I’m struggling a little to find my words right now. 6 months of corporate speak, constant travelling and consummate professionalism have taken their toll. Writing and I have never been further apart – or so it seems.
But the good news is that the holidays have started now. I’m taking all of July and August off. July will be dedicated to the family, but August is mine, to read, review, blog, read your blogs and … finally nail that novel. If only the words start flowing again.
Here are some quotes from women poets and writers which currently guide and inspire me:
The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand. (Wisława Szymborska)
I’m not mad. It just seems that way
because I stagger and get a bit irritable.
There are wonderful holes in my brain
through which ideas from outside can travel
at top speed and through which voices,
sometimes whole people, speak to me
about the universe. (Jo Shapcott)
For it would seem … that we write, not with the fingers, but with the whole person. (Virginia Woolf)
Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work. (Adrienne Rich)
What am I passionate about? ‘So many things’ is the blithe answer that trips so lightly off my tongue. But is it really passion to the highest degree, do I know what I am talking about?
Is it passion which absorbs and consumes, sucks you in and leaves you breathless? Is it passion leaving you craving for more filling you with love and energy and laughter, giddifying you with joy?
No. It is a random collection, a hodge-podge. Smattering of ideas picked up hither and thither, views jostling by insights, feelings I momentarily try on like clothes in a shop.
I am such a magpie. All that sparkles is my gold. One shimmer, one sparkle and I’m there in a flash, pecking and investigating, cooing over its coolness. Pretty shiny, I grasp, pull out and clutch. But then the glimmer reappears elsewhere and my attention is instantly diverted. Still I hover, still I swoop, digging for treasure in the mud, believing I am passionate about everyone and everything. When in fact I am anything but a passionate torrent sweeping aside everything in its path. Instead, I remain the meandering little stream, pooling up in shallow banks, excited by nought so much as fools’ display.
Another busy and varied month of reading… reflecting, no doubt, the busy-ness in my so-called professional (i.e. non-writing) life. I am very far behind on my reviewing, but the holidays are starting soon and I hope to catch up with myself. However, you will soon get a feel for my reading predilection, simply by looking at the colour of the book covers… Black dominates! (Even more, possibly, if you also add the books I read in Kindle or pdf format).
So here is a list and quick reviews (with possibly more to follow) or links to reviews elsewhere:
2) Martin Walker: The Resistance Man – the latest in the utterly enchanting Bruno Courreges series set in present-day rural France
3) And because one Bruno is never enough, I’ve also read the previous book in the series ‘The Devil’s Cave’.
4) Antonin Varenne: Bed of Nails – a disturbing tale of suicides that are more than they first appear to be, set in an almost dystopian Paris, like something in a parallel universe; to be reviewed imminently on the Crime Fiction Lover website
5) Bashir Sakhawarz: Maargir the Snake Charmer – poignant vignettes of life in Afghanistan before and after the Russian invasion, as well as the story of two brothers on opposing sides of the ideological struggle
6) Marius Czubaj: 21:37 – the first Polish crime novel that I have ever read, and a promising one it is too, featuring a police profiler called Heinz (‘like the ketchup’), homophobia and corrupt businessmen and church officials.
7) Louise Penny: The Cruellest Month – I enjoyed my first taste of Inspector Gamache so much, I had to try another book in the series, and this was deeper, darker and overall even better than the previous one.
8) Mark Edwards: The Magpies – a new, subtler take on the neighbours from hell scenario, with psychological torture taken to new extremes (but no blood-soaked daggers of American stalker movies)
9) Rachael Lucas: Sealed with a Kiss. I’ve been following Rachael’s blog about gardening, writing and living with children for nearly 3 years now, so of course I had to get her first book and read it. I am loyal like that. The author claims to be a little embarrassed to admit that it is chick lit, but it is delightful, funny, fluffy and sweet. And set on a remote island off the West Coast of Scotland. Yes, a little predictable, but what’s not to love?
10) Stav Sherez: The Black Monastery. Another novel by this author ‘A Dark Redemption’ was one of my crime favourites of the year in 2012, so I wanted to read an earlier one of his, especially since the setting is a Greek island. Not as good as the other novel I read, though. The crimes are rather horrendous and the atmosphere is too dark to be truly Greek, but Stav cannot write a bad sentence. Exciting, touching and more than a shade creepy.
11) Kristina Carlson: Mr. Darwin’s Gardener. All of the hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness and diversity of the quintessential English village is displayed here, in a work that is both philosophical, liberating and oddly funny.
12) Jack Kerouac: On the Road. A bit like a rich meal: it’s fine in principle, but too much in one go. A little of it goes a long way. After a while, it gets repetitive and unbearably misogynistic.
So a good month of reads, with no major disappointments among them. Eight of the 12 books were crime fiction, three of the 12 were translations. I would probably say that my crime pick of the month is Louise Penny, while my non-crime pick is ‘Mr. Darwin’s Gardener’.
I had the pleasure of being in London last week. Mostly for work, but I did get a day off for good behaviour and went to see the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A. Any regular readers of my blog will know just what a big Bowie fan I have been since the age of about 10, when I bought my first single of ‘Scary Monsters, Super Creeps’. One of those small vinyl 45 records – remember those?
It was very, very busy, with visitors of all ages and nationalities. I could see grandparents who had probably disapproved of Bowie at the time, youngsters who were toddlers when Bowie last toured. One of the best things about the exhibition was that it was mainly about Bowie the artist, the sheer breadth of his vision, interpretations of his work, his cultural influences (what had an impact on him and how he in turn impacted others). Not so much about his personal life, his marriages, his drug-taking and other adventures. And that’s how it should be.
Maybe there was an oddly elegiac feel to the exhibition, not just celebrating his life and achievements, but almost rounding them off, stamping a seal of finality to it all, as if nothing more is to come. Luckily, the man himself proved them wrong, releasing a new album just before the exhibition opened. ‘Here am I/ Not quite dying’ he sings slyly in ‘The Next Day’. And it’s that deadpan humour, that dirty grin and naughty twinkle in his eyes that I have always loved about Bowie.
I prefer to rejoice in the music and words of the past five decades, equally fresh and enigmatic today. The exploration, the persona, chopping and changing, referencing the work of others and his own past work: there is so much richness and complexity there, you can never get bored. He contains multitudes.
Above all, what I find inspiring is that he was not only a genius (or at the very least a hugely talented musician and artist), but that he also worked very hard for all that he has achieved. He left school at sixteen, but continued to educate himself throughout his life. He makes fun of his pretentious suburban teenager self, choosing books whose titles would make him look good as they peaked out from his pockets. Yet, somehow he devoured everything, absorbed everything, forced himself to learn, for example by listening to jazz ‘until I learnt to like it’. He experimented with automatic writing, cut-up technique, Buddhism, expressionist art, German synthesizer music… and yes, drugs. But he cleaned up just in time.
He had a very clear vision of the future, huge drive and no doubt that he would achieve stardom on his own terms. From the very start, when he was still a teenage singer and saxophonist in various bands, he was intent on controlling all of the aspects of stage production, not just music, but image, costumes, lighting, backdrop (more Ground Control than mere Major Tom, as one reviewer recently put it). Throughout, he never pandered to his fans, but continued to produce just the kind of music he wanted to make. Thinking out loud, in a way, and taking his followers with him. Or not. But not really desperately caring either way.
The boy who was ahead of his time and years. The man who never forgot the boy inside. Always open to learning, to trying something new, to collaboration. And the new album? Growing old gracefully and disgracefully, with all the pain and nostalgia that entails. Beautiful.
Last night I had the great pleasure to attend a wonderful celebration: the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Geneva Writers’ Group. Needless to say, I forgot my camera at home (I always do for momentous occasions), so I can only try and convey through words the emotions, warmth and fun of the event.
It’s been twenty years since a small group of women intoxicated with the beauty and power of words first started meeting at the Cafe du Soleil in Geneva. Since then, under the passionate and expert guidance of Susan Tiberghien, the group has flourished and grown to 200 members (men and women). I was delighted to discover the group soon after I moved to Geneva and the conference they organised in February 2012 was what inspired me to write poetry again. It was also the gentle push into the world of blogging, reading, critiquing (and being critiqued) and generally connecting with other people who love literature as much as me.
So far, so predictable, right? But what I would also like to convey is the sense of deep friendship, mutual respect, humour and fun which were also present in the room. And wait, there were more surprises…
A newly created literary prize for poetry, fiction and non-fiction. 20 words or less to describe what GWG means to each one of us. A song worthy of Flanders and Swann performed by a trio with an endless collection of hats. And a special anniversary edition of the biennial publication ‘Offshoots’, in which I am proud to say I have been included with a poem and a short story. I don’t think I’ve been published on paper (at least, not for fiction) since I was in school.
And yes, I have to admit, old-fashioned old codger that I am, there is something special about seeing your name (or pseudonym) in print, that no amount of online publication can quite match in my own heart. But there is a downside to that: re-reading my own work (particularly when it is showcased next to other, far more experienced and talented writers), it suddenly looks so slight, so flat, so mundane…
Ah well, will have to do better next time! Forever onwards and upwards, proud pioneers!
*And there are some pictures from the event on Facebook, I am told.