Secret

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A bottle of grains flung in the sand

harvest moon pregnant with damp

a world of murmurs subsiding to buzz

autographs given with minimum fuss

I wonder where all unspeakable is kept

in what tangle of lies it is wrapped

I wonder when we shall be whole

when the ravenous beast is full.

This is an experiment with near-rhymes or slant-rhymes, which are words that almost rhyme but not quite.  As a very auditory person (I used to record lessons in high school, so that I could learn them better), I love playing around with rhymes and rhythms. I usually do far too little of that in my poetry.

This is the 100th poem that I’m posting to this blog – my hundredth poem since I started writing again in February 2012.  It may not feel like much, an average of 5 a month, but it is such an improvement to my previous (zero) output! I can also report a change in attitude towards poetry. I used to think of it as a form of procrastination (to avoid having to deal with my novel). But I have now come to love it in its own right, to actually work at it and try out new things.  In no small part, thanks to such a fantastic group as the dVerse Poets, so I’m dedicating my 100th poem to them.

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Who is Flavia de Luce?

As it happens, Flavia is my 7th continent for the Global Reading Challenge hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.  For those unfamiliar with the notion of the seventh continent, this could be crime fiction from or set in Antarctica.  However, since there is remarkably little literature being written there – I suppose all those scientists have got bigger equipment to fry monitor – it can also be defined as: the sea, space, the supernatural, history, the future – or whichever alternative setting you can come up with for this wildcard category.

In my case, following fashion would clearly be a novelty for me.  So I read something about vampires (that was my first contribution to the challenge). My second venture into the realm of trendiness was YA literature.  My children are still too young to read YA, so I haven’t been able to borrow their books yet.  In fact, I am not quite sure what YA is, because when I was 12-18 I was reading all the grown-up books when I wanted to be cool and all the children’s books when I needed comforting.

I still do.

FlaviacoverAnd sure enough, the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley strikes me as the kind of thing to appeal to grown-ups more than to eleven-year-olds, even such precocious 11-year-olds as Flavia.  This is comfort food at its best.  The book I read was ‘I am Half-Sick of Shadows’ and it’s a perfect escapist read.

Flavia is the youngest daughter of an aristocratic English family, who has fallen on hard times. They are struggling to make ends meet in their crumbling country house, but they still manage to have servants and a laboratory in the east wing.  This is where Flavia, a budding chemist, can recreate her uncle’s experiments.  She is planning something special this Christmas: to entrap Father Christmas with a birdlime resin mixture as he slides down the chimney.

In the meantime, her father is renting out their manor as a film location. Flavia is annoyed that Christmas preparations are suffering as a result of the invasion of the film crew, but her sisters are excited to meet the famous film star Phyllis Wyvern. When Phyllis agrees to stage a charity event at the hall, more than half the village turns up to watch despite forecasts of blizzard.  Everyone is snowed in for the night, and they soon make a shocking discovery: a body, strangled to death with a length of film.  As the local police bumble along in their investigation, it is up to perky little Flavia to uncover the real culprit.

As you can surmise, this book looks back nostalgically at the Golden Age of crime fiction: a typical country-house mystery with a small cast of characters.  What makes it different, of course, is the witty, prickly and mischievous narrator, Flavia herself.  She is an intriguing, beguiling creation – but, let’s be honest, no eleven year old would think, talk or behave like that.

So that’s why I think this book is aimed at an adult audience, who can appreciate all of the puns and cultural or scientific references. Adults who have a nostalgia for their childhood capers and who seem to remember they were far more precocious than they perhaps really were. I’ve reread a few of my ‘young adult’ diaries and there is very little trace of sophistication or wit there, I can assure you.  Luckily, there is in this book, so a good time will be had by all.

Inspired by a Picture

you-can-fly-mary-by-judith-clay
you-can-fly-mary-by-judith-clay

Claudia from dVerse Poets has introduced us to a wonderful German artist, Judith Clay, whose dream-like paintings are our poetic inspiration this week.  For more pictures and details, please visit Judith’s website http://society6.com/judithclay.

Blue Moon

Please take just this once my hand

and lead me to the terrace

to bathe in silken moonrays

drink in the shush of trees

laugh softly at the mewl of plaintive cats

and trace that whimper within us

eyes sinking in each other’s.

 

For once switch off reason

indulge in full moon madness

dance among the giants of Poesy

and leave

algorithms, measurements

to tremble just a little

at fear of your neglect,

your newfound magic powers.

And if you can’t lead, follow,

join me in this folly,

savour every twinkle

of fairy-silver dust.

As I ascend, so fly me

with eyes open to wonder

and planetary music our only constant guides.

Just be

Just feel

Oh sweetness

of stolen blue

moon incantation.

Interview with French Writer Sylvie Granotier

SylvieGranotier1Sylvie Granotier is a French actress, screenwriter and novelist, born in Algeria and growing up in Paris and Morocco. After completing her theatrical studies, she spent several years travelling around the world, including the United States, Brazil and Afghanistan. After a successful acting career, she turned to fiction. Fourteen novels and many short stories later, Sylvie Granotier is a major crime fiction author in France; her work has been translated into German, Italian, Russian and Greek. Le French Book brings us the first English translation of her novel The Paris Lawyer. The novel is both a legal procedural and a psychological thriller set in the heart of French countryside, La Creuse, considered by many to be a backward, closed-off rural area full of secrets.

I had the pleasure of meeting Sylvie at the Lyon Crime Festival Quais du Polar and I became an instant fan.  Imagine a taller, more glamorous version of Dame Judi Dench, expressing her thoughts in a carefully modulated voice, in beautiful English with a delightful French accent.

Have you always known you were going to end up writing crime fiction? 

No, it was quite a shock.  I never dared to consider that I would write some day.  I drifted for a few years, had no aims or ambitions.  Then I found myself translating Grace Paley’s short stories – I really admired her style and she had never been translated into French before. When my translation got published, she came to Paris and met me. She told me how she had started writing rather late in life and it was almost like she gave me the permission to write.  She never said it in so many words, but the day she took the plane back home, I started writing my first novel. So the two are not unrelated, I think!

And it was crime fiction that you instinctively turned to?

Yes, there was never any doubt in my mind. I’d enjoyed crime novels so much when I lived in the States.  Writing a book that can really grab the reader seemed to me the highest ambition for a writer.  Would I be able to do that?  It’s a genre that has given me so much pleasure, so it seemed an honour to be entering that genre.

Which authors inspire you?

Hard to choose, I’m inspired by all sorts of writing, not just crime fiction. I like Dickens, Melville, Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Elizabeth George.  I like those crime authors who deal more with the psychology, the human aspects of a crime.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

Each book is a story that needs to be told. It can be a small seed from something I’ve read or seen or heard years before and it takes root and germinates inside.  I don’t start with my characters.  I always start with a fragment of a story, a promise, and the characters develop as the story evolves. I want to find out more about them and they often surprise me – which, to me, is proof that the story is alive. I have been known to erase a complete book, because I felt I knew too well what was going to happen. It was no longer interesting to me, it had lost its capacity to surprise me.

TheParisLawyerWhat differences (if any) do you notice between American and French crime fiction?

The way the legal system works is very different, of course, and a story is often influenced by the way in which you do your job.  Then, the language: French is far more organized, grammatical, constricted, more of a corset, less open to experimentation.  Finally, there is something about the way each country views good and evil.  American writers are not afraid to deal with huge themes like serial killers and innate evil. They have great faith in the truth emerging triumphant and justice being served.  In France – perhaps in Europe in general – we are more cynical about the truth ever coming out fully in a trial. We are perhaps too morally ambiguous, everything is too grey with us, not black and white.  Perhaps we feel that criminals are not necessarily evil, but simply people like you and me caught up in desperate matters.

What about the way women are portrayed in American vs. French crime fiction?

In my book ‘The Paris Lawyer’ I deliberately chose a very modern type of Parisian woman, independent, strong, dealing with men on her own terms.  She is sexy, stylish, uninhibited, despite her being haunted by her past.  I think she is very different from the kick-ass school of American female investigators, which I do also enjoy very much!  But I think there’s got to be room for both Vic Warshawski and for Catherine Monsigny in crime novels.  And we the readers are all the richer for it.

 

For more information on The Paris Lawyer and options for buying this or other crime fiction from France, please go to Le French Book’s Amazon page. For further reviews of the book, see Margot Kinberg , Ms. Wordopolis or Karen .

Flash Fiction: 55 Word Challenge

A quick little challenge for you: can you write a piece of Flash Fiction in just 55 words?  That’s what G-Man is challenging us to do each Friday over here.   I was planning a different blog post for today, an interview with a famous French crime writer, but that will come later on, as I could not resist this.

She’d forgotten the milk again. Never mind, dry cereal strengthens the teeth.  She watched their little jaws chewing, but the thought of eating any herself made her feel nauseous.

After walking them to school, she felt the familiar waves of blackness engulf her.  She opened the second bottle of vodka and thanked her lucky stars.

 

Bangkok Eight by John Burdett

I can finally add to my Global Reading Challenge list, hosted by the ever-suave and encyclopedic Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.  

Bangkok8Welcome to Bangkok – you are in for a rollercoaster ride of thrills, spills and emotional manipulation in the hands of a supremely confident writer, John Burdett.

Sonchai Jitpleecheep is a half-caste cop from Bangkok’s District 8 (hence the title).  He and his childhood friend and partner, Pichai, are probably the only two cops not on the take in the city. In the opening scenes, they are following a US marine in his Mercedes E series, without quite knowing the reason for the close surveillance.  When they finally catch up with the American, they discover he has been trapped in his car and bitten to death by a swarm of cobras and a drugged python. A few minutes later, Pichai too falls victim to one of the snakes.  Sonchai is a devout Buddhist who may be intent on becoming an arhat (living saint), but only after he avenges the death of his soul-brother.

The American Embassy and the FBI get involved, of course, as does Sonchai’s corrupt but somehow likeable boss.  It’s a complicated plot, exposing all of the unsavoury underbelly of the City of the Angels: prostitution, violence against women, drug smuggling, dubious jade trade and desperate poverty.  And yet there is a lot of love and understanding for Thai culture here, albeit seen through the somewhat cynical eyes of an outsider, half-American and half-Thai, who never fits in completely with either culture.

buddhasWhat I most enjoyed about this was the singular, strong voice of the narrator.  He makes you enter a largely unfamiliar world with such aplomb, that you are completely on his side.  I cannot judge how accurate Burdett’s portrayal of Thailand is (I hope it is exaggerated), but while we have Sonchai’s compelling voice haranguing us farangs (foreigners), it is completely believable.  And I can’t get enough of his wily mother Nong, a retired prostitute ready to open a go-go club for the Third Age.

Exotic and quite distressing in places, it is a book best read before and after some calmer, cosier pieces, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it for the world.

 

For Days Now, Mr. Bowie

Space Oddity Album Cover 1.
Space Oddity Album Cover 1.

For days now Mr. Bowie

has withered my poetic vine.

He absorbs all thought, each molecule

of passion.

So dreams turn monotonal

and pastel-grey wins mornings.

Twelve labours turn to twenty,

each step backbreaking toil.

Ears hum with his songs, not mine.

(So easy to find solace

when others say it better.)

Tempted – oh, yes! – to stop searching

for the word forever lost, crooked, faulty…

For just one minute I stopped upon a rock

with Sisyphus

lost in contemplation

of the melody of life.

Hunky Dory Album Cover
Hunky Dory Album Cover

But tell me, Mr. Bowie,

you who have known sorrow

– and great joy too, no doubt –

what do you know of my heart?

How can you show in my place

where fear fell  away,

out glistened unfettered soul beneath?

You cannot speak for me

so haunt no more my mind and senses.

Leave me to find my own laborious words.

 

Despite the pictures and the name-dropping, this poem is not really about David Bowie at all, although you know that I am a fan.  It’s about writing, finding words to describe your experiences, finding your own voice, inspiration: all the bees that are currently flying around in my bonnet.  Buzz over to the dVerse Poets Pub today, where they have Open Link Night.