Thursday, 15 December 2016

Two Thought Provoking Novels About Racial Oppression

Who could have imagined that in the 21st century and with a United Nations Council mandated to preserve the peace that a city could be subjected to a protracted siege and the bombardment of innocents? That a huge city could be destroyed by shelling?

If you are in any doubt about what the innocent people of Aleppo have endured and continue to endure then I commend to you a well-researched novel by Helen Dunmore.  The Siege was first published in 2002. Set against the background of the siege of Leningrad by the Nazis during WWII, the protagonist is Anna, a young woman with caring responsibilities for her novelist father and her five-year-old brother. Despite the horrendous circumstances of daily life Anna falls in love and the extended family shares a battle for survival in the beleaguered city.

Beautifully written, when it was first released the book received glittering accolades from critics writing for the more important British newspapers.

Literary writing of the highest order set against a background of suffering so intimately reconstructed it is hard to believe that Dunmore was not there.
— Richard Overy, Sunday Telegraph

Three-quarters of a million people died of starvation during the siege of Leningrad. Helen Dunmore's book is a thought-provoking novel, the subject matter and themes of which are still current.
We now need to dig into the collective conscience to discover how to help tens of thousands of displaced innocents, the ones who managed to escape from the hell of Aleppo, to attempt to build some kind of future for themselves.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr was written primarily as a book for children. Nevertheless, I was absolutely enthralled. It was first published 40 years ago. The copy that I borrowed has a preface by the eminent children's writer and former Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo, who writes that it is The is the most life-enhancing book you could ever wish to read. The book is fictionalised life writing in the third person. Told from the perspective of Anna, the nine-year-old protagonist (Judith Kerr), it is an account of the escape from Germany of the Kerr family after the Nazis came to power. Ms. Kerr's father, Alfred, was an eminent Jewish writer and vociferously anti-Nazi journalist whose fame was such that his books were burned and a price is placed on his head by the Nazis. The family moved first to Switzerland, on to France, and eventually to England. Ms. Kerr writes in her postface that the important parts of the story are true but that, as we can't remember everything from the past, she has added things that she felt would make the story a more enjoyable. She has added as appendices some facts about WW2.

Like The Siege, the book is still relevant today. I can add nothing to what Michael Morpurgo has said about it. This is one that will give children lots to think about. If you have children of your own - why not share it with them. If you don't have children - it's still worth the candle.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

You Can't Judge A Book By It's Cover - or can you?

I attended a couple of events at small local literary festival at the weekend and I have to say that the interviews that we listened to were more enlightening, for anyone who has writing ambitions, than those with some of the giants of the literary world that I heard last year in Bath.

I was surprised to hear how much importance is attached to the cover of a book. The successful crime writer  Stephen Booth  revealed this his publisher had set the wheels in motions for the design of a cover for one of his novels on the basis of nothing more than the title, followed by a brief synopsis. This was said in response to a remark from the member of the audience that she only bought a book if she liked the cover, followed by her question about how a cover is chosen. The panel went on to say that an author has very little input. The cover is so important to large retailers and supermarkets that they will refuse to stock a book if they don't like it. One panel member later remarked on a personal case of a cover being redesigned because a particular supermarket chain refused to otherwise take the book.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Clustering to free the imagination

As far as creative writing is concerned, I've been in a dry period for too long (hence the compulsive blogging, which at least maintains the writing habit). Am I suffering from writers' block? Probably. I  suspect that years of activities that rely on left-brain thinking (I was trained as an auditor in a former life and I regularly play chess, bridge, and computerised card games) have stifled my creativity. So I've ditched the card games and prescribed clustering (a technique also used as a team activity in the world of business, where it is sometimes referred to as brain storming)  in the hope that it will be the cure. I'm planning to build a habit of spending ten minutes or so on the technique each morning.

This technique was included in a creative writing module that I studied as part of my OU  literature Degree course. You are probably already familiar with it but if not  - the following has been culled from my course reader:

Clustering -

 A technique developed by Gabrielle Lusser Rico in her book Writing the Natural Way (1983)

Based on the separate functions of the brain's two hemispheres

Aims to bypass the analytical functions of the brain which might initially constrain creative writing

 Clustering helps us to move backwards and forwards between different areas of the brain as needed. It suppresses the analytical mode that we often go into when we begin to start thinking about writing something. It is more like drawing or sketching than writing and helps us to begin writing more easily and coherently.

How to do it -

This is a fast exercise. Spend no more than 3 minutes on a cluster

Take a blank sheet of  paper and choose a word or phrase connected with what you want to write about

Write this word or phrase in the centre of the page and circle it

Write down every connection that comes into your head

The words or phrases that you write should fan out from the initial circle like a branch 

Don't worry about being neat. Here's a sample cluster (not written by me!)


Once you have drawn a cluster the idea is that you look for things in it that you find particularly interesting and use them as the basis for free writing exercises, which will further release the creative imagination.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Who Do You Read? And Who Do You Write Like?

It's fun to analyze my writing on the website - but I'm uncertain about how accurate is the analysis.

I have now copied and pasted four separate pieces of my writing into the window and come up with three different writers. Twice I have been informed that I write like David Foster Wallace. I won't lie - I had never heard of him. So,naturally, I read his bio on Wikipedia. It was pretty impressive so I ordered a couple of his books from the library. I am now a few pages into Girl With Curious Hair and frankly - I hate it.

So I then input a section the autobiography that I am ghost-writing - my father's life up the end of WW2. The result? I write like George Orwell. Perhaps a bit closer to my style than DFL. I like to think so.