Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Personal stories

I'm pretty impatient with contemporary novels that don't have some kind of political or philosophical bent—or, at the very least, a strong sense of humor about the limitations of the personal. It's easier to write novels, of course, that lack an abstract, large scope, partly because that's where the literary mainstream is—in a kind of interpersonal, material realism that's microscopic instead of macroscopic—and partly because we're trained in personal stories from the time we're born. It's a natural, unconscious medium for us. The never-ending narrative of our daily lives is everywhere and we're steeped in it. I want to write past that narrative because it's a trap. It fosters an entrenched conviction that life is all about the individual self and its problems.

Read the full interview with Lydia Millet at

Page 23

Lydia Millet is the author of six novels including Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, the PEN USA award winning My Happy Life, and her forthcoming How the Dead Dream. I haven't yet read any of her books, but I like this interview, and put her on my reading list.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Potter Menace

It's not safe, in the face of mammoth media blitz for Harry Potter across the globe on the eve of latest book in the series, to churn out something against Harry Potter stuff and its writer J.K. Rowling. But now's really the time to stand against them.

I have said it already in
Harry Menace
and want to say it now that Harry Potter stuff is simply overblown crap, and children are learning little out of them.
Read a
similar observation by Nicholas Lezard at Guardian Unlimited bookblog.
This is the kind of prose that reasonably intelligent nine-year-olds consider pretty hot stuff, if they're producing it themselves; for a highly-educated woman like Rowling to knock out the same kind of material is, shall we say, somewhat disappointing.

Children exposed to this kind of writing aren't learning anything new about words, or being stretched in any way; as Harold Bloom said, they're not going to be inspired to go off and read the Alice books, or any other enduring classic.

People go hoopla because they're delighted that Rowling has got children reading books - big, fat books without pictures at that. Can't argue with that: and maybe they will learn something about sheer reading stamina in the process. But it's all too easy.

The popular writer whose style is most similar is, it suddenly occurs to me, Jeffrey Archer (all those dead adverbs). All that paper, all those trees felled, all those words ... surely Rowling could have chosen some better ones, or put them together in a more exciting way?

She has, in her grasp, the power to galvanise minds instead of reeling out cliché after cliché. Will The Deathly Hallows do this? I hope so. But I fear not.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Gerald Jones

Gerald Jones is a quirky but talented writer. Once I often visited his
website not so much for his writing as for information and e-mail addresses of some literary agents I was then desperate to get in touch with.

I found myself visiting this site today after a long time. What struck me, he still continues to lambast the publishing establishment in his own "call-a-spade-a-spade" style. It's nice to learn,though, that he's a published writer now.

Here is from his latest entry:

"I ain't got no phone. I had it pulled 'cause of people callin' all the time. Who needs the aggravation, right? The interruptions."

How cool is it being the world's greatest living writer? Very. If I wrote senseless slop for fame and fortune I'd have to hide out, wear me some fancy sunglasses and run around with an entourage to keep the paparazzi at bay. This way I get nothing but priceless peace and quiet...and the intimation of all that joy my immortal soul's gonna get to have when people finally discover what morons their forefathers and foremothers were. O frabjous day!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Murakami and Music

Have you noticed the rhythm, melody and harmony in Haruki Murakami's prose? These are important to him,and he has learnt to use them from music - especially from Jazz, which has been his lifelong passion and obsession. Murakami tells in this article
how he turned into a novelist from a Jazz aficionodo.

Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more. Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside.
All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

A lapsed rebel

In Arise,sir Salmanin Oulook magazine,Priyambada Gopal evaluates Salman Rushdie's works and laments his changes as a writer.

After the fatwa and relocation to America, Rushdie changed from a fiercely principled writer into one who was less willing to be be consistently and equally critical of all tyranny. A man who had written of the 'folly' of trying to contain a writer within passports now invoked an insistently American 'we'.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Research for Fiction

Fiction writers go where news reporters and historians dare not tread: into characters' heads, into the dreams they lose at the moment of waking, into the memories forgotten, the fears never articulated even to themselves. We do all this, even while making stuff up or distorting and embellishing "what really happened" for the sake of a dramatic arc; and, in so doing, we claim our ability to convey emotional truths, more revelatory about a time and place than any series of facts. If I were a historian I am sure this kind of talk would drive me crazy.

Kamila Shamsie, Pakistani novelist, has an interesting
article in the Guardian.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Sterile & fertile writing

David Mitchell, British novelist, talks about his new novel-in-progress in an interview, special to the Japan Times

Somewhere between history and imagination

Writing a novel is full of stops and starts and paths not taken, or taken and then untaken, or paths best not taken but taken anyway. How the book ends up looking and how I might describe it now could be two very different beasties. I will say that my intention is to write a bicultural novel, where Japanese perspectives are given an equal weight to Dutch/European perspectives. It's the most demanding thing I've ever tried to do. The research is a trackless swamp, and the book wishes to be written in ways that historical novels are not usually written in. It feels as if I am having to invent its "cinematography" as I go along. On good days, it's an exhilarating ride; on bad days I crawl along feeling travel-sick and disconsolate and wishing I'd left university and got myself a proper job.

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