So…

I went to the European Premiere of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.

Oh yes I did.

20161115_174217

We had an absolute ball.

Meeting old friends, spending quality time together, getting excited, sharing jewellery, handbags, fashion advice and make-up tips. Not to mention the cocktails.

img_2515

The film itself lived up to every expectation. In Odeon Leicester Square, the sound quality is so intense, your seats actually vibrate. The creatures, the acting, the story, the setting and most powerfully, the themes, held us all (regardless of age) rapt in our seats. You can read a more detailed review here.

img_2516

A few things I learned about premieres:

  • The carpet’s not always red.
  • You cannot walk on cobbles in heels.
  • Dress so you feel fabulous AND comfortable.
  • When Non-Famous You gets out of the car, you can hear the fans groan.
  • Only professionals manage to keep red lipstick off their teeth.
  • Security geezers are truly amazing.
  • Warner Bros throw fine parties – Kowalski’s Bakery won.
  • Meeting the actors when prepared is incredible. When unprepared, you dribble.
  • It takes at least 24 hours and several conversations before you appreciate the film.
  • It takes at least 24 hours and several conversations before you remember the party.

img_2471

An extraordinary Tuesday night.

A brilliant film I’ll watch again and again.

The first of five? Bring ’em on.

20161116_173452

 

 

I suppose the thing is, it’s hard to live a good life. It’s energetically demanding to keep negative emotions at bay, to remain open and inclusive, to feel ready to tackle difficult problems that have no simple solutions, to refrain from judging . Whereas it is so easy to fall into catastrophising, into resentment and […]

via The Self-Sabotage of the West — Tales from the Reading Room

The Woolf Quarterly held WriteCon Zürich Autumn 16 last weekend.

A wonderful, stimulating day of ideas and discussion where 30 writers came together to learn and share.

img_2451

Origami bookshelves by Sarah Buchmann

Lindsey Grant guided her group through the complexities of writing Memoir and Non-Fiction. This is a subject which requires an experienced tutor with an awareness of how traumatic some personal experiences can be.

Thankfully, as an ex Program Director of NaNoWriMo and memoirist herself, she steered a professional course between sharing individual stories and keeping the group focused.

img_2444

Memoir & Non-Fiction workshop

In the Fiction Masterclass, Jason Donald packed structure, story, plot and prose into one intensive day.

Tragedy begins with harmony and ends with chaos. Comedy is the reverse.

His insights into Plot v. Story, the difference between the Hero/Heroine’s Journey and the significance of subplots intrigued me.

Main plot carries story, sub plot carries theme

In the afternoon session, we turned our attention to our own writing. Jason asked us to edit 3-5 pages of our work in progress.

img_2441

Fiction Masterclass

First we weeded out all the bad habits (every author has a crutch in terms of words, phrases or sentence structure). Next we whipped out all those unnecessary filters.

Felt, wondered, decided, seemed are all filter words which distance the reader.

Finally, participants worked in pairs to create fresh, surprising prose.

This exercise was such a success, I’m sharing it here.

Write down ten words which express emotional states in your story. Eg, frustration, loneliness, jealousy, passion, triumph…

Write down ten words which appear in the environment of your storyworld. Eg, ice, sea-salt, wind, fur, shells…

Take one from each list and combine them into a sentence, using an image featuring the latter to evoke the former. Don’t mention the emotion, just hint at it. Write five sentences, sometimes a question or a negative. Amongst them, you’ll find one you can use or develop.

Hermit crabs scuttled their shells sideways at his approach, as if even they shunned him.

Her smile, sea-salt in his wounds, expressed nothing more than pity.

Swap lists with a partner. Give them your lists and see what five combinations they create.

 

Finally, writing workshops always result in such fabulous goodies!

Origami books, a syringe pen and a dead body pen holder. My kind of weekend.

img_2461

In a month when bad news came in threes (and I’m not talking about presidential debates), I realised three things.

  • The support of female friends is invaluable. I love the guys too but the girls rock. Especially after losing a loved one, each in their own way reminds me they care.
  • No relationship is without conflict. All my closest friends and I have had occasional disagreements: politics, ethics, behaviour, or which dishcloth to use for wiping up red wine. Just like any couple, it’s how you deal with these flash points that defines your respect for one another.
  • Friendships can survive long periods of neglect, much like my garden, and burst into bloom once more.  Memories, photos and Facebook act as great fertiliser.
c4c1

Colours for Cooty – The celebration of my Mum and her exceptional life

A fellow writer recently discussed the awkwardness of ‘unfriending’ a person. Not on social media, but in person. I get that. On three occasions, I have ‘consciously uncoupled’ from people whose influence became more negative than positive. On each occasion, I felt lighter, happier and couldn’t understand why it had taken so long. But true friends I will treasure forever.

Seeking comfort in books, as is my wont in times of trouble, I went back to female friendships. I re-read many and sought out certain passages which touched me the first time. Here’s a brief list of my favourites for you to curl up with. Ideally with a comfy blanket and a bowl of tomato soup.

The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford

A fictionalised account of the Mitford sisters, this insight into upper-class British family life in Downton Abbey through a child’s eyes. Fanny’s love and friendship with Linda and her sisters is a joy.

pursuit-of-love

Temples of Delight, By Barbara Trapido

Everyone should have a Jem. A bright, lively rulebreaker who enters Alice’s life like a firework. For an all-too-brief but thrilling period in her young life, Jem opens all kinds of doors, then disappears through one.

temples-of-delight

Accabadora, by Michela Murgia

An ageing seamstress who operates as the opposite of a midwife (she helps souls leave rather than arrive) has no children. She adopts Maria, whose family can no longer afford to feed her. The two women learn much from each other, and learn how to manage life as a single woman in rural Sicily.

accabadora

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery

Two women of different generations and even class, Renée is the concierge of a Paris apartment block, who outwardly conforms to what her residents expect. On the 5th floor, Paloma is planning her own suicide before her thirteenth birthday. Two women with a shared curiosity for the meaning of life.

hedgehog

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

Also set in Sicily, this book offers an exceptional insight into the world of blood feuds and family roles but the theme is closer to The Pursuit of Love. An apparently unequal friendship turns out to be more balanced than it seems. A painfully accurate rendition of what a good friendship really is.

my-brilliant-freund

Only Ever Yours, by Louise O’Neill

Both bleak and comforting, this vision of the future where women compete on every level is uncomfortably close to reality. The warmth of female friendship, the love and loss of a true friend is resonant throughout. It’s pitched as YA, which is a good thing. All young women, and men, should read this. It has a message for us all.

c614c-onlyeveryours_07_05_14

 

 

 

 

 

 

“He lives in a world where the highest compliment you can give a woman — even your own daughter — is that you would sleep with her.” Alexandra Petri, Washington Post

The usual news and politics interest took a back seat this past fortnight, as I had other things on my mind. Since my mother died two weeks ago, I’m having trouble understanding how everyone is still going about their business. I stop and stare at people catching trains, buying grapefruits or commenting on news, wondering how they can just carry on.

But today, and her behalf, I have to re-engage. Because I am raging.

I am a feminist. So was my mother. She taught me my body and mind are my own, and no one takes advantage of either. She taught me to respect other people’s views, religions, cultures and sexuality, but most of all to respect myself.

Perhaps because my friends and loved ones are of the same opinion and my selective news sources reflect my own views, I got complacent. I assumed the sexism thing was on the way out.

mafia-chicks

Mum and her grandaughter, Ellie.

Scenario A:

Well-known friend and I attend an awards ceremony. Two magazine editors approach and ask if my friend would do a centrefold for their magazine.

She: “Sorry, not my kind of thing.”

He: “Why not? Seriously? Because I’d do you. Really, I would.”

Scenario B:

I interview a writer I admire. I share a clip with my writers’ forum.

Female #1: Good interview! I think he fancied you.

Male: Course he did. She’s well fit.

Female #2: (Quotes male) Nice!

Male: (To Female #2) Oh, you’re well fit too.

Scenario C:

Friend posts on Facebook:

95% of women have intelligent DNA in them. Unfortunately most of them spit it out.

Three points:

  1. Trump’s comments about ‘grabbing pussy’ and ‘do whatever you want’ are not an archaeological find from 1975. It’s typical of a certain kind of contemporary discourse which MAKES WOMEN’S LIVES SHITTIER. Including those of the daughters and wives quoted above.
  2. Not all men talk and think this way.  See Jackson Katz. Many men are angered and offended by this casual demeaning of half the population, who call out this kind of attitude and reject ‘easy’ sexism.
  3. Trump should be allowed to make a total arse of himself. Exposure works two ways and some volunteer personal embarrassment daily. Go right ahead, Donald the Dickhead.

Trump and his ilk want us to go backwards – knuckle-dragging, hair-pulling, tribal-warring, meaningless grunting – so I’m sticking my not-very-high heels in on behalf of my mother and all my sisters and saying NO.

The women (and men) in my family, my friends and associates are all brilliant, talented, funny, capable, nurturing, articulate, powerful, self-defining, imaginative, strong, sensitive and a million other things. The last thing on our minds is whether Trump and his locker-room boys consider us fuckable.

Not in a million years, Donald.

So you and the lads can lock yourselves in and fuck off.

PS: Sorry for swearing, Cooty, but I think you’d understand.

 

 

 

 

Liz Jensen, creative writing consultant and author of eight acclaimed novels including the Hollywood-adapted The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, The Rapture and The Uninvited in conversation with JJ Marsh and Karen Pegghttp://www.lizjensen.com./
 
 
The way you genre hop is a joy to many writers who resist being boxed. Did you set out with that determination or was it an organic development? Have you ever experienced external pressure to write more of the same but different?


The reason I switch genres is that a lot of writers find themselves writing the same book over and over again. I wanted to avoid that. I’m an impatient reader and an impatient writer, so I just kid myself that I’m not writing the same thing, even though I do have certain themes and preoccupations.

I thought I would carry on writing comedy, I wasn’t expecting to write a dark novel. But when I wrote The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, I realised I was breaking new ground. The novel has two first-person narrators, one a nine-year-old boy and the other an adult man.
As I was writing the adult character, a coma specialist, it struck me that he was the first real ‘grown-up’ character I had ever written, because in all my previous novels the adults had been children in disguise. He was really hard to write: I didn’t really know how to deal with him. But I liked the challenge.

I had moved into psychological suspense and I was enjoying it. When you write a book it’s constructed, just like an object. It’s a bit like building a ship. Every element has its place, and all the parts must fit together so it can sail. It’s a cliche but it’s true: writing is 99% perspiration and one percent inspiration. Craft is fundamental.
That said, I don’t plan everything out beforehand. I like to be surprised, so I often don’t know how my books are going to end. Though I am pretty sure my subconscious has an idea.

Photo credit Djbril Sy

 

Much of your work reaches beyond the boundaries of what we might expect. Not just a what if… but in that world of what if, another what if… is that a product of a restless imagination or do you push yourself to look over the next horizon?

Some readers say to me: ‘the way you see the world is so weird’. All I can say is, it’s not weird to me. I see the world the way I see it and put in my books that way. I like asking the question ‘what if…’ because it’s so fundamental. It forces you to take a situation to its logical conclusion. I’ve been thinking about climate change for the last ten years and writing about it in the last two books, in a tangential sort of way. We’re in an era of ”what if?” so of course that’s the question I ask.
I also think ”what if?” is brilliant if you’re constructing a character. What’s the worst situation I can put this person into? What if the only person capable of changing events is the one least likely or worst equipped to deal with it?

From the internal world of Louis Drax to the wide ranging potential dystopia of The Uninvited, you evoke entire landscapes of the mind or the future with great attention to detail. Would you describe your creative process?

My creative process. Hmm. I start with reading the newspapers. I need to get fired up about something. I’m very theme-based. Character is important too but I can’t come up with my characters until I know what my theme is going to be.

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax is about buried memory.

There was a tragedy in my own family, long before I was born. It was all over the newspapers at the time and it scarred my mother psychologically for ever. Her father had died not long before, but in 1937 she lost two more members of her family in the space of four days, under very strange circumstances.

Her mother had taken her and her two brothers on a summer holiday in the Swiss Alps. The oldest brother, who was 19, had a row with his mother (my grandmother) and stormed off into the mountains. He was still missing four days later. By then the weather had turned so the search parties were called off but my grandmother was desperate, and she insisted on continuing alone. The next morning her body was found at the base of a cliff. The double mystery of uncle’s disappearance and my grandmother’s death were never solved. So my mother and her two remaining brothers were suddenly not only orphans, but bereft of a much-loved older brother who was never seen or heard of again.

Fast-forward 70 years, there I am writing a story about a small family going into the mountains, one member disappearing and the other falling off a cliff. The weird thing is I didn’t realise as I was writing The Ninth Life of Louis Drax that the inspiration came directly from that story which I’ d first heard as a six-year-old child. It’s so obvious, in retrospect.

Apart from that example, I don’t use my own life or family history in my novels. Mostly inspiration comes from the world around me. It can be a news story, an event or something as simple as a conversation. The book I’m trying to write now came out of a conversation I had with a glass-maker, ten years ago. Some things take a long time to gestate.

When I sit down to write, I wouldn’t describe it as a creative process because often it’s almost clerical. I enjoy rewriting possibly more than I enjoy writing. You’re applying your editing brain whereas actually writing something new can be like squeezing like blood out of a stone. If I’m working well I aim for a thousand words a day. Any more than that is a gift.
The book I’m writing at the moment I’m doing differently from the others. This time I’m not going for a gold standard chapter one. I’m writing fragments. I think of it as a patchwork quilt. I’m just doing these squares, I don’t know what order anything goes in, but I have great faith in my subconscious. Something in there is working on it. It’s what Stephen King calls the boys in the basement.

I’d like to say it gets easier, but I’ve abandoned quite a few novels over the years, two at the 60,000 word mark, because they simply weren’t working. Many writers have had this experience. You just have to keep faith with yourself.

You’ve experienced many different cultures. Do you see the influences of each on what you write?

Not all of them yet, but I’m waiting for Hong Kong to pop up, and Israel. After 30 years Taiwan appeared in The Uninvited in a key scene. I knew I wanted to do a global ghost story and when I went to Dubai to teach, I decided to incorporate it as a setting. I’ve set novels in France and Denmark because they’re countries I know well, whose languages I speak.

 

How far did the experience of journalism shape you as a writer?

My experience in radio was the most useful. Through the producing, interviewing and editing process I was learning all about dialogue and about how to shape a story. This was in the pre-digital era when you physically cut tape with a razor blade and shifted things around. So you were shaping something with your hands as well as your brain.

We met while we were guest tutors in Geneva and you’re now teaching at A Chapter Away. Participants enthuse about your inspiring teaching. Do you enjoy helping other writers develop?

Well that’s very gratifying to hear! I have always received a huge amount of support from other writers, and still do. The thing about teaching is that you are also learning. So it’s not entirely altruistic. I like mentoring too, which I do through a wonderful company called Gold Dust, set up by Jill Dawson. It’s very rewarding to go deep into someone’s work, one-on-one, having conversations and giving notes, and seeing someone’s work blossoming.

There’s a dark vein of humour pulsing through your books. Can you always see the funny side?

Yes. It’s a almost a duty. Some of the best jokes are told at funerals. We need laughter more than we ever needed it. These times are the darkest I can remember. Humour does a crucial job. Laughter helps us deal with the hardest things in life. Make no mistake: humour is deeply, deeply serious.

An adaptation of The Ninth Life of Louis Drax appears in cinemas worldwide from September.

 

Liz Jensen will be teaching a Speculative Fiction course at the Arvon Foundation in November and tutoring at the residential course A Chapter Away July 1st – 8th 2017. (www.achapteraway.com

Padraig Rooney spent the best part of 40 years outside his native Ireland and lives in Switzerland. He has published three collections of poetry and won the Patrick Kavanagh Award, the Poetry Business Award, the Strokestown International Poetry Prize and the 2012 Listowel Poem Award. His work is anthologised in Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the Twentieth Century in Poetry (Viking), Haiku World and The Haiku Seasons (Kodansha), and his short stories appear in Best Irish Short Stories 2 & 3 (Paul Elek).

padraig rooney

Image courtesy: Padraig Rooney

I’ve read The Gilded Chalet was inspired by a visit to Basel’s Paper Mill and Literary Museum. How did the Earls of Ulster’s journey kick off the idea to explore the relationship between Switzerland and writers?

Clio, muse of history, presides over The Gilded Chalet. In March 2008 there were a number of commemorations in Switzerland and elsewhere, marking the passage of the Earls of Ulster from the Low Countries to Rome in March 1708. They passed through Basel and along the road to Liestal and most likely through the St. Alban Gate, nearby the present Basel Paper Museum. I’m a poet, and I like the way images cohere unexpectedly, bringing together disparate times and events. I’m also an Ulsterman and the sad romance of the end of the old Gaelic order is touching in its political and linguistic ramifications, which the passage of the Earls represents in Irish history. I was brought up a mile from the border during the Troubles, my father was an Irish speaker, and so there was a certain allegiance to a now rather old-fashioned Gaelicism.

You’ve a passion for writers and their locations in a wider sense. What’s at the heart of your interest? The influence of location on their work, their perceptions of the place or is it driven by your own exploratory nature?

I think because I’ve travelled quite a bit myself, I tend to assume place is central to the experience of exile. It may not be. Many of the writers in The Gilded Chalet were exiled in one way or another, and in search of a home. In Irish literature the fashionable term for exiled writers is the diaspora. For Russians at the beginning of the last century, it was the émigré life of Berlin and Paris. Switzerland still seems to me to be a very multicultural place, where people from all over the world congregate and communicate in several languages. It’s not just one homogenous culture, which island nations tend to veer towards.

I left Ireland after graduating in 1976 and haven’t much lived there since. I’ve always been attracted to travel, the details of place, to negotiating the world in several languages—second nature to me now. I do like a good, detailed, particularised setting in fiction, rendered in a painterly way. When there’s a description of a meal, as a reader I want to know what’s on the menu. I like the particulars.

You cover a huge time period in The Gilded Chalet and provide insights into the writers’ private lives as much as their writing. How far was your intention to add a human level to some of our literary icons?

Gossip is an underrated activity. The danger with this kind of book is to make it overly academic—there are enough of those—so some ‘human level’ as you put it, alleviates the tedium of academe. Maybe even a low human level. Byron with his boys and Rousseau with his kids farmed off to the workhouse, present interesting opportunities to showcase canonical writers, warts and all. Nabokov couldn’t have afforded to spend 16 years in the Montreux Palace Hotel without the cash from the sales of Lolita and from Kubrick’s movie adaptation. The fact that John le Carré was recruited as a spy in Switzerland and is the son of a con man, is no minor matter as regards the direction his fiction has taken him. There are certain dangers in keeping literature in the province of academia, with its critical-reverential approach.

Humour, too, tends to pull down icons: that is a good thing. I wish more people would use humour against the pervasive business culture, executive culture, celebrity culture of our time. These are our new vulgarians for Mammon.

gilded chalet, Padraig Rooney cover image

Cover: The Gilded Chalet Padraig Rooney

When we met in Geneva, I’d just had a lively debate on the subject of academia and the dangers of educators getting stuck in ‘transmit’ mode. Yet you, as a head of an English Department, seem to actively seek the experience of learning, be it travel or researching other authors’ work. Do you make a conscious effort to keep ‘curious’?

Much of education these days is in ‘deliverology’ mode—to borrow a term recently used in the London Review of Books—a mode patented by Tony Blair. The ideology of business has in the past 40 years moved into areas traditionally regarded as hands-off—water, education, health, patenting seeds. The wonderful Noam Chomsky has been writing about this recently too with regard to the use of non-tenured faculty in American universities: the culture of temps. I give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and give unto God what is God’s. Caesar is going to steal from you anyway, so you can short-change him now and again! I have to fight for my time and I’m curious by nature.

Much of The Gilded Chalet got written between six and eight in the morning, and then I went into homeroom. It used to be that academia or teaching were favourable occupations for writers but I think that’s no longer the case, and hasn’t been the case for several decades. There’s a lot of fluff talked about fostering creativity in schools. It’s the bottom line which increasingly rules; fluff comes cheap.

A poet, journalist, author and photographer have different constraints/freedoms. Can you hop easily between roles or are they strictly separate? Where do they blend?

The late writer W. G. Sebald pioneered a blend between those formerly distinct modes or genres, and good travel writing that partakes of journalism and a poetic sense. I find that I didn’t write much, if any, poetry while working on The Gilded Chalet. I just didn’t have enough energy. Poetry requires pressure from the poem—you can’t will it into being. Many bad poems come from merely being exercises of the intellect. Poetry is also about waiting, whereas prose can be got on with, a thousand words a day, until you have a draft. So, personally, I wasn’t able to hop easily between them.

padraig pic

You’re a border man. Growing up just on the border of Northern Ireland and now living in Basel, right on the hub of three countries, what effect does that have on a sense of identity?

The fashionable lit-crit jargon for that is liminality, but “a border man” sounds great to my ear. I love moving between the butter people and the olive people, from north to south, and back again. One of my uncles was a small-time smuggler across the Northern Ireland border, and my mother smuggled butter into the South all the time—it was considerably cheaper in the North, and she had five children. So the world of smuggling has a certain appeal in borderland, even in Switzerland.

The rich always sort things to their own advantage, that’s why they’re rich, and Switzerland is a good place for a poor little writer to observe that arrangement, that sleight of hand.

One of my favourite quotes is from Bob Dylan: “Steal a little and they put you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king.” I’m writing this in the week the Panama Papers have revealed how the rich and famous smuggle, steal and launder. It’s an imaginative terrain—John le Carré wrote a novel called The Tailor of Panama and Graham Greene tackled Panama somewhat in Getting to Know the General. The rich always sort things to their own advantage, that’s why they’re rich, and Switzerland is a good place for a poor little writer to observe that arrangement, that sleight of hand.

I sometimes miss, too, the particular language of the border counties, the accent and diction of my parents, surrounded as I am by Anglo-Americanism or globlish. I miss the linguistic pattering of my childhood: bits of Ulster Scots, Gaelic inflections in the English, countrified pronunciation. I sometimes hear the clichés and ready-made phrases of mid-Atlantic English as a vulgar tide, swamping everything.

If you could bring back three characters from The Gilded Chalet for a round-the-table discussion with yourself, who would you choose?

I’m not sure all three would work round the same table together, so perhaps individually. I’d like to have a coffee with Annemarie Schwarzenbach because I’m translating some of her journalism about 1937-8 New Deal America at the moment. She travelled to the American South at a time of labour unrest and segregation. We might talk about the death of the left, about the current state of American politics. I don’t think Vladimir Nabokov would be very chatty, with nothing off the cuff, but I’ve been a fan of his writing for a long time and would like to hear his rolling, preening accent in English. Finally, if I sat down with Anthony Burgess I could thank him for a kind review he gave of one of my short stories back in 1976. Late, but better late than never.

*

Edmund White described The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland as “a superbly amusing guide to all the writers who’ve been drawn to or emerged from Switzerland”.

Read more: www.padraigrooney.com/home_blog/