Tag Archives: Guardian

The book’s Böll, Heinrich Böll

Guardian reader Wendy, on the paper’s letters page, pointed me in the direction of Adrian Chiles and his column on bookshelves last week, which I had missed. Because we mostly don’t buy a paper on a Thursday. But that’s what the internet is for, discovering what I missed.

It’s yet another article/post/column on how some of us have too many books, and we don’t mind displaying our groaning shelves to the world via Zoom. Adrian now claims he’s going to get rid of, or actually read, some of his ignored volumes.

Easy for him to say. He’s probably not got a book blog to feed.

But, yeah, it seems his books are not even ones he doesn’t like the look of. And this is true of mine as well. I can comfortably ignore books I really wanted, maybe even bought. In fact, just the other day I was congratulating myself for having a more attractive tbr pile right now, basing it on having bought books, rather than it being only review copies of books soon to be published.

Then there are the books you acquire because someone recommended them, or worse, shamed you into feeling you should read them. That’s where Heinrich Böll comes in. Back in 1972, in my German class at school, one of the boys (we only had three, so they kind of stood out) said he’d had an inkling Böll would get the Nobel Prize, so he’d got a few of the man’s books out from the library to read in preparation.

So, of course, I did the same, only for me it was after the award was made public. But still. I dutifully read quite a few of Böll’s novels, and I’m fairly certain I didn’t enjoy any of them.

I have none of them here. Possibly one or two got left on the shelves belonging to Mother-of-Witch, but again, maybe not. Perhaps I borrowed from the library.

There will have been a few other Nobel laureates whose books I’ve read, but not many. I am cured of needing to keep up with boys in classrooms. And let’s face it, I can prune heavily and still have a most respectable looking set of shelves behind me on Zoom.

How to find your voice as a writer

We began by watching the teacher’s two-year-old daughter chatting to a cushion, telling it to sit down. It’s as good a way as any, when you are looking to find your voice.

From time to time I have stared at the lists of Guardian Masterclasses offered by the newspaper. But the time and the distance travelled would never justify the cost of them. Now though, when Covid has forced everything to go online, I grabbed the bull by the horns and signed up for a class. It was the subject, on finding my voice, and the fact that the master was Aditya Chakrabortty, that made up my mind. I thought I could always consider the fee as my contribution to the Guardian’s survival if I didn’t make it on the day.

There were technical hitches to begin with, but they mostly disappeared as we went along. And while at first it felt like quite obvious stuff, it was actually very interesting. I suspect I have already found my voice, in which case it was good to have it confirmed. And my inner cynic also tells me that however charming that voice may be, it won’t pay. I suppose that’s where I felt more could be said. It’s all very well to write a good piece, but right now I doubt anyone will want to pay for anything like that.

But that’s OK. Writing can be fun anyway.

I quite liked being told that one should never try to be someone else. (Whenever I get a bit precious I realise I’m writing absolute rubbish.) However, bits of ‘my voice’ always got edited out when I had my blogs published in the Guardian. Just saying. I could always see where someone else had had a go. Not so much the pruning away, but the words added that I would never use.

I suspect Aditya expected to talk to a younger lot than what he got. Judging by the ‘Zoom’ pictures we could see, most of us were ‘older’. I like that. It’s good to know people have ambition, even when the world might think we’re past it. (When break time came, he told us to go to the toilet and be back in five minutes. Bar one, they all got up…)

Write if you really want to, and if you have something new to say. Not the same old as everyone else. You should know what you know (I complain about this all the time!), and ‘going home’ can be good. Aditya told us about what he saw when he returned as an adult to Edmonton Green where he grew up. He talked about minorities. Etonians are a minority.

‘Be new’ and never mind Twitter.

Read, read, read. Those are the three Rs. Aditya even suggested children’s books to read. I think as a shock to the system for being so different. (I’ll have to have a word with him, before his two-year-old does.)

Listen, smell, be a camera. (I appear to have written down several ideas based on this. Wonder if I’ll ever get round to them?)

Don’t write case studies. It’s what they do on television. Don’t repeat so much, but use more rhyme. Think of the carpentry in getting sentences to stick together. Get used to just writing, however bad. Five minutes on what you did yesterday. Be yourself. Write down what you had for dinner.

Daniel Barenboim. Aditya spent a week with him for an interview, but in reality he had about 90 minutes with the man. The rest was running after him and being fed too much pudding. (This, too, reflects my own experience. Not the Barenboim pudding, exactly, but how you do a lot with quite little.)

Going through the notes, which they emailed us afterwards, saving on the note taking, makes me feel a lot more enthusiastic again.

I’ll see what I can do.

The books that made Meg

If the Guardian Review has to come to an end, potentially losing me one of my regular favourite pages – ‘The books that made me’ – then what more suitable way for it to [almost] end than to feature The books that made Meg Rosoff, also well known for being this witch’s fairy blogmother, and favourite author?

She’s funny and entertaining, and clearly skived off more at university than I thought.

And the Guardian managed to source a photo that isn’t one of the few standard ones. (I’d say a Swedish one, at that.) Well done.

End of Review

It’s not good news. The Guardian is about to stop publishing its Saturday Review.

It’s also not surprising. Costs everywhere, for everything, are escalating. Newspapers are not made of money any more than we are. You have to cut somewhere. It would just have been nice if the Review could stay. It means a lot not only to its readers, but to authors whose books are reviewed by them.

I understand that the other smaller parts of the Saturday paper are also disappearing, with plans for all to find some space in a new supplement. Hopefully this means that some of our most favourite bits will survive in some form or other. I know I have several that I really don’t want to lose.

Back in 2007 they published a lot of [paid for] blog posts. I know, because I was one of the paid people, having been introduced to the idea by Adèle Geras and Meg Rosoff who both wrote for the Books section. I also strayed into the film and television and music sections, because ‘I obviously knew so much about those subjects’.

It was fun. Chatting to other commenters was fun. Being able to earn the money to pay for my first laptop was rather nice. I know that the Resident IT Consultant would have been happy to pay, but for a non-earner like myself earning a bit of money was nice.

But I could tell when things went south. Most of their blogging needs were taken care of in-house. It was their version of not buying grapes every week when money gets tight. It’s just that as their purse shrank, so did ours. We’ve tried to be as supportive as we can. But it’s not enough.

Personally I am fine with there being fewer pages to the paper version of the Guardian. I like the idea of saving on paper; I don’t mean waste, but still it can be a lot of paper. The news  section could save some of its speculation on ‘what will happen’ to online pages. We will know soon enough what happens.

But I do like some of the more literary pieces on paper, and the recipes for things I won’t cook because I don’t have the latest outlandish ingredient. Some things are meant for paper. I won’t say whether I think the price could be allowed to be raised again, because I don’t know what people can afford.

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.