Monthly Archives: March 2013

My 34 favourite books (probably)

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I admit it: this is a completely self-indulgent post. Forgive me. I shall beat myself with copies of War and Peace, in penance.

One of the guys on my writing retreat asked the rest of us to choose our three favourite books for him to add to his reading list. Really? How am I supposed to pick only three? I thought I’d give it a go by writing down all of my favourite books with the aim of choosing three from there – and this is what I came up with.

I haven’t given any rationale or explanation for any of the choices here (but I’m more than happy to chat away for hours about any of them) and sure, I’ve probably accidentally missed some books off the list (but this ‘assembled-in-an-hour’ compilation is what I’m sticking with for now).

This is them in alphabetical order. Remember: ‘my favourite’ not ‘The Greatest™’. Be enraged, be dumbfounded, be supportive…

Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman (1983)

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (1995)

A Little History of the World by E. H. Gombrich (1935)

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985)

Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (1987)

Brilliant Orange by David Winner (2000)

But Beautiful by Geoff Dyer (1991)

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold (2001)

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

D-Day by Anthony Beevor (2009)

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby (1992)

I Am Legend by Richard Mattheson (1954)

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor (2002)

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)

Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (2003)

Notes: The Making of Apocalypse Now by Eleanor Coppola (1995)

One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)

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One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)

The Book of Dave by Will Self (2006)

The Crow Road by Ian Banks (1992)

The Dark Knight Returns by Mark Miller (1986)

The Kennedy Tapes by Ernest May, Philip Zelikow (1997)

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (2009)

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1998)

The Princess Bride by William Goldman (1973)

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (1979)

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford (1986)

The Stand by Stephen King (1978)

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (2010)

The Wrench by Primo Levi (1978)

World’s End by T. C. Boyle (1987)

A woman stumbles in the ocean (another excerpt from my 1st draft)

(And this where I share – and bring to life – one of the problems I face in trying to write an ‘accessible’ narrative in verse: how do I write the dialogue? If I make it fit with the more descriptive elements in the story then I think it becomes too unrealistic – however, if I make it too straight then it feels completely out of place. So far, it’s been a struggle and I definitely haven’t yet got it right. This is a short example of where I’m at. As with the other excerpts I’ve shared, this is only a first draft so who knows where it’ll go from here).

“Damn, those waves are stronger than you think,”
Says X, offering his hand.
“Here, let me help you up,
Before you sink,
In to the sand.”

“I’ll have you know that was entirely intentional,”
Says the woman,
Waving help away,
And climbing to her feet unaided.
“It may not be the most conventional,
Way of taking a dip,
But I’d highly recommend it.”
She brushes herself down,
And mini avalanches fall in clumps,
From her half sodden clothes.
“However, I thank you for unnecessarily attempting,
To be my saviour.
Most commendable behaviour,
For a complete stranger.
Speaking of which,
My name’s Esme.
Pleased to meet you.”

X shakes hands with this impressive force in woman form,
And though it would obviously be the norm,
For him to then offer his name,
He instead says, “Pleased to meet your acquaintance.
It’s just a shame,
We couldn’t have met in a drier circumstance.”

“My acquaintance?”
It’s half a yelp and half a whine,
“Have you arrived here from Victorian times?”

And there’s something about the way she pouts,
And the way the shock of red hair sprouts,
From the top of her feisty, pale face,
All blown out of place,
And flaming around her head,
That he just finds immediately adorable.
But he doesn’t say this out loud.
Instead, he just stares back,
Grinning,
Head spinning.
She interrupts his daydream stare:
“Hello? Is there anyone there?”

I’m heading off to a writing retreat… bliss

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I’m just about to leave to catch a train to not-so-sunny Devon for a writing retreat hosted by the excellent Urban Writers’ Retreat.

I did exactly the same last year (that’s when these photos were taken) and it was the thing that really kick-started my writing: three or four days with a few like-minded souls in the British countryside, with nothing to do but write and go for the odd walk.

I’m expecting to get a lot done, meet some lovely people and generally have a great time.

Wahoo!

This is how I (try to) write… or… This is what I do/what do you do?

 “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit”

– Ernest Hemmingway

Ernest there, telling it like it is. Everyone needs to find their own method for making it happen but one thing’s for sure: the more you write, the more chance you have of writing something of merit.

I always begin by reviewing my previous day’s efforts. I’m currently writing in free verse, which (apart from being a huge risk) takes me a little longer than writing prose – and so I probably don’t have as much to review as a lot of other writers would. However, I don’t do massive re-writes at this stage: I change the odd word and mainly just help myself to get back in to the flow of the story.

“Being a real writer means being able to do the work on a bad day”

– Norman Mailer

Like everyone, I have good days and I have bad days. But I’ve learnt that, no matter which of those I’m living through, if I want to be a writer then I need to, you know, write. Not just talk and think about it. I’m not going to pretend… I don’t actually manage to write every single day but, if necessary, I force it even if I’m feeling uninspired and that there’s no point in my putting pen to paper.

And that’s another thing. For me, the first draft of anything is hand written. I find it a much more organic process that way… things just flow much more easily.

“Nothing magical. You just sit there and keep typing.”

– Stirling Silliphant

You keep writing and sometimes stuff happens. I started off writing screenplays (and I want to do more of that): I wrote a couple of short film scripts and was half way through a feature length script when something unexpected happened… I found a three-page synopsis I’d written a few years ago as the basis for another screenplay. It grabbed me all over again – this is what I wanted to write about – so I decided to write up a fuller version of the synopsis. And the words just started coming out in verse… all by themselves. Honestly, that’s the way it felt. And it’s turned in to the novel I’m writing at the moment. Whether it ends up working or not, whether it turns out to be a foolish experiment, it’s something that I completely believe in.

Anyways, that’s rambling ol’ me.

I’m always interested to hear about what other people go through to get the words out. Let me know if you feel like sharing…

Ancient room, ancient people (another excerpt from my 1st draft)

A butler with a stiff, flat face and long, black coat,
Who half shuffles and half floats,
Is waiting for the car as it stops at a grand front door,
And escorts Victor across a grand marble floor,
To the threshold of a room so grand,
It insists you stand,
To attention.

Despite it’s size,
The room is poorly lit.
17th Century dust hides,
In the shadows,
Of wood panelled corners,
And a solitary greek statue is a hermit,
Dreaming of battles and oceans,
A perfect specimen in milky stone,
Built for an empire,
Now standing alone.
The long-since-dead,
Sprawl in faded colours,
In ever-evolving poses,
Across the walls,
Witnesses to the slow decay around them,
Their expressions transparent,
Clearly appalled.

In the centre of this yester-world decoration,
Is an island,
Of three armchairs,
And a floor lamp,
That’s a glowing perforation,
In the gloom.
A frail couple are sitting,
Directing expectant stares,
Towards Victor.
Their slouched posture,
Is at odds with their formal dress,
But they say nothing,
Leaving Victor to guess,
That he should join them,
In the remaining seat.

 

Stressed about your writing? Here’s some soothing words from a Pulitzer Prize winner

“I haven’t had trouble with writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly. My first drafts are filled with lurching, clichéd writing, outright flailing around: writing that doesn’t have a good voice or any voice. But then there will be good moments. It seems writer’s block is often a dislike of writing badly and waiting for writing better to happen.”

Jennifer Egan