Archive | August, 2013

Reading, writing and ‘rch-enemies

22 Aug

In theory, this week should have been clear for me to concentrate on writing. Inevitably, my laptop has chosen this moment to stop working and I can’t access the latest versions of my works-in-progress… It’s particularly frustrating as I’m back to work next week. The gods that seem determined to prevent my work from seeing the light of day have once again prevailed. Ho hum. So I’ve been writing out passages for a potential new work… with pen and paper.

As a result, I’ve been reading rather more than writing. I’ve read sixteen books so far this year. That’s quite good going for me as I don’t seem to have anywhere near as much time to do so as I would like (in any given year, I’ll read somewhere between 15 and 25 books). I predicted that this reading year I would explore Japanese writing. It hasn’t quite turned out that way. It’s been another year of reading from around the world, though. Only one of the books that I’ve read might be considered “purely” British in origin. Thus far, it’s panned out as follows: Japanese (2), US (2), Norwegian (2), Ukrainian (2), Hungarian, Finnish, Icelandic, German, British/Canadian, British/Japanese (2), British. I have to say – and this may purely be my ignorance of the great work that’s out there – the majority of novels that I pick up/see reviewed by British writers seem dreary and insular by comparison.

I’ve continued to investigate the neo-realist trend in Norwegian literature, mentioned in my previous post. Per Petterson’s That’s Fine by Me turned out to be remarkably similar to Roy Jacobsen’s Child Wonder in certain regards. Both concern young male narrators, growing up with put-upon single mothers and absent, feckless fathers. Both narrators are gifted working class boys with a liking for literature. In each case, there is a lost sibling. Some of the same Oslo streets are even mentioned. For all that, it was a very good read. Told in spare prose but with some beautiful descriptions, it’s enormously evocative of a vanished era in the city. Perhaps the similarities are inevitable, given that Petterson and Jacobsen are almost exact contemporaries (for the record, the former’s book was written almost twenty years before the latter’s).

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I’m sure that I’ve used this image of an Oslo street scene before, but I can’t access my photos…

It was pretty much confirmed that it would not be a good week for writing when I ran into my literary nemesis at the bus stop on the way to the library to write this post. He’s the character whom I’ve mentioned before, who joined the writing group of which I was a member, pretty much destroying it single-handedly with his megalomania and disorganisation. He declared that from what he’d seen my war novel didn’t work and consigned it to his literary dustbin. Looking like a cut-price Michael Moorcock (he wrote like one too), he either cut me dead or failed to recognise me. Fair enough. If I believed in omens, this would have been one. It’s always good to have these figures in one’s life, I find, to provide half-imaginary opponents against whom one can spar. And it was Yin and Yang. I heard from a writer friend whom I haven’t seen in a while and we made tentative plans to meet up for another pub crawl around literary London.

Perhaps the imposed break from working on WIP No. 1 (currently at the 54,000 word mark) will allow me to achieve some distance from the manuscript and help to push it forward. Or maybe I’ll just lose the thread. We shall see. In the meantime, I’ve continued mapping out ideas for a possible WIP No. 3. For a long time now, I’ve been wanting to write something about loss of biodiversity and its potential link to humanity’s future extinction. It may yet, as they say, have legs. I’d love to tell you more about it but the clock on the library computer tells me that I’ve got 23 seconds left and I’m about to run out of ti

All text © PSR 2013

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From the Writing Den…

15 Aug

I’ve been away from the Internet for the last two and a half weeks, spending some time at my rural writing den. In truth, as my two young children were in tow, it was more of a holiday cottage on this occasion. Suffice to say, I didn’t get much writing done. Instead, there were lots of trips to the coast, stick throwing competitions, visits to crêperies and the like. I did, though, get plenty of reading done.

A couple of years ago, I gave my mother a copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go. I’d been intending to read it myself for ages but had never got around to it. Sitting in my garden chair beneath the shade of the silver birches, I did so at last. And frankly, I was in awe. You’d have to have been living on the moon for the last decade not to know that it concerns clones who’ve been created purely for the purpose of providing donations for other human beings, so the comments which follow won’t give much away. I found it a brilliantly understated, gut-wrenching read. It prompts the reader to ask him/herself a multitude of moral questions. I’ll cite two examples of Ishiguro’s skill. Firstly, he’s a master of narrative, writing convincingly in different voices from book to book. This time, he’s a thirty-something woman, and you never for a moment have that feeling that you get with other writers – ‘hold on, this is a man impersonating a woman’. Secondly, after all that has gone before, hinted at but never stated, it contains a short passage toward the end that leaves you feeling breathless as though from a sharp body blow. It’s a brilliant trick, similar to the moment in Ferenc Karinthy’s Metropole – also a must read book – in which the protagonist, lost in a foreign land where he understands nothing, briefly catches sight of a man riding the other way on the metro escalator, reading a newspaper from his home country. Ishiguro’s narrator and her long-time friend have been talking about what follows if a donor survives his/her fourth donation and she comments, “there’s nothing to do except watch your remaining donations until they switch you off. It’s horror movie stuff…”. I challenge the stoniest of heart not to be moved.

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The woodshed gets a new coat of paint and looks more like… the boat-shed or beach-hut. Much reading took place on the garden chair.

I love Norway’s landscape and culture. I’ve visited several times and it was the homeland of my late, great friend, Dyre Vaa Saetre. So I’m always interested to read the work of good Norwegian writers. From what I can tell, there’s always been a strong realist strain in Norwegian literature, exploring the hard times its people have lived through to reach their prosperous present. It so happens that Dyre’s great-grandfather, Johan Bojer, was such a writer (his most famous work was Den siste viking or The Last Viking). Perhaps best known to UK readers of the current crop of neo-realist writers is Per Petterson, author of Out Stealing Horses. Writing in a similar vein is Roy Jacobsen. I read his Child Wonder while I was over at the writing den. It’s a powerful coming-of-age novel and is also highly recommended. Like the works of Karinthy, I’m now waiting for more of Jacobsen’s writing to be translated into English.

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A grainy, old photo of my friend on a boat trip that we took along Sognefjorden

As for my own writing, work-in-progress No. 1 has arrived at the 54,000 word mark. I’ve discussed before how, from time to time, a writer may lose confidence in what he/she is writing. That’s the point I’ve reached at present. After all, the fact that you’ve spent months on a manuscript and written tens of thousands of words doesn’t mean that it’s destined to be any good. As often as not, though, this is down to the writer’s mood or a recognition that much revision of the text is necessary. In any case, here‘s a short excerpt from it.

I also worked on the organisation of a possible sampler of my writing to date (working title, Jamboree Bag). It would contain excerpts from my longer works of fiction, some short stories, non-fiction, poems (yes, I do very occasionally write them), song lyrics and a few examples of my journalism. The idea would be to self-publish it as an e-book, available for a nominal price to anyone interested in reading it and free to publishers and agents as an advertisement for my work. I might need some advice from my virtual friends on how to do this! Is this a good idea? If you have a view, then do please let me know.

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The peerless Breton coast
(also thankfully, pleasure pier-less)

All text and images © PSR 2013