Graduation Day

I handed in my dissertation last month so, with luck, I will be celebrating my graduation this time next year. Congratulations to Damon, Amelia, Jezz, Ele, Claire, Alex, Phoebe and everyone else who had their ceremony this week.

If you haven’t checked out Damon’s Unbound page yet, please do. I was privileged to read some early drafts of this work and can highly recommend it. I’ve signed up to support him and I hope you will, too.

Damon L. Wakes

Before Ten Little Astronauts was launched by Unbound – submarine promo video and all – it formed the bulk of my work for an MA in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester. The way the course was weighted, that one project was just about as important as every other module combined. On top of that, in a move that I can only assume was intended to keep postgrads up all night to finish the thing, that final project would dictate the upper limit on your results. You could hand in the greatest works of literature ever devised for the smaller modules, then still end up disappointed on results day if the big one didn’t measure up.

Well, on Friday I graduated with Distinction.

Second from right: me. Also pictured: some of the greatest writers I’ve ever met.

It’s been a long time since I actually got my…

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Writing Without Motivation

This arrived via my Twitter feed just when I needed a good kick up my writer’s bottom. Thank you, Gwen! I am now stepping away from social media and heading back to my WIP.

Gwen C. Katz

This post is part of the Writers Write All Blog Hop hosted by A Writer Named Charley. Thank you for organizing, Charley.


It was more satisfying in the era of typewriters It was more satisfying in the era of typewriters

One of the hardest shifts I had to make as I moved from being a hobby writer to a professional was having to meet deadlines and put words on the page whether I feel like it or not. It’s quite a shock for someone who previously put about as much dedication into writing as I did into playing video games. We like to imagine writers moodily smoking cigarettes and staring out windows into the rain as they wait for inspiration to strike, but inspiration tends not to strike on a very convenient schedule, and unless you’re someone like George R. R. Martin, you can’t let your career languish for years on end as you wait for the right feeling…

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Meet Me at Fair Oak Library

This is a great opportunity to meet a brilliant young writer. Unfortunately I’m otherwise engaged this Saturday morning so I hope some of you will be able to support both Damon and a smashing local library.

Damon L. Wakes

Since the launch of Ten Little Astronauts by Unbound (in fact, more or less since it was first accepted), I’ve been planning to turn up at various places and talk about it. From the very beginning Fair Oak Library was more or less guaranteed to be the first, though in the end wasn’t because Charlotte Comley got in there really quick and invited me to a meeting of The Writers at Lovedean.

Library Poster

Fair Oak Library may be small – as you might expect for a village whose biggest landmark is a tree – but it’s special to me because I still remember going there for storytime when I was considerably smaller. It was the source of an awful lot of the books I enjoyed as a child, as well as the copy of The Well of Lost Plots I read in the run-up to the first Winchester Writers’ Festival…

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It’s official – I’m in love with my latest read.

In a recent blog post I said I was feeling anxious about the book I had started to read.  Not only was it by an author I hadn’t read before, it was a work in translation and so I was in the hands of two strangers.  I had loved the opening pages and was anxious that the rest of the book wouldn’t come up to my expectations.  I am delighted to let you know:

I WAS WRONG!


I finished the book in the early hours of this morning and lay in bed, just hugging it to my chest, for a long time.  Today I will be able to pick it up, riffle through the pages and re-read some of my favourite passages, but tomorrow it will go back to the library and I will have to read something different.  I’ve been looking forward to the next book in my TBR heap for a while, but I feel a bit sorry for it now – that last book threw a long shadow.

book coverEnough waffling.  This is the book that has so occupied me for the last few days – My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises written by Fredrik Backman and translated by Henning Koch.  It is the story of Elsa, who is “seven, going on eight.  She knows she isn’t especially good at being seven”; her Granny, who is “seventy-seven years old, going on seventy-eight.  She’s not very good at it either”, and the people who live in their block of flats.  Although the time scale of the book is only a few days, the stories cover many eternities.  Eternities is how time is measured in the Land-of-Almost-Awake, a land of six kingdoms that Granny started to tell Elsa about (using their secret language) when she was afraid to sleep.

Granny’s tales from the Land-of-Almost-Awake weave magically in and out of Elsa’s every day world.  I’m not going to explain more here, you need to read the book and I’m not about to throw any spoilers in your way.  This book made me laugh and gasp and do noisy smiles (that’s not the same as a laugh.  It’s when you smile so big that a burst of joy escapes from your mouth).  It also grabbed my heart and squeezed it into my throat, bringing tears to my eyes.  It is not an easy book – there are lots of troubled people struggling to get through each day and some of them don’t make it to the last page – but nonetheless it is full of love and happiness which makes the darkness more bearable.  The stories from the Land-of-Almost-Awake are familiar enough to be comforting, but bring their own, special magic.  The people who live in Elsa’s world are painted with great skill and we care about them, even if we don’t really like some of them.  And then there is Elsa; a different, difficult, bright, inquisitive, scared little girl who totally melted my heart.

I don’t want to go on at great length about My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises for fear that I will produce screeds of saccharine praise that will put you off reading this book and I would hate for you to miss out on a fabulous story.  I know Christmas is months away, but I’m off to start my letter to Santa and this book will be at the top of my list.  I need a copy of my own that I can go and stroke at regular intervals.

I’ve got a bad case of the ‘but what if?’ collywobbles.

Shelf full of booksThis morning I experienced one of those magical moments.  I picked up a new book, opened the cover and started to read.  Before I had got to the bottom of page one I was already thinking ‘I LOVE this book!’ and tuning out everything that was happening around me as I disappeared into the world of the author (sorry, family).

Now, if you are reading a book by an author you know, this can be a really comfortable and cosy place to be.  You can’t help smiling as you snuggle down, ready to follow wherever the story takes you.  You have gone with this author on satisfying story-journeys before and you trust them.  You feel safe.  You can lose yourself to the story, fall in love with the characters and feel confident that you will still be smiling (or happily sobbing) at the end of the book.

Today I don’t feel like that.  Reluctantly, I had to put my new book down and get ready for work.  I’d far rather have grabbed a coffee and carried on reading.  Instead I packed my little lunch box and headed out to the car.  All morning, while I’ve been making phone calls, answering emails and updating files, there’s been a little niggle at the back of my mind.  What if the rest of the book isn’t as good as the first pages?  What if the writer takes me on a joyous journey and then abandons me before I’m ready?  Can I trust them?  If this was a book by a writer I know and love, I would be abandoning the keyboard this afternoon and diving back into the story (and, in case you were wondering, it’s not one of the books in the pictures).  Instead I’m tapping on the keys of my laptop and feeling anxious.

Correction.  I’m feeling doubly anxious.  This isn’t just a book by an author I haven’t read before, but it’s a translated book.  That means I’m in the hands of TWO unknown entities.  They have worked well together at the beginning of the book, but what if they disagree later and it all goes horribly wrong?  Whose voice am I hearing anyway, the writer’s or the translators?  Does it matter?

I’ve heard that when someone translates the lyrics of a song they try to be true to the feeling and the meaning of the original rather than a direct translation of the words.  Is the same true with novels?  Writers place a huge amount of trust in the people who translate their books.  Unless they are fluent in more than one language, how will they know that the story being read, for example, in Italy, is the story they wanted to tell?

If I keep thinking like this I will get myself in a total tizzy and never finish that book.  Which would be a shame, because I REALLY did enjoy the first few pages.  Decision made.  I’m off to put the kettle on and settle down for a good read.  Or maybe I should just do some ironing first…

 

Go Set A Watchman

Book coverLast week I read this newly published book by Harper Lee.  My brief review is on Goodreads.

Go Set A Watchman has been a publishing phenomenon.  The press and Twitter have been buzzing for months.  I’d be interested to know how much the hype, pre-publication reviews and inflammatory word-bites have influenced other people’s opinions.  Did it put you off reading the book? Did it create expectations of what the book was about? Did you agree with what you’d been told about the story?  Has it changed how you feel about To Kill A Mockingbird?  Do tell!