Thursday, 28 February 2019

Plaster casts, knee scooters, cats and obsessive editing, by Enid Richemont

My much-delayed operation, total ankle replacement surgery, is finally happening on February 15th, so by the time you're reading this, I'll be recovering in hospital, with a knee to foot plaster cast, and my life will have changed forever. So far, I've managed to avoid breaking a limb, so being in plaster will be a new experience for me - unwelcome, but necessary if I am to avoid either a wheelchair or a mobility scooter. Apart from that, my other nightmare will be dependency, and the necessary, but depressing, mobility equipment, with, possibly, the exception of a knee scooter, which does sound like fun. If you haven't yet encountered these, they are a clever alternative to crutches, which, so far, I'm unable to deal with. Imagine an adult-sized scooter, but with extra wheels for turning in small spaces - you simply put the leg in plaster on a padded support, and scoot with the other leg, meaning some kind of exercise. It also means I can 'park' it - it has brakes - and do things with my hands, which is impossible on crutches.

The image (above right) has nothing at all to do with any of this, but it's one of my favourite postcards and decades old, so I thought I'd share it. It's a very old Camden Graphics card, and after all these years, I finally checked the name of the artist - it's Louise Voce, so I googled her, to discover she is? was? one of the illustrators at Walker Books, my first publishers. I now need to discover more about her, at which the Internet is brilliant. Other postcards I collected from around that period, and related in feeling, are the 'cat' images - every possible pun around the many words beginning with CAT. 'Catastrophe' (as in 'Brexit') anyone? 'Catapult'? 'Catankerous'? In this case, I think the artist was French, but I may well be wrong. Anyone know? Oh how much the visual and literary world owes to cats!

For years I've been going back to my two quite lengthy adult novels: "COUNTERPOINT" and "THE RECURRENCE OF RED". They're actually linked, although no one reading them would guess. I suppose every book has its personal history. A novel I've just finished has a very curious one which leaves me totally baffled. Like many such works, it features a dystopia, in this case one in which all senses and emotions are supressed medically. I read it on the Kindle, and then went on to read the author's account of what happened after it was published (to great acclaim,and the author became very well known and still is, which is why I'm not posting details here.) It seems that many people were offended by the book, and even death threats were made, to the extent that the author was advised not to visit a certain American city. Now this novel has no sex scenes, although sexual feelings are very slightly hinted at, and no references AT ALL to any religion, yet one reader complained about Jesus being somewhat miffed. Americans can certainly be very strange.

Lastly, editing - does it ever stop? Even when the book's actually published? Thoughts on this, please, as I get obsessive.

The image on the right is one of politics in a nutshell, and not for the sensitive. The storyline was via my dearest friend and editor Anne Carter, and Jan Pienkowski did the paper sculptures - each spread featuring an open mouth. DINNER TIME indeed!

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

The Ultimate Guide to the Writing Life - Andrew Crofts

More than quarter of a century ago I wrote a book called “How to Make Money from Freelance Writing”. It was published by Piatkus and was reprinted and updated a number of times, sometimes under the title “Freelance Writer’s Handbook”. Royalties still trickle in today, even though the working landscape for freelance writers has changed in many ways.

Image result for Freelance Writer's Handbook Andrew Crofts

Even though my income derives entirely from book writing these days, I have always kept a keen interest in books about the writing and publishing industries in general, always on the lookout for new ways to keep the money flowing in and tips on marketing.

The latest one to catch my attention is “The Business of Being a Writer” by Jane Friedman and it by far the best I have come across for a long time.

The Business of Being a Writer

I have been aware of Jane Friedman for some time, following her on Twitter, reading her articles, that sort of thing, so I was pretty confident that it was going to be good when I ordered it. I was not disappointed. Every university and every creative writing course should give their graduates a copy of this book to help them make the transition from lecture hall to reality. It is absolutely comprehensive, up to date, matter-of-fact and optimistic without being unrealistic.

Jane Friedman is undoubtedly the ultimate expert on the subject.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

No Appropriation Here: Dipika Mukherjee meets Manoranjan Byapari

On February 24, 2019,  Manoranjan Byapari was launching a new book, titled There's Gunpowder in the Air, translated by Arunava Sinha. I was lucky to be in Delhi, and meet him. 

As an Indian writer, I feel privileged to be alive and writing at a time when so many regional voices from India are available in translation. As a postgraduate scholar in Texas, it had irritated me to see  upper-class Indians with the privilege of their elite English educations building an academic reputation on whether subalterns could speak; clearly, in these cases, the people being spoken for would never read the lofty ivy league theories being spun on their behalf.

So it is a pleasure to hear someone like Byapari, a Dalit who taught himself how to read while in jail, speaking for his people while deconstructing his own life. And what a raconteur he is! Having worked as a rickshaw-puller after being jailed for his political views, he spins tales of rage and redemption from life, and has gone on to win many literary awards, including  the Hindu Prize for non-fiction in 2019.

In India, English speakers are still the elite, and the language wields considerable economic power in a country always attuned to global migration and trade. Yet it is within the regional languages that the majority of Indian people lead their daily lives, both transactional and social. Byapari, and other writers of his ilk, are giving a validity to the much-maligned vernacular languages. In this post (translated by Arunava Sinha), Byapari writes:

Two of us spoke up for the Dalit community at the Kolkata Book Fair this year: Kancha Ilaiah from Telengana and me from Bengal. Kancha sahib stated (or so I was told, for I don't know English myself) that every Dalit should insist on learning English. He even claimed that English should be taught along with the mother tongue in primary school. He also said that it was because he wrote his first book in English that his voice travelled across the country and around the world very quickly…

What I said was completely different. It is not as though I have to fall in with someone's views just because they are a celebrity amongst Dalits. I do not acknowledge any such compulsion. I felt what he was saying was incorrect, and so I opposed his viewpoint.

I always emphasise that there is caste within class, and also class within caste. What I have learnt from my own reading and understanding is that, ever since the time of B R Ambedkar, those who have led the agitations highlighting the problems of the Dalit community belonged to its upper reaches…

Those who are Dalits as well as poor face six specific problems: food, clothing, education, houses, healthcare, and social respect. For the leaders of the Dalit community, the first five problems have been solved in one way or another. What remains is just respect. This is the only issue on which they speak from different platforms and write in the media. What they're trying to say is: we have become well-educated and cultured gentlemen, so it's time for upper-class society to acknowledge us as equals and accept us in their social circles. This is all they need for their discontent and their rage to die down.

But the ordinary Dalit does not seek such respect. It doesn't even occur to him. I've seen that when a 'gentleman' addresses a rickshaw-driver old enough to be his father in the most humiliating way, and then offers an extra rupee or two as the fare, the same rickshaw-driver is overwhelmed with gratitude. For he can use that money to buy a little more rice. Starvation is agonising, and this will bring him a little relief.

I am reminded of an incident from a long time ago. It was during the Durga Puja celebrations. A member of the Dalit community used to deliver water to different shops. One of his regular customers ran a biriyani store, a shop with a formidable reputation, which ensured that its owner never served stale food. On that particular day some of the biriyani had remained unsold. The next morning, spotting the water-supplier, the shopkeeper shouted – I have about four plates of biriyani from yesterday, come and take it. Courteously the water-supplier replied – Dada, let me just deliver the water to that shop there, I'll collect it right afterwards. The shopkeeper said – I've waited a long time for you, the pots and pans have to be cleaned. Take it right now or I'll feed it to the dogs.

The water-supplier's face fell. He went up to the shop and packed the stale biriyani, garnished with humiliation, in his gamchha. He didn't mind, but I felt myself smarting under the shopkeeper's assault. Calling the water-supplier, I told him – You're no better than a dog. He'll give it to a dog if you don't take it. How could you accept that biriyani from him after this? Distressed, he said – Dada, you think I don't know he was humiliating me? But how does it help to know this? I haven't been able to give my children a treat for Durga Puja. Can you imagine how happy they'll be when I take this biriyani home? It was this thought that made me swallow his insult.

This then is the life of the Dalit poor. Helpless, powerless, and humiliated. I have risen from this class of people to talk about them. These are people who have no time to think about respect or status, for they're perpetually stricken by thoughts of how to extricate themselves from starvation. These people, my people, cannot even give their children enough to eat—how will they send them to school? Instead they send them to do the dishes at roadside restaurants, to work as servants at gentlemen's homes.

Even if they do manage to send them to school, none of the children make it as far as high school. Their education stops at Class Four or Five. How are they going to study in English? If they are put under pressure to learn a foreign language in primary school, they will neither master that language nor become proficient in their mother tongue. It will be far more useful for them to at least learn their own language properly.

And so I opposed Kancha Ilaiah. I said, let those who have the power to do it learn English, or even Hebrew for that matter. But there is no need to impose the language on ordinary people.

English is the language of the gentlemen's class, it is the language of power. Wherever I go, I see that those who can speak English fluently are held in great esteem. I am aware that becoming experts in English will deepen the respect that Dalit gentlemen command, it will widen their circle of power.

But I will be able to consider fighting for the right to use this language only after I have released the class of people for whom I speak up from their first five problems. That is the war we must win first. Food and clothing. All else can come later.

The success of Dalit writers like Byapari opens up a dialogue for the unfiltered speech of those who have not had a voice for so long. In New Delhi, where the majority of the audience did not speak Bengali -- the language that Byapari writes in-- he spoke eloquently in Hindi to a young crowd that bantered with him, although they were there to buy his book in English. It felt like the beginning of a multilingual utopia with multiple languages jostling in amity, rather than hostility. It felt like the beginning of some necessary, and long awaited.

Dr Dipika Mukherjee holds a PhD in English (Sociolinguistics) from Texas A&M University and is the author of the novels Shambala Junction, which won the UK Virginia Prize for Fiction, and Ode to Broken Things, which was longlisted for the Man Asia Literary Prize. She lives in Chicago and is affiliated to the Buffett Institute for Global Studies at Northwestern University and is Core Faculty at Story Studio Chicago.