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Showing posts from September, 2007

Isolationists

Ben Myers has written a blog on The Guardian book blogs site that looks at how the fantasy of being alone can be an inherent part of being a writer. He then goes on to look at some of those well known writers who realised their need for isolation - Thoreau taking transcendentalism to the nth degree by living in a cabin in the wildernesses of nowhere for a couple of years being just example. Then I noticed that most of these reclusive / isolationist writers are male. I mean, how many women piss off with little more than a pen, a pickaxe and a milkpan to live solo? I have always been in love with the idea of having a log cabin in Iceland - in the middle of nowhere, though preferably overlooking a fjord - and complete with wifi laptop! Yet I know the reality would probably be very different. There are also many novels about isolationist males who, whilst they have 'gone back to the land' are usually also running from something. For example, Gerard Donovan's Julius Winso…

If Dylan is ok for poetry then so too Eminem

This story in The Times on Saturday has Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, calling for Bob Dylan's lyrics to be studied as poetry. It comes in time for National Poetry Day, 4th October. However, if Bob Dylan's lyrics are considered okay for kids to study as a way of getting them more engaged with poetry, then why not Eminem too? Or will we have to wait fifty years before he is deemed just as acceptable as Dylan? It was Seamus Heaney who, only a few years ago, replied when asked which young poets he admired, named Eminem. If Bob Dylan's lyrics expand the range, then surely Eminem's would expand the rage that so many kids need to express in a society that seems to constantly demonise them.

New project, projected

This morning I felt blocked. This evening I feel inspired in a way similar to how I felt when I began A Cloclwork Apple. I needed it; I pushed myself this afternoon, surrounded by screaming kids in my local Starbucks, to finish the first draft of the third and final part of The Carousel. Maybe because the material is so personal I became stuck in that mawkish land of The Past. It helped, but, now coming to the end, almost (always almost, never really the end) I felt I needed inspiration. So I began to look up Norwegian and Icelandic writers that I wanted to get to know better. And then a blast from the past, an American, not a Scandi, came to me and it seemed inevitable as a source of inspiration. Im not going to give details; it has hardly been conceived and, like pregnancy, it needs careful secrecy for the first trimester. Needless to say I do feel lighter, writing wise. Having said all that I am also only too aware of how much prep reading I need to do as I begin the last semester …

Writing the misery

One of the reasons I began this blog was so that I could see more clearly my own writing processes. In an earlier post I proudly boasted that I didn't do writer's block. However, I do have two distinct tasks within writing; one is writing itself, the other is editing that writing, and I do one or the other dependent on a variety of things. The past couple of weeks, though, I have felt less motivated creatively. Im not sure why. Actually I do know why - now that I have my first novel in the publication pipeline and a few other things have developed with regard to agents etc I feel incredibly flat. It's funny how not being acknowledged in any way as a writer can make you go all the more harder at it. Anyway, enough. This evening I made myself work on an outline for a new project, which kind of helped. I think, also, - have felt a bit more blocked since I went to see an agent this week who suggested that The Carousel, the novel I am currently editing/working on comes …

Women, writing - Writing women

Are women writers unimaginative, or their publishers? It's a question asked by Laura Dietz in Guardian blog.

It's a wide and complex issue, and all to do with market forces blah blah blah. Bridget Jones was fairly imaginative when it emerged in 1996. Eleven years later, however, and book shops groan under the weight of pastel coloured books in that genre of chick-lit which may speak to many women, but certainly few I know. I blame the continuation of the Austen style and not enough of the Bronte style!! Charlotte Bronte did not like Jane Austen's writing - there was not enough poetry or passion in it for her. And I agree. Perhaps, if I can rely so much on the two camp syndrome, we can see women's writing as either of the Jane Austen camp, or of the Bronte camp? The former is mild mannered and is the mother of chick-lit as we know it today. The latter is the passionate and the raging, and we need much more of it.

A typical tale of old men...

I realise that over the past twelve months I've unwittingly read, and I have to say enjoyed, books written by old male authors coming to the winter of their career, about old males coming to, or having reached, the winter of their sexual career. There are plenty of them, including:

Everyman, Philip Roth
The Dying Animal, Philip Roth
Memories of my Melancholy Whores, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Disgrace, J.M.Coetzee

Because I read them quite close together it suddenly dawned on me that it is a subject not, to my own limited knowledge, often covered by their female counterparts. It does seem like it's the posturing of fading male authors about their fading sexual capabilities. Maybe women don't fade in quite the same way so therefore don't feel the need to say 'look at how hot I was! Look at how many liaisons I notched up.'

Give me more...

I liked this story about a 'hard-edged underground literary movement', whose 'leader' official or otherwise is Dan Fante. His website says that: "Dan Fante knows a thing or two about surviving America. If you like your prose vodka-soaked, soulful and bleeding on the page, then Fante is your man." Quite. Sounds like my cup of tea. What I particularly like is the fact that Fante's following is also for his stubborness to aquiesce to what he thinks the mainstream will like/take, to what he feels he needs to write, which, for me, is the heart of writing from one's core. One of these writers is London based Lee Rourke who believes that those slim, beautiful, poetic novels frequently carry more weight and substance than the doorstoppers. I said in an earlier post that most of my favourite books (with the exception of Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which I adored) have been the slim, pared down novels, like Peter Hobbs' The Short Day Dying, Gerard Donovan&#…

Kavanagh and Co to set up new agency

What a palava this PFD thing is turning into. Yet entirely understandable. Agents of high calibre like Pat Kavanagh, who have spent most of their career with PFD, do not just get up and leave an agency over a trifle. There was obviously bad feeling and feelings of betrayal before bringing in Caroline Michel as CEO. What other large agencies should note, however, is that it is frequently not the agency, but the agent, that matters. They are the person building up not just a professional relationship, but sometimes a friendship too. Therefore, whilst these agents have given years of loyalty to PFD, the clients have given years of loyalty to the agents and vice versa. The Independent this morning reports that big names like Ruth Rendell will follow their agents no matter where. Therefore, when Kavanagh & Co set up their new agency after Christmas it will certainly prove to be a match for PFD.

Always writing

Having just read my previous blog back with a few hours gap reminded me how my mind never switches off when it comes to writing. When I learnt my dad was having breathing difficulties ten minutes before he died I did wonder how I would cover his death as I was, quite literally, working on a dad in hospital scene when my sister called me. And when I dashed up to Manchester to see my Dad, when he was first taken into hospital, and he's lying surrounded by machines and tubes, and he has this mask on his face that, because it had a long tube connecting it, made me think of an elephant's trunk, I also thought what a good scene it would make. I am not ruthless, well, most of the time I'm not, and if I was I would certainly have more money to show for it; but most of the time I am looking and listening, the greatests avenues to greater characterisations. Maybe it is a ruthlessness - albeit a creative one, which sounds more noble than the salesperson always looking to sell yo…

The Carousel

The Carousel is the novel I am currently working on, and have been since the beginning of the year. Merry go round it is not. It is autobiographical, mostly. I thought it had reached a natural conclusion at the end of part two, but now I am into writing part three. Whoever said writing is never completed, only abandoned, was spot on. Whereas the writing of A Clockwork Apple took a lot of anger and transformed it into a plaything, The Carousel has required a connection to a lot of sadness. The writing of anything isn't just the writing of a journey but is a journey of itself. This as yet wannabe novel has lived with me through the death of my dad, in March, my mum's serious stroke in April (she is still in hospital) my starting a new and demanding job. Well, that's life, it goes on and on. And yet in this novel it goes round and round; trying to get off the carousel and onto the safety of the grass long enough to see where you are before getting onto the next carous…

Tradition...continued

The other issues that come with reverence of tradition can mean that the new is always the lesser. Until, that is, the author of that once new work is long dead. It is a strange thing that we do a lot, make sacred the dead because they are dead. In a lot of interviews I have noticed that when an artist, writer, actress, whatever, is asked who they most admire they frequently revive a corpse; it has a lot to do with the fact they are no longer human, with all those foibles that can send them smashing off their pedestal in a second. It is also a way of aligning oneself with the status that person achieved in her lifetime. We can feel so insecure, so threatened of our own contemporaries that we certainly don't want to say they influence us and our work. If Im being really of the here and now then I applaud Lily Allen's championing of fellow singer songwriter, Kate Nash; around the same age, similiar music styles, and yet Allen hadn't fully established her own status with…

Tradition and the Individual Talent

T.S.Eliot's critical essay has an opening line that really tells us how much we have changed since he wrote it, in 1920. 'In English writing we seldom speak of tradition, though we occasionally apply its name in deploring its absence'. Most people in English writing, or writing in English would only now ever apply that term as an insult, like being confronted with a chintz armchair or heavily patterned carpet for your loft apartment you'd reply, 'but they're a bit too traditional...' for which read 'way past it, forgeddit, there's no effing way they're coming anywhere near me. What would me mates think?' What the neighbours would think doesn't even enter the equation - that whole thing is also way too traditional. That's if we even know who the neighbours are. Why tear Eliot's opening line to shreds in the glaring light of 77 years later? Because despite having 'close read' this essay on my undergrad degree it is on the…

Labour, alienated

A story in today's Guardian reports that India's IT workers are suffering from 'lifestyle' diseases. The risks of sitting on your arse all day in front of a computer or on the old dog and bone are many, and not just physical. That much thrown around term 'stress' covers a legion of psychological problems associated with such jobs. It all comes under the term 'Alienated Labour'. What does this have to do with writing? Wait. I'll tell you. Literature has covered the alienating effects of corporate life for yonks. Well, since around about the fifties at least. Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit was the leader of the pack in the States, followed by an altogether darker, yet more realistic Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. It is also a strong motif in Arthur Miller's fantastic novel, Focus, which you would expect. And yet the previous generation's parents would have killed for what they thought of as a 'cushy' desk job…

Michel's defection from William Morris to PFD

The book news sites and this morning's papers (ok, not the red tops then) are reporting Caroline Michel's defection from William Morris to rivals PFD. What was particularly engaging about the reporting of this story was not Michel's 'defection' (as though literary firms should somehow be immune to talent hopping) but of the speculation of Pat Kavanagh's reaction to the new appointment. Kavanagh is one of PFD's leading agents and also wife of Julian Barnes. Now, ask yourself whether the star agent had been a man, and the 'defector' had also been male, and would they really be asking the same question? It automatically implies this 'cattiness' is inherent between women at work.If you take biology out of the equation then the question that could be asked more often in similiar stories is, how will this 'surprise' implanting of a new director into a firm affect the existing employees? Isn't that something which is more often overlook…

Mis-lit and God

The rise of misery literature (or just memoirs of abuse) has been well documented recently; the epitome of this genre within the last few years are titles like McCourt's Angela's Ashes and Pelzer's Child called It and their follow up titles. The requirements for titles within this camp are abuse - mental, emotional, physical and sexual - preferably all. Add a big dollop of humility, real or otherwise, and a black humour apparently so indicative of the Irish people in particular, and you should fit right in. But this genre is far from new. The Victorians had a few memoirs of the Hard Life from the just literate serving classes. These also coincided with a creeping despair in the late Victorian era that came from a growing doubt in God. God, for many in the light of Darwin, was dead; even, had never existed at all. And this was reflected in the literature, Arnold's Dover Beach, and in the well known memoir by Edmund Gosse about the fallacy of his father's extre…

The Barracks, John McGahern

Last night I finished reading my first McGahern, The Barracks.
Elizabeth is a former nurse who had lived in London and had an intense, volatile relationship with Halliday, an alcoholic doctor who later dies. Elizabeth returns to her rural Irish home and, by now in her late thirties, marries Reegan, the village police sargeant whose first wife died leaving him alone with three children. Elizabeth's former relationship with Halliday haunts the story in the form of letters saved, locked in her private trunk, along with money saved from her London days. Elizabeth loves her new family but there is no passion. We get glimpses of Elizabeth's unspent passion and intelligence, which adds the story all the more poignancy. She is, though, only too aware that she has breast cancer. Running through her acceptance, then panic, then seemingly savage medical treatment, then denial before the cycle repeating itself, is her husband's struggle. Desperate to leave his job, or slavery as…

Accent

I have read most books on novel writing, usually titled 'how to write a best-seller' or 'ten step plan to novel success', and some of them have provided me with a few pointers, or just made me much more aware about various aspects of the craft. However, much of the 'do's' and 'don'ts' are complete tosh, the prime one, in my view being not to, or limit the use of, regional accents. One need only look at some of the best loved novels, which incidentally were also some of the most controversial, such as any of Thomas Hardy's with the fantastic West Country burr which really evokes the full feeling of the landscape, both geographically and enotionally in terms of the characters inner lives. Then there's the early novels of Pat Barker, and of course we have to ask whether Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting would have achieved the particular cult following were it not for the Glasweigan? The great thing about dialect is also that the reader…

Progress

This morning I handed in a slightly revised ms of A Clockwork Apple to the publisher. I was having a love hate relationship with it. I re-read it and the only thing I want to do is to keep changing it; like a sculpture that is constantly being chipped away at. I managed to reign myself in though, I hope. I merely scanned it for cliches, took them out, and expanded the main character's vocabulary, which I enjoyed for the weirdness of words such as phrontistery (place to think/study) and barathrum (insatiable). I am sure there may be another round of editing suggestions, but I shall cross that bridge when I come to it. Having brought home my work laptop (my mac and laptop have died, the latter from a bootleg version of MS) I made the most of it and also got plenty of editing done on my novel in progress, The Carousel, and made final editing changes to a novella, The Girl Next Door AND wrote a four page initial treatment for a TV satire. I also managed to get to the gym and ha…

Underrated novels

Today's Observer has a brilliant article on forgotten and/or underrated novels. Fifty writers name one novel each. Will Self begins the parade with Alisdair Gray's Lanark. I read the first few paragraphs on the forgotten and ignored then scrolled down, keen to see if two of my favourites would make it, actually three, and it was only as I got into the forty-somethings of the list that it suddenly appeared - it's Hunger by Knut Hamsun. That book gave me shivers down my spine when I first read it, about ten years ago, long before I began to take my writing seriously. The list didn't, though, include anything by Richard Yates, although his work will no doubt gain more of a following once the Sam Mendes film of his first novel Revolutionary Road hits the screens later this year (!) I would also loved to have seen Guy de Maupassant's short novel, Butterball, on the list; fantastic fable and excellent characterisation.