Friday, 26 June 2009

The Rehearsal: A Review

Today, I'm pleased to see my review of Eleanor Catton's The Rehearsal online at Bookmunch.

Most of my recent reading has been short fiction, so I loved immersing myself in a novel, especially this one. It is so beautifully written, brooding with adolescent sexuality. Let me give you an snippet from the book:

'You will try and recreate that one kiss with all your loves, try and replay it over and over; it will sit like an old video loop on a television screen in front of you, and you will lean forward to touch the cool bulge of glass with your forehead and you will feel the ripple-fur of static with your fingers and your cheek and you will be illumined, lit up by the blue-black glow of it, the bursts of light, but in the end you will never really be about to touch it, this perfect memory, this one solitary moment of unknowing where you were simply innocent of who you were, of what you might become’.

If you have the time and inclination, you can read my review here. It's one of the hot hot books for 2009, and is published in July.

I've been more than a little absent from here... busy with work and reviews and working towards finishing things I should have finished long ago. But, good things are happening... and I will keep posting as and when I can...

Saturday, 13 June 2009

I heart writing workshops

Last weekend I was at Geraldine Green's house for a four day poetry workshop with George Wallace and Geraldine leading us into various kinds of inspiring activities.

In the mornings we had fast furious writing exercises from George, which were aimed at emptying the mind of all critical thoughts, and writing quick, getting ideas and words down on the page without time to think to much about it. I would call it freeing the right brain. We did games around word association, turning nouns into verbs, verbs into nouns, sound associations, and all kinds of freeing us up writing.

In the afternoons Geraldine took us walking, to the gypsy horse fair at Appleby, Castlerigg stone circle, and other places to inspire us. It was great to be in Keswick which is so so beautiful.

On Sunday night we all read at the Bluebell Bookshop in Penrith, a really warm friendly night, with some interesting poets. Derek the owner of the bookshop made us beautiful homemade bread with dips and salad, organic pizza, wine, juice. It really is a treat going there. Especially as, with all good independent bookshops right now, business is slow...

Today, I was at Paper Planes which takes place every second Saturday at Fuel Cafe Bar in Withington. Please come along if you are in or near Manchester. It's always a lovely workshop, friendly, relaxed, with some great writing exercises (suited to prose or poetry) and a break for lunch downstairs in the quirky cafe.

It was a good workshop today, I got some interesting pieces, the starts of ideas, some wandering thoughts. I like the discussions we have about eachother's work and life generally. Take today for example, we talked about whether we have obsessions in our writing we keep returning to and where these come from. We talked about capturing those moments in family life where things were very tense (family picnics in the car, parents bickering over directions or some other thing). We did an exercise about what was 'outside' the picture on a postcard, which led to conversation about what inspires us about an exercise, where writing 'practice' can lead. All good, friendly stuff.

There were two people there I've never met before, and everyone wrote some very interesting work. I jot down sometimes, things that people say in workshops, and have just noticed I scribbed down something Dean said with real earnest: 'I wish I was a pigeon.'

There is something about writing workshops I really love... perhaps it's being with other writers, or exchanging ideas and inspirations, or reading our poems aloud, giving feedback, writing in the moment, spontaneity, unusual prompts leading to unexpected places, encouragement....

I think I will always gain from going to workshops, now matter where I am in my writing life.

(Also posted on myspace)

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

I think I'm turning Japanese, I really think so...

I don’t usually review non-fiction books, but couldn’t resist Ben Steven’s A Gaijin’s Guide to Japan. I’m fascinated by Japanese culture, not obsessed, but could certainly be called a Japanophile. Mainly because I adore Japanese animé and haiku, curiously aspire to be more Zen in my day to day life, and because of a crazy/awe inspiring three day stopover in Tokyo.

A Gaijin’s Guide to Japan is a cross-referencing A to Z guide to all things Japanese, ranging from historical figures to folklore, Karate to Sushi, Buddhism to Zen, and covering all kinds of trivia and oddness including electric toilets, capsule hotels, pachinko, and the meaning of the word Wa. It’s an introduction to Japan rather than an intensive guide, it gives starting points and brief overviews of big concepts, and I thought it was a bit scant in places, but overall is enough to whet the appetite and gives a flavour of many diverse and quirky aspects of Japan. Oh and a gaijin is a person born outside Japan (me and you, in other words.)

It’s easy to read, and has a quirky sometimes laugh out loud style, as Stevens explains things so the average English person can ‘get’ very Japanese concepts, for which there are no equivalent in Western culture.

There are so many interesting entries in this book. Two of my favourite entries were about historical people: Hiro Onoda, a Japanese Commando who refused to believe the Second World War was over for almost 30 years; and Masutatsu Oyama, a karateka who amongst other things ‘hit trees with his arms, legs and forehead, broke river rocks with his bare hands, ran up and down the mountainside, practised his kata beneath a freezing waterfall and generally gave himself a very hard time indeed.’

And I was fascinated by entries that translated and explained certain Japanese words, including Hibakusha which means ‘explosion affected person’, a name given to those who survived being in the vicinity of the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945. Hibakusha were discriminated against by other Japanese for many years due to fear of ‘radiation poisoning’, and Stevens gives the book a personal edge by telling us about two Hibakusha that he knows personally. These small personal anecdotes about his experience in Japan and his Japanese wife’s family, were aspects of the book which make it feel so much more than an A to Z list.

There were many things I encountered while in Tokyo that I didn’t fully understand at the time. It is such a culturally different country from England, it would have been useful (and entertaining) to have Ben Stevens (or indeed his book) as a cultural translator and to give insight into the dos and don’ts, the whys and wherefores, and so I could understand why blowing my nose on the train was not such a good idea.

It’s a great read, perfect for dipping into for brief bits of knowledge and insight, and made out of recycled paper for goodness sake. What more could you want?

Monday, 1 June 2009

East of Here, Close to Water

I have a review up on wonderful short story siteThe Short Review.

Josephine Rowe's beautiful, staggering, tiny collection of short stories is called East of Here, Close to Water.

I loved every word of it, and fell overwhelmingly in love with the stories and her poetic style.

Read my review here

Here, as usual is a brief excerpt from it.

There is an intimacy to these stories that draws the reader in, makes us witness or party to the characters’ most difficult or revealing moments. Secrets are shared; inner thoughts, loves/ hates, anxieties and vulnerabilities. Characters are introduced with such precise brevity, we might instantly know them...