Monday, 29 April 2019

One of those days: N M Browne

Some days I struggle to come up with anything blog worthy.You might say that has never stopped me before and you wouldn’t be wrong, but today it did. I addressed this problem as I do too many others by drinking black coffee and eating dark chocolate. Apparently, liking both those things makes me a psychopath. I stare out of the window and immediately get a great idea of a story. But I am not going to write a story, am I? I have to say something interesting about publishing or writing, or the creative life.I eat a second square of chocolate. Apparently, it contains anti-oxidants which is good for my brain. There is no obvious immediate impact. I return to contemplating the garden. The large tree at the bottom of the garden needs to be removed. I think it knows. I see something baleful and potentially threatening about the way it is waving at me in the wind. A second cup of coffee is called for. I should have started this yesterday or maybe even earlier. I should have drafted something on a day when I was trying to write a story and therefore had ten great ideas for a blog post or a day when I had to do housework and would have written five thousand words on anything to avoid cleaning toilets. I curse myself for indolence and stare out of the window some more. My husband who has already achieved several hundred useful things this morning looks at me questioningly.  ‘I’m working,’ I lie. ‘I’m writing a blog post.’ We have been married a long time so he doesn’t point out the lack of writing implements or lap top. He offers me another coffee. In addition to the fact that liking bitter coffee suggests you are a psychopath too much, apparently, causes anxiety. Maybe I need to be more anxious about the blog post? I’m not sure that will help and politely refuse. I still have nothing to blog about. So here instead are the three story ideas that I considered writing:
1.     A poor girl at some as yet unspecified historical time receives an expensive gift that she needs above all else. I think it might be a dress or necklace to wear to dazzle a would be wealthy husband/ warrior/whatever. If she accepts it, as she will, her soul will forever be in hock to the psychopathic Witch Queen. The Queen will use her to destroy the wealthy husband/warrior/whatever.
2.     An ancient tree is felled and as it falls all the consciousness and memory of the oak finds its home in the mind of a young girl walking past. She finds she speaks the language of trees, and becomes a ecological activist with a tendency to stand outside conferences in cold weather stark naked, swaying gently to unseen winds.
3.     A middle aged writer unable to get sufficient interest in her blog post takes up baby stealing and cat kid nap in order to get millions of hits on her vacuous youtube channel. She also starts a true crime blog about the attempts of a fictional black-coffee-drinking, implausibly dim detective to arrest  her for her crimes. She is incredibly successful but can’t enjoy it because she has to look after too many babies and cats.

Sorry, that’s all I’ve got today. Perhaps I need a more inspirational brand of chocolate?

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Crappy Ankle, The Boot, The Zombie State, And Bards -- Enid Richemont

And so (as every newsreader/interviewer begins) this is what I've been dealing with during the last two and a half months - a Total Ankle Replacement for a really crappy ankle.The original injury happened over five years ago, during which I was determinedly walking through it, but last year I found that I was increasingly unable to walk at all except for very short distances. Even the brief walk to my local supermarket was becoming too much, and I began pacing myself according to which tree I could walk to and clutch for support. In other words, I became a serious and committed tree-hugger.

Something clearly had to be done, and with a stark choice between surgery with its very long recovery period, and a wheelchair for life, I reluctantly chose the former.

The very worst part of the recovery period was the fortnight when I had to wear an extremely heavy cast, and during which I was almost totally dependent. This was followed by four weeks in a much lighter cast in a fetching shade of purple, and when that was removed, it was THE BOOT which I'm currently wearing.

The one and only joy of THE BOOT is that of being able to take it off, so finally I'm able to go to bed bare leg-and-footed. On the downside is the necessity to put it back on when I get out of bed, so no longer can I pad downstairs in bare feet and a nightie. THE BOOT is physically heavy, and comes in two parts, the second needing to be attached by three Velcro straps which, as Velcro always does, tangle and stick to each other.

"Of course, you'll be able to work," people said, and I believed that, too, until I tried. There's something about enforced immobility that deadens the brain. Temporary writer's block can no longer be relieved by going for a walk or pottering in the garden. Walking upstairs becomes a major exercise, and not a pleasurable one. I read somewhere that one of the Welsh kings used to lock up his bard indefinitely until a poem/saga/what-have-you was produced. That wouldn't have worked on me. I would have gone quietly insane. I did have a brief from my publisher, which finally dragged me out of the zombie zone, but it was somewhat hampered by the ed pub's obsession with adverbs - what is it with adverbs? Will somebody tell me? Oh well (sighs).

I did read, though - voraciously. "Beauty Sleep", the latest Y/A novel by a friend and colleague Kathryn Evans (seriously good and very disturbing), Fintan O'Toole's  depressing treatise on Brexit (yes, that!) and, currently, the late Bernice Rubens's novel "Kingdom Come", which I'm re-visiting after many years and which is as absolutely fascinating as it was the first time round, appropriate Easter reading, too, dealing with the Jewish fantasy of a Messiah (no, not that one) and set in the Seventeenth Century Turkey.

Having got this far without mentioning "The Film", I can now tell you that it was the lead short movie at the RiverRun Film Festival in North Carolina. Whether this will lead to Mega-Bucks, Hollywood etc etc remains to be seen (the book it's based on is "THE TIME TREE", first published back in the Dark Ages by Walker Books UK.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

President Trump's Memoir Could be a Truly Great Read - Andrew Crofts

There have been reports that President Trump has been threatening to write a tell-all book when his presidency is finally over. Every president does it, of course, and it would be surprising if Trump didn’t see it as a way to (a) make some easy money, (b) continue building his fame and (c) settle some scores with all those who have mocked him over the previous few years.

The ghostwriter who lands this particular commission will need the patience of Job as they try to untangle the fabrications of the last few years and get to anything resembling an insight into this particular heart of darkness.

If Trump were to give them a free hand, however, it could be a great read. It’s certainly the elevator pitch from heaven; “A family not unlike the Corleones manages to get control of the most powerful nation in the world”.

To be able to get even a glimpse from the family’s point of view could make it as gripping a read as the Great Gatsby. Ingredients like crime, wealth, sex and power seldom hurt a book’s chances of getting into the bestseller lists.

It will be a shame if the book ends up as stuffed with childish insults and empty bragging as the president’s Twitter feed, (and a nightmare for the editors at whichever publisher gets bullied into buying the result), but of course that is probably what will happen.

Maybe we will have to wait until Melania and Baron are ready to tell their sides of the story before we get to experience the full horror from the inside of this extraordinary tale.

Image result for what lies around us by andrew crofts

Friday, 26 April 2019

God Writes Straight By Broken Lines | Dipika Mukherjee

That time when you want to read but the peacocks haven't finished their meeting

Greetings from the Sacatar Foundation in Brazil!

Two dedicated months to work on my manuscript seemed like a fabulous opportunity (my first two novels were completed in residencies in the US and India). The application was competitive and the website alluring; a writer’s studio on stilts, other studios dazzling white and remote and sea-facing…when I received the offer, I imagined writing to the sound of breaking waves.

Hammocks and a wide verandah
This is indeed a stunning property, as you can tell from the pictures. But after two and a half weeks here, I’m not sure it is for all writers.

There is only one writer’s studio. In this cohort of six accepted residents -- three Brazilian and three foreigners -- all of us are writers. 

So I have been assigned a writing shed. My workspace has a view of the sea fringed by palm trees, but it is essentially a large artist’s studio furnished minimally with a table and a chair, and some empty shelves and a basin in a corner. One side is open to the elements and the other two sides have large white doors which open up fully, to let in lots of light and air.

I work with handwritten notes and cards as well as a laptop; as Virginia Woolf articulated so well, writers need a closed door. The wind through this shed swirls loose papers in the air. When I return from a bathroom break, there is the excrement of a small animal, sometimes two, left as a calling card on the notebook or next to my computer (yup, critics everywhere).

St Theresa
So, instead of the messy buildup of a manuscript -- the notes tiled on the table or tacked on a wall, the chapters stacked up with fluorescent marker lines, the multiple books open at key pages -– mornings begin by estimating which books and notes I’ll need for that day’s writing. Then hauling that stash back into the tiny bedroom at night (the main building used to be a retreat for catholic girls). I have to remember to bring chargers and adapters.

Travel takes you out of your comfort zone, and this residency is certainly forcing me into a new pattern of working. I no longer rely on the inspired and chaotic buildup of words, but reboot daily on a clean table. Every. Single. Morning. 

Amorous tortoises
Of course, there are compensations. The ten tortoises that live in the lower portion of this shed continue their rambunctious lovemaking even if it is three in the morning, so I never feel alone. The island is beautiful, as is the old colonial building with a large verandah and tiled floors, the hammocks at every corner swinging in the fierce wind. A short pier leads to the sea. The full moon over the water looms so close that she seems to be reeling in the high tide. The ancient gods have bestowed a fascinating spirituality on this island, which I hope to write about.

This was probably the rockiest start to any residency I’ve been in, and not only because we travelled to Itaparica island on a ferry boat. We began with a “lottery” at the very first meeting, to solve the problem of “jealousy”. This felt like a soap opera, but five of us were on the jetty terminal with the Residency Manager, and I obediently picked a paper, which was a B in the sequence of A-E (the sixth resident was delayed by a day).

The next day all three Brazilian residents, irrespective of the letter drawn, were assigned the three beautifully-furnished sea-facing studios; the writers studio on stilts, the dance studio on the beach, the raised music studio. Even the Brazilian resident who had arrived too late to participate in any lottery. 

This made me wonder -- in a fit of jealousy, no doubt -- whether the allocations were based on entrenched nationalism or a casual inhospitality.

But I have survived years of child-rearing while simultaneously working, and I know the focus I need to complete a manuscript in 56 days. So I write like a motherfucker, to quote past alumna Cheryl Strayed, because the point of a residency is not to start crusades in foreign countries, but to write this book. 

I write and collate a steady stream of words, sometimes in the shed, often in my bedroom, and I am reaching an average of 1490 words a day. I shoot for 1300 a day, and have 30,835 words in the 18 days of being here (I started off with about four thousand), so this is not bad. If I keep this up, by day 56, I can leave with a manuscript of 75000 words. How many of these words will be publishable is anyone's guess, but getting the words down is a start.

Ok. I, too, am rolling my eyes at my first-world problems in the face of real issues like terrorism, or even the obvious destitution on this island. But I assume most of you are reading this from the UK or Asia or the US because you have followed my travel posts, and if you have come this far, maybe you are even looking for that perfect residency this year or the next to finish your own book. (Chicagoans, Ragdale applications close on May 15, apply fast!

So here are my top three (tried-and-tested!) favorites. All international residencies, in my experience, have bad internet, balanced by delectable food and warm hospitality:

      1) Rimbun Dahan (Malaysia). Your host is the family of Malaysia’s most famous architect and you will feel like you are living in a museum but you get to touch everything! Every day will make your heart pound with excitement, from a visiting wild boar to a monitor lizard ponderously crossing the lawn. Malaysia’s open mic scene is exploding and this residency is pure magic for too many reasons.

      2) Sangam House (India). Wake up to the sound of ankle bells in this picturesque dance village. The fragrance of damp red earth. Organic food only, home-grown and home-cooked. Long, long walks.

      3) Joya Arts Residency (Spain).  The Andalusian mountain range and walk paths through olive trees. Old Moorish ruins. An eco-residency which will make you feel like you are saving the earth while chasing your dreams.

I am sure I’ll feel much happier once this book is done. In this deeply spiritual country, maybe it is true that Deus escreve certo por linhas tortas: God writes straight by broken lines.

Will I finish my manuscript? Will my days here spark joy? I’ll let you know…in the meantime, keep writing (and appreciating the comforts of your writing space!), wherever on earth you may be.

Jesus and his dark nuns take on the indigenous Gods with white pawns...nothing is black or white. 

Dipika Mukherjee is an internationally touring writer sociolinguist, and global nomad. She holds a PhD in English (Sociolinguistics) 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.