This Week Is For Living

What a tumultuous week it’s been! I’ve been somewhat paralyzed, like a deer in the headlights, unable to quite tear myself from the news and ranting about it to uncomprehending children…

This coming week will be different. For one thing, I will be posting less on the blog, you’ll be relieved to hear. ‘Why, oh why deprive us of your phenomenal reviews and musings, Marina?’ I hear you say (no snickering at the back, I can see you!). Well, because this will be a week of waving bye-bye to old housemates, living hard and trying out new things! Oh, and also because I am not organised enough to write posts and schedule them well in advance.

So what are the specifics? Aside from vet’s and dentist’s appointments, the usual job hunting malarkey and tax self-assessment (those are the less fun parts of the week), I will also be trying out several new physical activities, courtesy of the Fit for Life Week being organised in my local area. I will explore Tai Chi (I tried it a decade or so ago and loved it), a Ramblers’ walk, table tennis and running. So I’ll be reconnecting with all of the things I loved in my youth (other than skiing), because I hate going to the gym and am too uncoordinated for aerobics and zumba classes. Everybody always tells you how important physical exercise is when you are suffering from SAD or depression, but it can be so difficult to motivate yourself to do it regularly. Especially when you don’t have much time or would rather be writing instead.

They never show you the reality of running in the run on muddy paths, do they?
They never show you the reality of running in the run on muddy paths, do they?

On Wednesday I’ll be going to London to see Eugen Chirovici in discussion with Joe Haddow at Goldsboro Books. I’m really eager to read his book, the first that this Romanian author has written in English. What I didn’t know was that he was based in Reading while writing it, so quite close to where I live now.  At the time, however, I was in Geneva, so any dreams of creating our own two-person dynamic writing duo would have come to naught. And, as luck would have it, he is now based in Brussels.

Chirovici’s book has been translated into French and he’s been invited to my favourite crime festival, Quais du Polar, which will take place between 31st March – 2nd April this year in Lyon. I am trying to make up my mind whether I can afford to attend. Or if I can afford NOT to attend, as the line-up of crime-writing talent is magnificent, as usual: Ragnar Jonasson, Val McDermid, Clare Mackintosh, Arnaldur Indridason, David Vann, David Young, Sebastian Fitzek, Qiu Xialong, Zygmunt Miłoszewski , to name but a few of the international contingent.

From Quais du Polar website.
From Quais du Polar website.

On Thursday I’ll be traipsing to London once more to watch Amadeus at the National Theatre. One of my favourite plays and films of all time, and I’ve heard Lucian Msamati makes a compelling Salieri. If you can’t get tickets or go to London to see it, there will be a live broadcast on the 2nd of February. I’m tempted to see it again with my older son, the theatre buff. Or perhaps I should show him the film instead.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Universal History Archive/REX (4421088a) From BBC.com 'Amadeus' a 1984 period drama film starring F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce and Elizabeth Berridge. VARIOUS
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Universal History Archive/REX (4421088a) From BBC.com

Finally, it will be the first weekend that the boys will be spending at their father’s house after he moved out this past weekend. I’m not quite sure how empty the house will feel without them, but I do know that I won’t be going with them to the cinema to watch Sing. I would have liked to watch Hidden Figures, but, sadly, our local cinema focuses on latest blockbusters rather than smaller or independent or foreign language films. I might aim instead for Silence (based on Endo Shusaku’s novel) or T2 Trainspotting, although both of them sound dark rather than uplifting.

Any cultural events you are looking forward to this coming week or month? Let me know, especially if you are planning to come to London at any point. Perhaps we can meet up, if you still crave the sublimity of my book reviews or wish to hear me recite my poems out loud! I promise not to rant about politics.

 

 

Friday Fun: Famous Writers and their Studies

There is an enduring fascination with the writing spaces and rituals of famous writers. Perhaps by mimicking some of their surroundings or habits, some of the talent might rub off on us!

Charles Dickesn in his purpose-built Swiss Chalet, the garden shed to crown all garden sheds. From Nicolebianchi.com
Charles Dickens in his purpose-built Swiss Chalet, the garden shed to crown all garden sheds. From Nicolebianchi.com
Rudyard Kipling was likewise not a struggling writer, clearly... From Art of Manliness.
Rudyard Kipling was likewise not a struggling writer, clearly… From Art of Manliness.
Hnery Miller did not even use his study much, other than for posing. From Booktique.com
Henry Miller did not even use his study much, other than for posing. From Booktique.com
Ernest Hemingway's study in Key West. From earthxplorer.com
Ernest Hemingway’s colourful study in Key West. From earthxplorer.com
Pablo Neruda looked out on a beautiful view, just as I imagined. From Pinterest.
Pablo Neruda looked out on a beautiful view, just as I imagined. From Pinterest.
While Anne Sexton looked at the camera, giving us plenty of attitude. From This Recording.
While Anne Sexton looked at the camera, giving us plenty of attitude. From This Recording.
Finally, Norman Mailer had such a fancy library-like house over two storeys, that he could not work there. He would go to write in a bare little studio a block away. From Art of Manliness.
Finally, Norman Mailer had such a fancy library-like house over two storeys, that he could not work there. He would go to write in a bare little studio a block away. From Art of Manliness.

Good fortune and good writing spaces are clearly wasted on some people…

In my next Friday Fun, I will show living authors and some more non-English ones.

Friday Fun: Mansion Rescue

Mansions in decay, abandoned for years, taken over by vegetation… are they not calling out to you, to be rescued?

Deserted wooden mansion in the American Midwest, from Red Dead Wiki
Deserted wooden mansion in the American Midwest, from Red Dead Wiki
Another American Beauty: the Bannerman Mansion in New York, from Kuriositas.
Another American Beauty: the Bannerman Mansion in New York, from Kuriositas. Explosives and a fire put an end to this building.
Back in Europe, Kasteel van Mesen in Belgium is reported to harbour ghosts. From Ghosthunter.nl
Back in Europe, Kasteel van Mesen in Belgium is reported to harbour ghosts. From Ghosthunter.nl
Small but oho! Villa de Veche on Lake Como, from Ghostsmedia.
Small but oho! Villa de Veche on Lake Como, from Ghostsmedia.
Pidhirtsi Castle in Ukraine, from Strange Abandoned Places.
Pidhirtsi Castle in Ukraine, from Strange Abandoned Places. Although the castle was looted and damaged by the Russians during WW1, it wasn’t until the 1950s that it burnt down. Restoration work is progressing very slowly, owing to lack of funds.
The Sobanski Palace in Poland, from Pinterest.
The Sobanski Palace in Poland, from Pinterest.
The staircase of Prince Said Halim's Palace in Cairo, from Urban Ghosts Media
The staircase of Prince Said Halim’s Palace in Cairo, from Urban Ghosts Media
The FCC Mansion in Cambodia is being reopened for art and culture events. From fcccambodia.com
The FCC Mansion in Cambodia is being reopened for art and culture events. From fcccambodia.com
Beautifully integrated in the landscape: the Talisay Mansion in the Philippines, from Matador Network,
Beautifully integrated in the landscape: the Talisay Mansion in the Philippines, from Matador Network.

One of the saddest stories of decaying buildings is The Grande Hotel Beira in Mozambique – although its fate is the very opposite of abandonment. Once the most opulent and largest hotel on the African continent, it operated for less than a decade and closed down, citing a lack of visitors. Civil war led to a steady stream of refugees squatting in the building – and they have stayed there even after the peace settlement. It’s estimated that between 1200-2000 people live there in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. I didn’t have the heart to show any pictures, but a documentary was made about it in 2007, entitled Night Lodgers.

 

 

Book Launch for #DeepDownDead

I started my Christmas reading with Steph Broadribb’s  Deep Down Dead and it gave me a feisty attitude to see me through the tricky holiday period. So I was delighted to attend the official launch for the book at Waterstone’s Piccadilly last night.

I want someone to look at me the way Steph looks at Karen in this picture...
I want someone to look at me the way Steph looks at Karen in this picture…

Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books never does things by half: this was an Americana-themed night, with Bourbon, Hershey’s candy and corn-bread on offer. And, of course, the by now traditional cake (which is not just a pretty icing, immaculately put together, but also delicious).

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Steph herself was in great form, and Martyn Waites got her to share stories of bounty-hunting training in California, exploring theme parks in Florida and how she acquired her shooting skills but needs to update her tasering skills. She also told us about her love of country music and cowboy boots.

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There was such a good turn-out of writers, bloggers, publishers and readers at the event – a testimony to the love and esteem that Steph has built up via her blog at Crime Thriller Girl. Asked whether her reviewing has changed now that she is a published writer herself, Steph said she hoped she hasn’t become either harsher or more lenient, but admitted that she just has far less time to read and review. However, she said book blogging is a wonderful way to get to know people and to push yourself to read more broadly.

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I finally had the chance to catch up with authors such as Quentin Bates, Rod Reynolds, Fiona Cummins, Lisa Hall, Louise Beech, Jane Isaac, Susi Holliday and A.K. Benedict, as well as stalwart bloggers and reviewers such as Barry Forshaw, SonyaLiz Barnsley, Vicky Goldman, Joy Kluver. Plus so many more that I didn’t get a chance to bump into. Ah, well perhaps at a crime festival soon… However, I can foresee it will be harder and harder to keep up with all the releases once I get to know more and more authors, as I feel obliged to read their work so I can make intelligent conversation.

How many writers can you spot in one picture: Quentin Bates, Barry Forshaw, Daniel Pembrey...
How many writers can you spot in one picture: Quentin Bates, Barry Forshaw, Daniel Pembrey…

I tried to dress up for the occasion, but by the end of the evening, hobbling back on the Tube and train, I was somewhat regretting the high-heeled cowboy boots (well, more Spaghetti Western boots).

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Thank you all for a lovely evening, especially Orenda Books for the invitation and Steph for giving us something to celebrate: the book itself!

Friday Fun: Snow and Mountain Love

I am a snow bunny, an unashamed snow bunny (imagine this sung to the tune of An Englishman in New York). Admittedly, at times the memory of skiing is much sweeter when you are safely nestled beside a toasty fire, sipping mulled wine and reading a favourite book. I won’t be skiing this year, but I have plenty of wonderful memories…

This is my idea of heavenly powder... from OnTheSnow.com
This is my idea of heavenly powder… from OnTheSnow.com
Nope, I can't jump like that, but I keep on dreaming. From lasrehab.com
Nope, I can’t jump like that, but I keep on dreaming. From lasrehab.com
A corner of the French Alps formerly known as home.
A corner of the French Alps formerly known as home.
If you get bored of using your own legs for locomotion...
If you get bored of using your own legs for locomotion… Plus an indispensable finger over the camera lense!
Personally, I find snowshoeing more challenging than skiing...
Personally, I find snowshoeing more challenging than skiing…
Mont Blanc is a stunner from all angles.
Mont Blanc is a stunner from all angles.

And after the effort and the cold, relax the Savoyard or Swiss way, with a raclette in front of the fireplace.

From Tripadvisor.com
From Tripadvisor.com

Alice Munro: Too Much Happiness

toomuchhappinessWith an unwitting stroke of irony, this book was shelved, thanks to its promising title, under ‘mood-boosting books’ at my local library. I did wonder a little at that, as past experience with Alice Munro had acquainted me with her sharp eye for dissecting trouble under a seemingly happy façade…

And sure enough, this was another collection of stories with brutal themes – families destroyed by anger and resentment, wrestling for control, manipulation and deceit. Her style is, as always, cool and collected, all about controlled fury rather than rants, about women’s hidden strengths and men’s visible weaknesses, the cruelty of children and the countless small hurts which add up to a lifetime of cracks and fissures.

The title story is about a real person, Sophia Kovalevsky, the first Russian female mathematician and the first woman to hold a professorial chair at a North European university (in Sweden). Munro riffs on the challenges and possibilities of this extraordinary woman, ‘full of glowing and exceptional ideas’, who was both politically engaged and also a prose writer, and who died at the age of forty-one.

We do get to see Sophia’s family in this story, but other stories are much more explicitly about those ties which bind us. And the family is not seen as a place of harbour and refuge in Alice Munro’s world. In fact, quite the opposite: men as dominant bullies taking advantage of young girls who then wreak revenge (‘Wenlock Edge’), men and women as more or less subtle murderers (in ‘Dimensions’ or ‘Free Radicals’), children teasing or harassing those who are different to themselves (‘Face’ or ‘Child’s Play’), first wives being abandoned , families reforming and mothers feeling disappointed about their offspring (‘Deep-Holes’ and ‘Fiction’). These are all people I would hate to encounter in real life… and yet I probably have.

alicemunroOften described as ‘stark and unflinching’, you can certainly understand why this dissection of modern family life is disturbing and unforgettable. I cannot read too much of her in one go, I have to admit. Add to this the fact that Munro often edits her stories quite extensively between the first publication (usually in a literary journal) and the final appearance in a collection, and you can see just sharp her scalpel is, and how precise and exquisite her style.

Back in the Saddle with 2017 Reasons to Go, Go, Go!

Happy New Year to everyone! No sooner have we drawn a collective sigh of relief that the seemingly cursed 2016 is over, then we realise that 2017 carries the hangover of 2016’s unresolved problems plus bringing many new ones of its own.

The loss of so many cultural heroes has saddened me, but I wonder if some of  us are mourning something more than that: a loss of innocence, perhaps, and the triumph of cynicism and mediocrity. I haven’t felt this traumatised since the early 1990s in Romania, when the initial euphoria over the burial of the old world order degenerated into frustration and puzzlement as the new order refused – despite repeated additional chances we gave it – to show anything truly new or valuable.

My Christmas was surprisingly calm, even though it was a calm based on avoidance. The atmosphere was equally as indifferent and frosty as over the past 4-5 years, but this time it was not thwarted with dashed expectations. So I read a lot and ran my own programme of events (some by myself, some with the youngsters) without worrying about keeping the rest of the family fed, washed, educated and entertained (OK, I still had to do the first three, but I did it less obsessively than in previous years).

I know I should have some goals or resolutions for the New Year, and that sharing them here might mean I stand a better chance of actually achieving them. And yet, like every year, I have just the one resolution (or call it hope): that 2017 is going to be my best year yet, the year of changing and growing and learning… and finding the odd moments of contentment, peace and satisfaction.

Hope is the feeling we have that the feeling we have is not permanent. (Mignon Mclaughlin)

I have 2017 reasons to make the most of this next year. No, don’t worry, I won’t share them all with you! Merely the first two, the greatest of my reasons: two rapidly growing boys who deserve to know a happier, more optimistic, more successful, less resentful, more active, healthier mother than she has been over the past 6-7 years (for more than half of their lives).

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