findingtimetowrite

Thinking, writing, thinking about writing…

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

Three British Crime Novels in a Row

This doesn’t often happen to me, but over the past 10 days I’ve read three British authors in a row (albeit with English, Welsh and Scottish roots, so a good attempt at some diversity). This is what comes of letting my children choose the next book for me to read on the tablet! They go by titles alone and, being at that zombie-loving age, of course they wanted something hinting at death or goriness. So I’ve read: Where the Dead Men Go, Someone Else’s Skin and Talking to the Dead.

Image from pcadvisor.com

Image from pcadvisor.com

Each excellent in its own way (never let it be said my boys don’t have good taste!)

It struck me that the first is very macho and masculine (gangland Glasgow, after all), the second is feminine (whatever that means; in this case it addresses issues such as domestic abuse and features a female lead detective), while the third is ambidextrous (written by a man, featuring a female detective… but one who displays very few traits which we might have been conditioned to label feminine).

LiamMcIlvanneyLiam McIlvanney: Where the Dead Men Go

It’s hard to make your mark in the Scottish crime writing landscape, crowded as it is with giants such as Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Denise Mina and William McIlvanney. The last of these is the father of Liam, so it is hard not to compare the two, especially since they both deal with gangs, tough guys and drugs in Glasgow. Yet the younger McIlvanney makes his own mark with this very topical, thrilling view of a Scotland on the brink of independence, getting ready to host the Commonwealth Games in 2014, and a newspaper industry on its last dying gasp. Reporter Gerry Conway is a lovely creation: morbidly curious, dogged in the pursuit of truth, yet also a loving and very involved father. When Gerry’s younger colleague goes missing and is later found dead, he’s left wondering just how shallow Glasgow’s veneer of modern respectability is. This is taut, muscular writing – not as philosophical or lyrical as McIlvanney Père, perhaps, but as dark and addictive as very strong coffee.

SarahHilarySarah Hilary: Someone Else’s Skin

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has read Sarah Hilary’s shorter fiction: she really can write, but this accomplished debut novel proves that she is a long-distance runner as well as a sprinter. This novel skillfully handles a disturbing topic (domestic violence), and introduces a resourceful if rather troubled lead investigator, Marnie Rome. Her own parents were stabbed to death by their foster son five years earlier, so she has traumatic flashbacks when she witnesses a knife-attack at a women’s shelter. However, she is a successful, no-nonsense DI and swiftly gets down to business to get a reliable account of what happened from the other women at the shelter.  Meanwhile, she is also trying to convince a young Asian girl to give evidence against her brothers, who nearly succeeded in blinding her with bleach.

It’s a fast-moving plot, with plenty of unexpected twists to keep you on your toes, but where the story really comes alive for me is in its depiction of hidden suffering. How we can never really know what lies beneath the apparently calm surface of a house, a marriage, a family. How we can never really put ourselves into someone else’s skin. And how most of the women at the shelter where Marnie and her team conduct their investigation would ideally like to be somebody else, start a new life, but are not sure how.

TalkingtotheDeadHarry Bingham: Talking to the Dead

The first in the Fiona Griffiths series, introducing a very unusual, highly intelligent but socially not at all well-functioning heroine. (We later find out she suffers from an unusual form of post-traumatic stress disorder called Cotard’s Syndrome, but this is only hinted at in this book.) The crime itself and the investigation that follows are solid enough (and the child victim whose head is crushed by a Belfast sink is very affecting), but there is a feeling of déjà vu about the plot.  The final revelations about Fiona’s past did not catch me entirely by surprise, either, but the big plus of this book is the heroine herself. The author is onto a winner with her: she reminds me in so many ways of Saga Norén,  the ever so possibly autistic Swedish investigator in the recent series ‘The Bridge’. Despite her yearning to belong to ‘Planet Normal’, Fi is eccentric, rebellious, has a problem following orders and cannot really understand other people’s feelings (or her own). She does get herself into some very dangerous situations, almost implausibly so, but it all makes sense to her at the time. I am stunned at how well a sane male forty-something author can enter the mind of a young disturbed woman.

I also liked the secondary characters: Fi’s parents, her colleagues, her potential love interest, and the indomitable Lev (surely Ukrainian?).  I will certainly be reading more in this series simply to see what Fi does next.

 

 

 

Children’s Idols and Cultural Differences

Stromae

Stromae

Last week I heard on the radio about a survey commissioned by Le Journal de Mickey in France, to find out the top celebrities or idols for 7-14 year olds. Unsurprisingly, Stromae came out top. He is certainly No. 1 in our house – and a hugely talented singer/songwriter, although his brand of disenchanted, cynical rebellion would suit an older age-group (in my opinion, but I’m just an old-fashioned Mum, right?).

Shy'm

Shy’m

Also in the top 5: actor/comedian Kev Adams, DJ/rapper Maitre Gims, actor Omar Sy and actor/opera-singer Loup-Denis Elion.  The top 10 also included judo champion Teddy Riner and (for girls especially) actress Audrey Lamy and singers Tal and Shy’m. Hollande and Sarkozy were fighting it out amongst themselves down in the dregs for the 50th place.

Loup-Denis Elion

Loup-Denis Elion

You won’t have heard of any of the favourite celebrities (except perhaps Omar Sy, who appeared in the feel-good film ‘The Intouchables’) unless you live in France and regularly watch TV or read the tabloids. So why am I telling you this? Is it an opportunity to bemoan that children seem to be attracted to the stars of entertainment? That they seem attracted to ‘easy fame’?

OmarSy

Omar Sy

Well, actually, no. Because the children’s choice is probably better than an adult version might be. There are no reality TV stars there, famous for little else than provoking scandal and appearing at every opening. There are no teenage boy or girl bands, who are created and controlled by money-hungry adults. These are all people who are working hard in their chosen field and achieving success after many years of practice. Sure, there could be more women on this list – but the women who are there are not just pretty faces or wives/girlfriends of other famous people.

MaitreGims

MaitreGims

What struck me most about the list, however, was that there were hardly any white people on it. Most of these idols are at least partly black, North African, Jewish… And that’s refreshing. You could argue that this is because most ‘ethnic groups’ (a term which sets my teeth on edge, since we are all ethnic in some way) go into the entertainment industry. However, dare I hope that this means that the younger generation are more ‘colour-blind’ than us older ones? And I also wonder what a list like this would look like in other countries: UK, US, Greece? Anyone know?

Escapist Friday: Tree Houses

The weather is set to change to rain and snow this weekend, but just before it does, what better place to escape to than the height of a tree? From there we can watch all the flowers peek out their cautious heads, listen to birdsong and read our favourite books of course. On her wonderful crime fiction blog, Margot Kinberg recently mentioned places where detectives could retreat and recover from their hectic jobs. Sheds, boats, orchid rooms… We both agreed we would love to hear of a treehouse-dwelling sleuth. Do let us know if you’ve heard of one, won’t you?

Here are some tree houses that he/she might like to try out… Something for every taste, modern to traditional, mansion to modest dimensions. I suppose it’s something to do with our hunter/gatherer roots, that we are so attracted to tree houses.

Chateau de Langeais, Loire Valley, from Wikipedia.

Chateau de Langeais, Loire Valley, from Wikipedia.

 

 

Alnwick Gardens, UK; from Wikipedia.

Alnwick Gardens, UK; from Wikipedia.

 

Swedish Mirrorcube, www.treehotel.se

Swedish Mirrorcube, http://www.treehotel.se

E'terra Samara Hotel, Canada; Farrow Partnership; inhabitat.com

E’terra Samara Hotel, Canada; Farrow Partnership; inhabitat.com

 

Reading with a Theme: Bad Mothers

Every now and then I happen to read a couple of books with a similar theme and then I am tempted to seek out a few more with the same theme. So I end up with a mix of fiction and non-fiction, memoir and even poetry about a topic, which gets me thinking about my own thoughts, feelings and experiences. This time the topic was: bad mothers. Or perhaps it should be called just ‘mothers’, since, as a friend of mine often says:

No matter what you do or don’t do as a mother, you will get blamed for everything anyway.

PaulaDalyPaula Daly: Just What Kind of Mother Are You?  – may be a question most mothers ask themselves at some point during their lives (or at least once a week in my case), but the mother in question is relatively blameless compared to the ones I’ll mention below. Lisa Kallisto: she was just so overwhelmed – this is what it will say on her headstone. And who cannot relate to that? We can all empathise with her as she tries to juggle work and family life, so many plates to keep spinning. Is it any wonder that one of them may occasionally fall? Yet when one of those ‘plates’ is the daughter of your friend, who was supposed to be staying for a sleepover with your own daughter, but now has disappeared, is it any wonder you blame yourself? A seriously addictive page-turner, because it is so relatable for any mother.

Mother Mother by Koren Zailckas has been described as crime fiction, but really it’s not the mystery which keeps you reading. It’s the sheer horror of an incredibly dysfunctional family. Yet this too offers searing moments of recognition. I wish I could say I view these moments with humour (or shocked dismay), but in fact they rip open scabs on wounds I had long thought healed. Or wounds that I’ve refused to acknowledge thus far, wounds which I thought I had inflicted on myself. Although I usually despise labels and their limitations, it does help that I now have a name for something which may be involuntary, a kind of illness rather than deliberate malevolence: narcissistic mother. And no, I’m not talking about myself!

MothermotherThere is a lot of melodrama in this book, deliberate switching of viewpoints to increase the suspense, but they also help to provide a more rounded picture of Josephine, the mother in question. A monster? Yes, perhaps, but not entirely unappealing, even if her young son Will is perhaps not the most reliable of narrators. But then, who is? I would ideally have liked to see how outsiders perceived her – we only have a hint of that with the comments of the social worker who comes to talk to daughter Violet at the hospital.

This is not an easy book to read, it’s a painful dissection of dysfunctional families and the ways in which we torture and manipulate each other (sometimes with the best of intentions). I found the portrayal of Will and the ineffective husband/father particularly well written. Too little too late comes to mind, and I shudder to think how the reverberations of the events described in this book will continue to affect the protagonists for many years still to come.

Anna Gold : Bienvenue (in French)

Bienvenue_V1At the bedside of her dying mother, the narrator, Léa Blum, seeks to come to terms with her Jewish heritage and her estranged family. A story as old as the hills – the teenage girl who rebels against her upbringing, finds an unsuitable boyfriend (in this case, unsuitable because he is not Jewish) and falls pregnant. Yet the way in which the full extent of her mother’s betrayal is gradually revealed is particularly painful. Léa repeatedly tries to break through her mother’s coldness and lovelessness, tries to understand and forgive it as a trait of a Holocaust survivor, but finally she gives up. She seeks refuge instead in her literary creation, Sonia van Zijde, a Dutch Marrano Jew living in 17th century Amsterdam, who becomes friends with Rembrandt and his wife Saskia, and through them gets to know the philosopher Spinoza. The contrast between the multiple lives of the narrator: the one she was expected to live, the one she did live and the one she would have liked to live, all meet here, as we alternate between Sonia’s story and her own. Perhaps a little predictable as a story, but it ends on a hopeful note.

Delphine de Vigan: Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit (to be translated and published soon as ‘Nothing Holds Back the Night’)

DelphinedeViganThis is not a Mommy Dearest portrayal of a monster, but a daughter and a writer trying to understand and interpret her own childhood, that of her mother, the mother’s manic depression and an unusual but rather attractive family. There is a lot of love and forgiveness in this book, a lot of painful honesty, as well as a meditation on whether we can ever be truthful in our representations of reality, or just how reliable memory is. Unlike all of the other books on this theme, this is most resolutely memoir rather than fiction (however thinly disguised some of the other fiction is). Of course memoir is interpretation, it is fiction too, and this book is not just a family history and the portrait of a troubled mother, but also a meditation on the nature of memory, of how stories are constructed and retold, of the power and dangers of silence. Out of all the conflicting family accounts from her mother’s brothers and sisters, which will the author choose as ‘the truth’? And ultimately, is there ever a single truth, can we ever know what drives a person to despair, depression and suicide?

Delphine’s mother Lucile was a beautiful child model, the third child in a large and apparently picture-perfect family.  Yet the family was touched by tragedy: the childhood death of a younger brother was just the start. Lucile marries far too early, has children when she is barely out of her teens and soon finds herself struggling to make a life for herself and her daughters as a largely uneducated single mother in Paris. As her moodiness and occasional sadness descends into delusions and paranoia, the girls struggle to anticipate her behaviour and surmount their own fears. Could anything or anyone have saved Lucile from suicide? Could her life have been better? And can we ever doubt her love for her children?

For a more detailed review of this book, see this fantastic blog.

NightRainbowClaire King: The Night Rainbow

Another depressed mother, another account of a potentially damaged childhood, this time a fictional story seeped in the sun of Southern France, as seen through the eyes of a precocious child narrator, Pea (nearly six). This could be a very dark and sad book in terms of subject matter: the rather horrific neglect of Pea and her younger sister Margot, the infuriating apathy of a severely depressed, heavily pregnant  mother struggling to overcome her own grief, the well-meant interference of other villagers, the hilarious but also dangerous scrapes the girls get themselves into (a scorpion in a jar, a haircut which goes terribly wrong). Yet all of these are counter-balanced by a delicious freedom and poetic description of country life which few children are able to enjoy nowadays. The smells, sounds, textures of the fields of hay, of the market-place, the taste of freshly-picked peaches, the breathless run through to the treehouse. It was a book filled with nostalgia, just like the de Vigan book, evoking a lost paradise (the days when Papa was alive and Maman still used to laugh, hug and cook), but here we are allowed to hope in a better ending, an improved life for all.

Have you read any of these books or others about ‘bad mothers’? And how do you feel about themed reading? Does it get too much after a while to read about the same topic, or is it fascinating to see the many different takes on it? Motherhood is one of those topics which never gets stale (although in this case it did get a bit depressing, even if I interspersed them with other reading), nor will it ever be elucidated. Complex, mysterious, complicated, joyous and troubling: our relationship with our mother is one topic which is never likely to disappear from literature.

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