Tag Archives: Guardian

Lowering the standards?

Thank goodness for David Lammy! I was really pleased to see his choice of book that made him laugh.

Usually even that question in the Guardian Review’s questions to writers gets a ‘worthier’ response. But here was a grown-up, a politician, willing to mention a silly – but funny – picture book.

I remember Who’s in the Loo? by Jeanne Willis. Like all her picture books it’s both funny and seriously sensible. And I have my own personal interest in toilets, making it a lot more relevant than some.

In fact, most of the books mentioned by David are more normal than I have come to expect.

Grace Dent’s shoe

It was Sherlock Holmes – the real one – who said something along the lines of making a few disjointed comments about unrelated things in order to make you sound genuinely ill and raving. Mention loose change.

I’ve enjoyed Grace Dent’s restaurant columns in the Guardian ever since she started. Almost, anyway. I didn’t take kindly to the change, but I love her now. And, well, with me feeling off colour, I’ve not really done an honest day’s work for over a week. Watering the pot plants takes it all out of me.

So I’ve spent too long hanging over the laptop, and what’s a Witch to do but read her own ancient wit from time to time? So by complete coincidence I discovered the post about my 2008 trip to Godalming to the Queen of Teen event! I believed I’d never see my home again.

I had thought of that day only recently. Something to do with The Book People going bankrupt, and me feeling that maybe they shouldn’t have arranged these pink limo events, however fun.

Where was I? Loose change. Yes. So the first thing I noticed was Grace Dent’s shoe. I remember it well. I recall thinking I needed to get a shot of shoe and leg, and it seems I succeeded. Didn’t remember whose shoe at first, but then it all came back to me; Grace, her teen books that I had not read and that she willingly dressed up in frills and pink for a day.

Long before eating all that food on our behalf. For which I am grateful. Obviously. Having got this far I had to look her up, and discovered she went to the University of Stirling…

Anyway, anyone – almost – can write teen novels. I’m really enjoying those restaurant columns. And my temperature is down.

and following on from that

The cartoon below shows I am not alone in not knowing what to do and finding that reality takes over and runs away with my life.

Tom Gauld cartoon

With many thanks to the very clever Tom Gauld (who had absolutely no say in turning up here, and for which I feel a little bad).

Go home!

It seemed appropriate that Joe Dunthorne – an author I know nothing about, I’m afraid – should write in ‘Made in…’ for Saturday’s Guardian Review about setting books in Santiago de Compostela, Tokyo and Oaxaca, but that it wasn’t until he went home to Swansea that he was in the right place.

I once wrote one chapter of a novel set in Los Angeles. I was maybe thirteen. Still haven’t been to LA, but if I had, I don’t believe it would help. Not even if I could write fiction.

When Adrian McKinty returned to Carrickfergus and installed his detective Duffy in the house where he, Adrian, was born, his novels got even better. Nothing wrong with New York, or Colorado, or places you arrive in via a wormhole in space, but you can’t beat your home town.

This week I’ve been reading Christoffer Carlsson’s new crime novel. I won’t review Järtecken here yet, as it’s not out in English. But watch this space.

After four crime novels set in Stockholm, where he lives now, he’s gone home. Home to Halmstad and the woods just outside this town on the west coast of Sweden. And the difference is obvious.

St Nikolai, Halmstad

And, this has only just dawned on me, but I am home too. This is something that I’ve not been able to say about fiction in the past. I’ve never been this much home before. (There was a Henning Mankell where the detective lived near where I have also lived. That felt good. But the story was mostly set elsewhere.)

But now, I’m back in a place that I don’t share with very many friends. I think back to it, yes. Not so much reminiscing with anyone, though.

Sure, Christoffer is thirty years my junior, and he might very well have moved a bus route, lost a head prosecutor and perhaps uses slang that is too recent for the 1990s. But it’s still home.

Much as I dislike woods, I may have to traipse round to his and have a look around. And as one of the suspects says, it’s not very easy to say what you did on a specific date ten years earlier [except he can]. Christoffer has used a date for that conversation, where I can say exactly what I was doing. And so, I dare say, can most of the population of Sweden. That’s a clever way of doing things.

And it’s home. I hope there will be more.

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

Not always hanging with the in-crowd, I only discovered Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, when the Guardian wrote about its sequel. The not with the in-crowd comment could describe quite a few of the 100 females in the book, too. They did their own thing.

I’d have liked to read it to Daughter, many years ago. And Son. Let’s not be sexist about it. Instead, I had to surreptitiously read Daughter’s copy while she was at work. She ‘just had to’ buy it when she saw it at Blackwells in Oxford. I’d not been able to justify the £20. Or £40 for the two.

This is a book that only happened with the help of some serious crowdfunding. How typical! And also, how like the Rebel Girls themselves.

Some were helped by their fathers/families. Others did their thing despite them. It’s interesting how this runs like a thread through so many of the 100 tales of extraordinary women.

Some I’d heard of. Others not. Some I knew quite well, but not necessarily in this way. Others I was very happy to be introduced to.

In a way, I don’t like the tone. But I recognise it’s all written for – fairly – young girls [and boys]. And sometimes you gain something when simplifying a really famous woman’s story into words for a small child.

Also, not sure I agree with smoothing over some of the bad stuff some of them have done, nor occasionally really bad things that happened to them, like the assassination of three of the four Mirabal sisters. I believe even young children deserve to know.

What many of these women have in common is being told girls don’t do these things.

Actually, they do. They did, and they will continue to do it.

Whether the men are stupid, or jealous and controlling, I wouldn’t want to say. And I don’t really believe that boys now need a book like this for themselves, just to make it fair.

This is a book to dip into and learn from. Preferably in the company of a young person, or two.

Intriguingly illustrated by many talented artists, giving a new face to some of these rebels. The pictures alone could invite readers to spend a lot of time looking at them, and talking about them.

I really like Michelle Obama’s mother.

AshleyFiolek-1024x748

(‘Honk all you want, I’m deaf!’ Bumper sticker belonging to Ashley Fiolek, motocross racer.)

Sensitivity readers?

Honestly. This might well be the last nail in the coffin; the one that makes me hang up my broom.

I read the article with some interest, but in the end it left me both furious and dismayed, as well as once again agreeing with Lionel Shriver, which is something I cannot take lightly.

We should have editors who find language issues in a manuscript. If they are generally wise they might also point out certain other things that could do with changing or adding or leaving out.

There is nothing wrong with a bit of peer reading/editing either. Many authors have a trusted friend/colleague or two who read through and comment on their work. I myself have done a little of this.

But I have never done it as the elderly fat Swede, pointing out where the young and slim English author got it wrong [in his novel about grey and overweight Scandinavians]. Life doesn’t work like that. If we’re going to have ‘lay’ readers who charge for sensitivity reading of novels to make sure that everything about a particular type of person in a work of fiction satisfies them (not necessarily everyone else), and making the poor author write and rewrite until their fingers bleed, there is something seriously wrong in the publishing world.

There is something so smug about the censor who understands ‘sensitivity’ so much better than anyone else, and there is something so sad about the author who is made to believe they must listen to this.

As I said, I wanted to give up, there and then.

Learning to write?

To be honest, I have always wondered if you can really go to classes to learn how to write a book. A real book, that someone would want to publish, and others would want to read. Somehow the snob in me says that if you’re any good, then you just sit down and write and out comes a masterpiece. Rather like concert pianists, who sat down in front of a piano and…

Hang on. They didn’t. They quite possibly had a piano teacher. Maybe struggled a little even, before greatness struck.

So while I did initially wonder if taking a year out to learn how to write a children’s book at some university or other, was actually time well spent, I have come to the conclusion that it is. Far too many authors, whose books I have enjoyed, have done those courses, for it to be a fluke. Perhaps they would have done well regardless, but I’m sure the classes helped.

‘MA Creative Writing-speak’ was a new concept to me when it appeared in Julie Myerson’s review of debut author Sharlene Teo’s novel in the Guardian. She didn’t like it much, I think. And she seemingly doesn’t care for authors who have taken writing classes. Except, I understand that she teaches writing. For the Guardian.

Most of us learned to write at school, and not necessarily from a teacher who was terribly good at it. But we did learn, and some have gone on to be quite marvellous at it. I’ll repeat what I used to preach at Offspring; any way that we learn something is a good way.

But on the whole I’d rather that my surgeon went to medical school before she does anything to me. None of this feeling inspired and deciding to have a go to see what it’s like.

Or you could just be famous. That usually helps with the writing skills.