September Reads

As I had feared, my August output of reading and writing was completely unsustainable. September brought a marked drop in all of the following:

 

  • temperature
  • time for writing
  • ability to post anything coherent on this blog
  • finishing any books

So here are the six I did manage to read, with links if they have been reviewed in greater detail elsewhere.

 

Crack in the Wall1) Claudia Piñeiro: A Crack in the Wall.

Is it possible to write a compelling book about a real crack in a concrete wall? This is exactly what Argentinian writer Claudia Piñeiro sets out to do in this unconventional crime novel, brimming with corruption, life, passion and disappointment. Of course, the cracks will prove to be metaphorical ones too: in business partnerships, marriages, personal life and in Buenos Aires society just before the economic crisis.

 

2) Zoë  Sharp: The Blood Whisperer

Teaching newbie thriller writers a thing or two about plotting and feisty females, this is a new venture for author Zoë Sharp: a standalone thriller about forensics expert Kelly Jacks, who has been wrongly convicted of manslaughter, served her prison sentence and is now working as a crime scene cleaner.  Her past threatens to catch up with her, however, when she suspects foul play at the latest crime scene.

 

3) Bernard Besson: The Greenland Breach

Join me on the 4th of November, when I will be reviewing this book as part of a blog tour, and also offering one reader the chance to win an e-book. An ecological thriller, is all I am going to say at this moment in time!

 

English: HÄkan Nesser pÄ BokmÀssan i Göteborg 2011
English: HÄkan Nesser pÄ BokmÀssan i Göteborg 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4) HĂ„kan Nesser: The Mind’s Eye

I had read later novels featuring Van Veeteren, but I had somehow missed this first one, so it was a delight to see how the grumpy cynicism of the Chief Inspector is evident from the start. I have always situated Maardam in the Netherlands (must be that Dutch-sounding Van name, too), but of course the country itself remains nameless and generic. Interesting also to see that arm’s length quality already present even in this early book: there is something deliberately neutral, almost cold about Nesser, very different from the emotionally wrenching novels of Karin Fossum, for instance.

 

5) Cormac McCarthy: The Road

I’d deliberately avoided reading this book, because it seemed to be such a bleak, uncompromising subject matter. But when I finally succumbed to it, I found it quite different from what I expected. Sure, the ash-strewn landscape of the apocalypse features heavily here and there is very little joy in the book. In fact, nothing much happens at all in the book – it is all about what has happened, what may happen or what is about to happen. Humans are stripped bare of all humanity, there is a patient piling on of horrible detail after horrible detail… and yet, ultimately, I found it uplifting, how the strong bond of love between father and son can keep both of them safe and whole, at least spiritually, if not always physically. It is the triumph of the spirit in the face of calamity.

 

Cover of "A Circle of Quiet"
Cover of A Circle of Quiet

6) Madeleine L’Engle: A Circle of Quiet

 

A book to dip into now and then, whenever you find your writerly soul in need of inspiration or gentle understanding. She describes the challenges of combining family life and writing perfectly. One to treasure for a long time.

 

Still: Time and Distractions

www.decoist.com
http://www.decoist.com

There was a reason I named my blog ‘Finding Time to Write’.  18 months on, and this is still the greatest challenge for me.

I am ashamed that this should be the case. ‘First World’, ‘middle class problem’ and ‘mountain out of a molehill’ are expressions that come to mind whenever I want to write about this, even in the privacy of my diary. I feel humbled by stories of true courage in the face of adversity, such as Amy Good’s account of writing with aphasia  or a poet’s moving account of writing while caring for her invalid husband. I haven’t quite figured out why I can spend hours genuinely sympathising with friends who struggle to balance career, family and creativity, but am so bitterly unforgiving with myself when I dare to voice the same concerns. With others it’s justified and I take their arguments at face value. With me, it’s petty little excuses.

I chide Ice Queen Me for requiring so much space (both physical and mental) to write.  I try to reason with Ritualistic Me that a notebook, a pen and a corner of a table should be all that is required for my writing happiness.  I quarrel with Harridan Mum that absolute silence is not enforceable, practical or necessary for inspiration. And I do daily grim, wordless battle with Ms. Procrastinator, serving her a steady diet of frogs to swallow first thing every morning, before challenging her to a sword-fight.

Yet the numbers speak for themselves.

August: month of no children, family, work or social obligations.

Second draft of novel completed, 21 blog posts posted, 27 books read, 12 book reviews completed, 12 new poems written, 2 poems edited and submitted to competition.

Children came back 10 days ago.

treehouse1
Tree House Lodge, Costa Rica.

Since then, I have done zero writing or editing on my novel, 0 poems written, 2 blog posts (both cheats: one a poem I had written earlier, the other a simple list of reading), and 1 book review which I had half-written previously.  And I finished one book (which I had started before their arrival).

I’ve started reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Crosswicks journals and so much of what she says resonates with me:

Every so often I need OUT; something will throw me into total disproportion, and I have to get away from everybody – away from all of these people I love most in the world – in order to regain a sense of proportion.

It is almost frightening how content I was with the lonely life, how quickly I adapted to a day shaped around my writing, how nothing else seemed to matter. Yet, of course, now, when I clasp those bony knees and scraped elbows, making a bundle of them in my arms, trying to fit them still within my protective embrace… I know that something else does matter.  I don’t know if being a mother has changed me as a writer or improved my writing in any way. I fear not. It’s not just the spectre of time that is haunting me now, but also the Ghost of Courage Past. I seem less willing to venture out on that limb, with no thought of return. I need to find my way back. To them, my beloved millstones. Tell myself that old lie, which sometimes fails to comfort: that there is still plenty of time to progress, learn my craft, write and publish.

So perhaps I could have been a writer without being a mother, but I do know that I could not have been a mother without being a mother. Or without being a writer.