Friday, August 28, 2009

Deflation - a 50 word photo-story

‘Didn’t you use to be Johnny Star?’ He’s often recognised, loves it actually, but this is the first time he’s heard the past tense. He shakes his head. Later his wife asks what’s wrong. ‘Didn’t we use to be happy?’ he asks, wanting to see how she’ll crumple, her tears.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Expert - a 50 word photo-story

It isn’t that I know everything, she says. He sighs. It’s just that most of the time I know more than you. Another sigh. Especially when it comes to you, she says. He shuts his eyes. In fact, she says, you could call me an expert on you. He doesn’t.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Please welcome ... Sue Eckstein

I don't know about you but I'm fascinated about the way other writers live and think. What DO they do when they're not playing crazy golf or searching out benches?

So as part of the virtual tour for the novel, The Cloths of Heaven, I'm delighted to welcome debut novelist but established playwright, Sue Eckstein, as my guest blogger today. Here's what she says...

A (sort of) writer’s life

I didn’t write any fiction during my long career with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) but ten years after returning to England from The Gambia I found those three years infusing my first novel, The Cloths of Heaven, and I didn’t even have to shut my eyes for the people and places to come flooding back. Many of the experiences I’d had as programme director became those of Daniel Maddison – the visit to the women’s garden project with the EC horticulture advisor, evenings spent rather reluctantly at the High Commission, hours spent in markets, cloth warehouses, buses to rural areas, evenings in rural villages chatting over cups of ataaya. My work with VSO brought me into contact with hundreds of people I wouldn’t normally have had the pleasure and privilege of meeting –Vice Presidents and Government Ministers, eccentric expatriates, people living in extraordinarily isolated communities with little exposure to the outside world, people living in vast wealth and people who owned little more than a couple of cooking pots. Somehow they seeped into my mind and years later were distilled into the characters who populate the novel and the places that inspired it.

I loved the years I spent working in overseas development and I really enjoy my current work in medical ethics which I find both stimulating and fascinating, but my first love remains literature and drama. Once, long, long ago I dreamed of being a theatre director. Somehow my life took a series of very different courses and I know that I’ll never do that now but my play-writing has given me a taste of that world. I’ll never forget the buzz of excitement in the auditorium just before the opening of The Tuesday Group in London, or the extraordinary sensation of hearing the words of my first radio play, Kaffir Lilies, being brought to life in the recording studio at BBC Scotland.

Thinking about my life as a writer, I’m struck by just how much of my life I spend not writing, or at least not writing fiction and drama. Sometimes I mind this a lot and think that if only it wasn’t for my day job, I’d be incredibly prolific but the reality is that I probably wouldn’t be. I have had several periods off work while having my foot reconstructed (a long story) and haven’t written a word in all that time. But give me a new, very full-time job and lots going on at home and somehow I manage to write.

All my jobs have had huge casts of characters – from my various jobs with VSO to my current job as lecturer in medical ethics at a medical school. My day job is, and has always been, much more than just a day job. The people I come into contact with, and the issues I think about, enrich my life and thereby enrich my fiction and without them both I, and my writing, would be poorer.

Thanks, Sue! You can buy The Cloths of Heaven here, or read an extract here. It's published by the very interesting Myriad Editions, and is immensely readable with larger than life characters and some beautifully cutting dialogue.

Here's the blurb:

Isabel Redmond is tiring of her iconoclastic husband's penchant for pedulous black breasts, the High Commissioner and his wife Fenella are both enjoying illicit affairs; an old English judge is wandering through teh scrub following a tribe of Fulani herdsmen; Bob Newpin is about to make a killing in timeshares; and just what Father Seamus is up to is anyone's guess.

Enter new diplomat Daniel Maddison on his first posting abroad. Rebeling gainst the endless rounds of cocktail parties, golf and gossip, he finds himself drawn to the people and places that lie way beyond the experience of his High Commission colleagues - and specifically to the dusty warehouse in the heart of the city where a thin white woman is silently measuring out lengths of brightly coloured cloth.

I think the horrific Bob Newpin is possibly my favourite of this cast, not least because I once spent a summer being followed round London by someone just like him who enthusiastically called out 'Sally!' whenever he saw me. But what I liked most about this book is the way that all the characters are given the chance to change, sometimes unexpectedly. The moment when the buffoonish High Commissioner confesses to love is beautifully drawn, not least because of the reaction of his ghastly wife, Fenella. She's defeated for a second before she gets back on the bitchy treadmill she's created for herself

'No, you idiot,' she says, reverting, with what sounded like relief, to her usual self. 'God! How will I live without your sparkling intellect and razor-sharp wit? No. Don't answer. Just take the case down for me...'

Loneliness and passion - great themes that Sue explores well here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Great interview with Susan Orlean

... here. I love this answer in particular:

Maria Schneider: You’re known as one of the great narrative nonfiction writers. What motivates you to write in this genre?

Susan Orlean: I love real life. I love finding and telling stories, with the deep hope that it will somehow change the reader. Fiction can do that too, of course, but I have always wanted to find real stories and draw people to them, reveal something of life to them that they might not otherwise have a chance to see.

The interview is on the blog, Editor Unleashed, well worth bookmarking if you haven't already.

Sometimes you get what you want...

... a beautiful green bike ...

... and a bull of your own ...

... and what's more, it feels great! Just hope I don't get them muddled up.

Worms - a 50-word photostory

Janine said no-one would come. Why would they? It wasn’t as if the worms did anything anyway. They just… slithered. But Brian had faith. He imagined a queue of people whose hearts leapt like his when they found one in the garden. A worm-like relieved queue slithering, exposing their shame.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Knife-edge - a 50 word photo-story

He takes her to the wood at midnight looking for a tree on which to carve their initials. Not this one, he says, as they walk round in circles. Or this, he says hours later. Her feet hurt, her head aches. Her fingers keep feeling the penknife. Its sharp edges.

On Inspiration and the Giving Tree Garden

The best thing on holiday is to come across somewhere unexpected, somewhere that feels like a home. We did this in Cape Cod, when we stopped on the Route 6A at Giving Tree. We thought it was going to be just another jewelry gallery, but it turned out we had found somewhere even more special.

The owners, Rachel and Judith are a mother and daughter team, who have created a garden of sculptures leading out to a marsh. They call it their gift to anyone who wants to visit and it really was a magic place.

But it wasn't just the natural beauty around. I left The Giving Tree Gallery knowing that I wanted to have poetry round my garden at home too. And that I wanted to make things myself to decorate it, however simple.

I loved speaking with Rachel. She's funny and clever and generous and one of those people you feel you've known for ever. I left with a CD compilation that we listened to for the rest of our holiday, and her book - "My Theory on How to Avoid Being Sad (in 116 parts)" - both of which she gave me as an early birthday present. Part Number 5 in her funny and clever list seemed particularly relevant:

5. Talk to strangers who talk to you. It is the rare, special person who will begin a conversation with a strange because they find themselves together, in a line, on an elevator etc. These are usually not sad people. Especially because to talk to you means they are most likely NOT talking on a cell phone.

Oh, there's nothing I enjoy better than meeting people who inspire me. It's as if I can become a bit bigger myself somehow. I now have something new now that I didn't have before. I love the idea that my world keeps growing, and that I am seeing common themes as to what will make that elusive *click* ... passion, and commitment, and a desire to make something new rather than to take things away from others, but most of all a huge dollop of good humour and fun.

Impossible to choose any really, but here are three particular people who I've discovered online this year and who - personally or through their on-line presence - have inspired me in many different ways and so who continue to make my life a bit bigger...

* Susannah and the way she looks so closely to really see things 'with new eyes'
* Linda for her walking and joy in making maps
* The Sartorialist because looking good is part of loving life

I'd love to know whose website you go to for an injection of inspiration. All suggestions welcome (including yourselves!)

(And another joyful thing about the Giving Tree is that the jewelry is all available online. Here's one on my wishlist....)

Friday, August 21, 2009

It's the Green Bicycle day

Today I'm off to London to pick up my new green bicycle.

And then I'm getting the train to go to Gretna Green to see my bull, Deeday.

Only one thing is for sure.

I will not be cycling round London with Deeday strapped to my chest like this ...

Nope. Not even sideways. So sorry to disappoint.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Let me show you my holiday snaps

So here I am. Back again.

Lots to tell, but first let me show you the crazy golf course we played at on Cape Cod. It's no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I am passionate about crazy golf, but this particular one was a real highlight.

It's been in the making 55 years apparently, and the owner gets his inspiration from God for each individual hole...

(I scored a hole in one in Moby Dick above. Not showing off, just saying. A hole in one, btw, did I mention that?)

However, the divine inspiration doesn't necessarily make it easy for players ...

Particularly as good use is made of the river. See this one below, the hole ended up on a raft. Which meant if you moved too enthusiastically then your ball rolled to one side too. No banging those clubs!

Best course ever. Ever.

And morbid of me, I know, but I couldn't resist taking a photograph of this sign. The funeral parlour was just opposite, and shared the car park. Playing crazy golf is so much the way I'd like to go...

Saturday, August 01, 2009

It's holiday time!

So I'm getting off the ....

but I'll be ...

and in the meantime, look after the blog for me. Don't ....

because, gawd, I hate it when people do that ....