findingtimetowrite

Thinking, writing, thinking about writing…

Memories or Possessions?

20140707_214456Yesterday my family and I went to Montreux to try and get last-minute tickets for Pharrell Williams. I’m a big jazz fan and I’ve always dreamt of going to the Montreux Jazz Festival (although it is debatable just how much Pharell Williams is a jazz musician). However, my children are obsessed with his ‘Happy’ song and we sing it beautifully with 3 voices in the car (I do the back-up vocals, in case you are wondering about my singing capabilities).

With the benefit of hindsight, it was perhaps not the best moment to embark upon such an adventure:

  • 9 and 11 are a bit young to really appreciate a concert with standing room only
  • the concert was late, started even later, my husband had to wake up very early this morning to catch a plane and we had to wake up early for swimming lessons
  • there was a real risk of not getting any tickets; as it is, we got the last four available after queuing for nearly 2 hours
  • the tickets were very expensive
  • we were also planning to soak up the atmosphere at the jazz festival (which has many free events outside), but it was raining on and off all day, which rather spoilt our plans
  • we nearly fainted with heat and exhaustion while waiting for the main act and my kids did not appreciate the opening act (I did though: the perfectly decent rockabilly-grungy Bosco Delrey, albeit with instruments not perfectly tuned to the size of the auditorium, i.e. it was all TOO LOUD)

20140707_214023Yet in the end, we forgot all our tiredness and moaning when the electric Pharrell Williams came on-stage with his fantastic crew and perfectly coordinated light-and-sound spectacular show. [My pictures do not do the show justice at all.] We were so close we could almost touch Pharrell and we boogied along to every song. I lifted up my older son and he waved and made eye-contact with Pharrell – so proud and overjoyed. But it was hard, hot work for their first concert experience and I’m not sure if they felt it was completely worth it.

This sparked a bit of a row between my husband and myself, as we have two very different views of what makes a childhood memorable. Neither of our families had much money when we were growing up, so we were never spoilt, but the priorities were very different for each of us. My husband’s parents spent all their money building a house and decorating it, to have something solid for their children to inherit. They are now the grandparents who always buy far too many presents for our kids: security and material possessions are clearly important to them. Meanwhile, my parents spent all their money on books, education and cultural activities or holidays. I don’t remember having a single present that I could really boast about during my childhood (on the other hand, they rarely turned down my request for a specific book), but my fondest memories are of museums, theatres and family excursions. Eating 13 ice-creams on my first day in Italy, sleeping on a park bench in Seville, getting on the wrong train in Poland and ending up somewhere completely unexpected… crazy things like that.

20140707_140436

In front of Freddie Mercury statue

So I’ve wanted to create memories for my own children, because I feel that’s the only thing that cannot be taken away from us in life. Unfortunately, memories can be both good and bad… and you never quite know beforehand which kind you’re going to get. I’m sure it’s much easier to buy children’s affection with an Xbox or computer games (and yes, affection can be bought – children are quite materialistic after a certain age, and I don’t think it’s just mine). But perhaps I’m being selfish, choosing those things that made me happy in childhood, rather than those things which they prefer.

An ongoing debate. And sense of guilt.

 

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Louis?

Louis-Bravos-300x300The aptly-named Louis Bravos is a Japanese to English translator, blogger and writer, living in Melbourne, Australia. After three university degrees and three years spent in rural Japan, he is now working on his first novel and also writing short stories. He is a fellow contributor to the Crime Fiction Lover website and would love to see more Asian crime books translated. You can follow Louis on Twitter but will find he sadly neglects his own blog.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

I grew up reading a lot of genre fiction – Stephen King was my favourite author as a child – but for some reason that stopped during high school. After I finished university I went to live in Japan for a while, and my range of reading material was pretty limited. I found a book store with a small English language section, and one of the books I picked up there was The Long Goodbye. In the next few months I read everything Raymond Chandler wrote (except Poodle Springs, which I still haven’t read. I don’t know if I ever will…) and from there moved on to Golden Age detective fiction, also readily available in Japan. Since then I haven’t looked back.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

I’ve been reading a lot of espionage lately.  I tend to find an author I like and read everything they’ve written. Now I’m reading through Alan Furst’s WW2 spy novels, but before that I was reading noir, or police procedurals. Previously, I’ve devoured Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series, and Andrey Kurkov’s surreal novels – almost crime fiction, in a way. Next up I think might be David Downing’s John Russell series, or Derek Raymond’s factory series of British noir novels.

What is the most memorable book you’ve read recently?

PM Newton’s Beams Falling, set in the early 90s in a Vietnamese immigrant community in Sydney’s western suburbs. It tells the story of a community torn apart by drugs and racism. I hadn’t heard of the author before, but picked this book up because of a great review I read online from the blog of an independent bookstore I really trust. And I have to say I was not disappointed.

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

Of course, if I was going to a deserted island I would pack accordingly. Thinking strategically, I’d have to take an author who has written several books, but whose works I’ve only read one or two of. I’d probably go with James Ellroy, Lawrence Block or Ed McBain, authors I’ve always been thinking I should read more.

What are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

I still haven’t read the latest Alan Furst. I’ve been putting off finishing the series, because then it will be over and I’ll have to wait for the next one to be published. I had the same problem with the Martin Beck series, although at least this time there’s a chance that more will be published.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

I enjoy a good epic – the Russian classics, or Moby Dick. I’m not sure if others share my belief that Anna Karenina is a really fun novel. I like to try anything that’s translated, and I often find myself in bookstores buying books based on their covers.

Thank you, Louis, for sharing your reading passions with us. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who nearly cried when the Martin Beck series was over, and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Anna Karenina described as ‘fun’ before.

For previous revelations of reading passions, see here. And if you would like to participate in the series, please let me know either in comments below or on Twitter.

Sunday Showcase: Bumper Crop of Books

Admittedly, this is 2 weeks’ worth of books, as some of the books I’d previously requested or ordered were all approved and/or delivered this week.

Books for review from publishers: Manotti

Dominique Manotti: Escape – political thriller about Italian Red Brigades and an escaped convict settled in Paris who writes a far-too-realistic novel

Julia Crouch: The Long Fall – a Greek holiday has repercussions twenty years later

Louise Penny: The Long Way Home – Inspector Gamache has retired to Three Pines – but of course murder is never far away

 

Books bought for my tablet:

Anna Jaquiery: The Lying Down Room – Paris in summer, a killer who targets elderly women and a detective with a passion for origami

Tarjei Vesaas: The Ice Palace – a deep childhood friendship, a disappearance and the power of memory

Stan Barstow: A Kind of Loving – Northern England in the 1960s, part of the ‘Angry Young Men’ movement

Paul Johnston: The Black Life – when I discovered Sam Alexander was actually Paul Johnston (hey, at least I guessed the author’s gender!) and that he has written a PI series set in Greece, I had to get this

Linda Grant: I Murdered My Library – because I really need to start thinking what I’m going to do with my huge book collection spread across three countries and four sites.

 

Free download:

Faith Bleasdale: Deranged Marriage – a marriage pact gone wrong – it looked fun, although perhaps not my usual reading matter P1020442

Special Intro Pack from The Stinging Fly:

This Irish literary journal specialising in new writers and new writing (not just from Ireland) has an intro pack offer of the current issue, two back issues and two of their books (which you can choose). How could I resist this?

Books from the library:

Martin Vidberg: Le journal d’un remplaçant (comic book – The Diary of a Replacement Teacher) – as a former teacher, I think this will make me laugh and cry in wry recognition. SSsmall Inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren, the aim of Showcase Sunday is to highlight our newest books or book related swag and to see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, bought in bookshops and downloaded onto eReaders each week. For more information about how this feature works and how to join in, click here. -

Weekend Fun: Magnificent Hotels and Holiday Resorts

The holidays have started, so I’m dreaming of faraway places… None of which will be my destination this summer, but heigh-ho… some day…

Dream-like resort in Ubud, Bali. http://hanginggardensubud.com/gallery/

Dream-like resort in Ubud, Bali. http://hanginggardensubud.com/gallery/

Eze, South of France. www.chateaueza.com

Eze, South of France. http://www.chateaueza.com

David Bowie's holiday home in Mustique. From Architectural Digest.

David Bowie’s holiday home in Mustique. From Architectural Digest.

Finally: it may be the wrong season, but just how atmospheric is this pool?

Hotel Villa Honegg, Switzerland. wwwvilla-honegg.ch

Hotel Villa Honegg, Switzerland. wwwvilla-honegg.ch

 

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Two very different books for a change (and a break from my usual crime or other gruelling subjects): memoirs and poetry.

Hilde Spiel was a highly versatile Austrian writer and journalist (from a highly integrated Jewish family), who fled to London in 1936 (after the assassination of her beloved university lecturer Moritz Schlick). Her diary of her trip to Vienna in 1946 as a correspondent for the British Armed Forces was originally written in English but was later edited and published in German as ‘Rückkehr nach Wien (Return to Vienna).

This is a very poignant and thoughtful report of a city changed beyond recognition by bombs and defeat… and yet unchanged in many ways (some good, some bad). [All translations my own.]

I must learn everything anew. The cold mouldy stone smell of Viennese houses… the unrelenting stare of the housekeeper… the suspicious, unfriendly smile that was there before the Nazis and will always be there.

hilde spielSpiel refrains from sentimentality. She is clear-sighted and precise in her description of everyday heroism and cowardice, of opportunism and the complicated relationship between the victorious Allies and the local population. She talks to a Count and Countess, who now live in their crumbling little palace in the Russian Sector. They tell her about the day the Russian army descended upon their property, camped in their garden with fifty horses, shattered all their crystal and raped their female servants. The author understands their feeling of helplessness, but cannot help thinking:

Nevertheless, the two of them have lived for seven years side by side with barbarians. Only… their own barbarians were smooth-tongued, able to converse politely about Goethe and Mozart, with good table manners, agreeable hosts and guests, polished, elegant and thoroughly European. Yet they did far worse things behind prison walls and camp fences than the rape of helpless women. It’s only when the barbarians take on their eastern, unvarnished and shameless form that the Count and Countess realise the degeneration of the present day.

This trip is of course also an opportunity for self-reflection. To what extent can we ever go home to that place where we have been happy in the past, when we have changed and the place too has changed in a different way? Who wins in the battle between heart and mind? How much of our true selves do we have to hide or abandon when we become immigrants and have to abide by the rules and cultural mores of our adopted country?

 

I fear that my centre of gravity is somewhere above the skies of Europe, drifting in a cloud above England, Austria, Italy, France, simultaneously attracted and repelled, never really coming down in any of these places… I will have to test again and again where my true home is.

returnViennaSpiel once said that she could never have worked without England, but she couldn’t live without Vienna. Yet, even as she enjoys a few musical performances at the temporarily re-housed Vienna Opera, she wonders:

Is there anything in this city still alive and contemporary, something I can admire unreservedly, that is not soaked up in the past like a sponge …?

Bonus tidbit of information that I discovered while reading the book is that Hilde Spiel spent the first ten years of her childhood on the street next to the one where I spent mine and had a similar near-Catholic experience in the very same little parish church (which is featured on the cover of the English language edition of her book).

For an additional book review and information on how to get hold of this fascinating book, see here.

 

 

sonnetsThe second book is a collection of 101 Sonnets published by Faber and Faber.  Poet, writer and musician Don Paterson curates this eclectic collection of one of the best-loved and most popular verse forms in the Western world, often with witty asides about each poem. For instance, about Elizabeth Daryush’s Still Life:

The best breakfast every described, though the end of the poem you want to go at it with a cricket bat. It’s hard to know exactly where the poet stand on all this, but we can perhaps sense her disapproval in the pampered insularity of the scene. I hope.

I had no idea there were so much breadth and variety of modern sonnets, from Seamus Heaney’s beautifully controlled ‘The Skylight’ to Elizabeth Bishop’s unconventional two-stress lines to Douglas Dunn’s blissful description of a summer of ‘Modern Love’. A volume to treasure and dip into, again and again. (And yes, that explains my own two recent sonnet attempts.)

NW3 – A Sonnet to a Postcode

keats_free

Keats’ house, Hampstead.

For a brief while during my student days in London I lived at a very desirable address in NW3 – on the Hampstead/Belsize Park borders. Not far from Keats’ beautiful home. Of course my accommodation was a typical student hole with shared facilities, but for a while there I felt I could soar. Here’s another sonnet – I told you I’ve been working hard on poetic form – but some rules are made to be broken…

You called it precarious and spindly, so I stopped

inviting you up dusty stairs,

my isolated bubble-nest at the top

of the world. Forget shared kitchen, bathtub hairs.

Across the hall Ariel made yoghurts live,

while Tosh wrote cleaning rota lists.

I draped white billows over furniture

mouldy, mismatched and grim. I felt the bliss

of my first double bed.  Alone.

This attic is forever summer, on the brink

of endless choice, dreams all my own.

A room of pleasing no one but myself and Keats,

the desk where I write Chapter One again,

again, ‘cos time is endless and I’m at peace…

Once in my life I had a posh abode:

an empty shell in the correct postcode.

 

Very Inspiring People to Discover

From Wikipedia.

From Wikipedia.

When I first started my blog just over two years ago, I would get terribly excited about awards. Someone was actually reading me? Someone actually thought I was worth recommending to others? I could not stop myself doing little happy dances all over the house (even the occasional major dance coreographies).

But then I realised that some of the bloggers I admired and nominated for awards were less happy about receiving them. Not that they didn’t appreciate the attention, but they already had a shelf groaning with awards, and didn’t really have time to respond.

I also discovered that I didn’t much like sharing personal things about myself, which is usually one of the requirements…

However, I am still a fan of awards, especially when:

a) they come from bloggers I hugely respect – as is the case here with Raven, a fantastic reviewer of all things crime fiction

b) they give me the opportunity to discover new blogs (yes, I know I’ll never get a chance to read all of them on a regular basis, but inspiration is great even in short, haphazard spurts!)

c) they give me the chance to spread a little love and starstruck admiration for writers, readers and reviewers even if I don’t always comment regularly on their blogs.

blogger-awardSo, thank you, Raven, for nominating me for this award!

Here are 7 things you may not know about me:

1) I have never in my life worn purple, nor ever shall.

2) I once invited my classmates over for my birthday party in April (although my birthday wasn’t until two months later) without my parents knowing anything about it. Until everyone showed up on the doorstep.

3) My first published poem appeared in the school magazine when I was 8 or 9. It was about a bridge and a stream, but all copies of this masterpiece have been destroyed.

4) I don’t usually pretend to read books I haven’t read, but I do sometimes pretend to have seen films I haven’t seen. What can I say? I don’t get out much!

5) I skipped many classes in high school to play ping-pong.

6) My favourite three countries in the world are Brazil, Norway and Canada, despite the fact that I only spent 2 weeks in the first, had a few short business trips in the 2nd and have never visited the third.

7) I really, really can’t draw. Nor sing. And my botanical skills are second to all…

Here are my list of nominees. As always, there is no obligation to participate, but it’s my way of saying thank you to blogs which always make my day or my week. Apologies if by any chance you have been nominated already by others for the same award.

Books and Reviews - crime fiction, women’s representation and feminism

Books, Biscuits and Tea –  crime, women’s fiction and YA

Shiteki na Usagi – a poetic rabbit and literary journal

JacquiWine’s Journal – Jacqui has only recently started her own blog, but her reviews are already legendary. Plus, she likes wine!

A Life in Books - book news, reviews and recommendations

7Saturdays - quirky, eclectic, poems, meditations, but always inspirational

Claudia Schoenfeld – artist and poet, co-founder of dVerse Poets, warm and imaginative

Brian Miller – tongue firmly in cheek, co-founder of dVerse Poets, a man to expand your mind and vocabulary

The Mocking Bird Sings - poems, prose and jazz

My Cup of Stars –  uninhibited reviews, independent reading tastes

Bonespark – writing inspiration, prompts and reviews

Smithereens – French woman reading and blogging in English – charming, witty and wise

Stuck in a Book - Mostly books, some cake, and the occasional paean to cats

Zouxzoux – photography, prose, poetry and New Orleans come to life

IpsoFactoDotMe – supposedly comfort zone reading, but a very broad choice of literature

 

Here’s what you should do if you have been nominated :
Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
List the rules and display the award.
Share seven facts about yourself.
Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
Optional: display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

Absurdist Poetry for a Summer Day

How to cheer yourself up on a day when you are listless, fluey and bed-ridden? Especially when it is lovely and sunny outside and you can’t take advantage of it? Why, with a cat picture and some absurdist poetry, of course…

What My Cat Thinks

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Birds of a feather flock on the lawn for my benefit.

The early bird catches my eye but it takes two to tango.

I personally always look before I leap,

But I don’t look them in the mouth.

Given the choice, I prefer chicken before the eggs, even if they’re all in one basket.

Count the chicks? Not likely – any number will do.

June Reading & Crime Fiction Pick of the Month

Amazing amounts of reading this month – that’s what business travel does for you! 17 books in total.

6 books in translation or foreign language – 35%

Raymond Queneau: Zazie dans le métro – absurd and fun

Hanne  Ǿrstavik: The Blue Room – sinister and claustrophobic

Domingo Villar: Water-Blue Eyes – atmospheric and world-weary

Lena Divani: Seven Lives and One Great Love – delightful and witty

DorinFrançoise Dorin: Va voir maman, papa travaille

Way ahead of its time – this book was published in 1976 and discusses the ambivalence of motherhood, of gender inequality, of combining career ambitions and work satisfaction with parenting in a way which makes the current crop of domestic goddesses seem self-deluded and vapid. A very honest account, which makes you question your own assumptions.

untitledPaulus Hochgatterer: The Sweetness of Life

Or should that be called the ‘sadness of life’?  Highly unusual crime fiction – more of a meditation on the nature of evil, on mental illness and the darkness inherent in all of life. Perfectly captures the depression and neuralgia of small-town Austria during winter and introduces an interesting detecting duo: psychiatrist Horn and police inspector Kovacs.

1 Non- Fiction:

Summer Pierre: The Artist in the Office  - inspiring and no-nonsense

1 Paranormal Thriller:

Lauren Owen: The Quick – Victorian Gothic with vampires

2 Psychological Rollercoasters:

Tamar Cohen: The Broken – cringingly true-to-life

Miriam Toews: All My Puny Sorrows – emotionally charged

7 Additional Crime Novels (total crime this month: 53%)

DarkestHeartDan Smith: The Darkest Heart – to be reviewed on Crime Fiction Lover website; an ominous journey through the heartland of Brazil, echoes of Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’

Linwood Barclay: Trust Your Eyes - unusual premise, stylish execution

D.S. Nelson: The Blake Hetherington Mysteries – charming cosy series featuring a pedantic hat-maker

Sam Alexander: Carnal Acts – great marketing campaign, still waiting to hear who Sam Alexander is

Edward Wilson: The Whitehall Mandarin – more in the thoughtful Le Carré mould than in the heroic American style, but at some point I will write a blog post about why I find spy thrillers in general a little disappointing

M.J. McGrath: The Boneseeker - unusual characters and locations, lovingly described

Taylor Stevens: The Innocent – a tougher than nails heroine not always acting in strictly legal fashion, trying to save a child abducted by a cult; to be reviewed on Crime Fiction Lover

 

pick of the monthPerhaps it’s inevitable that, when you go through so many books a month, you end up wading through an average books portion – books that are OK but nothing to really get excited about. This has been such a month. There were also a couple of books I really did not enjoy very much (luckily, not that many). My crime fiction pick of the month (if you haven’t yet come across this meme at Mysteries in Paradise, go check it out: a great source of recommended reads to add to your TBR list)  is probably Linwood Barclay’s Trust Your Eyes. I felt from the start that I was in the hands of a competent and elegant storyteller. For a few choice Linwood Barclay quotes from Geneva Book Fair, look here. 

 

 

 

 

Summer Break – and My First Sonnet

It’s a very special Open Link Night over at dVerse Poets today – the last one before the summer holidays. So join us there for some fireworks, summer fun and lots of good poetry! Which my example below is probably not, but it’s my first attempt at a sonnet. [I don't usually do formal poetic forms.]

BigCatLittleCat

From the Big Cat Small Cat advert by Whiskas.

You tell me love’s for fools and nuts, so crazy,

You say that you could teach me, given time,

Your memory of summers glimmer hazy:

‘Since when is being vague and rushed a crime?’

You seep through cracks with treacled words and varnish,

You temper barbs with little bits of verse.

Not sure. Is it my thoughts you seek to tarnish?

Or do you think your wounds are much, much worse?

Just like a pensioned horse, when this is over,

I want to pick a shady field to hide,

Be put to graze in four-leaved clover,

Lay saddle, bridle to distant side.

And, from your perch of plenty, safety, height,

You’ll watch my frolics, joy and sunshine bright.

 

 

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