Category Archives: Writing

Off my trolley

Things change.

And, yeah, you and I both know I don’t much like change. But this isn’t one of those changes.

Back in the infancy of Bookwitch – the blog, not so much herself – she wrote by hand, and she sat in her comfortable armchair and read books. Oh, the innocence of it all…

Daughter was still at school, and she needed to build me a piece of furniture for her GCSE tech. The teachers were still raw from her brother’s triangular table, so there was a complete ban on triangles of any kind. She designed a Bookwitch trolley to sit next to my chair, and where everything would go, from mug of tea and spectacles to current books and paper and pen. It’s on wheels, so I could push it around. It’s what I do best.

But now, I don’t do these things, apart from the pushing.

The trolley leads a more sedate life, mostly holding maps and large books for the Resident IT Consultant. It stands quietly, next to the two Oyster catchers in the window.

That’s life, I suppose. Needs change. Still love the trolley, and Daughter. Also still have the triangular table. (It’s behind me!)

Can’t say the same for the rest in this photo, which has a certain antique value. Wrong room. Wrong house. Young-ish looking witch. Much of the furniture is gone and the lamp has had its foot removed, but you’ll be pleased to learn I still wear the Crocs…

Eleven years on, we are coming up for Bookwitch’s 13th birthday, and there might be changes. I’m already at war with someone about Bookwitch’s looks (I don’t mean her in the photo).  We’ll see how that goes.

Perform

From what I understand it’s something that takes most [new] authors by surprise. They thought it was enough to write the book, enough to get enough professions interested in the book, and enough for it to be published and enough for people to buy the book. And then we start the whole process all over again for the next book.

Well, after a few years of stalking authors.., I mean going to lots of author events, I knew I didn’t want to be one of them. I did not want to get the call from the Edinburgh International Book Festival to come and talk about my new book. It’s enough to make me not even consider writing, other than this drivel, in case it turned out better than expected.

And I have looked at them. Many are extroverts. Quite a few are [ex]-teachers, and I have assumed standing in front of rooms full of people is fine if that’s what you’re like. I gather some make use of the wine in the green room, just to feel braver. But I’d like to think that a good number simply say ‘no thanks.’

I saw this article in The Bookseller a while back. Couldn’t actually read it, as I seem to have clicked on too many articles recently. But it sort of says what it’s about. Benjamin Myers, whom I don’t know at all, and the Society of Authors are critical of the pressure to be[come] a ‘personality’ in order to sell your book, when writing it in the first place ought to be enough.

And then we have the personalities who take to writing. One assumes they at least relish the performing. Maybe that’s why we have so many? Publishers get fed up with authors hiding in garrets, so go in search of new ones from the stage and the screen?

Know Thy Star, Know Thy Planet – Disentangling Planet Discovery & Stellar Activity

Thought I’d treat you to another of my – our – Christmas present books. Rather than offer any kind of review, which would be fairly hard to do, I will show you some of my photos of it! The title is a bit of a mouthful, but I gather academics, even scientists, like that sort of thing. It’s called Know Thy Star, Know Thy Planet – Disentangling Planet Discovery & Stellar Activity.

As you will have worked out, this is Daughter’s thesis, and it was generous of her to let us have a copy. I believe they cost a fortune.

Dr Giles has her foreword in no less than three languages, which is one more than they demanded. (Apologies for any mistakes in the third one; I don’t really speak ‘science’ in any language. And the visible mistake is all my fault…)

Because astrophysics is such a male subject, she worked hard to put women scientists in there, from Dr Nirupama Raghavan who is the Resident IT Consultant’s cousins wife’s cousin’s mother-in-law (!), and who was Director of the Nehru Planetarium in New Delhi, to Dr Jessie Christiansen, an almost peer from CalTech.

I like heavenly bodies to be eccentric; it sounds fun. And in the index I discovered that Daughter’s surname puts her right after some G Galilei chap.

Also, the book is purple!

The Lammisters

I suspect Declan Burke’s new novel would make a good film. In fact, I have no way of knowing that it’s not already happening. Set in Hollywood, slightly under a hundred years ago, it would be appropriate. And I do enjoy humorous films.

The Lammisters is completely different from Declan’s other crime novels, which – mostly – take place in Ireland, featuring inept and sometimes bad characters, but usually also very funny ones. If they talk too much, it’s because they are Irish.*

Here, though, is a narrator who uses a lot of words. Long words. Fancy words. Complicated sentences. Footnotes. That sort of thing.

Not being as well read – or educated – as the Guardian’s Laura Wilson, I don’t know Laurence Sterne, although I have heard of him. I gather it is his style that Declan has gone for. The review in the Guardian was very positive, which is well deserved. To my mind, all his books ought to have got a mention there.

It’s a period I like a lot, and coincidentally it’s the second of two crime novels set in that period that I had lined up over Christmas; one on each side of the US. (More about that tomorrow.) And the cover is fabulous.

Declan Burke, The Lammisters

* Apologies for the stereotyping…

Vikings in Wexford

I’m a bit late to this, but found Eoin Colfer’s column for the Guardian on where he’s from (Wexford) such fun that I just have to force the link on you.

And I didn’t know about this, despite two interviews and countless encounters and conversations. Just goes to show you need to know to ask the right questions.

Also just goes to show how almost anything can set the imagination rolling, be it the Viking [Bookwitch] village underneath Wexford, or Philip Ardagh’s beard (for which there is no explanation and I will assume Eoin was merely being polite…).

Suffice to say, Eoin’s Dad sounds like a great father, and I’m very pleased to discover that there is in fact a requirement for all Irish writers to write a fairy book. It’s only right.

I also understand the issues between the Lower Elements and the humans far far better now. Bring on The Fowl Twins!

Bookwitch goes speed dating

Seems the trolleyful of wine wasn’t for us. It was Jackie Kay’s, for her Black History Month event at the University of Edinburgh’s language department.

Oh well. I was on a date night, as was the Resident IT Consultant. We had come to speed date a new generation of Swedish authors, who’d been invited to Edinburgh to talk writing and translation, with a group of translators from SELTA. Their debut novels had not been previously translated, but the translators present had worked on some parts of the books, which we were able to read.

Not being entirely sure where we were heading, I decided to follow Son – because this was his baby – when he took his group of authors and translators off to the meeting room. And then they just disappeared!

I was only three steps behind and saw them go down the stairs and turn left. They were not in that room. The only thing remaining was the unlabelled door next to it, which led to a short corridor, from where Son appeared again, letting me through a door on which it said No Access.

So that was straightforward enough… Tried to text this info to the Resident IT Consultant, but there was no signal. He got there in the end.

Swedish Speed Bookclub

I wasn’t sure about this speed dating thing. One author and his or her translator sat at each table. The rest of us joined one of the tables for a brief reading, followed by a discussion. And then we were rotated anti-clockwise to the next author and translator. I was with two of my favourite translators, A A Prime and Guy Puzey, plus another translator and ‘Mrs Perera’ who belonged to one of the authors.

Adrian Perera and Kate Lambert

We started with Adrian Perera, who is that very unusual thing, a Swedish-speaking Finn, with a Sinhalese parent. His book Mamma, written mostly in Swedish, also features Finnish, English and Sinhalese; some of it spoken badly by the various characters. I gathered this made translating the text a bit tricky for Kate Lambert, because how do you convey how bad the Swedish or the English spoken by the Finnish doctor is?

But it wasn’t until I asked how old the main character is (seven) that sentences like ‘The whole Looney Tunes gang is covered in vanilla ice cream,’ made sense. Really fascinating.

Joel Mauricio Isabel Ortiz and Hanna Löfgren

Anticlockwise movement brought us to Joel Mauricio Isabel Ortiz and his Aussie translator Hanna Löfgren. Himself coming from Latin America, Joel had borrowed the title of a poem by Gabriela Mistral for his novel, The Story of a Son/Sången om en son. I enjoyed his reading from the book, and we were amused to be told that Joel feels there is so much sex in his novel that he won’t ever write another one like it.

He also reckons he has finished the book and moved on, and he had worried whether he’d be able to discuss it with us. (Seems to have gone just fine.) Translator Hanna brought up the necessity for her to add the word ‘I’ in lots of places. Joel had been told by his publisher to remove most of them, because that’s how people speak these days. Except it doesn’t work in English.

Fiona Graham and Balsam Karam

Up and on to Kurdish Balsam Karam and Fiona Graham, whose translation of Event Horizon/Händelsehorisonten was very beautiful. It really got to me when I read it. Balsam read a page out loud, if rather quietly, from this story about refugees and some kind of rebellion, where the punishment when getting caught is either execution, or being sent into a black hole in space.

I’d be interested to know how that goes, but understand that there is no clear description of what actually happens. Balsam feels that Swedes don’t have much idea of what martyrdom means, whereas Fiona had been shocked by the torture described in the book.

Kayo Mpoyi and Alex Fleming

Last but not least we came to Kayo Mpoyi and Alex Fleming, where Kayo was exclaiming about reading the same extract for the fourth time. But for us it was new, and I’d like to think that the subsequent discussions didn’t all go in the same direction for every group. Set in Tanzania, the story is about a family, two young siblings, maybe a curse on a name, and there is – possibly – a young god who appears every now and then. More a god like the Greek ones, rather than the One Up There, whom so many of us think about.

Kayo has a lot of thoughts and theories about life, and she’s not sure what language she uses to think about it in. Her characters are not Swedish, although the book is written in that language. She herself thinks in several languages.

Swedish Speed Bookclub

This whole speed dating was a lot better than most of us had been expecting. We got up close to four authors and four translators and got a brief look at a book we’d probably never otherwise have encountered. Also, what good English they all speak!

It was fun.

And I didn’t have to marry anyone.

How to Write a Great Story

I frequently wonder why authors write ‘how to write’ books. Are they mad? I know that they know how to, or at least what worked for them, but the competition! Keep it secret, I say.

In this latest one, How to Write a Great Story, Caroline Lawrence shares her tips. In fact, she shares how she wrote her books. And if you know her books, I’d say the advice is even better, because you’ll be able to see exactly what she means, and know what the references are about. She also mentions other famous pieces of writing, likely to be known to the reader.

Caroline Lawrence, How to Write a Great Story

(I brought her book to the hairdresser’s, and he said he’d never want to read a book like this. Could be because it’s not aimed at forty-something hairdressers, but more likely at Caroline’s fans, young and old. He wouldn’t object if I wrote a book about him, though.)

There are some sample workshops, and I envy students who’ve been able to work with Caroline on this. It looks interesting. You might start with a line from The Hobbit, and then you actually change everything, completely losing the Hobbit.

A long section explains writerly words, in case you wanted to know but were afraid to ask. Even the Vomit Draft sounds reasonably ‘appealing.’ Or do I mean appalling? And don’t you just hate those elevator pitches? Because you forgot to come up with one, or you forgot what it was. And there is Mr Spielberg, ready to listen for at least ten seconds…

I’d say Caroline doesn’t sleep enough. Some of us need more time. And preserve me from her lunches of broccoli and mayonnaise!