findingtimetowrite

Thinking, writing, thinking about writing…

Chateau de Lavigny: Readings from International Writers

20140831_172441I had the great pleasure to attend my first reading at Chateau de Lavigny last year and I wrote some more about this writers’ retreat with a very special atmosphere then.  This year I was only able to attend the very last reading of the season last night, but it was no less magical. It was an extremely diverse group of writers, both in terms of nationalities and languages spoken, but also in terms of style and subject matter.

20140831_172422First up, there was French poet Franck André Jamme, who has published more than a dozen volumes of poetry and ‘philosophical fragments’ (for want of a better word), has translated from Hindi and Bengali literature, and has collaborated with a number of artists. He read from Au secret, a sort of travel journal, against a background of birds chirruping.

Tuccelli

Photo by Neva Micheva.

Second author was Italian-American Jessica-Maria Tuccelli (photo left), anthropologist turned film-maker and actress, now writer. I had read excellent reviews about her ambitious debut novel Glow and it was from this novel that she read, with an impeccable Southern accent.  The novel traces the lives of the descendants of a white slave-owner and moves back and forth in time and in voice, weaving an almost mystical tale of hardship, race relations and family tissue.

20140831_172530The third reader was Bulgarian translator Neva Micheva, who is her country’s foremost translator from Spanish and Italian. She had some very interesting things to say about translations, namely that, contrary to popular belief that the writer creates the original while the translator makes a copy, each good translation is an equally original interpretation and creation. On the other hand, bad writers and bad translators can create equally bad fake literature. Alongside the greats such as Primo Levi, Italo Calvino, Javier Marias, she also translates books she personally enjoys and cannot forget, books she wants to share with others.  She read to us what she described as ‘her one and only attempt to translate poetry’, from The Poems of Sidney West by Argentine writer Juan Gelman, who very kindly answered her many, many questions about the text before his death in January of this year.

Photo by Neva Micheva

Photo by Neva Micheva

The fourth writer is Austrian/Slovak writer Zdenka Becker (photo right), who writes fiction, plays and screenplays, mostly in German. She read from a short play entitled Odysseas Never Returned, which has been translated into English and performed off-Broadway. A story of war, passion, vanity and disappointment.

20140831_172457Finally, there was Jason Donald, whom I already knew from the Geneva Writers’ Group. Born in Scotland, raised in South Africa, he worked for a while in the UK where he published his first novel in 2009, and currently lives in Switzerland. He read a very vivid, funny yet cruel extract from his novel Choke Chain.

So I came away as usual with a wealth of lovely words in my head, a couple of signed books, conversations to treasure and the inspiration to carry on. Long may these summer events of Chateau de Lavigny last!

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August: Holiday Reads But Also More…

I’m not going to repeat the holiday reads for the first half of the month, as I’ve written a separate post about them, but here are some statistics for the whole month of August.

20 books read, of which 11 labelled as crime fiction. 13 women authors. 5 books in translation, plus one in German and one in French, so 7 foreign books in total. In terms of setting: 3 each in the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and the United States, 2 each in Greece and France, plus one book set in Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and the Solomon islands. A bit less variety than usual, perhaps, but this is probably because of the ‘easy escapist holiday reading’ mission that I had set myself. And easy usually means the familiar to most of us, right? Yet there have been plenty of more serious, questioning and thought-provoking reads as well.

The Corpse with the Platinum Hair
Keep Your Friends Close
The Waiting Years
The Inspector Barlach Mysteries: The Judge and His Hangman and Suspicion
Crossing the Line
See You Tomorrow
Your Beautiful Lies
The Long Way Home
The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos
Scellé plombé
The Year of Magical Thinking
The Bull of Mithros
Devil-Devil
The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb
Mating for Life: A Novel
Fear in the Sunlight
L'Amour Actually
The Black Life
Kafka on the Shore
Tattoo Murder Case

 

 

Finally, here are the most recent books I have read, which have not been mentioned in previous posts. All of them are going to be reviewed more extensively either on this blog or on Crime Fiction Lover over the next couple of weeks.

Tore Renberg: See You Tomorrow – desperate losers in Stavanger

Frederique Molay: Crossing the Line – a medical school cadaver leaves a final surprising message

Friedrich Durrenmatt: Inspector Barlach Mysteries: The Judge and His Hangman – is a policeman ever justified in setting a known criminal up for a crime he did not commit?

Paula Daly: Keep Your Friends Close – family torn apart by their own weaknesses and a ruthless manipulator

Cathy Ace: The Corpse with the Platinum Hair – locked-room mystery in a Las Vegas VIP suite

Fumiko Enchi: The Waiting Years – sad story of the fate of wives and mistresses in Japan at the turn of the 20th century – this was going to be my review for Women in Translation month, but sadly I am not going to get around to writing it in August.

My top crime fiction read of the month is Louise Penny’s The Long Way Home and my top read across all genres is a tie between Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore and Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking.

 

Friday Fun: Barn Conversions

So many of you liked the barn conversion picture I posted last Friday that I thought I would go out and take pictures of more barns in the area for you. They are a bit different from barns in the UK or US: there’s a lot more stone involved, for one.

This is usually the starting point - just four walls crumbling.

This is usually the starting point – just four walls crumbling.

This is your basic conversion: doors and windows all kept to the original size.

This is your basic conversion: doors and windows all kept to the original size.

This is the more ambitious and modern version.

This is the more ambitious and modern version.

This is the version which combines tradition and modernity.

This is the version which combines tradition and modernity.

And this is the farmhouse wing right next to the barn above. Pure charm and my ideal living space!

And this is the farmhouse wing right next to the barn above. Pure charm and my ideal living space!

One little confession: When I first moved to this area, I dreamt of owning a chateau with a vineyard on the hills of La Cote, overlooking Lake Geneva. With this view.

From The Guardian.

From The Guardian.

By now I would be quite happy with a converted barn in my area, slightly further away from the lake and without a vineyard (but maybe an orchard?).

The truth of course is that I will never own any property in this area, as the prices are exorbitant. But hey, we can always dream a little…

One of My Favourite Poems (with Translation)

I was tending the bar at dVerse Poets Pub yesterday and gave a poetry prompt which had most participants puzzled, bemused, scratching their heads… or labelling me crazy. I asked for a homophonic translation of a Romanian poem, which means a translation based on sound and random similarity of word patterns. It was really interesting to see all the different interpretations of the same poem. As one comment said, it was the Rohrschach of poetry – in that same inkblot of a poem we each saw our own obsessions, thoughts, fears, hopes and personalities.

The poem itself, however, is one of my favourite poems in any language. It is by Romanian poet (also playwright, philosopher, essayist) Lucian Blaga and it’s a lyrical love poem tinged with melancholy. I remember reciting it with my high-school sweetheart as we walked under the linden trees lining the boulevards leading from our school to the park. ‘Florarul’ (the flowering one) is the old folk name for the month of May.

 

Risipei se dedă Florarul

Ne-om aminti cândva târziu
de-aceasta întâmplare simplă,
de-aceasta bancă unde stam
tâmplă fierbinte lânga tâmplă.

De pe stamine de alun,
din plopii albi, se cerne jarul.
Orice-nceput se vrea fecund,
risipei se deda Florarul.

Polenul cade peste noi,
în preajmă galbene troiene
alcătuieste-n aur fin.
Pe umeri cade-ne şi-n gene.

Ne cade-n gură când vorbim,
şi-n ochi, când nu găsim cuvântul.
Si nu ştim ce păreri de rău
ne tulbură, pieziş, avântul.

Ne-om aminti cândva târziu
de-această întâmplare simplă,
de-aceasta bancă unde stam
tâmplă fierbinte lânga tâmplă.

Visând, întrezărim prin doruri -
latente-n pulberi aurii –
păduri ce ar putea sa fie
şi niciodată nu vor fi.

It’s been set to music several times, here is one version of it by Nicu Alifantis in concert:

And here is the translation, courtesy of Cristina at the blog Fantasy Pieces (with some of my own tweaks). She also provides a bit of commentary on this poem.

May Gives Itself with Sweet Abandon

 

We’ll remember someday later,
This simple moment, so fine,
This very bench where we are seated,
Your burning temple next to mine.

From hazel stamens, cinders fall
White as the poplars that they land on,
Beginnings yearning to be fertile,
May gives itself with sweet abandon.

The pollen falls on both of us,
Small mountains made of golden ashes
It forms around us, and it falls
On our shoulders and our lashes.

It falls into our mouths when speaking,
On eyes, when we are mute with wonder
And there’s regret, but we don’t know
Why it would tear us both asunder.

We’ ll remember someday later,
This simple moment, so fine,
This very bench where we are seated
Your burning temple next to mine.

In dreams, through longings, we can see—
All latent in the dust of gold
Those forests that perhaps could be—
But that will never, ever grow.

So that’s the literal translation… But, to be honest, I liked some of the free associations and unknowing translations even more!

Showcase Sunday: New Books Acquired

SSsmallInspired 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, see the sparkling and fizzy blog of Books, Biscuits and Tea.

I am on currently on a book buying embargo. I have bought so many books this year (both electronic and physical), that I have no more space on my bookshelves, nor time in my days (or nights) to read them all.

Of course, that does not necessarily mean I don’t have any new books to talk about this week. There are still library books, books for review, books I’ve already paid for… plus the odd book that has slipped through my net…

Books for Review: 

strangersunset1) Eden Baylee: Stranger at Sunset

It is January 2013, following the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The luxury resort of Sunset Villa in Jamaica is struggling, not from the storm, but from a scathing review by caustic travel writer, Matthew Kane. They’ve invited him back in the hope he will change his mind. Also in the mix are an odd assortment of guests, including Dr. Kate Hampton, a respected psychiatrist. Sounds like a modern update on Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’.

CrossingtheLine2) Frédérique Molay: Crossing the Line

I enjoyed the first book in this series set in Paris, featuring the Head of La Crim’ Nico Sirsky, so am looking forward to the second one. Review and book giveaway coming up on the 17th of September.

Books from Netgalley:

3) Louise Douglas: Your Beautiful Lies

Following a book review at Cleopatra Loves Books, I rushed out to download this book and have already reviewed it. I didn’t like it quite as much as Cleo did, but that’s perhaps because I was expecting more of a murder mystery.

Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng 4) Celeste Ng: Everything I Never Told You

I’ve heard very good things about this debut novel about a Chinese American family in 1970s small-town Ohio. When the middle daughter is found drowned in the local lake, the whole family struggles to come to terms with the tragedy.

 

 

Subscription from Peirene Press:

Tripoli5) Kamal Ben-Hameda: Under the Tripoli Sky

Libya in the 1960s and another patriarchal society ready to crumble. I never read a book by a Libyan author before, so a great way to expand my horizons. Beautifully produced, as always, by Peirene.

Library Haul:

incardonaspleen 6) Joseph Incardona: Banana Spleen

The daily life of a thirty-year old drifter, struggling to keep afloat and mostly legal in the expensive city of Geneva, exposing the underbelly of the picture-postcard town. Might be an interesting similarity here to the Tore Renberg book I’ve just read, set in the oil-rich city of Stavanger. Incardona is going to be present at the Book Festival in Morges, coming up September 5th-7th, so I thought it was a good time to become familiar with his work.

 

The One That Got Away…

runcie7) James Runcie: Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night

With the TV series coming up soon – under the title ‘Grantchester’ – and with the Cambridge setting (which I can never resist), I thought it was about time to familiarise myself with the gentle, cosy mysteries featuring a detecting vicar. Plus, it was only 51p for Kindle on Amazon. (And that’s why it’s hard to resist Amazon, despite all our ethical qualms.)

 

 

Friday Fun: A Walk in the French/Swiss Countryside

I live in a rural area on the Franco-Swiss border, but the proximity to Geneva makes it a popular place to live, so there are always building works going on. Given the nice weather today (we have not been blessed with much sunshine this summer), I thought I’d take a walk through some traditional local villages. And document it with pictures, before they completely disappear under the weight of new blocks of flats.

Today’s walk started and ended in Grilly, a village bearing the name of a medieval lord de Grailly, who owned approximately a thousand hectares of land straddling the Versoix river (which nowadays forms the border between France and Switzerland) and controlled the trade route between Lake Geneva and the Jura mountains.

20140822_140506

Sunflowers with the Jura mountains in the background

 

If you turn to face the other way, you get this view over the Alps.

If you turn to face the other way, you get this view over the Alps.

Border stone: now marking the border between the cantons of Geneva and Vaud. Formerly marking the border between France and Switzerland (dates from 1808)

Border stone: now marking the border between the cantons of Geneva and Vaud. Formerly marking the border between France and Switzerland (dates from 1808)

Bridge of Grilly over the river Versoix, marking the Swiss-French border. Madame de Stael fled on this path from France to her family property in Coppet in 1792.

Bridge of Grilly over the river Versoix, marking the Swiss-French border. Madame de Stael fled on this path – formerly the trade route between the lake and the mountains – from France to her family property in Coppet in 1792.

Farmhouse in Chavanne des Bois, Switzerland.

Farmhouse in Chavanne des Bois, Switzerland.

Chateau de Chavanne - in fact, a large manor house with adjacent farms. I bought a bag of plums from the farm shop here to eat along the way.

Chateau de Chavanne – in fact, a large manor house with adjacent farms. I bought a bag of plums from the farm shop here to eat along the way.

Opposite this charming old house and garden in Sauverny (France)...

Opposite this charming old house and garden in Sauverny (France)…

...you'll find the inevitable new development.

…you’ll find the inevitable new development.

The path from the mill in Sauverny to the village of Grilly, bordered by oak trees and corn.

The path from the mill in Sauverny to the village of Grilly, bordered by oak trees and corn.

Village houses in Grilly, France.

Village houses in Grilly, France.

A refurbished barn in Grilly. What do you think: very covetable or a modernisation too far?

A refurbished barn in Grilly. What do you think: very covetable or a modernisation too far?

 

Reading with a Theme: Thorny Marriages

A while ago I happened to read a whole series of books about mothers. Since my return from holiday I seem to have been on a roll with books about marriages – I was going to say ‘difficult marriages’, but at least one of them is about a happy marriage… interrupted by death. Incidentally, it also seems to have been a bit of a catch-up with North American writers, as Anne Carson, Louise Penny and Maxime-Olivier Moutier are all Canadians, while two of the remaining authors are American.

Joan Didion and her family in Malibu in 1976. From back cover of the book.

Joan Didion and her family in Malibu in 1976. From back cover of the book.

Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking

Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The portrait of a 40 year marriage of true minds. Didion’s husband died of a heart-attack in 2003, and this is the searing memoir of her befuddlement, grief, sense of guilt and sheer madness of the year following her sudden loss. (At the same time, her daughter was in and out of hospital, in and out of a coma, so it was probably the hardest year of the writer’s life.) This may not be her most polished work stylistically, but it has a rawness and honesty about it which is very moving.

I’m not sure why this has been branded as pretentious or whining or self-pitying rants of a rich bitch. It shows how grief can drive us all mad, whether privileged or not, whether calm and collected or dramatic and hysterical. The author has also been accused of coldness, because she tries to present things in a detached way. This feels to me more like a deliberate strategy to remain calm, to try and understand, to analyse oneself. The polar vortex of memory that she tries to avoid by not going to places that were familiar to them: how can that be described as cold and unfeeling?

Anne Carson: The Beauty of the Husband

beautyhusband

By contrast, Carson’s collection of poems all add up to an essay on beauty and truth, our search for perfection but our paradoxical human ability to put up with imperfection for a very long time. All in all, it presents the picture of a toxic marriage, a destructive relationship captured with true poetic flourish. Based on Keat’s assertion that beauty is truth, the poet then shows us just why the husband was anything but truthful, no matter how beautiful he was (and remained) in the eyes of the wronged wife.

 

Louise Penny: The Long Way Home

LongWayHome

I’m already a confirmed Louise Penny fan, but this 10th book in the Armand Gamache/ Three Pines series is less crime fiction and more the story of a Quest: for a missing husband, for inspiration, for one’s true self, for the Holy Grail almost. I wrote a full review of it for Crime Fiction Lover, but from the perspective of marriage, it is the sad story of the dissolution of a loving long-term partnership when the insidious three-headed serpent of jealousy, envy and inadequacy makes its appearance. Clara and Peter Morrow are both artists, who met in college. Peter has always been the more successful artist with his carefully controlled, intricate paintings, while Clara was the wild and messy experimentalist. But when Clara’s star begins to rise, Peter finds it impossible to rejoice for her, as he becomes aware of his own artistic stagnation.

 

louise douglas your beautiful liesLouise Douglas: Your Beautiful Lies

Set against the backdrop of the miners’ strikes in Yorkshire in the 1980s, this is the story of Annie, a woman who is feeling trapped in a very correct but rather dry marriage of convenience, which has provided her with a comfortable lifestyle but has also isolated her from the rest of the community. When her old boyfriend (who had been convicted of manslaughter) is released from prison and shows up on her doorstep, trying to protest his innocence, she is at first reluctant to engage with him. But then she unravels rather spectacularly and becomes very reckless indeed… This book has an old-fashioned feel about it, as if it were set in the 1950s rather than the 1980s, and I struggled to empathise with Annie.

And, just in case you thought that only women can write about marriage, here is the most depressing one of all, written by a man but from a woman’s perspective.

scelleplombeMaxime-Olivier Moutier: Scellé plombé

The title roughly translates as ‘sealed with lead’, which was apparently an old method for food preservation – until the poisonous qualities of lead were discovered. This hints at the poisonous conjugal relationship and what an odd, unsettling story it is. The husband is struck by lightning on a golf course and is buried by his wife and children in secret.  Told entirely from the point of view of the wife, but addressed to her husband in a tone designed to humiliate and provoke, we then discover the story of their marriage, the rising ennui, the many daily cruelties and sarcasms, the lack of communication, the secret lives each partner found refuge in. A chilling disregard for the children emerges from this novel: it appears it’s not the marriage, but the hearts themselves which have turned to lead.

 

Finally, I almost hesitate to include Ann Patchett’s ‘This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage’ in this post, not because of the word ‘happy’ in the title, but because this collection of essays is about so much more than marriage: it is about creativity, travelling, a beloved dog, a burgeoning interest in opera music, family, friendships and, above all, writing. It also talks about the author’s first marriage and divorce, which led to many years of avoiding commitment to her second husband. In her characteristic clear-eyed, fluid style, she describes the compassion and understanding that she developed for all women who suffered in their marriages, whether they were able to get away from them or not.

My mother had divorced my father when I was four. Two years later she remarried. My mother and stepfather spent the next twenty years trying to decide whether or not they should stay together. While growing up I had never faulted her for the divorce, but I hated what I thought was her weakness. My mother didn’t want to be wrong a second time. She wanted to believe in a person’s ability to change, and so she went back and back, every resolution broken by some long talk they had that made things suddenly clear for a while. I wanted her to make her decision and stick to it. In or out, I ultimately didn’t care, just make up your mind. But the mind isn’t so easily made up. My mother used to say the more lost you are, the later it got, the more you had invested in not being lost. That’s why people who are lost so often keep heading in the same direction. It took my own divorce to really understand… I understood how we long to believe in goodness, especially in the person we promised to love and honor. It isn’t just about them, it is how we want to see ourselves…

 

Poem Inspired by Photography: Butterfly Skims

Over at the dVerse Poets Pub, Grace invites us to succumb to the whimsical charm of Joel Robison’s photography and write a poem either inspired by his imagery or else to create a world which doesn’t quite play by the rules we know. I think my Poetic Muse would agree whole-heartedly with that! Thank you very much, Joel, for letting us use your images for our poetry and be sure to visit Joel’s blog and gallery for lots more inspiration.

It should have been something more substantial

but no, my Muse chose butterfly wings for itself!

It alights for a flicker of eyelids,

then skims across ponds encircled in rushes.

It sets each flower afire with its quiver.

All eyes follow in strange enchantment:

A shimmering trance of something not quite glimpsed.

Far too short it tarries with me.

Presto, presto, at times some allegretto,

it flashes its mottled colour onto the next bloom.

Will there be butterflies next season?

I’m growing old and my trousers are still unrolled,

as I set out with fine mesh netting

to capture, to sample, to add to my butterfly collection.

 

Maintaining the Holiday Mood with Jabberwocky

So whaddya gonna do to prevent the post-holiday slump? Book the next holiday, of course! (Paris for a week in October). And write some nonsense verse based on the language of Lewis Carroll. The Alice books have long been one of my favourite reads, both in childhood and now. This is the voice of the mimsy borogoves (illustrated below as the ones with long pelican legs and weepy hairbrush faces).

From Wikipedia, John Tenniel illustration.

From Wikipedia, John Tenniel illustration.

Jibberjabberwocky or the Mimsy Borogoves

 

 Minging flimsy zzzizzy whimsy bizzz

 

Fair few feathers falling out

 

Awww why whiney whingy where oh when?

 

Whimper me softly

 

Ayyyy a naminin moo moo mincy nin moan

 

Rustle the muscle and bustle

 

Shush mushing weep seep trickle deep

 

Come all alone to the great groan

 

 

No Pictures, But Plenty of Books…

I’m back from the holidays and I haven’t got the pictures to prove it. Suffice it to say that Crete was beautiful, hot but not unbearably so, full of history as well as good food and long beaches… and that it was lovely to spend time with some of my dearest friends. Yet, despite all these distractions, I also managed to get quite a bit of reading done. All with a holiday theme (or, at the very least, a beautiful location suitable for holidays).

  1. ZouroudiAnne Zouroudi: The Bull of Mithros – well, how could you go to Greece and not opt for the mouth-watering, sensuous descriptions of Greek landscape, food and way of life… oh, and crime too?
  2. Paul Johnston: The Black Life – also a Greek setting, but much more sombre subject, dealing with the deportation of Jews from Thessaloniki and its present-day consequences
  3. Takagi Akimitsu: The Tattoo Murder Case – intriguing glimpse of life in post-war Japan in the floating world of kinky-ness, tattoo artists and dubious bars
  4. Murakami Haruki: Kafka on the Shore – reread this novel of magical realism and permanent search set in Shikoku, Japan - this time in translation, hence with a lot more comprehension
  5. Melanie Jones: L’Amour Actually – fun, farcical but not terribly realistic portrayal of the transformation of a Louboutin-touting London gal into a French farming enthusiast
  6. EmeraldCathy Ace: The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb – corruption, death and intrigue in Mexico, with a lesson in tequila-making for an engaging, feisty middle-aged heroine
  7. Nicola Upson: Fear in the Sunlight – another installment in the murder mystery series featuring Josephine Tey, this one is set in the purpose-built fake village of Portmeirion in Wales and also features Alfred Hitchcock – yet it’s much more thoughtful and darker than it sounds
  8. Marissa Stapley: Mating for Life – a mother and her three daughters struggle with love, secrets, family and fidelity in this charming but not quite substantial enough tale set largely in the family vacation home on an unspecified lake in the United States.
  9. KellaGraeme Kent: Devil-Devil – the first novel I’ve ever read set in the Solomon Islands just before independence, this is not just an interesting crime story, but also a lesson in anthropology, featuring the delightfully unlikely detecting duo of Kella, a native policeman with tribal peacemaking responsibilities and Sister Conchita, a Catholic nun with a penchant for breaking the rules.

 

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