findingtimetowrite

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Archive for the category “Formative Writers”

Revisiting Childhood Favourites

Earlier this week I was looking for light and undemanding airplane reading matter. I  can never sleep on long-haul flights, so I need to keep myself occupied without taxing the little grey cells too much. I chose ‘Das fliegende Klassenzimmer’ by Erich Kästner. It is less well known than his delightful ‘Emil and the Detectives’, and perhaps not quite as exciting (there are no gangsters or chases through city streets, although there are a few fights and and a nearly tragic accident). It is a school story, in essence. However, it has the trademark Kästner humour and his clear understanding of what it means to be an imaginative child trying to be good, but not always quite succeeding.

I used to love school stories as a child, especially boarding schools. Being an only child, perhaps I craved that constant companionship, the midnight conspiracies, the leisure activities that were just not possible to do with friends during school hours. Mallory Towers, St. Clares and the Chalet School were very real to me, as were the stage schools described in ‘Ballet Shoes’ or the Sadlers Wells ballet series written by Lorna Hill. But I also had the other typical girl’s obsession with horses: Ruby Ferguson’s Jill and her ponies books were my constant companions. Sadly, they seem to be hard to find or out of print nowadays.

One of the pleasures of having children is rediscovering old reading favourites and discussing them with a new generation. Of course, they don’t always have the same reaction – and not just because they are boys and therefore less interested in ballet or pony stories! My kids loved the whole series around ‘Five Children and It’ (especially ‘The Story of the Amulet’), but were left cold by ‘Swallows and Amazons’. ‘Treasure Island’ did not really rock their boat, while ‘The Hobbit’ did. They never really clicked with the Famous Five or Secret Seven, and I am still trying to get them to give Leon Garfield or Joan Aiken a chance.

My most fun rediscoveries, which the boys enjoyed just as much as me, have been: Paddington Bear, the Moomins, Asterix, Tintin and of course the above-mentioned Emil and his adventures in the big, bad city of Berlin.

What books did you love as a child? Have you reread them since and what do you think of them now? And how have your children reacted to your own childhood favourites?

Interview with French Writer Sylvie Granotier

SylvieGranotier1Sylvie Granotier is a French actress, screenwriter and novelist, born in Algeria and growing up in Paris and Morocco. After completing her theatrical studies, she spent several years travelling around the world, including the United States, Brazil and Afghanistan. After a successful acting career, she turned to fiction. Fourteen novels and many short stories later, Sylvie Granotier is a major crime fiction author in France; her work has been translated into German, Italian, Russian and Greek. Le French Book brings us the first English translation of her novel The Paris Lawyer. The novel is both a legal procedural and a psychological thriller set in the heart of French countryside, La Creuse, considered by many to be a backward, closed-off rural area full of secrets.

I had the pleasure of meeting Sylvie at the Lyon Crime Festival Quais du Polar and I became an instant fan.  Imagine a taller, more glamorous version of Dame Judi Dench, expressing her thoughts in a carefully modulated voice, in beautiful English with a delightful French accent.

Have you always known you were going to end up writing crime fiction? 

No, it was quite a shock.  I never dared to consider that I would write some day.  I drifted for a few years, had no aims or ambitions.  Then I found myself translating Grace Paley’s short stories – I really admired her style and she had never been translated into French before. When my translation got published, she came to Paris and met me. She told me how she had started writing rather late in life and it was almost like she gave me the permission to write.  She never said it in so many words, but the day she took the plane back home, I started writing my first novel. So the two are not unrelated, I think!

And it was crime fiction that you instinctively turned to?

Yes, there was never any doubt in my mind. I’d enjoyed crime novels so much when I lived in the States.  Writing a book that can really grab the reader seemed to me the highest ambition for a writer.  Would I be able to do that?  It’s a genre that has given me so much pleasure, so it seemed an honour to be entering that genre.

Which authors inspire you?

Hard to choose, I’m inspired by all sorts of writing, not just crime fiction. I like Dickens, Melville, Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Elizabeth George.  I like those crime authors who deal more with the psychology, the human aspects of a crime.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

Each book is a story that needs to be told. It can be a small seed from something I’ve read or seen or heard years before and it takes root and germinates inside.  I don’t start with my characters.  I always start with a fragment of a story, a promise, and the characters develop as the story evolves. I want to find out more about them and they often surprise me – which, to me, is proof that the story is alive. I have been known to erase a complete book, because I felt I knew too well what was going to happen. It was no longer interesting to me, it had lost its capacity to surprise me.

TheParisLawyerWhat differences (if any) do you notice between American and French crime fiction?

The way the legal system works is very different, of course, and a story is often influenced by the way in which you do your job.  Then, the language: French is far more organized, grammatical, constricted, more of a corset, less open to experimentation.  Finally, there is something about the way each country views good and evil.  American writers are not afraid to deal with huge themes like serial killers and innate evil. They have great faith in the truth emerging triumphant and justice being served.  In France – perhaps in Europe in general – we are more cynical about the truth ever coming out fully in a trial. We are perhaps too morally ambiguous, everything is too grey with us, not black and white.  Perhaps we feel that criminals are not necessarily evil, but simply people like you and me caught up in desperate matters.

What about the way women are portrayed in American vs. French crime fiction?

In my book ‘The Paris Lawyer’ I deliberately chose a very modern type of Parisian woman, independent, strong, dealing with men on her own terms.  She is sexy, stylish, uninhibited, despite her being haunted by her past.  I think she is very different from the kick-ass school of American female investigators, which I do also enjoy very much!  But I think there’s got to be room for both Vic Warshawski and for Catherine Monsigny in crime novels.  And we the readers are all the richer for it.

 

For more information on The Paris Lawyer and options for buying this or other crime fiction from France, please go to Le French Book’s Amazon page. For further reviews of the book, see Margot Kinberg , Ms. Wordopolis or Karen .

Words Not My Own

I’m struggling a little to find my words right now.  6 months of corporate speak, constant travelling and consummate professionalism have taken their toll.  Writing and I have never been further apart – or so it seems.

But the good news is that the holidays have started now.  I’m taking all of July and August off.  July will be dedicated to the family, but August is mine, to read, review, blog, read your blogs and … finally nail that novel.  If only the words start flowing again.

Here are some quotes from women poets and writers which currently guide and inspire me:

The joy of writing.

The power of preserving.

Revenge of a mortal hand.  (Wisława Szymborska)

I’m not mad. It just seems that way
because I stagger and get a bit irritable.
There are wonderful holes in my brain
through which ideas from outside can travel
at top speed and through which voices,
sometimes whole people, speak to me
about the universe.  (Jo Shapcott)

For it would seem …  that we write, not with the fingers, but with the whole person. (Virginia Woolf)

Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.  (Adrienne Rich)

 

Carol Shields: Inspirational Quotes

Photography: Christopher Morris, 2001

Photography: Christopher Morris, 2001

I came across an old copy of the Canadian literary journal ‘A Room of One’s Own’ (dedicated to women’s literature) and found a moving tribute to Carol Shields written by her long-time friend and fellow writer Eleanor Wachtel.  Here are some excerpts that I found particularly inspiring.

About women’s literature

I’ve never for a minute doubted the value of women’s experience.  Whenever my books met with critical scorn because of their subject matter, I just shrugged. Other critical comments I listened to, but not that one.

About reading

Reading novels is not an escape; it’s a necessary enlargement of my life.

About living fully

…we have to use the time we’ve got to blurt bravely and get some words on paper and have lots of conversations with lots of people… Being interested.

About growing and developing

I never believed that people were formed at age seven and we’d never escape that inheritance.  I think people are always changing… and what changes them is access to language and their ability to expand their expression of themselves through language.

I think I would have liked to know her as a person. Luckily, we still have her books.

The Marseille Trilogy: Jean-Claude Izzo

Marseille

Marseille (Photo credit: -eko-)

This is the year to discover Marseille. Named European Capital of Culture for 2013, the second-largest city of France will host numerous events, open new public buildings, enjoy an overall face-lift.  I have never been there, although I have visited the South of France as recently as last summer.  Perhaps, like many other tourists, I was put off by its reputation as a messy, ugly industrial town with high youth unemployment and criminality.

Having just discovered Jean-Claude Izzo and his trio of books set in his home town of Marseille, you might think I would be even less inclined to visit the city.  The author describes a chaotic city, teeming with immigrants, noise, drugs and criminal gangs. Yet through it all you can feel his enduring love for the city, its colourful sights, huge variety of smells, the bustling vivacity of its music and its people.

The books are closely linked and chronological, so I would recommend reading them in order (although I didn’t do it myself):(1) ‘Total Chaos’ ; (2) ‘Chourmo’; (3) ‘Solea’.  In the first book, Fabio Montale is a typical product of his native town – the son of poor Italian immigrants, he falls in with a dodgy crowd, gets involved in rather dubious activities as a teenager and only cleans up his act by joining the Foreign Legion and later the police.  His two best friends, however, Manu and Ugu, and the girl they all loved, Lole, never manage to escape the brutish life of the northern (forgotten) suburbs of Marseille.  When Fabio hears of their violent deaths, he sets aside conventional notions of policing to try and uncover who killed his childhood friends. Along the way he encounters other horrible crimes, damaged lives, Mafia links and a few good women who save him from himself.

Port Autonome de Marseille

Port Autonome de Marseille (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the first book still contains a fair amount of ‘setting the scene’ (and some very atmospheric descriptions of Marseille in all its gritty beauty), the second one is a more straightforward crime story and my favourite of the three.  Feeling disillusioned and betrayed, Fabio has left the police force and spends his days fishing peacefully on the coast.  He does not want to take part in any criminal investigations anymore, but when his beautiful cousin Gelou asks him to investigate the disappearance of her teenage son, Guitou, he reluctantly gets involved.  The story of Guitou and his Muslim girlfriend, a real-life Romeo and Juliet, who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, is deeply moving.  The story is far more complex, of course, and involves the Mafia once more, but also Islamic fundamentalism as well as Islamophobic policemen, several years before 9/11 brought the issue to the fore.  Marseille was always a melting pot and therefore simmering with racial tensions which the rest of the world only find out about much later.

The third book features the journalist Babette (one of Fabio’s friends who also appears in the first book), who is uncovering some insalubrious links between the Italian and the French mafia. Fabio is once again involved in protecting his friend and her investigative work, almost against his will and with terrible consequences.  The Mafia start picking off, one by one, all of the people closest and dearest to him.  This book is all about the end of an era, the end of a town (through greediness and rampant over-development, as Izzo sees it), the end of hope and of friendship.  It doesn’t get much bleaker than this, and the author never offers a happy ending, but I was captivated by the evocative language, the charm of the main protagonist, and the haunting sense of regret, of what might have been.

The Calanque of Sugiton in the 9th arrondissem...

The Calanque of Sugiton in the 9th arrondissement of Marseille (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I loved about this trilogy was that, although it makes no excuses for crime, it does show just how easy it is to fall into temptation and into a bad crowd.  It is all about trying to live at the fringes of society – bleakness alleviated at times by tasty meals, washed down by good wine and glimmers of love, real or imagined.  Fabio is unusually honest and sentimental for a cop, but he is also a flawed human being, overindulging in food and drink, prone to quick judgements, far too susceptible to feminine beauty, convinced he brings bad luck to his friends, far too eager to run off in his boat, to get away from it all and fish in the calanques.  Someone we can all relate to, then!

The short, snappy titles, by the way, are song titles – the whole series is permeated by the variety of music that Fabio listens to (Arabic, French rap, jazz, Classical), although ‘Chourmo’ also refers to the sense of brotherhood of galley slaves, all pulling together in time on their oars, helping each other out in their shared misery.  When I embarked on this series, I had no idea they had been so popular and influential, giving rise to a whole new genre, the Mediterranean noir, nor that Izzo had refused from the outset to write a sequel to them.

The Marseille trilogy has been very skillfully translated into English by Howard Curtis and published by Europa Editions in 2005-2007. Unfortunately, there will be no more new works by Izzo, as he died in 2000 at the age of just 55.  However, he has a few other free-standing novels which I intend to read. And when I do go to Marseille, both he and Fabio Montale will be there with me. As will Miles Davis.

I read this trilogy as part of my Global Reading Challenge 2013, hosted by the very widely-read and knowledgeable Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise.  This counts as the first of my European books (discovering a new location or writer).

The Creativity of Molière

Inscription on backside: peint par Pierre Mign...

Inscription on backside: peint par Pierre Mignard en 1671 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am always a little wary of statements beginning ‘we writers’, as I feel it is wrong to believe that my sentiments and bad habits are universal.  So let me revise that to: ‘this particular writer is sometimes plagued by self-indulgent behaviour, laziness and self-pity’. When I am in the mood to whinge about how busy I am and how I have no time to write, I remind myself of the amazing creativity in the face of adversity of French playwright Molière.  Then I shut up about my own minor niggles…

 

What is so amazing about Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known by his stage name Molière? He was born in 1622 in a rather wealthy bourgeois family and was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps in a career in public service. Instead, he chose to become an actor and join a wandering troupe of players – the equivalent of running away to join the circus.  Back then, actors were considered somewhat disreputable – in fact, they were not even allowed a decent burial in church grounds. Yet Molière chose to face this public and family disapproval to follow his passion.

Here are some other things I have learnt from him:

1) Writing is hard work – you need to be disciplined and persevere. Never complain about lack of time.  Molière overcame bankruptcy, censorship, fickle court fashions, disapproval by powerful clerics, ill health, an unhappy marriage, and still wrote more than 30 plays in 14 years, whilst also holding down a full-time job as a theatre director and performer.  He also had to please his royal patron, the Sun King Louis XIV, and make himself available for the daily formal ‘waking up’ ceremonies. The King occasionally demanded a new play in less than 48 hours and the public would not offer any applause or feedback until the King himself showed his pleasure for a certain performance.

2) You may reach the height of glory and still descend to the pits of despair and end up forgotten. In other words, you’ve got to do art for art’s sake, not just for money or glory. Although the King backed  Molière for many years, and even was the godfather of the firstborn son of the playwright, his support could never be taken for granted and he withdrew it on several occasions, which meant works such as ‘Tartuffe’ or ‘Don Juan’ were banned. In the end, the King abandoned him and never attended a performance of Molière’s final play, ‘Le Malade Imaginaire’.

3) You love your art to the death.  Molière is notorious for being so dedicated to his art that it actually killed him. During a performance of ‘Le Malade Imaginaire’, he suffered a coughing fit and haemorrhage (it appears he was suffering from tuberculosis). He insisted on finishing his performance, but died a few hours later as a result of these superhuman exertions.

Molière in classical dress, by Nicolas Mignard...

Molière in classical dress, by Nicolas Mignard, 1658. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4) You play to your strengths. Personally, Molière appears to have been fonder of playing tragedy and would have liked to write tragedy as well.  However, he very quickly realised that his real talent lay with satire, mockery and comedy, and that this was what his public wanted from him.

5) You can have depth in any genre. Despite having to please a difficult courtly audience, who liked their comedy broad and farcical, Molière proved that, if you are a good enough writer, you can be funny and still layer in universal and profound questions about hypocrisy, falseness in human relationships, pretentiousness and truth.

6)  You don’t have to be perfect.  French language purists argue that there are lots of  errors, padding, grammatical inconsistencies and mixed metaphors in Molière’s work (much like the criticism made of Shakespeare). Yet French is known nowadays as the ‘language of Molière’. Corneille is the greater writer, Racine has the more profound tragic sentiment, but Molière is the most performed and the most quoted French dramatist. His plays have been continuously performed for the past 350 years and the public has always loved him, even when critics, philosophers, religious leaders etc. tried to diss him.

7) Learn from others. In the early years, Molière met with Corneille and even collaborated with him on a play.  He also encouraged Racine in his artistic endeavours, although the troupe never performed a play by the younger writer. His most famous collaboration, however, was with Jean-Baptiste Lully, the founding father of French opera and ballet.  Together they created a new genre known as the comédie-ballet, perhaps the forerunner of today’s musicals.

8) We don’t care about his private life. Yes, he was a bit of a ladies’ man. Yes, he married the illegitimate daughter of his lover. Yes, he wrote extremely well about being cuckolded, so it might have been based on personal experience. Do we care? No. His work stands on his own merit, much like Shakespeare’s, about whom we know even less.

As an interesting footnote, there are some who doubt the authenticity of Molière’s work and attribute at least some of his plays to another playwright (in this case Corneille, in Shakespeare’s case Christopher Marlowe).  It seems that readers will always need to invent complicated theories to fill in the gaps.  So perhaps I should rephrase again from the ‘we’ to the ‘me’.  Do I care about Molière’s private life and his failings as a human being? No. He still has so much to teach me.

 

 

 

When I Won the Booker Prize

OK, I admit: ever so slightly misleading title, but I couldn’t resist the pun!  No, it’s not the Booker Prize I am talking about, but a blogging award that the criminally wonderful Pat Wood kindly bequeathed to me. Please visit Pat’s funny blog – you will find something there to love, of that I’m sure!

So this Booker is for those who refuse to live in the real world. Says it all, really.  But alas, these past few months I’ve had to live for far too long in the real world.

The guidelines are simple, if reductionist: I have to pick my five favourite books of all time and then say what I am currently reading.  I always struggle with picking ‘favourites’ – it’s like having to say which of my children I love most.  But here’s an attempt:

1) The Great Gatsby (and I wax on about it at length here)

2) Jane Austen’s Persuasion – it even managed to convert Savidge Reads

3) Shakespeare: ‘The Tempest’ – does that count?  Well, if it doesn’t, I would publish it in a separate volume with ‘Twelfth Night’, ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘Macbeth’, entitling it ‘Must Read Shakespeare’.  But ‘The Tempest’ is my favourite.

4) Mishima Yukio: The Temple of the Golden Pavilion – what not to do when beauty and perfection eludes you

5) I.L. Caragiale: Plays and Sketches – virtually unknown outside Romania, he is one of the funniest and freshest voices of the 19th century

What am I reading now?  Well, just in case you thought the above choices were a bit too ambitious, you will be relieved to hear that the book I am going to share my bedtime with is… another installment from Lemony Snicket‘s brilliant Series of Unfortunate Events.  I first discovered the series a few years ago when I was selecting a present for a young niece.  The niece has moved on to other literature since, but I still treat myself to these tongue-in-cheek adventure stories.  I am hoping that my children will share my affection for them too (although so far their response to Famous Five and Secret Seven has been somewhat disappointing, to say the least).

But enough nattering!  Who are my nominees for this worthy (and clearly wordy) award?

The all-singing, all-writing wonder Nicky Wells from Romance that Rocks Your World!

Sensitive writer and translator Michelle Bailat Jones

Translator, poet, philosopher of the everyday, the wonderful Quirina at The Mind’s Sky

Natalia Sylvester, for being so sweetly herself !

And, just in case you think I am neglecting men, I also invite Sisyphus47 to join in

The truth is, of course, I am just really nosey, curious to see what they choose as their favourite books!

 

 

Newly Discovered…

This is the joy of reading: that there is such a vast world out there waiting to be discovered… And you find new authors, new books, new genres, new countries to fall in love with.

This is the anguish of reading: that there is such a vast world out there, which you can never hope to explore in its entirety.

It feels at times like the explorers of two-three centuries ago faced with a rather blank map of Africa.  Where to go first?  What part of this vast continent was truly deserving of your time and attention?  Since you could never hope to cover it all.

For the time being, I continue to be somewhat haphazard in my meanderings.  I have not completely ruled out any genre, nor any country or time period.  But I do try to stick to what is easily accessible at present, hence my discovery of contemporary French literature (I had read mainly the classics, and mostly for schoolwork before).

So here are some of my new favourite things:

1) Veronique Olmi: Beside the Sea

Completely shattered after reading this – and yet I could not set it aside. Not the easiest of reads, especially if you are a mother yourself, but it exerted a powerful fascination. A language at once simple, unadorned, conversational and yet poetic. The back story is merely hinted at, never overtly stated. You are never in any doubt about the outcome, but what is remarkable is how the book shows just how fragile the barriers between ‘normal’ and ‘depressed’, between ‘normal’ and ‘dysfunctional’ families are. There are no easy distinctions and that very dangerous slippery slope is there for any one of us…

2) Pascal Garnier: The Panda Theory

This very dark, yet also quite funny and odd little book is the story of Gabriel, who shows up unexpectedly in a completely nondescript Breton town on a Sunday in October.  He seems taciturn yet amiable, maybe a little odd, and he gradually insinuates himself into the lives of disparate members of the local community.  He is an excellent listener and he offers to cook for people, with no ulterior motive whatsoever as far as they can tell.  While cooking a shoulder of lamb for the Portuguese bar-owner, José, he listens to the latter’s anxieties about his wife, sick in hospital. He gently turns down the flattering attentions of the pretty hotel receptionist, even as he cooks calves’ livers for her. He buys a saxophone off a couple desperate for money, although he does not play the instrument, and becomes involved in their sordid lives as well.  He wins a giant cuddly Panda at the funfair and gives it to José for his children.

Yet all is not as it seems.  Occasional flashbacks suggest a more troubled past life for Gabriel, who seems less and less cuddly as the story unfolds.

This is also the story of a small group of outsiders, people drifting at the periphery of society. These loners and no-hopers have somehow found each other and created an artificial family, clinging to each other and to some last shred of humanity.  Gabriel brings this group together, watches them reach their peak of happiness and knows from experience that life for them can only be a disappointment hereafter.

If I say that this is a novel about ‘existential angst’, it will probably put off any would-be reader.  Yet this world-weariness and anxiety are conveyed beautifully through an intriguing storyline, limpid prose and a dialogue of searing sincerity.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

3) And four new crime fiction series that I look forward to reading in more depth. You know me and my love for exotic locations!  Alison Bruce’s DC Gary Goodhew series (set in Cambridge, UK), Adrian Magson’s Inspector Lucas Rocco (set in France) , Jeffrey Siger’s Inspector Kaldis (Greece) and Leighton Gage’s Chief Inspector Mario Silva (Brazil).

What have you recently discovered that made you want to get up and do a jig?  What do you want to share with everybody (or – hush! so good you want to keep it all to yourself)?

 

All that Fuss about David Foster Wallace

A few months ago, when I started getting serious about writing (again), someone pointed me in the direction of a website called ‘I Write Like’. Clever little robots analyse a sample of your writing (in English) and tell you which writer (living or dead) you most resemble. Imagine my surprise when it came up with ‘David Foster Wallace’ after I cut and pasted a chapter of my WIP.  Surprising, because: 1) my novel is crime fiction, and 2) I had never heard of this author.  (Yes, my grasp of contemporary American fiction is a little shaky.)  So I ignored this first result and submitted another text.

Same result.

By now, I was getting convinced that this was the default setting of the website, no matter what your input was.  So I tried a poem.  And got Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  What does one of the world’s funniest books have in common with my rather moody and depressing poetry?  Anybody’s guess!

So, although I was unconvinced by the analytical tool, this website did make me curious about David Foster Wallace.  I started reading up on him.  And boy, was there a lot of stuff written about him!  Most recently, a biography by D.T. Max entitled Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story.  This, in turn, led to an outburst by Bret Easton Ellis on Twitter, culminating in him calling David Foster Wallace ‘the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation’.

Well, with an intro to like that, I just had to read the man himself!  Wouldn’t you?  (I am cheating a little bit with the timeline here: in fact, I had bought ‘Infinite Jest’ just before the summer holidays and intended to polish it off during my inactive, very long-seeming days on that nondescript beach in Greece that my husband’s family calls home.) I am about halfway through this doorstopper of a book: page 508 of its 1079 pages (including endnotes). And I can tell you two things for sure:

1) This book is not made for beach reading (although it is good for dipping in and out of).

2) I do not write like him at all.

Or at least I hope I don’t. Not that I disliked his style.  I was, by turns, amused, fascinated, bemused, indifferent, enthusiastic, critical, passionate and infuriated.  It is not an easy read and you have to be in the mood for it – which is difficult to sustain over that many pages.  It is a book breathtaking in its ambition: to capture all of contemporary American society, which is why it’s probably best read in several sittings, across many months.  Although individual passages glowed with insight and humour, although there was beautiful writing which made me want to reread and quote, I did find the cumulative effect rather wearisome.  There, I said it!  Does that mean I am siding with Bret Easton Ellis?

No, not really, because I don’t understand why he is attacking David Foster Wallace himself for the halo of sentimentality and mantle of sainthood that his readers and followers have bestowed on him. It’s like accusing Van Gogh of commercialisation because his ‘Sunflowers’ sell so well, or Shakespeare of insisting that people use his newfangled word inventions.

I may have no wish to write like David Foster Wallace myself, but I can still enjoy reading him (in small gulps).  If we only liked reading people like ourselves, the world would be a very bland place. I find some of the imitators of David Foster Wallace tiresome and pretentious.  I find all imitators tiresome, unless it’s a clever sequel or deliberate satire. And I dislike literary pretentiousness, so well satirised in the character of Monica in Woody Allen’s ‘To Rome with Love’. I am sure more have praised ‘Infinite Jest’ and its author than have actually read it or him.  Isn’t that what happens with other famous works such as Ulysses, Remembrance of Things Past and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman?

Which, by the way, all three happen to be heartbreaking works of staggering genius.  Not easy, but stick with them!

* Gorgeous new graphic design for Tristram Shandy at Fast Company: http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663094/wanted-tristram-shandy-gets-a-stunning-graphic-makeover

 

As we turn to writing again…

Let’s face it, for many of us the summer did not involve quite as much writing as we had planned, because of childcare responsibilities.  Frustrating though it may have felt at times, I do know in my heart of hearts that downtime does have its uses!  I can see it in the way the children relate to me now, and I swear I can feel new paths forming between my neurons.

But now it’s autumn, it’s the start of the schoolyear, it’s Vive la Rentrée, as the French call it.  A season when I always feel new energy and new resolutions coming along…

So here are some of my favourite inspirational writing thoughts to get you in the mood:

1) Geoff Dyer (author of the wonderfully if tongue-twistedly entitled ‘Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi’):  ‘Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about ­perseverance.’

2) Neil Gaiman: ‘The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.’

3) AL Kennedy: ‘Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.  Remember writing doesn’t love you. It doesn’t care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on.’

4) Hilary Mantel: ‘You can’t give your soul to literature if you’re thinking about income tax.’  N.B. So that’s why it isn’t working for me at the moment…!

5) Joyce Carol Oates: ‘Keep a light, hopeful heart. But ­expect the worst.’

6) Helen Simpson: ‘The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying “Faire et se taire” (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as “Shut up and get on with it.”‘

7) Jeanette Winterson: ‘Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.’

8) Franz Kafka: ‘ You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice…’

9) Simone de Beauvoir: ‘Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.’

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