Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A Wannabe E-Book Reader

My favourite blogger Stateside, the author and ex-agent Nathan Brandsford put up this post (one of his best so far?) this week. I urge you to check it out, and if you haven't already, to rent the films pronto. They are modern classics - improvised scripts, I seem to remember, which were then re-enacted on set. Beautiful.

On similar lines, I am blogging today about two twentieth century memoirs I've been giving a twenty-first century twist to reading this month; they were published within a year of each other, and were written by authors born within twenty years of each other. Marcel Pagnol's (born 1895) My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle (first published in 1960, sadly now OP) and Laurie Lee's (born 1915) Cider With Rosie (first published 1959).
Pagnol's recollections of Aubagne as a child are dim; he moved from there aged three to Saint-Loup, a 'fairly big village on the ouskirts of Marseilles'. Cider with Rosie is about Lee's childhood from age three onwards in the Gloucestershire village of Slad in England.

I don't own a Kindle; I remain on the fence, but I did read these books in a way which, I imagine, if I owned an interactive ebook, I might have done. 

Suggested ingredients for a Wannabe E-Book Reader:

1. Take one Cider with Rosie and one My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle
2. Hook up your laptop/computer
3. Hit up google maps and switch to satellite view
4. Type in Slad, or Saint-Loup
5. Zoom in, and re-imagine the Lee and Pagnol as infants tracing this territory in the south of France and the south west of England.

Does this undermine the magic? I don't think so. I found, on google, the building which once was the school in Lee's early twentieth century Slad. It was fascinating to imagine him there, and to add this new dimension to my re-reading of this classic. One day I might get to Slad in person and visit the lanes he so beautifully describes, that simple world - one innocent of oil and unchanged for a millenium - gone. I don't know if I'll ever make it back to Aix en Provence, but I might just get a Kindle...

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Künstlerroman - Who'd've thunk it?

Last week, we ran a cosy Machynlleth Writers' Group at my house with mulled wine, mince pies, a log fire and all the trimmings. Local professional harpist and blossoming poet, Harriet Earis, brought her harp and enchanted us all, including little M, who I woke up at 10pm for the performance, with her beautiful music.

I submitted my work to the group for the first time since we started the second generation Machynlleth Writers' Group last year. I had some fascinating feedback. One of the members, fellow writer and blogger, David Thorpe suggested I take a second look at Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson. Looking it up on ubiquitous Wikipedia, I notice some enthusiastic Wikiwriter has referred to it as a Künstlerroman, meaning an "artist's novel." Who'd've thunk it. Maybe I shall jump on that literary band wagon? It sounds rather romantic.

I love the interview on the author's website, who says she has noticed that when female writers put themselves into their writing, it's called autobiography, and when male writers do the same, it's called meta-fiction. Too true.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Making Hay

We made Hay while the rain poured. Friday and Saturday last, the Hay Festival put on a Winter Weekend with two days of events; it was like the summer Hay Festival once used to be: small-scale, in the town centre, mostly locals in the crowds, the pubs and cafés have seating and don’t run out of ale on tap.

In October, I booked tickets for the whole family to see Peter and The Wolf, a one-man puppet show by the Sea Legs Puppet Theatre. I’d love to review it here, but unfortunately our 2-year-old, J, started hollering within the first two minutes of the performance and I had to extricate myself, somewhat ungracefully, from the tightly-packed rows of parish hall plastic seats that were jammed together.

One scoop of chocolate ice cream and four hankerchiefs was J’s preferred way to pass the hour in which his sister sat through the whole thing, entranced, apparently.

(An amusing side note is that the parish hall in which Peter and the Wolf was performed is the same one that I had run a charity café in six years previously with the Gaia Cooperative, and in which I was going to hold my own poetry reading. It was abandoned when there were only three people in the audience: my Mum, my Stepdad and my boyfriend. It is a memory I will somehow strangely cherish).

I had an ulterior motive, though, in getting the family to Hay en masse: to hear Horatio Clare speak about his latest work, The Prince’s Pen (Seren). And I was lucky enough to meet him beforehand to ask some questions about the process of retelling the myth of Lludd and Llevelys from the Mabinogion the results from which will feature in a forthcoming blog post on the Western Mail, so no spoilers here.

It was probably just as well that I did arrange to meet Horatio beforehand as it started hailing outside while I was snug in the Blue Boar interviewing him; my husband had charge of M, 4, and J, 2, who was in a pram with a broken hood and no rain cover. They came in bedraggled, and would have thrown in the towel, had they had one - and I suspect they would have benefited from one. Horatio excused me from attending the formal five o’clock Hay event and we left, having made Hay, and being glad of it.

What struck me most about my time with Horatio from my own writing perspective, was how much trust he was able to place in the narrator, Clip, and let the voice do the work. Now that I’m in writing mode, I’m looking forward to finding my voice again.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Notes from a Kitchen Table

This month, the novel project has started to take on a life of it’s own. 

Having finished the breakdown of what happens scene by scene in the first draft of my book in a spreadsheet (which felt intuitively wrong­ – I am not an accountant) I then extracted the scenes and fleshed them out into page by page scene sheets (in Word, I confess). From that basis, I then fleshed out the structure, moved scenes around and had a working plot document. From this 67-page monster, I wrote a six-page synopsis.

Then, I turned for advice.

I have only shown the work-in-progress to one close friend so far, and as a reader, she has an astute pair of eyes. I felt it was time to litmus test the plot again. I cannot work in solitary confinement. Like many writers, at times, I turn to (constructively) critical friends for help.

I sent the synopsis on to a friend who is a literary scout and got her reactions to it. She gave the same feedback as my reader had given in February this year - namely, to add a whole other layer and dimension to the book. Welcome feedback, in one sense. In another, it adds a lot more workload to the project.

Back to the drawing board.

Meanwhile, I have had my first piece of criticism published since my pre-kids days of reviewing poetry for the PN Review. I had the pleasure of reviewing COSTA shortlisted, and Man Booker Longlisted THE LAST HUNDRED DAYS by Patrick McGuinness for the current issue of the New Welsh Review. In this quarter's offering, I also read with interest an article by Rhian Jones on the state of publishing in the digital age, where she looks at how the publishing industry has learnt from the music industries mistakes and successes when dealing with digitisation of content.

Lastly, I have subscribed to the relatively new Cardiff-based literary magazine, The Raconteur. Anticipating my hot-off-the-press copy of AMERICA. Check it out!