findingtimetowrite

Thinking, writing, thinking about writing…

Archive for the tag “writing”

Unsupportive Families

A while ago I wrote about the wry amusement I felt when reading about ‘supportive spouses’. Perhaps writers feel the need to make such a fuss over them (and other supportive family members) when they are endowed with such a person because they know how often that is not the case. Treasure your rare speciman (usually a speciwoman).

michele_robertsI attended a workshop with the very poetic, sweetly unassuming yet still fiercely feminist writer Michèle Roberts at the Geneva Writers’ Group this Saturday. In a private conversation, she too confirmed that family and close friends are sometimes the least supportive of our writing. Could it be that they fear they lose us when we enter that door into fearful magic and fluid morals through which they cannot or will not follow? Or is it simply more practical, immediate needs which they feel are not being met: cooking, cleaning, admin? I can understand the fears at the uncertainty of outcome or the financial constraints. But to belittle the writing, to see it as a time-consuming hobby, which you should set aside when the ‘real issues of the day’ crop up… that is hard to swallow.

Yet that is precisely what Jane Austen did, hiding her manuscripts when visitors dropped in, as they did so often. You can barely hear the frustration in her perfectly controlled prose, but there are scenes of satire (of garrulous and silly neighbours) in every one of her books, or spirited defence of novels in ‘Northanger Abbey’.

A novel I recently read, Henry Sutton’s ‘My Criminal World’, portrays the dilemma of writerly anxieties and insecurities, especially when faced with the indifference of far more successful spouses, from the man’s point of view. This insecurity may drive a mild, rather ineffectual crime writer to contemplate a real crime. The hurt is clearly visible, under the thick layers of self-deprecating humour, and I’m not sure I quite believe the ending of the book, because I have grown to dislike the writer’s wife so much.

womanupstairsOne of the extracts that Michèle Roberts read to us was the beginning of Claire Messud’s book ‘The Woman Upstairs’ and I was so struck by it that I bought it as soon as I got home. That unforgettable opening: ‘How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.’ I have yet to finish the book and see if it lives up to that opening, and I’ve certainly heard many readers have been put off by it. ‘Show don’t tell’, they bleat like Easter lambs, but is that because it’s a woman expressing anger, and that is still a taboo? When a man expresses anger, he is seeking to change the world. When a woman expresses anger, it’s hysteria. Of course, in Nora’s case, she is unmarried, and her parents are only vaguely unsupportive (or simply vague). So perhaps she really only has her own fears and lack of ambition to blame for her failure to have ‘Great Artist’ written on her tombstone. 

Yet there is something there that I can relate to, however unlikable some readers have found the main character. It is so difficult to believe in your own talent, to allow yourself wings and the daily practice to make them become more than cumbersome appendages. The minute you venture beyond your enclosure, rejections come thick and fast. Words and muses refuse to visit. Gnawing doubts set in. How much easier to go back in the box, to think small, to believe the incessant and insistent whisper of your dear family… I so wish I could be satisfied with a job, with making money, with a decent place to live and a ‘normal’ family life.

‘Keep fighting!’ Michèle told me as we parted. Thank you, Michèle, I will, because a life without writing is too unbearable, meaningless.

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.

 

 

 

‘Tis the Season to be Cosy

A smoggy, sunless day today.

So indulge me… Allow me to curl up in a well-travelled vintage room, with lots of books, armchairs, plaid blankets and plenty of cushions. An open fire and a mulled wine would be optional, but deliciously thoughtful.

A cosy bedroom would not come amiss, even if it were designed with teenagers in mind…

But, for the ultimate retreat, while there is still snow in the mountains, I would like to hide up in this Swiss eco-pod hut in Flims and do nothing but read and write.

Happy Birthday, Dear Bloggy!

Rainbow Cake from www.migros.ch

Rainbow Cake from http://www.migros.ch

Today my blog turns two – so toddler tantrums are probably on the cards now. So far, it’s been an utter joy and delight, if somewhat demanding of love and attention. Above all, it’s been malleable, unformed one might say. A little bit of everything I happened to fancy or think or want to post.

I started it for purely utilitarian purposes: it would act as an accountability instrument. Force me to gather my thoughts, force me to write (not necessarily post) daily, force me to share with others instead of hiding. In 2 years I’ve posted 310 blog posts, which is on average one new one every 2 1/2 days.

And it’s been successful as an accountability tool. Modest internautic success, but more than enough for me, an unknown name (pseudonym) with no novel yet to my name and just rekindling my passion for poetry after a hiatus of a couple of decades. I didn’t expect many people to find me, read me, let alone comment or follow. Yet around 350 people do – thank you so much! I get an average of 30-35 views per day, although that wonderful dVerse Poets community does bump up my numbers every time I link one of my poems to their site. My most successful month ever was August 2013, when I was writing solidly (at my novel, at my poetry and at my blog, triple whammy) for at least 8 hours a day. So quantity and practice does make a difference. Building tribes and platforms? Pah! I leave that to those writers who have actual published books to sell. At the moment, I’m just too excited exploring.

I love the international reach of the blog. The vast majority of views do come from the US (more than 9000 – so much for claims that Americans do not read!), with the UK limping in second place with only 5000, followed by France, Greece and Canada. I do wonder what the lone person from Mauritius and Syria thought when they came across my blog… I wish them well, in their very different, probably much more difficult worlds.

The most popular topics on my blog are roughly what I expected: poems, poetry and book reviews, but I am very much amused by the search terms most used for finding me. David Foster Wallace, Tawara Machi and Poetry Workshop are all rather surprising entrants into the Top 5, but the one in the top spot will have all those who know me snorting with laughter. Are you ready for it? It’s Country gardens. Now, although I love beautiful houses and gardens, I am a very inexperienced and clumsy gardener. In fact, I have the opposite of green thumbs and manage to cheerfully kill off any plant that I buy or receive as a present. So it’s rather ironic! I hope those who are diverted to my website via this term are not too horrified by what they find here instead!

To Be Seduced

Purple sheets and iron rings

Seduction blares

A trumpet whore.

But I prefer the subtle strokes

of half-guessed thoughts.

Aslant leaves all to be desired.

 

It’s my favourite time of the week: Open Link Night over at dVerse Poets Pub. Come and join me for some fun, a real community vibe and good poetry, of course!

Those Words Again

Words have rusted in fingers and mouth

I rub their red roughness, they crumble and cling

to print-whorls

but lustre eludes and taste sharpens to metallic.

How can I restart the alchemical process?

Where can I find new words, fresh fords,

currencies not yet devalued?

Coins not rub-worn by collective wonder or greed?

I linger in surface,

afraid to leave skimming.

But dive you must to dig out pained treasure

in all its green-gold mottling

the metal out of its element now dried out to brittle snapping.

I’ve played too long with rhymes and prefixes

supped and sipped                   fêted and fated

but still I fail to breathe them back to life.

Then              when I forget to look

words ripen

thumb-grown, tendrils tumbling

from mouths in cascade of green.

Shoots spring forth

and I gape in amazement

surprise caught and filled

the wonder           the shame.

 

 

Why Dance Makes Me Envious…

Last night I had the pleasure of watching ballet for the first time in a long, long while. It was the impressive Béjart Ballet Lausanne, founded by that great moderniser, dancer and choreographer, the late Maurice Béjart. They performed Le Spectre de la Rose (not in the Nijinsky version, but with a modern and witty spin, a girl dreaming of several suitors, none of them quite up to scratch) and Le Sacre du Printemps, which nearly caused a riot when it was first performed by Diaghilev’s company in Paris in 1913. This too was not in that original version, but in Béjart’s sensual, dramatic choreography. You can catch a small flavour of it below.

They also performed a piece which had its premiere earlier this year, called Anima Bluesinspired by the films of Audrey Hepburn. And this last, more experimental work had me green with envy.

Why? Because you can convey so much more through dance than through writing. You have music and sounds (including clips of dialogue, so you also have words). You have images, lights, the beauty of human bodies in all their various forms and level of flexibility – and it’s not just static shapes, but also movement. You have several things happening simultaneously on-stage – forefront, background, left, right, out of the corner of your eye. You have emotions welling up in the audience, you are conveying meaning at both the concrete and the abstract level. There is simply so much richness there… so much ambiguity and layered meaning, so much left unsaid and yet everything is hinted at. Plus, each performance is different.

Even poetry seems a little lacklustre today, in comparison. But it’s the only instrument I have in my attempt to capture the unsayable.

Poetry and Prose

Neuroscience is such a new and rapidly developing area of research that they are discovering fascinating new aspects of our brains every week or so. Most recently, I read that a different part of the brain is engaged when reading poetry and prose. Something that poets have perhaps always referred to as a different pair of eyes (poetic eyes) through which they see the world.

It’s a different brain

a sharper brain

which syncopates the rhythms

sees flash volleys of sounds

words cometing in the void

surprises neighbours out of their comfort

and wraps scalds in gentle gauze

to render palatable to others

what scrapes one soul to rawness.

.Do you find my brain? - Auf der Suche nach mei...

It is a brain with zoom lense

fast forwarding to galaxies

or else microscopically slow

switching on-off-on at random

a mutant caught in stasis

perplexity in motion

translation misdirection

and underneath the burning

forever contradiction.

 

 

Contrasts

This little poem came out of an exercise in a poetry workshop run by Stephen Knight. Five random words were picked out of a hat and we had 10 minutes to write a two-stanza poem, one of the words per line. I rather liked the result: the point of the exercise being that sometimes we work better with constraints than without them.

Rooted in waiting at bus-stops

she drifts off like a bird,

flits in and out of dreams of stairwells,

a pillar of deepest longing,

to bring tidy smell of wax.

 

A bird trapped in his rust-cage,

wax coats his wings and beak.

He comes to a glottal stop

halfway up the stair,

watching her turn to a pillar of salt.

 

Neither Fish Nor Fowl

Books

Books (Photo credit: henry…)

 

I am being naughty. I am sitting on the sofa, snacking on almonds, drinking my nth coffee of the day.  Which would be all fine and good, if I were doing it to fuel my work. My day job: because I have a squeaky-new, hot-off-the-press course to prepare and learn so that I can deliver it on Monday. Instead, I mooch around, resenting the work I have to do, leaving it once again until it is far too late, so that panic, sleepless nights and last-minute palpitations have to set in. Not exactly setting myself up for roaring professional success!

 

What I would like to do is finish my novel, finesse some poems, try out some new ideas I’ve been getting on and off (mostly off).  However, turning my back on what I ought to be doing for the sake of what I would enjoy induces too much guilt. So I end up doing neither. Instead, I read about how others are working on their books, going through the final edits, combining their day job with creative genius.  I vacillate between inspiration and desperation. End up feeling even more guilty, of course, and with nothing to show for my efforts at the end of the day.

 

I read somewhere that having a day job nourishes and enhances your writing. Or, at the very least, it makes you appreciate each little window of time opening up to you. So what is wrong with me that I find it harder and harder to appreciate the interplay between the two?

 

I remind myself how much T. S. Eliot despised his banking job and how his Bloomsbury friends (‘poor Tom’ crops up repeatedly in Virginia Woolf’s diaries) tried to drum up some money for him so he could dedicate himself to his writing. In the end, he found his work-life balance at Faber, but I do wonder if he might have been more prolific if circumstances had been kinder.

 

Creating ‘in spite of’ rather than ‘inspired by’. Hmmm, I wonder… Do adverse circumstances help to distill your work and bring out the truly essential? Or do they just lock you down mid-flow and mid-sentence?

 

A plaque at SOAS's Faber Building, 24 Russell ...

A plaque at SOAS’s Faber Building, 24 Russell Square, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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