findingtimetowrite

Thinking, writing, thinking about writing…

Bring the Outside Inside Houses

Another mainly visual post for the weekend. Now that Spring has sprung (or is doing its best to spring here in the Northern hemisphere), we are eager to bring the beautiful outside indoors. Or I would be, if we didn’t have a building site just opposite our garden. So instead, I dream about places such as these…

Domaine de la Dombes, Ain, France

Domaine de la Dombes, Ain, France

Simple, escapist…

From the Ask Kissy website.

From the Ask Kissy website.

Over the top…

Mountain cabin, Decoist.

Mountain cabin, Decoist.

Inspiring…

Dreamy…

Deceptively simple…

I think a trip to the garden centre might be in order.

New Poetic Forms: The Hum-Along

We’re having a DIY moment over at the dVerse Poets Pub. Gay Reiser Cannon has us creating our own poetic form, which is quite an ask for someone like me who mostly shuns rhyme and meter. So I have cheated a little bit… but other contributors haven’t, so their work is certainly worth checking out.

But it’s a Friday, it’s been a tough week, so, ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to The Humble Hum-Along! This is something I do quite regularly, usually because I don’t know all the words of a song. I make up my own words to fit the tune and the beat (especially of the chorus), a bit like scat singing in jazz, but with words that make some sense. Hang on a second, maybe that’s not all that original – some people call that song-writing…!

Anyway, here’s the song I keep hearing on the radio and whose rhythm has influence my poetry today:

 

Rustle after Rain – Hum-along

Birds wake shy

getting stronger all the while

persistent chirrup stands out

but the girls ignore him…

Go out in strong air

turn your pages in deep peace

pause between the bursts of song

don’t compare to others

don’t compare to others…

 

 

 

Rich Conversations in Lyon – Quais du Polar Part 3

In this, my final (and longest) instalment in Lyon Quais du Polar series of posts, I will finally share with you some of the witty or memorable conversations I heard during the panel debates (and while waiting in the queues).

Q15Panel 1: Freedom of movement, integration and new borders in crime fiction: Liad Shoham, Emmanuel Grand, Stuart Neville and Lauren Beukes

For all of these readers, the theme of frontiers/borders was not just random or a secondary consideration, but a deliberate choice. Whether we are talking the permeable borders within Europe and how that gives free rein to criminal gangs to ply their trade (Neville and Grand), the paradox of a country like Israel, built by immigrants, trying to deal with the new exodus from Eritrea (Shoham) or the blurring of divisions between the real world and social media (in Lauren Beukes’ dystopian novels set in the near-future), it seems that writers feel the urge to write about things that make them angry. The curtailing of liberties thanks to myths that our governments tell us (like the war on terror), the over-simplification of social problems (immigrants are the ones to blame) and creation of a new kind of slavery are all controversial themes which these authors felt compelled to present through personal stories. A novel cannot offer solutions to these issues, but it can highlight them through memorable characters and their realities.

P1020221Session 2: Recording for radio/ Interview with George Pelecanos

Talking about his latest creation, part-time investigator and Iraqui war veteran Spero Lucas: ‘I’ve gone on record as saying that the Iraqi war was not just and not necessary, but I wanted to let my characters speak for themselves. Spero is much ambiguous, reflecting what I heard from many vets: we were there to kill enemies and protect our brother and sister soldiers, not to liberate the Iraqi people or spread democracy. All that veterans want after the war is to return to normalcy, to the life they had before, rather than applause, medals and gratitude of the people.’

About Washington DC: ‘I never wanted to write about the government or federal city, I always wanted to talk about the real Washingtonians who have been there for generations. The city has changed so  much in the last ten years: the black Southern city has been lost, and the whole of it will turn into Georgetown soon. I try not to be nostalgic. There’s nothing worse than middle-aged white nostalgia, and it is true that crime rates have gone down and there are more jobs than before. But the spirit of the place has changed, it’s become sanitised.’

About writing: ‘People tell you life is short, but it’s not. It’s long. When I was Spero Lucas’ age (29-30), I was working in restaurant kitchens. I just wanted to write a book to prove I could do it. But make no mistake: writing is a job, writers need to work all the time. It’s not something you do cos you’re lazy. If you’re lazy, you won’t make it as a writer. What does the future hold for me? Still ten years or so of script-writing, I hope, and then more books till I die. There’s only one thing that scares me more than death, and that’s retirement.’

Anne Landois

Anne Landois

Panel 3: Are scriptwriters the new novelists? (George Pelecanos – The Wire, Treme; Anne Landois – Engrenages or Spiral)

Both scriptwriters agreed that the new passion for quality TV series has put the writer back at the centre of things, even though the writing is much more collaborative. Fascinating contrasts emerged between French and American styles of approaching TV series, despite the fact that Anne admitted she was hugely indebted to The Wire for her approach to Spiral. ‘Time is money’ in the US means that there is not much time for writing up-front, and a lot of changes are made on the go. There is no time to be strategic and there was no awareness that they were writing a series which would get so much acclaim. There was no big picture, they were just working inch by inch, and if they were told to write another ‘Wire’ now, it wouldn’t be possible. French TV traditionally goes for longer 90 minute episodes, so Spiral was breaking new ground with shorter episode format, but they show two episodes at once per week, so that requires much more advance writing. Writers typically spend about 2 years planning the scripts before the director comes in (which is a huge innovation in itself, as most French cinema and TV is still very much director-led). Also, Spiral was commissioned by a private channel Canal +: since viewers are paying for it, they also have high expectations for quality of its programming.

Paul Colize & Marcus Malte

Paul Colize & Marcus Malte

Panel 4: Dancing Machine: Music and Crime Fiction

What music do they listen to when writing? Cathi Unsworth – Barry Adamson , Ace Atkins – blues, country and jazz, George Pelecanos – film soundtracks (instrumental, so words don’t clash with his own), Marcus Malte – traditional jazz, Paul Colize – huge rock fan but needs silence to create. However, they all agreed that music is important not just because they mention it frequently in their books, but in the way they use rhythms and sounds, even in the structure of the books themselves. Each novel has a specific tone, a certain aesthetic which fits well with a certain type of music, but we respond to music instinctively, even without understanding the meaning. How can we convey that emotion with words in novels?

Session 5: James Ellroy (with his French editor and translator)

Ellroy is a showman and he did not disappoint, with his tongue-in-cheek style and provocative statements. Yet he knows how to be a charmer: he said he was very grateful to the French people for raising him to icon status. Although he is a bestseller in many countries, his book sales are highest in France, perhaps because the French invented the term ‘noir’. Yet he is still obsessed with the crazy conjunction of men and women in LA and in the US, he is still full of respect andlove for the American idiom, he loves listening to the crazy shit of his fellow countrymen/women. He cannot write about anywhere else. He is currently working on his second tetralogy set in LA (to complement the LA Quartet and Underworld USA trilogy), using many of the same characters, but set earlier, during the attack on Pearl Harbour and the Second World War. How does he explain his productivity? Go to bed early, wake up early, lots of coffee, two bouts of work and two of sleeping per day, but also his Calvinistic work ethic. Oh, and ‘my mother always said I was born for the pulpit – and my pulpit is writing.’

By the Water-Cooler

Despite my mobile-phone-less state in Lyon, I was miraculously and luckily found by my friend Catherine from Le Blog du Polar du Velda. One of the most informed and widely read crime fiction bloggers in France, she has interviewed Ian Rankin, PD James, Denise Mina, William Ryan, as well as the best up-and-coming French authors.

The Four Musketeers of Crime Reading

The Four Musketeers of Crime Reading

Through her, I had the pleasure of meeting Mireille from Polardeuse , who is equally fluent in English and can broaden your knowledge of French crime fiction. When I asked them about the ‘next big thing’, a secret recommendation that they might have, they both suggested Petite Louve by Marie Van Moere – a debut novel about rape, violence and vengeance in Corsica.

Last but not least, the two ladies above also introduced me to Anne, who had come all the way from the UK to attend the festival. In some ways, she is the most admirable of all of us, for she doesn’t blog or write fiction herself. She has no ‘professional’ interest in crime fiction, but attends purely out of love for books and the craft of writing, or, as Virginia Woolf would put it, she is ‘The Common Reader’ (which is not that common at all…).

One final impression: Although I have heard some literary agents and publishers talk with some disdain about ‘uninformed and unprofessional’ reviews by book bloggers, all the authors I met were unfailingly polite and friendly with us. I think they are already a step ahead in their awareness of the buzz that can be generated via word of mouth and social media. And that perhaps people who are not part of the system can be more honest in their opinions, and are therefore sometimes more trusted by other readers.

 

 

 

Writers I’ve Discovered – Quais du Polar Part 2

One of the best aspects of literary festivals is that you get the chance to see and hear new authors you might otherwise never have discovered. Their personality (and in some cases, let’s admit it, their looks, yes, I’m thinking of Camilla Läckberg or Jo Nesbø) wins you over and entices you to try out their books. Combine it with the opportunity to buy their books on the spot in paperback (rather than the expensive hardback you often get at British literary festivals) and spend quite a bit of time chatting with them at the signing (and having your picture taken)… you have the recipe for a perfect day. Here are some of the new (to me) authors I have encountered this year.

A delightful Liad Shoham poses.

A delightful Liad Shoham poses.

For a long time we were told that crime fiction is not a viable genre in Israel: there are too many current tensions and conflicts in that area for people to want to read about them in their fiction as well. Initially, the only way to publish crime fiction was under an ‘American-sounding’ name, featuring cops and robbers very far removed from the readers’ own reality. In the last two decades, however, it has gone mainstream in Israeli culture and has given a voice to subgroups that often go unheard. That is just what Liad Shoham, a hugely popular crime writer and self-confessed legal geek, has set out to do: in his latest novel he discusses African immigrants from Eritrea and Northern Sudan, a hidden side of Tel Aviv that most of its inhabitants are completely unaware of.  He  is beginning to be translated into English. For a funny anecdote about the inspiration behind one of his recent novels, see this personal essay here.

Emmanuel Grand’s debut novel is about Ukrainian and Romanian immigrant communities in France: a life on the edge, people smuggling and other nefarious practices. Can this be handled sensitively, without descending into clichés and sensationalism? A topic I am particularly sensitive to, having suffered prejudice about my origins virtually all my life. We’ll have to wait and see.

Jeremie Guez, on his 4th novel at just 26.

Jeremie Guez, on his 4th novel at just 26.

Jérémie Guez is another author who deserves to be translated into English. The dark portrayal of the desperate youths of the Parisian banlieue in his first three novels have now given way to the post-war history of Indochina in his latest novel ‘Le dernier tigre rouge’. For a French review of this latest novel, see here.

Ace Atkins may be a bestselling author in his native United States, but I’ll be honest: I’d never heard of him before seeing him on the music panel. Living as he does in the Southern United States (Mississippi), professing a love for blues, jazz and gospel (the perfect backdrop for crime fiction and noir) and talking so wisely about the rhythm and music of language in a novel, I just have to find out more about him and read his work. He also talked about how listening to classical jazz for the Boston PI series he is writing for the Robert B. Parker estate helps him to access a different part of his brain and has led to a very different writing style.

Ace Atkins (centre) and Paul Colize (right) prepare to be interviewed by Vincent Raymond.

Ace Atkins (centre) and Paul Colize (right) prepare to be interviewed by Vincent Raymond.

Paul Colize is a prize-winning Belgian crime fiction writer, part of a new Belgian wave which is conquering the French-speaking world at least (together with Barbara Abel and Nadine Monfils). I’ve long thought that some of the best so-called French things come out of Belgium (Tintin, Spirou, Goscinny of Asterix fame, Jacques Brel and Stromae, for example), and when I heard Colize was also a pianist and that he wanted to be a Beatle at the age of 9, I just had to find out more. His novel Back Up is a romp through the musical world of the 1960s as well as a thrilling crime story. For an interview (in French) about his latest novel ‘Un long moment de silence’, see here.

 

Quais du Polar Crime Festival Lyon – Part 1

Palais du Commerce, main building for events.

Palais du Commerce, main building for events.

A great weekend in sunny Lyon, stuffed to the gills with great food, beautiful sights and above all… crime fiction!

This was the 10th edition of the annual Quais du Polar crime festival, one of France’s biggest crime fiction events, and there were many special events to mark the occasion. Although I forgot my mobile at home and was therefore unable to tweet about the event while I was in the midst of it, here are some of my lasting impressions.

One of the quieter moments in the Great Hall...

One of the quieter moments in the Great Hall…

1) French bookshops and publishers do remarkably well out of this event. The queues at the book signings were very long, while many popular authors or books sold out well before the end of the event (Bernard Minier’s latest novel, for instance).

2) Most crime writers are a friendly bunch, always willing to chat and share a joke with their readers, even if that means that the queue moves rather slowly. The English speaking writers also proved very understanding when I told them that I wouldn’t buy their book in French, since I prefer to read them in English.

The queue to see James Ellroy.

The queue to see James Ellroy.

3) James Ellroy is a consummate showman and held an opera house full of people captive with his sardonic wit and straight talking. Also, he sells 2 1/2 times as many books in France as he does in the US (France’s population is roughly 65 million, that of US 313 million), despite the challenges of translating such an idiosyncratic writer.

4) Most writers agreed that it is most gratifying to be translated into other languages and that each country has a very different approach to publishing, marketing, reading and even interviewing. In France, for instance, journalists and the reading public are much more interested in a novel’s politics or philosophy. In fact, some of the panels had worthy, but rather depressing topics. Still, most of the writers managed to inject a bit of humour into the proceedings.

5) Everything is within walking distance, so it’s a great opportunity to literally bump into celebrities as well as up-and-coming writers. Here are some of the secrets I managed to prise out of them:

Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes is the pretty one on the left.

Lauren Beukes is the pretty one on the left.

Genre is such a misleading and meaningless term. We should be allowed to be promiscuous – read everything and write everything, without worrying about genre. We should be able to have one night stands and long-time love affairs, flirts and serious relationships with books, series, authors and genres.

Cathi Unsworth

‘I have to admit I’m not very au fait with current music. My cut off point is Kurt Cobain’s cut-off point.’ However, she does recommend London-based band The Cesarians. ‘Each of their songs is a little noir masterpiece. I never thought I would feel that passionate about a band as I did in my teens, but I do with them.’

Dominique Sylvain

Dominique Sylvain

Dominique Sylvain

I’ve not abandoned my detecting duo Ingrid and Lola, or my private eye Louise Morvan, but I am currently writing working on a new character, potentially the start of a new series. I wanted to try something fresh, but am struggling with it at the moment. I’ll find a way to make it work, though!

George Pelecanos

For the benefit of my Greek husband, who wanted to know if George speaks Greek, despite having lived in the US all his life: ‘I do speak it. We spoke it at home and I had to go to Greek school, which I really hated as a child. I’m glad of it now though. So when I was asked to join The Wire as a writer to consult on some Greek characters, I did now my stuff. However, when it got a bit more detailed or complicated, I would phone and ask my mother.’

A relaxed Bernard Minier, his latest book all sold out.

A relaxed Bernard Minier, his latest book all sold out. Oh, and that is Camilla Lackberg just behind, signing.

Bernard Minier

I’ve sold the translation rights into English for my second novel, the follow-up to ‘Frozen’, so it should be available soon. And in the meantime, ‘Frozen’ is coming out in the US this summer. My third novel features the same investigators and is also set in the Pyrenees. I grew up in that area and cannot resist its sombre, claustrophobic atmosphere.

I will write more tomorrow about the panels I attended and the new writers I discovered. But for now, let me end with a picture of my treasure horde from Lyon: books, posters and Black Dahlia brooches to add to my memories…

My not-so-secret stash.

My not-so-secret stash.

 

 

 

Emotion in Poetry: Misaligned

Mandarin.duck.arpYour ducks poised for flight         forever

askew, misaligned,

I linger to add my knowledge

whether you want it or miss

the days of silent entertainment.  Mirth

drops like bounty from that dog-eared sky

where geese meet your ducks, summer meets winter.

And I, alone, my ducks in a row…

One just off,

so easy to shoot at

just mock.

just mock.

Claudia has us playing with our emotions over at dVerse Poets Pub: don’t show, don’t tell, just hint. I’ve been trying to remember all the delicate allusive texts of Japanese literature. Mandarin ducks are regarded as the ideal couple in Japanese poetic and theatrical tradition. Tachibana Akemi, one of the greatest poets of the late Edo period, summed it up beautifully below, but it all changes when geese come into the picture. Or more ducks.

My sweetheart and I,
Sleepy face side by side,
Look out at the pond
Covered with snow and watch
The mandarin ducks floating.

 

An Even Better Cat Poem (By My Sons)

My sons were not impressed with the poem I wrote about our cat for dVerse Poets Pub. They suggested (insisted) I should post their ‘Song for Zoe’ instead. They’ve composed it themselves, written the lyrics and regularly perform it as a lullaby for our bemused cat. So here goes: the much better cat poem which perfectly captures her quintessential nature (and it rhymes!).

Zoe can be fierce and Zoe can be scary,

Zoe can be cute and Zoe is so hairy.

Zoe can be fussy and Zoe can be strong.

Zoe can be greedy and this is Zoe’s song.

My First Pub Night and Animal Poem

I am very honoured and pleased to be hosting my first session behind the bar at the dVerse Poets Pub today. Feel free to join me there for an animal-themed poetry session (and link your own animal poetry if you feel inspired).

ZozoBlankieThere are two reasons for this animal theme: first, it is Poisson d’Avril (the fish which the French use to trick you on April Fools’ Day). Secondly and more selfishly, I cannot get enough of singing the praises of my lovely recently-adopted cat. Today is her (approximate) birthday: we think she is roughly two years old. It has been my lifelong desire to have a cat, always thwarted by parents, landlords, spouses, travel and international moves. But my patience has been rewarded with the sweetest, most affectionate cat in the world. Even though she does bring in an occasional lizard or bird…

 

At night a cat purrs me to oblivion

with rhythmic chant she kneads my mind

wet nose nestled in my blanket

she slows my needs and wants right down

mistress of silent companionship

she asks nothing, no rush to judge or refute

listens with pupils like pools of ancient knowledge.

 

I live scarcely aware of the encroachment of loneliness

until the tinkle of her arrival signals comfort

that small paw of trust

nuzzling the crook of my arm

her hunting instincts quelled for the moment

bloodthirst slaked in the wish to be loved.

Things That Made Me Happy in March

Holidays!

Yes, I know I complained they were a bit too long and that the children drove me crazy, but we did finally go skiing every day. Always better in retrospect than when you are living through it!

March1 March2

A Cat

A very well-behaved, affectionate and quiet friend.

With her friend Hedgehog.

With her friend Hedgehog.

The first signs of Spring in my garden

March4 March5

Reading

More varied and fun reading this month, although, surprisingly, not as many translations.

3 non-fiction books:

Ben Hatch: Road to Rouen

A hilarious travel journal from hell, France in a car with two small children in tow: a great fun read, perhaps just a little unfair to the French, but also hugely revealing about the English abroad.

Rachel Cusk: Aftermath. On Marriage and Separation.

Brigid Schulte:  Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time

Although this book does feel culturally specific (US working culture and time-poverty mindset is perhaps the most extreme example in the world), there was much here I could relate to: the confetti of minuscule leisure time slots, the mind pollution of endless to-do-lists that do not allow us to get into the flow, the ideal worker vs. the ideal mother, competitive parenting, gender division of labour. The author backs up her thesis with both research findings and personal anecdotes. This book deserves a review of its own, especially given that it is the ‘theme’ (if there is one) of my blog: not  finding time to write.

2 foreign books:

Fuminori Nakamura: The Thief

Another book that deserves its own review. I found it moving, nuanced, slightly disturbing and surprisingly lyrical, given the subject matter.

Daniel Bardet: Le Boche (first 5 volumes of BD – graphic novel)

Fascinating insight into war-time France, from the perspective of an Alsatian man, hounded everywhere because he is neither German nor French enough.

1 poetry collection:

Michael Symmons Roberts: Drysalter

1 literary novel:

Claire King: The Night Rainbow – beautifully lyrical recreation of a French countryside childhood – with deep shadows.

6 crime fiction novels (all in English in the original – how very unusual!)

Cara Black: Murder in Pigalle

Sarah Caudwell: Thus Was Adonis Murdered

I was looking for a change of pace this month and I got it with this novel: charmingly old-fashioned, with most of the action taking place ‘off-stage’ and being disclosed to Hilary Tamar and his/her team of barristers via letters. It’s a nice set puzzle, and there is plenty of witty dialogue and banter to liven things up, but I can see how this book might be accused of elitism, it does feel like an extended Oxbridge joke.

Liam McIlvanney: Where the Dead Men Go

Sarah Hilary: Someone Else’s Skin

Harry Bingham: Talking to the Dead

WolfMo Hayder: Wolf

I started this latest Mo Hayder on Saturday, not really expecting it to make it into this month’s reading. But I had to finish it overnight, it was so compelling (after a rather slow start, admittedly). A family being held hostage in their holiday home, a psychopathic killer who may or may not have been released from prison and Jack Caffery trying to figure out what a tiny message on a lost dog could possibly mean. Hayder’s trademark creepiness and nearly unbearable suspense, very chilling, completely mesmerising. Not for the faint of heart!

 

 

 

 

Reading Nooks for the Weekend

This weekend will be a busy housekeeping/family affairs one. But I can always dream, can’t I, of escaping to reading nooks like the ones below…

From Buzzfeed

From Buzzfeed

Alittleshelfofheaven.blogspot.fr

Alittleshelfofheaven.blogspot.fr

From houzz.com

From houzz.com

Freshome.com

Freshome.com

But the best escape would be this hammock at the San Giorgio Hotel in Mykonos…

sangiorgio-mykonos.com

sangiorgio-mykonos.com

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