You said: ‘I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,

find another city better than this one’.

[...]

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.

This city will always pursue you.

You’ll walk the same streets, grow old

int he same neighbourhoods, turn grey in these same houses.

You’ll always end up in this city.  Don’t hope for things elsewhere:

there’s no ship for you, there’s no road.

Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,

you’ve destroyed it everywhere in the world.

(C.P. Cavafy)

When they say Don’t I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
If they say we should get together.
say why?

It’s not that you don’t love them any more.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

(Naomi Shihab Nye)

 

Fragment from the First Draft

This is taking me waaaay out of my comfort zone, sharing a small fragment (something more than seven lines) from the first draft of my novel. The usual disclaimers (rough, unedited, only a snippet etc.) apply. The only reason I am considering it is because some of you, dear readers, kindly asked to see some of it, and because it is part of the 15 day writing challenge devised by Jeff Goins.

By way of background to the story: it is a crime novel which takes place in Romania in 1995.  This woman is a secondary character, the wife of the policeman who is helping my hero (who is English) and heroine (Romanian) in their crime-solving mission.  Gina plays a small but crucial part in destroying the evidence.  The fragment below describes her motivation for it to a certain extent.  Any comments or suggestions would be much appreciated.  Don’t be afraid to be cruel in order to be kind!

To her surprise, Gina had not found married life and parenthood as rewarding as she had been led to believe.  She had been herded by her mother into the expectation that motherhood would confer new meaning to her life.  But now she often found herself wondering: ‘Is this all?  Is that all I have to look forward to in life from now to evermore?’  Oh, she loved the little blighter well enough, but she had to admit that she often did not like him much.  He was selfish, prone to tantrums, overly spoilt by his dad and grandparents, and he took all of that out on her.  As if she didn’t have enough troubles of her own!

All she had ever learnt about bookkeeping was out of date in the new market economy and had to be relearnt.  There were other, younger accountants snapping at her heels, with their new-fangled degrees from private universities (luckily, still not officially recognised) and their mastery of foreign languages.  She had been told she should learn some English or French too, that it would help further her career. What if their enterprise is privatised and sold off to foreigners: then where would she be, out on the streets?  Whereas if she could chat with her would-be bosses in their own language, that might make a difference.

But when was she supposed to have the time to learn a foreign language?  With the child still not sleeping through the night and Dinu often away on night-shift, or else dead to the world when he did get to sleep at home.  She also had her mother-in-law to look after, who was not necessarily getting more decrepit every week, but certainly more demanding.  Plus trying to maintain the fruit and vegetables weed-free and unbitten by pests on their small plot of land.  She had been told that keeping a few chicken would be no trouble, and that having freshly laid eggs would be such a bonus to her son’s health.  So now she had to feed and clean after those stinky, cackling nuisances.

And, to top it all, Dinu had now taken it into his head to build a house behind his parents’ old one.  True, their current house was small, dark and old-fashioned, with only an electric plate in the kitchen. The running water was barely running, since the pipes had burst last winter.  But now they had a building site to contend with as well.  Dirt everywhere and drudgery from morning till bedtime!  If Dinu ever took it into his dim little brain to mention having another child again, she would punch him right between his eyes!

Her only pleasure was spending her money on foreign chocolate.  When she got her salary (in ever-increasing mounds of cash, which were actually worth very little in the current inflation), she would stop at a kiosk on the high street on the way back from work.  She would buy pretty much the entire stock and hide it at the back of her wardrobe, trying to resist the temptation to have more than one entire tablet a day.  She was beyond caring what her body might look like if she gained too much weight.  She had no feeling of guilt at spending so much money on chocolate that she never shared with anyone else.  After all, her husband was willing to spend every last leu of his on that child: it had to be all foreign nappies and toys for him, oh, yes!  But he didn’t want to spend anything at all on her, his wife.

And now he was getting far too involved in this stupid case, all because a posh bird from Bucharest had batted her eyelashes at him.  Well, she would teach him what Gina was capable of, that she would!

The men had been nicely suited, with those fashionable pastel-coloured broad ties that she wished her husband could wear instead of that sweaty police uniform.  They had descended as a synchronised pair from their Dacia with tinted windows.  They had been well-spoken, polite, not at all like the security forces of the olden days.  Yet she had no doubt that was what they were.  Any Romanian worth his or her salt could sniff out these people a mile off, no matter how many manners they might have acquired in the meantime.

They had expressed their concern at Dinu’s over-involvement in this case, which she fully agreed with.  In fact, she hadn’t quite realised quite how many extra enquiries he had made in Pitesti and Bucharest on behalf of the posh bird until these gentlemen made her aware of them.  They asked her if he kept any paperwork at home (she didn’t think so), if he had confided in her any details of the case. He hadn’t and she wasn’t interested anyway, as if she did not have enough worries of her own.

Upon hearing that, they expressed their sympathy. Delighted that someone was finally listening to her, she poured out much more of her daily anxieties than she had intended, even more than she had shared with her girlfriends.  Not that she had many of them here, in this godforsaken little town.  And the men had nodded and taken her seriously, instead of trying to laugh off her concerns.  They had promised… well, she wasn’t quite sure what, but it sounded a relief, a solution to her problems.  Nor was she quite sure if they actually promised anything.  But, at any rate, they painted a picture of future possibilities.  Lifetime employment for herself, a promotion for her husband, most likely a move to a more happening part of the country, a big city.   Where her son could grow up in a civilised fashion, away from the dirt of the crumbling old house and animal shit. An escape from the clutches of her mother-in-law and the building site.  A chance to put herself first, instead of slaving away for others.  A chance to make that life for herself that she had hoped for, but which had somehow passed her by.  Until now.

And all they asked in return was to find out where he kept his notes and evidence from the case, and to hand it over to them, or, failing that, to destroy them.  Sink this nasty little story, which had nothing to do with them.

What could be simpler, more natural?  If (or rather, when) Dinu found out, he would be furious at first, but surely it was time he realised he was not Colombo or whichever of those American detectives were his heroes.  He would thank her once he realised how much they could gain from simply letting things rest.  Leave things be.  It wasn’t like they were hiding something, it was more about not wanting to dig any deeper and uncover unpleasantness.

So, if her husband wasn’t exactly forthcoming with the details, then she would have to snuffle  them out herself.  But she would have to be clever and resourceful, for there was no way that she could access any of his documents at work.   That much was clear. Although she had little respect for the coffee-swilling, nail-painting and endlessly chatting ladies at the police station, she was sure that they had enough basic police training to know not to share any documents with outsiders.  Even outsiders who were married to a police officer.

So what other solution was there?  She would have to convince Dinu to bring his paperwork home.

Wisdom Verses

I have always been drawn to Buddhism, not just because of its philosophical content, but because of the poetry of its teachings.  I recently found a booklet of quotes I copied down fron the Dhammapada (one of the main texts of the Buddha’s teachings in Theravada Buddhism).  Back in my student days.  See if you don’t agree with me about the simplicity and power of  the language, almost haiku-like.

In this world,

hate never yet dispelled hate.

Only love dispels hate.

 

Mistaking the false for the true,

and the true for the false,

you overlook the heart

and fill yourself with desire.

 

Wakefulness is the way to life.  How wonderful it is to watch, how foolish to sleep!

 

Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded.

 

Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace.

It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.

Better to live one day wondering

how all things arise and pass away.

Better to live one hour seeing

the one life beyond the way.

Better to live one moment

in the moment.

 

It is hard to live in the world.

And hard to live out of it.

It is hard to be one among many.

 

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