Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Rubbish or recycling? N M Browne

One of the many things I worry about these days is recycling. I do hate waste. I  buy more
second hand clothes and books ( but still buy new too) and  I laboriously separate my rubbish. It is galling to realise that even this small attempt at being a greener citizen may be a waste of time. I am writing this listening to a radio report on recycling which reveals the British ‘recycling’ is often just shipped off to some poorer country, circulating round the world wasting even more resources and dumped as rubbish. I fear the same thing happens to ideas.  Nonetheless, I hang on to the notion that recycling is a good thing so here is a recycled but subtly repurposed ideas from January 2013 published on an ‘An Awfully Big Blog Adventure.’  It is still true, in the irritating idiom of the day ‘Nothing has changed:’ it is up to you to decide if it is recirculating rubbish.
From the window of my study I can see the top of a horse chestnut tree. (Actually that’s a lie because to my shame I don’t know what type of tree it is, but I know that in writing it is always better to be specific.) I spend all together too much time looking at this tree and yet I never spot the moment when the last leaf falls, or the day when spring arrives and it is finally, gloriously verdant green again. 
 I mention the tree for two reasons: it marks the passage of time, and it is a great metaphor  for writing.
  First things first. As a kid I remember watching the film of the ‘Time Machine’ in which time was indicated by the changing fashions in the window of a shop, hems rising and lowering, styles evolving until eventually there is no shop at all. The tree for me is like that shop. I look out and it is bare and then one day I look up and realise it is in full leaf. And all the time I am at my desk, in my own private time machine putting words on a page. I live in this insulated world, outside of time, in the eternal present of story. It is always a shock to realise that I can be several seasons adrift, that my time and real time don’t always run together. 
 And then I get to the metaphor part. Just as I never notice the moment of transition from Spring to Summer, Autumn to Winter, I never notice the exact moment a fleeting thought becomes a plot idea, a name on a page becomes a real person, a bare branch of a story buds and thickens into full leaf and suddenly there it is fully formed on the page. I work on it every day, just as I look at the tree every day and yet the moment of transformation from one stage to another always passes me by.
 I don’t know what that means, if indeed it means anything, unless that maybe when we are working we don’t see the wood or the tree until suddenly we do and we are finally, gloriously done.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Re-reading, Re- writing, and an Endless Convalescence, by Enid Richemont

Here is my annual garden surprise - the poppy we planted years ago, and which, once it's made its grandiose statement, dies back completely to near-invisibility until the following year. This was how it looked last year, but it doesn't look much different now. The difference is in me, because I can't yet risk walking round to the place where it grows in order to photograph it, due to what feels like a never-ending convalescence from ankle replacement surgery back in February.

I never expected it to take so long to get back to normality. It was major surgery, so I knew the deal - two weeks in bed with a heavy leg cast, followed by six weeks in a much lighter cast, then the dreaded boot, and then, at last, the thrill of being able to walk to the shops. Yes, the website said it would be a year before things would be really approaching that stage, but I didn't take that too seriously. My health was good, I wasn't sedentary, I ate properly, so hey! after the longest three months of my life, things would be looking up, wouldn't they? Well, it's nearly the end of May, we're almost into summer, but no, I still haven't made it to the top of my street.

Catch up on your reading, people said, and for God's sake, write. Reading has, as ever, been rewarding, especially re-reading. I re-read "The God of Small Things", by Arundhati Roy, and it took over my life. I re-read several old Margaret Atwood novels, Ruth Rendell's final thriller with its tragic final line which read like a premonition of her death, and the totally wonderful "Kingdom Come", by Bernice Rubens.

Writing, though, was something else. I had a simple brief from my publisher, to which I responded with no less than four possible scripts (after all, one had to go.) None of them did. I had two lengthy adult novels to read through and edit. Couldn't do it. Still haven't. I think on the hoof. If I'm stuck, I walk, or even swim, both impossibilities. Up the stairs (with difficulties) and down, and across the ramp my family built for me in order to circumvent a steep front doorstep yes, but that's not proper walking.

I was becoming depressed, so got into re-structuring an old a long-published children's novel, "Kachunka!" which has become a bit obsessive. Mrs Kachunka!, the cosmic dinner lady with her combination of ecology, quasi-Buddhism and other-worldly magic, was first published a very long time ago by Walker Books, but yes, you've guessed it, it's been long out of print. It ticks so many current boxes, but I've been told no one will touch it because it's 'been there and done that'.

Well, I've been revisiting the lady who's name sounds like a sneeze. Her name also looks and sounds Russian, which hadn't occurred to me when I first wrote it, so I've changed it to something equally sneezy but more abstract. I've also extended it. Its original ending would have made perfect sense to an adult reader, but might well have baffled a younger one. I went through a similar but much more elaborate and lengthy process writing a screenplay based on an earlier children's novel, and found it fascinating. These characters we invent have so many hidden depths that it's like discovering new things, or a past history, in a close friend you thought you knew, but didn't. I'd love your thoughts on this. And someone, somewhere, must have published a paper on the link between fiction writing and schizophrenia, because these characters are REAL!


Monday, 27 May 2019

The Moment of Maximum Anticipation and Optimism - Andrew Crofts

By the time I write my next Authors Electric blog my latest novel “What Lies Around Us” will be out, so at the time of writing I am watching as the publisher, (Red Door) and PR company, (Emma Finnigan), build up a head of steam.

The book has started to exist in the on-line world. If you google the title it comes up for sale in any number of different outlets, even though it is not out officially until June 13th.

The cover art pops up at the click of a button and advance copies have gone out to book bloggers, reviewers and all the rest.

What Lies Around Us by Andrew Crofts
What Lies Around Us by Andrew Crofts
Early reviews have started to appear on Goodreads already, so I am able to start extracting the juiciest phrases for the website, (and below) - and for future use on paperbacks etc.

I love this moment in the process when anticipation and optimism are high, before the backlash arrives.

Comments on Goodreads

“The ultimate summer thriller”

“Insights into the publishing industry and its bitter truths”

“So terrifying”

“Very funny and witty”

“Aching to find out what happens next”

“Strong and intriguing”

“Fast pacing”

“Poignant narration”

“Easy read to breeze through”

“Humorous at first and dark and deep later on”

“Such a pleasant surprise”

“The sense of wonder we all get from life”

“About the future of democracy, honesty, the impact of race, the power of family, and fame”

“The writing was so good”

“The idea that politics, tech and celebrity are connected is represented fantastically”

“I think many people could enjoy it.”

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Invincible Spirits/ Dipika Mukherjee

I have no language in Itaparica, for I speak very little Portuguese, yet less than two months on this Brazilian island on a Sacatar Foundation Fellowship and I'm already feeling at home

My face is a template on which people write ethnicity. In this small island too, I look local, and a translator in Salvador asks whether I feel the discrimination because I look indigenous. In Malaysia, Tamilians think I’m too proud to speak Tamil, in Texas a Mexican woman once berated me outside a Houston megastore for not speaking Spanish; I have a face and coloring that blends into many places, but here the island smiles easily.

Cecília Meireles, the Brazilian poet who visited India in 1953, wrote: As far as Indian life is concerned, I confess it seems as familiar to me as if I had always lived here. She published a book-length collection of impressionistic poems titled, Poemas Escritos na India on Indian cities (including Calcutta) and Indian personalities, and wrote chronicles about her trip to India. I am channeling Meireles in reverse, feeling this sense of déjà vu she felt, so far away from the home. 

I am housed in a large beachside mansion with tall gates and resident guards but when I open the gate to go outside, the destitution of this island is evident in the half-built structures, and large families living together in small tenements. If it weren’t for the bahian statues placed on windows -- a female form gazing into the distance, waiting -- I would think I was in back in the crumbling much-beloved parts of old Calcutta coexisting with the new.

This island has the same invincibility of spirit, and simmers with the same multiplicity of stories and oral storytellers. The stories may be factual, or fabulous, or magical, but they are all woven through the breeze and the sand of this land and have persisted through the centuries of slavery and colonialism and unbearable loss.

Thus is this land is permeated with heft of saudade, a quintessential Portuguese word that is both nostalgia or profound melancholy, often with the subliminal knowledge that what is lost may never return. English translates it as “missingness”, but that does not convey a recollection of feelings which once brought intense joy, and even in memory, still triggers the senses. It is not Pamuk's hüzün of Istanbul, for it goes beyond a communal melancholy; it has no synonym in any of my four languages. Saudade is a state simultaneously evoking happiness for what was, and the sadness that it is now past, and Brazil commemorates the day of Saudade on January 30th.

I came here to write my third novel but, steeped in this sense of saudade, I found myself working on my first book of creative nonfiction instead. I found Calcutta at every corner, and although the Portuguese settled in Bandel in Bengal for some time, it is Goa, which was a Portuguese colony until 1961, where there is still a street named Rua de Saudades. Here, in Itaparica, I find Calcutta everywhere.

The 2017 Oxfam report details the huge gap between the country’s richest and the rest of the population: Brazil’s six richest men have the same wealth as poorest 50 percent of the population of around 100 million people and the country's richest 5 percent have the same income as the remaining 95 percent. Brazil feels like India, with the same colorism, and wealth jostling with poverty. And as in the City of Joy, there is the great effervescence of community spirit in celebrating the spiritual.

Itaparica’s most famous writer is João Ubaldo Ribeiro, a homegrown hero who has a street named after him, as well as educational institutions. An Invincible Memory, published in English in 1989, is 504 pages of a family saga that spans 400 years. Brazil’s history of cannibalism, murder, slavery, whaling, colonialism and much more is detailed in a lyricism that is gorgeous, but also feels weighty. He uses history and magic realism, and is described as a cross between Melville and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. (The author's bilingualism is remarkable as he wrote this book in a year, then translated it into English himself, a process that took another three years).

This book is an excellent gateway into Brazilian literature, for as I soon discovered, there is a paucity of Brazilian books in translation. An Invincible Memory is the story of a 19th century paterfamilias and conman, long-suffering passive-aggressive wives, priests and poets and soldiers and slaves and leaders, and some vivid native characters and sorcerers and bandit queens. A bestseller in Brazil, the novel is still relevant to the understanding of the the terrible cruelty inflicted by whites on blacks, mulattos and Indians, although the multiplicity of voices can get wearying for the foreign reader.

As much as fiction can hold up a mirror to the reality of Brazil, this book opens doors to an unfamiliar world in a criollismo style, offering snapshots of deep prejudices as well as archetypes:

They were sorcerers, that’s what they were, witches of the night, wizardly as can be, people versed in the secrets of the Crystal Stone, of the power of souls and of the deities brought over from Africa under the worst conditions, people adept at using wild plants to infuse the most terrible poisonous philters and the most irresistible love potions, at sewing and binding spirits through all kinds of sortileges, at seeing the future in all kinds of presages, at seeing the magical side of all things. (109)

This island stills holds the ruins of an ancient church from the times Ribeiro writes about, for Our Lord Of Vera Cruz was built by Jesuits in 1560. It is now cleaved through by a gameleira tree, sacred to the religion of candomblé. This tree possibly keeps the ruin erect, an ironic fusion of the Jesuit faith and the Afro-Brazilian religion that the current authorities are still trying to ban. There is the heft of history in the candomblé tradition that continues to flourish even as it is under siege, but amidst the beauty of these ruins, under the canopy of leaves that soars like a nave into the sky, there is also sadness. The susurration of the wind through the gameleira leaves, passing through the ancient cemetery bordering the ruins, drizzles bereavement.

I attended two candomblé celebrations, one to honour Exú, and the other Xangô. Then I interviewed a House Mother for Iansã; she ended our meeting by casting cowrie shells into an enchanted circle of beads and reading my fortune. 

Paulo Coelho is the best-selling Brazilian novelist of all time, and his sentimental books offer an easy band-aid for modern angst. But I wanted to find the Brazilians who write eviscerating political literature. I found, Garopaba mon amour, published in the book Pedras de Calcutta (1977) by the writer Caio Fernando Abreu, and there it was again: Calcutta. I swallowed this story whole in one reading. Abreu writes about resistance to state violence and residual trauma at a time when a dictatorial government ruled Brazil, and I discovered his work, translated beautifully by Jennifer Alexander, in Becoming Brazilfeaturing the works of two dozen Brazilian writers published as an edition of Mānoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing.

Brazil has fired my imagination in ways I did not anticipate. In the almost two months here, I have worked on three pieces of non-fiction, written a couple of poems, and had a short story accepted for Chicago Quarterly Review’s 25th anniversary issue. 

And finally, the work I came here for: I have 81188 words of my manuscript. These are raw unedited words, chapters as placeholders, thoughts rambling and unfocused. Certainly one third or much more will be excised in rewrites. But it feels like I have accomplished what I came here to do, and I have been listening to Bengali poetry being sung through the breezy Itaparican nights while writing. I will leave enriched by a list of Brazilian books to be read. I wish there was more available in translation from this fascinating country for I am as intoxicated as the madman in Salgado Maranhão’s poem (translated by Alexis Levitin)Delirica X:

A madman sniffing
at the moon
captures instances of you.
And everywhere, forever,
fire, water, time, and breath

Dipika Mukherjee’s work, focusing on the politics of modern Asian societies, includes the novels Shambala Junction (which won the UK Virginia Prize for Fiction), and Ode to Broken Things (longlisted for the Man Asia Literary Prize as Thunder Demons). She has been mentoring Southeast Asian writers for over two decades and has edited five anthologies of Southeast Asian fiction. 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. She is currently a Sacatar Foundation Fellow.