Wednesday, May 30, 2007

[Interview] Matt Beam

Matt Beam is an author, a teacher and a freelance journalist.

He has taught in various capacities in Toronto, Vancouver, Guatemala, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand and has written for newspapers that include the Toronto Star, the National Post, Toronto Life, and Toro magazine in Canada.

His first young adult novel, Getting to First Base with Danalda Chase, was published in the spring of 2005. His second novel, Can You Spell Revolution? followed in the fall of 2006.

His third novel, Earth to Nathan Blue, will arrive in the spring of 2007, along with the U.S. version of Getting to First Base.

Matt Beam spoke about his writing and his concerns as a writer.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I started saying I wanted to be a writer when I was 15 years old, but apart from a few short stories in late high school, I didn't do much about it until more than ten years later, in 1998. I was a teacher in New Zealand at the time, and I had to provide a two-page piece of fiction for an assignment.

Instead of picking the story out of a collection, I decided to write my own.

The resulting two-page tale was called "Frankie and Mata," and writing it for those 5 hours felt like heaven to me.

Within 6 months, I was back in Toronto, beginning to type caffeine-inspired, made-up-things on my computer, and within a year I had started Can You Spell Revolution? It is the first novel I wrote, but because of delays and sundry publishing disasters it came out as my second book.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

That's a hard one. I'd like to say one of my heroes: Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller or Haruki Murakami. They definitely made me want to become a writer.

But the fact is I'm in a completely different genre and I'm not of that generation.

There is no one specifically in young adult fiction that I feel influenced by. Some have mentioned that my voice is similar to Gordon Korman's, which I don't totally see, but feel honored by anyway. That guy is hilarious, and he sells a lot of books.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concerns are plenty, from solvency to sales to recognition to status to fulfillment to ... well I could go on. But it all comes down to one thing: when I'm writing (which is actually editing 75% of the time) I'm generally pretty happy.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

In many ways -- my first book is about a boy obsessed with baseball, and who is beginning to become obsessed with girls. That was me in grade 7.

None of my characters fully represent a specific person in my life, but they all have shades of people I know.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

Keeping level-headed about my career. One day you feel over the moon, the next you are down in the dumps -- it's hard to manage sometimes.

I'm trying to flatten things out, so that the ride is more like a little kids' roller coaster ride, gentle and smooth, as opposed to something called Hell Raiser or Death Drop.

I just try to keep things in perspective and keep on writing. Like I said, I'm happy when I'm doing just that.

What is Getting to First Base with Danalda Chase about? How long did it take you to write it?

Along with being about a baseball-obsessed boy who's suddenly interested in girls, the novel is actually about change, acceptance, and looking for the right person from the inside out.

It usually takes me about 6 months to write a first draft, and then the real work begins. After about another six months of my own editing, there is all the work one must do with their editors (see below).

The book has two editions. It came out in Canada in spring 2005, and Dutton (Penguin Putnam) will publish it next spring (2007).

Which aspects of the work that you put into the novel did you find most difficult?

Juggling two edits for two different publishers -- one in Canada, one in the U.S. -- was more challenging than I thought it would be.

While the essence of the story is the same in both books, there are many significant differences. My head was spinning a little by the end of it all.

Which did you enjoy most?

The true enjoyment in the experience came when the idea first struck me walking in downtown Toronto, and then when I proceeded to write my first draft.

There's nothing like the excitement of creating a new fictional world.

What sets the novel apart from Can You Spell Revolution?

The main subject matter in Getting to First Base with Danalda Chase is baseball and girls, and it is a more emotionally subtle book.

Can You Spell Revolution? is more direct. It is about trying to radically change things in one's junior high school life and finding out what power and revolution are all about. Check out the review and trailer for Can You Spell Revolution? linked on the website.

Both stories take place in junior high and try to approach serious issues in a lighthearted way.

How did the idea behind Earth to Nathan Blue come to you and how long did it take you to write the novel?

Since I began trading in imagination, I've been curious about young people who have inner imaginative worlds. For the most part, these worlds seem to be distortions of what is going on in their own lives.

Nathan is confused by his parents' separation and is having trouble dealing with it. So to protect himself from this painful reality, he creates an imagined language and world, based loosely on his favorite TV program, Adventureland. His mother becomes the Mothership, his step dad, the Imposter, and his brother, the Twerp.

The first go at Earth To Nathan Blue, like my other first drafts, took around 6 months, but it took much longer to come to a final draft.

By the time the book was picked up by Penguin Canada, Nathan had had several names, I had lived in several apartments, and book had been rewritten several times.

After three novels, was it easier or more difficult to write a fourth? Why do you say this?

It's strange. My first three books were all picked up around the same time, and at that point, I still had no idea what I was getting into. So the 4th book feels like my 2nd, and I feel like I've gone through (am going through) my sophomore slump.

An analogy I've used lately comes from something that happened to me in grade three. I had to have 10 teeth pulled -- 5 one Monday, 5 the next. The first time wasn't so bad as I had no idea what I was in for, but the second time around, I had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, out of the class coat cupboard.

That said, writing, at any stage, is much more enjoyable than getting your teeth yanked.

What will your next book be about?

I am currently working on two books. One for a slightly younger age and one older.

Thematically, the former feels like the 4th and last book in a fraternal series, resembling, without being identical to, the first three, and the latter is my leap into a new phase in my writing, where I am trying to marry my concerns as a adult today with a truly young adult character.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer, and, how did you get there?

My most significant achievement was believing in myself.

I just looked around one day and thought, "What am I waiting for?"

Related story:“The book that wouldn’t publish,” Matt Beam, Toronto Star, October 3, 2006.

Related Books:


Monday, May 28, 2007

Interview _ Chris d'Lacey

Chris d’Lacey has published over twenty books for children.

He describes his first attempt at writing as “a gentle ‘Christmassy’ story” about polar bears which was aimed at adult readers.

He started writing children’s fiction after a friend suggested he enter a competition to write a story for nine-year-olds. The story he wrote for the competition became his first book, A Hole at the Pole -- an environmental tale about a boy who wants to mend the hole in the ozone layer and enlists the services of a polar bear to help him.

His books have been translated widely and one of his novels for children was highly commended for the Carnegie Medal.

Chris d’Lacey spoke about his writing and his concerns as a writer.

What was your first story called and in what way was it ‘Christmassy’?

I was writing about a cuddly polar bear I’d bought my wife as a present! It’s the sort of romantic thing I do. Realizing I knew very little about polar bears, I began to read about them and the book just grew out of my continuing fascination.

It was called White Fire. I refer to it in the dragon books, but it is still to come out of my ‘bottom drawer’.

Is there a connection between A Hole at the Pole and White Fire?

By then, polar bears were a real love for me, and I’ve always been concerned about the environment. It was a natural step.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

When I was 32.

I’d always had a ‘creative streak’ but it had always been expressed through songwriting. In my early thirties I decided I wanted to try something different and stories seemed the most logical option.

I found it incredibly difficult at first, but stuck at it and eventually, after a few years, I had a short story published in a small press magazine.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

Hand on heart, no one. My biggest influences were always musical. I had never read very much and still don’t, but when I began writing children’s stories I enjoyed the output of Roald Dahl, Allan Ahlberg and Michael Bond (Paddington Bear) the most.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Unlike most writers I know, I don’t have an overflowing well of ideas. So I do worry, sometimes, about drying up.

But my biggest worry is that now I’ve become reasonably successful, the writing has become more stressful because it’s now my main source of income.

Ideally, I’d like to recapture the joy I had when I was starting out, and still be paid for it.

Several of your books have this underlying concern with the environment. Why is this?

Just look around you at the changing climate and the decline of species. Those are my concerns.

It amuses me when people say, “We need to protect the planet.” Wrong, the planet will ultimately protect itself.

What we need to protect are the creatures that inhabit it. We’ll be gone long before the planet will.

I do want people to wake up to the idea of what’s happening in the Arctic etc. We watch TV programmes week in week out saying, “Polar bears will be extinct within fifty years” and we all go, “Oh dear.”

At what point do we go, “Hang on, shouldn’t we be trying to do something about this?” Twenty years? Ten years?

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

For many years as a children’s writer I dabbled in all sorts of styles and genres, but the stories that always brought me the most critical acclaim were those based around true domestic events.

I came very close to winning the biggest prize in children’s fiction, the Carnegie Medal, with my first novel Fly, Cherokee, Fly, which was about the time I found an injured pigeon and nursed it back to health.

I often transpose events that have happened to me as a man into the experiences of a fictionalized boy.

I’m presently working on a Young Adult book about bullying, set against the backdrop of my parents’ divorce. That has been cathartic -- but harrowing. It’s a story I’ve always wanted to write. It’s very powerful and needs to come out.

How did the idea behind Fly, Cherokee, Fly come to you?

Cherokee is based on the true story of me finding an injured pigeon on my local park and nursing it back to health. I kept it for fourteen years, as a family pet!

It took me about four months to write the novel. The biggest challenge was research. I knew very little about pigeons or pigeon racing but I wanted my hero to be involved in the sport. In the end, I sidestepped the issue by having the bird not compete in a race, but in the sequel to Cherokee, a book called Pawnee Warrior, I actually visited a professional pigeon loft and learned all about it. That was great fun. Very rewarding.

You are best known for your series of fantasy books about dragons. How did the series start? What would you say inspired you to sit down and start writing the first book in the series?

Fly, Cherokee, Fly was so successful that my publisher wanted me to write another animal rescue drama. This time I chose squirrels, because I’ve always liked them.

The set-up of the squirrel book involved a single parent family in which the mother worked from home. I wanted her to do something artistic, but for a while I couldn’t think what. Then one day I was out at a craft fair and saw a woman making beautiful clay dragons. I thought, “That’s what the woman in my book could do.”

My editor thought the dragons were a great idea and asked me to involve them more in the story! It took a long time to work out how to do it, but it opened up a whole series. I’m currently working on the fourth of them, The Fire Eternal which will be published in September 2007.

Do you write everyday?

I try to. The writing time varies hugely. I try to do 500 words a day. Sometimes it’s more.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

Finishing a book on time! I’m hopeless with deadlines. I like to let my stories evolve at their own pace. Unfortunately, my publisher isn’t always in sync.

I suppose one challenge we all face is trying to develop something new and different. It’s an eternal quest.

How do you deal with these?

Deadlines: I work hard to hit the dates I’ve set for myself, not necessarily those laid down by my publisher, which are often arbitrary anyway. If I really think a book needs more time, say another six months, I’ll discuss it with my editor. After all, what’s a few months if a book can be ‘great’ rather than just ‘okay’?

This raises one of my biggest gripes about publishing: the uneasy relationship between creativity and business. Publishers may love books, but they also want to make money. In an ideal world, they would run to strict business schedules. But inspiration doesn’t come in handy, manageable nine-to-five pockets, it comes in dribs and drabs, in snatches. I don’t like my work being thought of as ‘product’, but sadly, that’s exactly what it is.

How would you rather your work was viewed?

As entertainment, which I think all literature should be. I simply don’t like the attitude that sometimes goes with publishing that a book is simply out there to make money.

What is your latest book about?

It’s called Fire Star and is the third book in my series about dragons.

I’ve never liked the idea of dragons as fire-breathing monsters. In my books, they are the spiritual guardians of the Earth. In Fire Star, the hero, David, is caught up in a mystery to unravel the origins of dragons, which I speculate may have been off-world …

How long did it take you to write it?

Ten months! It was published in the U.K., in hardback, in 2005. The paperback has just been released. The whole series is breaking ground in the USA, Canada, Australia and Japan as well, which is very exciting.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Only one: trying to work out the plot. Actually, I’m not sure the book has a real plot because it’s so multi-layered and complex. And it’s told from several different viewpoints. I always tell people that I like my stories to have an ‘X Files’ quality.

In other words, the truth is out there, but you’re not quite sure where.

For me, as long as a book leaves you buzzing with intrigue, or makes you want more, it’s done its job.

Which did you enjoy most?

There is one particular section that goes off at a fantastic tangent. It involves a monk who finds a dragon’s claw. I won’t give away any more than that. I love taking risks with narrative, and this was an enormous leap. I was very proud of this section. It’s one of my favorite pieces of writing.

What sets the book apart from the others you’ve written?

Well, the ‘leap’ as described above. But Fire Star is also a book that explores the nature of human consciousness and the power of thought.

If you’re thinking, “Hang on. How can he be using themes like that in a children’s book?” read it.

In what way is it similar?

It follows the path of the same characters. We always like characters to develop or go on a journey. Some of mine have gone through huge changes during the course of these books.

In all, how many books have you written so far? What would you say unites them? How many of them have been translated into other languages?

I’ve written 23 now. I guess the only thing that unites them is my style. Lots of people write about dragons, but only I do it my way. The same is true of any author. About half have been translated, everything from Thai to Japanese to Italian to, erm, American!

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Being highly commended for the Carnegie Medal.

How did you get there?

Discipline, self-belief and hard work.

In July 2002, you were awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Leicester for your services to children’s fiction. How did you feel about this?

Surprised, but very flattered.

I tend to play it down a little bit because there are other writers who’ve done far more in the field than I have, but it was very warming to receive the degree from my workplace of, then, 24 years.

A podcast of this article is available on OhmyNews International.

Friday, May 25, 2007

[Interview] Jean Ure, children's author

Jean Ure spent her teenage years writing. She published her debut novel, Dance for Two, when she was sixteen years old and dropped out of school to continue with her writing.

She subsequently worked as a cleaner, a waiter and a nurse. She also worked at the BBC and as a translator for UNESCO in Paris.

Her books include A Proper Little Nooryeff, Sugar and Spice, Boys Beware and Over the Moon.

Jean Ure spoke about her latest novel and concerns as a writer.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I had my first book published while I was still at school and immediately went rushing into the world declaring that I was an AUTHOR! Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that the proceeds from one book were not enough to live on, and that while I might indeed be AN AUTHOR I needed to earn money just like all those other people who weren’t authors.

Over the next couple of years I hopped like a flea from job to job, rarely staying anywhere longer than a month as they were all so boring. At the same time as hopping like a flea, I was trying to write and sell more books, only nobody seemed to want them, which was rather depressing. In the end I decided that I would go to drama school. I thought it would be fun – which it was. I spent three very happy years there, wrote another book (and had it published) and met my future husband. He became an actor, I become a writer. I have been writing ever since.

We now live in a 300-year old house in South London with our family of 7 dogs and 4 cats.

I knew as young as eight years old that I was going to be a writer.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

My father probably influenced me the most. He was always enthusiastic and supportive.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern as a writer is, without doubt, to entertain. I see no point in indulging and amusing myself if no children are going to read what I write. I do want to indulge and amuse myself, but I also want readers to identify with my books, to recognise the concerns of the characters as their concerns, to take heart, gain solace, to laugh, to cry and maybe, along the way, to learn a bit about life.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

My personal experiences have directly influenced my writing inasmuch as I frequently draw on them for inspiration.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face? How do you deal with these?

One of the biggest challenges is to write books which are readily accessible to the children of the 21st century, accustomed as they are to the short, sharp soundbite and the quick fix, while at the same time giving them some depth and fully formed characters.

I deal with this challenge by writing in the vernacular, in the first person, which means I can move the story along pretty quickly without the need for long, involved “literary” sentence structures. It also means that I can slip in the odd difficult or surprising word along the way.

What is your latest book about? How long did it take you to write it?

My latest book was Over the Moon, about a very pretty girl called Scarlett who discovers the hard way that “looks aren’t everything”.

It only took me about three months to write, but probably up to a year to plan.

It was published in April 2006 by Harper Collins, in the [United Kingdom] U.K.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult? Which did you enjoy most?

I didn’t find any aspects of the book particularly difficult. I always “create” my books in great detail in my head before sitting down to write them, so that any difficulties tend to be solved at an early stage.

I enjoyed all the book! My books have a high level of humour, and it gives me a great sense of satisfaction to choose the exact words and the exact timing, for humour is very largely about pace and precision.

What sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

Nothing really sets this book apart from the others which I have written over the last decade. They are all first person, all somewhat quirky, all character-led, all very firmly set in real life situations.

My next book, on which I am currently working, is about a feisty thirteen-year old, a would-be rock star, who rises triumphantly above the body fascism of some of her schoolmates, who call her Jelly and jeer at her for being a fat freak.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer? How did you get there?

My only claim to significant achievement is the knowledge that I have, in a small way, enhanced the lives of several generations of children.

I got there by my talents as a writer, coupled with sheer hard work.

A podcast of this article is available on OhmyNews International.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Notes from the Detention Centre

Joanne Bean has been visiting her boyfriend, who is in detention and has been held in a number of immigration detention centers in the United Kingdom.

Since July, she has been documenting what she sees and hears during her visits in e-mails that she sends out to a number of people.

The following narrative is based on Joanne Bean's e-mails and gives an insight into some of the pressures immigration detainees and their families and friends experience.

November 27, 2006

The Independent has published my questions to [Home Secretary] John Reid.

"My partner is in one of your immigration removal centres, and at great risk if returned to Iraq, but you still seem determined to return him to his death. Do you not want British citizens to have foreign partners?" I asked.

And John Reid responded:

"I've always spoken positively about the cultural benefits migrants bring. However, we have to balance that with ensuring people are here legally; part of that is preventing people coming here for one reason and then applying for permission to stay as the spouse of an individual."

This does not console me because late last night Diyako was transferred from Colnbrook to Harmondsworth -- reason unknown. But you may remember me saying that whilst in Campsfield House a fellow detainee tried to stab Diayko. It is known that the same detainee is in Harmondsworth.

Have Immigration Services really got no compassion?

I attended Diyako's bail hearing on November 14.

We represented ourselves as the Refugee Legal Centre have said there is nothing they can do for us.

Another person suggested that the best way would be for Diyako to return to Iraq and then go to Jordan for me to apply for a fiancee visa. The problem I have with this suggestion is that Diyako has a criminal conviction in the U.K. If he was deported I will not be able to bring him back and it is unthinkable and unreasonable for me to go and live in Iraq.

What do they expect us to do? Separate and go our separate ways?

I cannot live like this anymore, living in the constant fear of waking up one day and not being able to see him ever again. It is taking its toll on me. I cannot eat, I cannot sleep and I am suffering from depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

The only consolation that I have is that the judge who heard Diyako's last bail application ruled that if Diyako was not removed from the country in four weeks then any subsequent hearing was likely to be successful.

Now, two weeks before this date Immigration Services has decided to transfer Diyako to Harmondsworth. What does this mean ? That they are going to deport him soon or are just thinking of ways to hide him and then smuggle him out of the country?

I am running out of ideas.

What should we do now ? Why is it so wrong to want to be with someone you love?

November 30, 2006

Did I tell you Diyako was transferred from Colnbrook to Harmondsworth late Sunday night?

He was forced to go against his will.

15 officers went into his room and ordered him to collect his belongings. They told him he was being transferred to Harmondsworth. They escorted him to the reception area where he asked to see the manager.

He told the manager that he was reluctant to go to Harmondsworth because the Jamaicans who had tried to stab him when he was being detained at Campsfield House had also been moved to Harmondsworth.

The manager told him he was not interested in his excuses and that he had to go. Several officers grabbed hold of Diyako’s arms and hands to restrain him.

Diyako asked why they were restraining him. He had done nothing wrong.

He told them he was going to Harmondsworth and that they had to take it on their own back if something happened to him when he got there.

He called me at midnight to say he was in Harmondsworth. He was extremely depressed.

I called him again on Monday evening. He had been made to change rooms and two of the Jamaicans he had clashed with were on the same wing as him! He felt really vulnerable and unsafe.

I tried to call him later on that evening but there was no reply.

At six a.m. he called me and told me what had happened: The prison service had done an inspection on Harmondsworth and a report on it was broadcast on BBC news on Monday evening. Detainees saw an ex-detainee on the programme and listened to what he was saying. Officers at Harmondsworth tried to prevent the detainees from watching the programme and the whole place erupted.

Diyako was very shocked and disturbed by what he saw and was very cold. The sprinkler system had gone off when the fire alarm was raised and the place was waterlogged too.

He told me that everywhere was smashed up.

I told him to be careful and that was the last I heard from him.

I have been calling Harmondsworth and his other friends in Colnbrook continuously to see if they have heard any news from him.

I called Harmondsworth today and got told that he is still being detained at Harmondsworth and that he would be moved to another removal centre later on today. I was told the phones were down and I could still not speak to him.

An officer told me Diyako is O.K.

December 1, 2006

I normally call him at 10 p.m. each night.

On Sunday, I called him at about 10:30 p.m. Another detainee answered and said, “Not here, not here.”

I was worried something had happened to Diyako. I continued to call. At 11:30 another voice answered and again said, " No here. All outside".

I could hear alarms sounding and people shouting. I called Harmondsworth and got through to the switchboard. I got told that the phones and computers were down and that they were waiting for engineers to come and fix them and that I should call back in the morning.

I thought there was some kind of electrical fault and I accepted this.

At six a.m. my Diyako called me and told me that there had been a big riot and everywhere was wrecked. He told me that people had seen the 10 o’clock news and seen an ex detainee, the officers tried to turn it off, so they started going berserk. He said he would call me as soon as he could because he thought no one could stay there.

I started receiving reports of what had happened on the news and I kept trying Harmondsworth throughout Wednesday. No news whatsoever. They said immigration were transferring the detainees and everyone would be out of there by Thursday morning and that I was to call back then.

I called first thing Thursday morning to ask the whereabouts of my partner. I got told that he was okay and that he was still being held at Harmondsworth and to call back at lunchtime. I did so. He was still there.

I called again at 6.30 p.m. and got told that he had been transferred to Colnbrook. I was so relieved, but I still wanted to hear his voice.

At 7 p.m. I finally got his call. He told me he was okay and that he was back in Colnbrook, not to worry he would call me when he got a room etc.

I got to speak to him again at around 10 p.m. Thursday evening. He told me that at Harmondsworth, he and three others had been locked in a room. They were given no food, water, warm blankets or toilet facilities until lunchtime on Thursday. Their last meal had been Tuesday evening!

They were made to sleep on wet and cold beds. Eight people were locked in a two-bed space room. There was no ventilation and they were all extremely scared and disturbed.

Great Britain? What is great about it? If we treated animals like this we would go to prison for it? Where have [our] priorities gone?

Related article: Notes from the Detention Centre, By Joanne Bean, As Told to Ambrose Musiyiwa, World Press Review, November 13, 2006.


Monday, May 21, 2007

[Interview] Lucy Cadwell

Award -winning playwright and novelist Lucy Caldwell is one of the youngest writers to be shortlisted in the EDS Dylan Thomas Prize.

In June 2004, her first short play, The River, previewed at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama. It was subsequently produced at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Chapter Arts Centre and the Sherman Theatre (both in Cardiff) in the United Kingdom. She has written short stories for BBC Radio 4, Zembla magazine and the V&A Museum.

Her first novel, Where They Were Missed, was published in March 2006 by Penguin (Viking). Four months after publication, the novel was placed on the EDS Dylan Thomas Prize longlist.

In addition to writing, Caldwell works with the Pushkin Trust, a Northern Irish charity that teaches creative writing (dramatic and prose) to primary school children and their teachers. She also works with the Niamh Louise Foundation, a recently established charity seeking to address the problems of teen suicide in the Province.

Lucy Caldwell spoke about her writing and some of the concerns that influence her.

What is your novel about?

The novel is narrated by Saoirse (pronounced Seer-sha), a six-year-old girl growing up in Belfast in the late 1970s with her mother and father and younger sister.

Things are going badly wrong, but she is so little she doesn't quite understand what is happening, and during one heat wave summer, she and her little sister, Daisy, run wild in a fantasy world of their own.

But there is a tragedy, and the family splits apart; the second half of the novel takes place 10 years later, when Saoirse is going on 17, and living with her aunt and uncle in an isolated part of rural Ireland.

She discovers dark secrets in the family past, and decides to go back to Belfast to discover the truth about what happened during that fateful summer, and to lay the ghosts of the past to rest.

How long did it take you to write it?

I started off writing what I thought was a short story for a university publication called the May Anthologies, where lots of writers (including, most famously, Zadie Smith) have been discovered. But I suddenly realised that I'd written 10,000 words and the "story" was showing no signs of stopping!

I finished the first draft at university, and redrafted it during my M.A. in London and Where They Were Missed was published in March of this year by Viking/Penguin. (Incidentally, this month [September] sees the launch of the German translation — Sommer In Belfast - the first foreign-language edition!)

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I am only ever concerned that the writing is "true." I believe that literature — that art — can be not only inspirational but cathartic, and I believe that at times it can even be redemptive. The best writing can change you, or change the way you see the world; I can only hope that one day, perhaps my writing will come near to "making a difference" in however tiny a way.

Specifically concerning Where They Were Missed, I was very conscious that, as a Northern Irish writer, people might expect my book to be "about the Northern Irish Troubles." I was very concerned that the book was not "about" the Troubles at all: I wanted to write a book in which the Troubles were there in the way that the weather is there - they are a backdrop to events, they change people's plans and are a topic of conversation but they are not the focus nor the concern of the book.

Who would you say influenced you the most?

A couple of books that I think influenced Where They Were Missed are Seamus Deane's Reading in the Dark and Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy. Elizabeth Bowen and W.B. Yeats are two of my absolute favorite writers, and, in terms of playwrights, Chekhov, Maeterlinck and Brian Friel have been really important.

But I think that most significant of all have been myths and folklore and fairytales - the idea of storytelling, and stories as a repository of cultural memory; the way we use stories to create and enforce and define who we are and where we come from. And of course many of the books I read as a child: Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series, Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House On The Prairie sequence, Richmal Crompton's Just William books, also Lorna Doone, Moonfleet, all that sort of thing.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

I found the bereavement and funeral passages of the novel difficult to write because they were so very sad. People often come up to me saying that those parts of the book had them crying their eyes out, and they ask me, "Why did you do it?" and my response is always, "I don't know — I just wrote the story, I wish it hadn't had to happen like that either ..."

Which did you enjoy most?

The best times were when the story and the characters took over - when I couldn't type fast enough to keep up, and it felt as if I was just the conduit: rather than writing the book, I was merely the means by which it was written. Those moments were rare, but utterly magical.

What would you say sets the novel apart from other things you have written?

I wrote it in my early 20s, before I'd ever read much Joyce, or Flaubert, or Dostoyevsky, or many of the other writers who are so important to me today. And because it is the first "proper" thing I ever wrote, I think it has a rawness and energy and innocence that I'll never be able to capture again.

But then again, in a funny sort of way every single thing that you write feels as if it's the first thing you've ever written ...

In what way is it similar to other things you have written?

When I was growing up I couldn't wait to get away from Belfast. Once I left, I thought I'd never go back, and I was surprised — and not a little resentful — to find myself writing about Belfast.

But I am increasingly conscious of writing in an Irish, and a Northern Irish tradition — which, when you consider the great writers who have come from this part of the world, is something which makes me feel incredibly honored and humble — and now I am exceedingly proud to be Northern Irish.

And although this is a horrible generalization, I suppose that all of my writing, at some level, is "about" Northern Ireland, or at least shares a concern about what it means to be Northern Irish.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

Everyone always assumes that my writing, especially Where They Were Missed, is strongly autobiographical. But it isn't at all!

I had a very happy childhood, and my poor mother is horrified by the number of people who've covertly wondered if she has an alcohol problem...

In his essay, "The Art of Fiction," Henry James writes of an English female novelist who was much praised for the "accurate" depiction she'd given of French Protestant boys, and asked how long it had taken her to do the research. She replied that once, in Paris, she had been walking up a staircase when she had glimpsed some youths eating around a table with their minister. And from that moment, she had created the whole world of her novel. "The glimpse made a picture," James writes, "and it lasted only a moment, but that moment was experience."

I think that this explanation sums up perfectly what it is to write fiction: that although not everything I write about "happened," all of it is in some sense "true".

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

As a writer of both novels and plays, my biggest challenge is always staying in control of whichever form I'm working in. If I've been writing a lot of prose, for example, I'll find myself giving characters in a play huge, eloquent, beautifully-written speeches which are absolutely dead on stage - because, of course, in a play it isn't what a character is saying that matters, it's what they're doing, or in other words, why they're saying it.

Similarly, if I've been spending a lot of time on a play, my prose tends to get a bit too dialogue-heavy.

How do you deal with this?

I find that I can only work in one medium at a time; I can't spend the morning on my novel and the afternoon on a play, for example. While I was writing my play, "Leaves," I immersed myself in theater, reading only plays, and I didn't touch a single novel for the whole two months it took to write it!

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I have always wanted to be a writer - literally for as long as I can remember. My mum has kept in the attic all my early endeavors - piles of jotters filled with stories that I "wrote" and illustrated when I could barely even hold a pen...

Every fortnight I used to get a wonderful magazine called Storyteller, which included a cassette tape to go along with the words. I used to listen to it until I knew my favorite stories by heart, then sit behind the sofa and recite them, pretending to be a radio! But I date my "serious" literary ambition from an English class in school when I was 13. We were studying the Ulster writer Jennifer Johnson's How Many Miles to Babylon? and for homework we had to write an extra chapter. I got really carried away — I read lots of W.B. Yeats, who is quoted in the book, and spent ages working on my alternative ending, and by the time I'd finished, I had decided that all I ever wanted to do was write.

What will you be exploring in your next book?

My second novel is very different: it is set in modern-day Bahrain, in the 10 days leading up to Easter Sunday, and it is about a young minister's wife who loses her faith. I suppose the "themes" - might include faith and identity, and the search for something to believe in, and how to believe in it.

Friday, May 18, 2007

[Interview] Jon McGregor

Jon McGregor's first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, found him a place as the youngest contender and the only first-time novelist on the 2002 Booker Prize longlist.

The novel went on to win the 2003 Somerset Maugham Award. It was also shortlisted in the Best First Book category in the Eurasia Region of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and the Best Newcomer category in the 2004 British Book Awards.

His latest novel, So Many Ways to Begin, made it onto the 2006 Man Booker Prize longlist.

Jon McGregor spoke about his writing and the qualities that set his writing apart.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Firstly, when I was about 14, and listening to too many Smiths records. But more seriously when I was around 20, at university, and rapidly discovering there wasn't much else I was good at.

In the writing that you're doing, what would you say are your main concerns?

Life and the choices people make. Love and loss. The small details which make a big picture. The gaps between what people say to one another.

As far as your writing is concerned, who would you say has influenced you the most?

Don DeLillo. Richard Brautigan. John McGahern. A.L. Kennedy.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

When I was younger and poorer, I used to hitch-hike everywhere. I heard enough stories — confessions really — during those years to last me a lifetime.

As a writer, what would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

Being original - being worth reading. Keeping the same burning drive and ambition which I had before anyone had bought any of my books. Mastering the semi-colon.

Your book has been placed on the Man Booker Prize 2006. What is the book about?

So Many Ways To Begin is the story of a marriage; it's the story of two people trying to make a life together, and the way their own families and histories impact upon this life. It's also about museums, identity, storytelling, and the difficulty of starting again.

How long did it take you to write it?

About three years.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

The writing.

Which did you enjoy most?

The thinking about it beforehand.

What would you say sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

My previous novel was a collage of snapshots; So Many Ways To Begin has a tighter focus, a more sustained look at a smaller group of characters.

In what way is it similar?

Hopefully, I've retained an attention to detail which reveals quiet truths about the characters without anything needing to be spelt out.

Which themes will you be exploring in your next book?

I don't know, but I think it will be uglier.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Finding readers, getting paid.

How did you get there?

I have absolutely no idea.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

[Interview] Delia Jarrett-Macauley

Delia Jarrett-Macauley is a writer, academic and broadcaster with a career spanning over 20 years. Her books include a biography of the Jamaican feminist Una Marson and Reconstructing Womanhood, Reconstructing Feminism: Writings on Black Women (Routledge, 1996). The latter was the first British feminist anthology to examine concepts of womanhood and feminism within the context of "race" and ethnicity

Jarrett-Macauley's first novel Moses, Citizen and Me, (Granta Books, 2005) is a haunting tale about Sierra Leone's civil war, which forced guns on an estimated 15,000 children between 1991 and 2001.

In 2006, Moses, Citizen and Me won the George Orwell Prize for political writing. The annual prize is awarded to writers judged to have best achieved George Orwell's aim "to make political writing into an art" and seeks to recognize good accessible writing about politics, political thinking or public policy.

In their comments the judges said, "Anyone who has spent time in Africa can immediately recognize the power and truth of her descriptions. It is a work of great intimacy and moral complexity, the kind of writing that sheds light on a world we barely understand." Andrew O'Hagan, a member of the judging panel, added, "the book is one that Orwell himself might have liked."

Moses, Citizen and Me became the first novel to win the Orwell Prize for political writing since the award started 16 years ago.

Delia Jarrett-Macauley spoke about her writing.

What is your connection with Sierra Leone?

I was born in England to Sierra Leone parents, and had visited the country as a child.

When did you decide you wanted to write about Sierra Leone?

On the day I heard the report on BBC lunchtime news about a child soldier, Citizen, who had been compelled to execute his parents, I knew immediately that I would have to write about him. The Sierra Leone I knew as a child was still inside me, so to speak, and I felt passionately about the country's plight.

Also genocide is a great classical theme in literature from Oedipus onwards, and when the perpetrator is a child, the writer is pushed into considering the toughest emotional and moral questions imaginable. I had worked in Central and Eastern Europe during the 1990s and seen the results of close inter-ethnic conflict, now I had to look at my parents' country where something similar was happening and imagine what a family's response might be to that tragedy.

I dared to proceed, even at the risk of making a complete fool of myself, to tackle the war because it raised such important literary challenges: the peculiarly human talent for re-inventing the self, the question of colonial history in Africa, the variations of African cultural life. I threw myself into writing and then into a period of research because although I was not concerned with documentation of fact, I had to grapple with it in order to understand the moral complexities of what had happened.

How did you research the novel?

If I had had the money and other resources I might have traveled back to Freetown to 'research' the novel, but I did not. I had to conduct most of my research in London and to imagine the responses of different family members. In any event, I believe that imagination thrives on minimal data, and so perhaps I was better off not going back.

I did, however, go to Paris in April 2001 to see the premiere of the film, Nouvel Ordre Mondiale by Phillipe Diaz, and to talk to people at Monde Contre Faim who had been working in Sierra Leone. Only a handful of people turned up for the premiere of the film, a brilliant and graphic depiction of the atrocities of the civil conflict.

At the end of the film we huddled together in the foyer. We were all upset, but we talked about it. One man encouragingly said it would be good if I could write something bearable, something which would enable readers to see the truth of the conflict, without just being shocked. His thoughtful words stayed with me.

How did all this influence you?

I wanted to write something beautiful and strong. Moses, Citizen and Me is a passionate book about family and 'lost home': it is not a tale about atrocities. By being removed from the physical Sierra Leone, I was able to re-create my own, and to develop characters using both memory and imagination.

Many African countries including Sierra Leone and its neighbours are not sufficiently well known in Europe or America to encourage mature literary treatment: write from the inside, and there are bound to be new challenging elements, but it is important to write nevertheless without footnoting, without patronizing and without debasing oneself to the level of meaningless generalizations.

I am pleased to have heard from readers in different parts of the world who recognize the themes and characters. For example, a Jamaican wrote to comment on the names. Bemba G is clearly a different and very African name, whereas Moses and his family all have Christian names.

Another general theme being talked about is the toughness of rural life in Africa compared with life in Freetown itself.

What were your expectations of Moses, Citizen and Me and did the novel live up to these?

Of course I wanted the novel to do well: I hoped for critical and some commercial success, but nothing could have prepared me for the feelings of elation and appreciation that came with winning the Orwell award.

The prize means many more people will share the story and, I hope, feel with the people of Sierra Leone.

I'm delighted to have won the Orwell Award for political writing: it is perhaps the most elegant acknowledgement of the novel's intentions, accessibility and merit. Coming at the end of a hard road to publication, the award has been a great serendipitous gift.


Monday, May 14, 2007

[Interview] Dr Susan Shumsky

Dr Susan Shumsky is a healer, counselor, prayer therapist, teacher and an author. For over three decades, she has been teaching meditation, self-development, and intuition to students in the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Far East.

She received a doctorate in Divinity from the Teaching of Intuitional Metaphysics in San Diego, and has written several books on meditation, prayer, and spiritual healing.

Her books include Divine Revelation (Fireside, 1996); Exploring Chakras (New Page Books, 2003); Exploring Auras (New Page Books, 2005); Miracle Prayer (Celestial Arts, 2006) and Exploring Meditation (Career Press, 2008).

In email interview which took place between October 9 and November 22, Dr Susan Shumsky spoke about her experiences and the books she has written.

How did it all begin? What motivated you?

I have been practicing spiritual disciplines for 40 years.

I spent 22 years in the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of Transcendental Meditation and guru of the Beatles and Deepak Chopra. I was on Maharishi's personal staff for seven years. I was totally immersed in meditation.

When I lived in the ashram, I used to meditate up to 20 hours a day. I would disappear into my room and not appear for up to eight weeks at a time. I observed silence and did not utter a sound for up to four months at a time. I fasted for up to two months at a time. And I observed total celibacy for decades.

After spending 22 years with my eyes closed, I woke up and realized that something was missing from my spiritual experience.

What was missing?

I had been practicing yoga -- the word "yoga" literally means divine union or integration, meaning union of individual Spirit with universal Spirit -- and I was experiencing the end-all be-all experience of yoga, satchitananda, in meditation on a daily basis. This was an amazing experience of what I call the "impersonal God."

But I was longing for the experience of the "personal God."

How did you resolve this conflict?

Happily, I discovered a way to listen to the "still small voice" within -- how to hear the voice of God and how to test and trust whether the message is the real thing.

Also, I learned how to help others to have this profound inner connection.

Once I realized that this was possible, and that I could ask my higher self (God within) any question and receive divine love, healing, wisdom, and inspiration from within myself, I had finally come home to God. Never was I alone again.

What happened next? What did you do next?

I sold my house, bought a trailer, and began travelling and teaching classes to help others have this profound experience. It did not take long before I realized that I would have to write a book in order to have any credibility whatsoever. So I wrote my first book, Divine Revelation, quite late in my life, in 1990, and then in 1996 it was published by Simon & Schuster. This book is about how to listen to the voice of God within, and how to distinguish and discern between the true voice of Spirit and other voices in your mind.

The next 4 books came soon after that: Exploring Meditation, which is a great introduction to meditation, yoga, and East Indian philosophy.

My publisher asked me to write Exploring Chakras, which I researched by studying the ancient scriptures of India and which was reviewed as the "penultimate book about the chakras."

My publisher then asked me to write Exploring Auras, which is about healing and cleansing the human energy field, and which has dozens of powerful healing prayers and affirmations to heal anomalies in the auric field.

What is Miracle Prayer about?

My latest book Miracle Prayer: Nine Steps to Creating Prayers that Get Results teaches Scientific Prayer, otherwise known as affirmative prayer or spiritual mind treatment, the method of prayer taught in Unity and Religious Science and other New Thought churches.

I wrote this book at the same time that I wrote Divine Revelation, way back in the early 1990's, but it was not published until now.

This book can help you understand how you have created your own destiny through your thoughts, words, and deeds, and how you can transform your life. It helps you discover mental laws that you have created and how to overcome those mental laws through the Law of Grace. Also, it includes specific prayers and affirmations that you can use to fulfill your aspirations. One chapter is filled with inspiring stories of people who have used these prayer methods to create miracles in their lives.

How long did it take you to write it?

My books usually take about one year to write. This was no exception.

Miracle Prayer was published by Celestial Arts (Berkeley, California), a division of TenSpeed Press. The book came out in 2006. It was also picked up by the One Spirit book club.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult? And which did you enjoy most?

The aspect that I find most difficult is finding a way to promote this book in the marketplace.

I loved writing every book that I have written. I enjoy teaching, so I enjoy writing.

What sets the book apart from the others that you have written?

This is the only book that I have written that gives the secret of how to practice the nine-step prayer method that is the basis of everything else that I do.

It is similar to my other books because it is, like my other books, a spiritual self-help, how-to book that helps people to truly transform their lives.

How did your personal experiences prepare you for your role as a writer?

I was always an artist, and I never wanted to be a writer. As a child I played with crayons and made paper dolls. I designed dream houses and drew pictures of people that I saw in magazines. I went to art college and then ended up in an ashram with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the guru of the Beatles and Deepak Chopra, on his personal staff, where I worked as an illustrator and designer on his publications. My guru always tried to get me to write. But I was stuck on being an artist.

After I left the ashram, I designed jewellery for New York diamond jewellery manufacturers for 20 years. I was also teaching seminars on how to listen to the "still small voice" of God within. I called it "Divine Revelation." Soon after I began teaching, I realized that I needed to write a book about it. So I was guided by Spirit to write the book Divine Revelation.

Now I feel that I have more talent as a writer than an artist.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concerns as a writer are that I write something educational, understandable, life-enhancing, and spiritually uplifting.

What are the biggest challenges that you face? And, how do you deal with them?

I think that any author will tell you that their biggest challenge is to make ends meet while having time to be creative. Another huge challenge is to publicize the books that we write. Although the publishers get the books on the shelf in bookstores, ultimately the author is the one who has to sell the books.

Personally, I have developed a way to get income from sources other than just book sales. I do not know any authors who are supported by book sales alone. Also, I do my best to get publicity, which is very challenging.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

I have been influenced most by my guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who personally taught me to become a meditation teacher on the banks of the Ganges River in India. I was also very influenced by other mentors in my life -- Rich Bell and Dr. Peter V. Meyer, who taught me to listen to the "still small voice" of God within, to follow my inner guidance, and to help others have that experience. Also they taught me how to teach spiritual healing.

What will your next book be about?

My agent is now pitching a book to publishers that is a spiritual memoir about my years with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Let's pray that he sells it.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Getting my first book Divine Revelation published by Simon & Schuster.

Possibly related books:


Related article:

Researchers Seek Routes to Happier Life,” Associated Press, KATU Portland, November 26, 2006.

Friday, May 11, 2007

[Interview] Courttia Newland

Courttia Newland is fast becoming one of the most significant voices in Black British writing. His work includes the novels The Scholar (1998) and Snakeskin (2002), collections of short stories - Society Within (1999) and Music for the Off-Key: Twelve Macabre Short Stories (2006), as well as the critically acclaimed plays, The Far Side, about the murder of a young black man by a white youth, and Mother's Day, which premiered at the Lyric Studio Hammersmith in autumn of 2002. Newland has also edited IC3: The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain (2000) and is currently writing the screenplay to a film adaptation of The Scholar.

In an interview that took place in July, Courttia Newland spoke about his writing and his new book.

When did you decide you wanted to become a writer?

Although I had been writing for many years as a "hobby," I only turned to serious writing when I was 21. I had tried various avenues for making money and none of them had worked. I really wanted to build a music studio, so I decided to write a book and sell it, and then build my studio from the proceeds. As you can see, I had no idea what a writer's life was like. Luckily for me I enjoyed writing the book so much I gave up on music.

Who would you say influenced you the most?

On a personal level, my grandfather. He taught me a lot about the world and strengthened my political views with an emphasis on being black in this country (the U.K.). In a literary sense, Chester Himes - his books convinced me I could write about working class black people without having to apologize about it.

Most of your novels, short stories, and plays have black people as main or major characters. Is there a particular reason for this?

I write about people who have been left out of mainstream fiction. When I was first published I felt that these people had no voice, so I wanted to try and capture that. I write to tell stories, to validate and chronicle our untold lives.

How did you come up with the title of your latest book, Music For the Off-Key: Twelve Macabre Short Stories?

In my part of London (west) the word "off-key" has been floating around for a while. It means when something or someone is weird or a little unusual. I wanted a title reminiscent of Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected, so I came up with Music For The Off-Key. It's funny because it sounds strange to most people, but working class Londoners tend to get it right away!

How long did it take you to come up with the 12 stories that make up the collection?

A long time — I've been writing different collections since I published The ScholarMusic is just the latest version. I had the stories for Music together back in 2002, but publishers have been slow to pick this one up and so I swapped a few of the stories around and wrote a few new ones. This lineup has only been in existence since last year.

Which would you say was the most difficult to write? Why was this so?

They all flowed quite easily. "Gold" took the longest because I was working so much, but they were all quite painless.

Which did you enjoy working on most? Why do you think this was so?

"The Double Room." Even when I was writing it, it came out exactly as I imagined it. That's quite rare for me.

What would you say sets Music For the Off-Key apart from the other books you have written?

The characters are all subversive, along with their stories. I tried to stay away from any restrictions I might place on myself and push the boundaries for these people, taking them away from the everyday and placing them in abnormal situations.

I suppose I got tired of having to be "authentic." It's a terrible burden to place on a writer. Sometimes we just want to imagine. [To] create.

In what way is it similar to the others?

It's Black Britain, but not as we know it! I tried to make these characters inhabit the same world as the one in my previous books — so The Dying Wish, a novella starring Ervine James of Snakeskin, crosses over with "Suicide Note," the first story in Music For The Off-Key. I'm still writing about inner-city London, but from a new angle.

As a writer, what would you say are the major challenges that you face and how do you deal with these?

Tying money to creativity. Finding time to write. Breaking the limitations placed on me by the outside world and sometimes myself. The fight between instinct and the intellect.

What would you say has been your greatest achievement so far? And how did you get there?

Five books and counting! It's all about the work, I think. I've just put my head down and told stories.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

More books and a larger bank account!

Related Books:


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

[Interview] Pascale Quiviger

Pascale Quiviger was born in Montreal and holds a Master's Degree in Philosophy as well as a degree in Fine Arts.

She lives in England and Italy, where she paints, writes, and teaches visual arts. Her work has been exhibited in both Canada and Italy.

She first entered the literary scene with Ni sol ni ciel (2001), a collection of six short stories.

She followed this up with her highly acclaimed novel, Le cercle parfait (2003), which won the Governor General's Literary Award for French Fiction. The novel was subsequently translated into The Perfect Circle, in English, by Sheila Fischman and was short listed in the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Pascale Quiviger spoke about the many facets of her work and the connections that run through them.

You are a teacher, a visual artist and an author. How did it all begin?

I was passionately writing and drawing as a child, and it just never stopped. I have been encouraged by my parents in any way they could. I went on studying philosophy and painting, it just made sense to do so.

I was reluctant to teach until I was 28. I was then harvesting grapes in a Tuscany vineyard and the neighbor kept showing up with a sketchbook to get some ideas for exercises. He started coming with a friend of his and said he knew ten other interested persons. I started teaching for them and more and more requests kept getting in. I thought that if I gave it a try I might be able to earn a decent living. I started traveling as a drawing teacher all around Italy and became quite passionate about it. It allows for very transparent relationships with people. Now I do not teach as much as I used to, only at ISLA, a private university in Siena.

Who would you say influenced you the most?

In life? My parents. Their value system, their struggles, their victories. Relationships with my siblings. One of my best friends, a Buddhist monk. And various others in which I could observe an overlooked form of courage.

In writing, I would say Friedrich Nietzsche, Marguerite Duras, Paul Auster, Maurice Blanchot, Nicolas Bouvier, Christian Bobin, J.K. Rowling.

What drives you?

A blind faith in beauty. The quest for inner balance and broader horizons. Most of all, and very simply, I love writing and painting. When I can’t, I feel deprived.

Are there any links or connections between your work as a visual artist and your writing?

More and more. The Chinese tradition says that literature and painting have opposite qualities: literature must show concrete things with abstract tools; paintings must evocate the invisible with visible tools. I think of myself as surfing on those two crests, which are very complementary and seem to meet in a kind of middle way.

It brings me, for example, to write from very vivid mental images. Recently, I have also started putting images with my words, in an art-book and in attempts at illustrating my own children stories. I also wrote unending texts about my paintings when preparing the two last exhibitions, one of which was actually inspired by Samuel Beckett.

So there is an intricate relationship between the two disciplines, both in the work and in the creative process. They even allow me to procrastinate with one when I feel stuck with the other. Adults have always told me that, sooner or later, I would have to choose between them; as a child, I wouldn't understand why, and I must confess that I still haven't.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Trying to reach people in areas that they are often required to hide, hoping that it can be useful for them that words are being provided. As with painting, writing is an activity in which I feel true and I, it is probably the best way I can contribute.

Being faithful to what I am right now and to the specific way in which things move me. I couldn’t write the same book twice.

Trying to use each and every bit of inspiring material around me; sometimes a person, sometimes a landscape, sometimes just an object falling in a bin, or the angle of a clothesline. Going as far as possible when starting on one of those paths, not censuring myself nor fearing to go the wrong way. As a result, I write loads of crap but I have masses of fun.

How long did it take you to write the stories that make up, Ni sol ni ciel?

It is very difficult to say how long is needed to write something. I could say that I started when I was two years old and finished when I was twenty-four.

Technically, it took a year and a half to write the title story, and about two blissful weeks for the five others.

What would you say unifies the stories that make up the collection?

I discovered it afterwards. In all stories, the main character has a language problem that originates in a hidden traumatic memory.

Are there any plans for an English translation of the short story collection?

Not that I know of.

How was Le cercle parfait conceived? How did the idea of the novel come to you?

The novel needed to come out as a healing process from a broken relationship. It was combined with my newly discovered love for Italy. They merged in a narrative where a split character writes about herself in the third person for means of reconstruction. It was a difficult period for me and two friends insisted that I should sit and write something. My father told me to go get myself a notebook, and said he would pay for it even if it cost 50 cents. I didn’t have a computer at the time. I took a part-time job in the afternoon and wrote all morning.

How long did it take you to write it?

It took eight months to write the bulk of it, but I re-read it every six months for three years before I decided to submit it to L'Instant meme. By then, only a third of the original text remained. It thought that if I didn’t send it, it was bound to disappear completely.

What was the most difficult part of the work that went into the novel?

Distancing myself from the pain. Trying to transform anger into irony.

Which did you enjoy the most?

Describing Italy.

How would you compare the collection of short stories to the novel?

The novel has less magical or synchronicity components to it, but it contains more hope. Italy confers a light to it, which I hadn’t experienced yet when writing Ni sols ni ciels.

Which would you say was easier or more difficult to write than the other? Why is this so?

Ni sols ni ciels was more difficult because I was filled with doubt about the value of the work. That it was later rejected by thirteen publishers didn’t make it better. With Le cercle parfait, I just intended to heal, not to write a book, so there was an intrinsic value in my writing sessions, and that made it easier.

What was your first reaction when you heard that Sheila Fischman was interested in translating it into English?

I was introduced to her two minutes before I was told that she was likely to be my translator. I was absolutely charmed by her person and that made me all the more enthusiastic.

How do you feel about the idea now?

Sheila Fischman has been very generous in letting me take some part in the process, and there hasn’t been a sentence in which I haven’t felt understood and respected. She produced a great work and I am very grateful for the Giller nomination she brought to us.

In an article published in the Globe and Mail, Andre Alexis says, “A novel comes from a language and a tradition. It is written with a language (or languages) in mind, and taken from its original linguistic contexts, it does not have the same resonance, or the same meaning.” What are your views on this?

I agree that it does not have the same resonance or meaning, but this is not to say that it has none. The translation of Le cercle parfait into The Perfect Circle was my first experience in being translated, and I found it uncanny but not unfriendly. I discovered new things about my text, about my way of writing and about my syntax habits, as if they were suddenly revealed to me. It was fascinating to witness some changes of rhythm that were providing new colours to the background. I do think that a translation is bound to be in a different place, but I feel that Sheila Fischman took my words in a safe and familiar one. A good translation is bound to stand on its own and have a value in itself. Maybe a good translation is precisely one that doesn’t try to be an identical twin to the original text.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

Related item: L. Ron Hubbard Is the Most Translated Author, Kimberly Maul, The Book Standard, Nov. 9, 2005.


Monday, May 7, 2007

[Interview] Cindy Jefferies

Even as a small child, Cindy Jefferies wanted to write. "As soon as I learned to read I wanted to write stories," she says on her website. "I was always telling tall tales to my two younger sisters, and I still have a 'newspaper' I wrote about my older brother's friends, including Colin Flooks, who later became the famous rock drummer Cozy Powell.”

She says at school a teacher called Janet Hurst nurtured her love of literature. "I also used to write plays, and one about Charles the Second was performed by my class at primary school. My favorite lessons were always English, History and Art."

But it wasn't until after leaving school, raising a family, working in a variety of jobs, and setting up her own business that she decided to make a serious effort to write. "I started grumbling to my family about still being a frustrated writer. My youngest son suggested I wrote a book for him, so I did."

The result was an historical fantasy, based on the old farmhouse the family lives in, and the ancient standing stones at Avebury. "I loved doing the research, and turning it into a fantastical story. That story became Sebastian's Quest, and was published by Barry Cunningham, the person who discovered J.K. Rowling. I sold my business and concentrated on writing."

She says her personal experiences have given her a huge store of memories to draw on when she writes. Her latest novel, Christmas Stars, draws on her musical background and is part of Fame School, a series of novels for children, about the dreams and ambitions of a group of aspiring pop stars. The novels are set at Rockley Park, a school for talented young performers.

So far the Fame School series is made up of Solo Star, Reach for the Stars, Rising Star, Secret Ambition, Rivals, Lucky Break, and Tara's Triumph. "It's fiction for children, and is about popular music. It's pretty similar to the last seven books I've written. The characters are the same, and so is the setting," she says.

Christmas Stars came out at the end of October in England and will be available shortly in Ireland, Poland, New Zealand, and Australia. The series is also having great success in Spain.

Cindy Jefferies' work has also appeared in The Kingfisher Book of Horse and Pony Stories, a collection of exhilarating and moving stories about horses. "I also wrote a rather bleak poem for the anthology Lines in the Sand [a collection of over one hundred and fifty poems, stories and pictures about war and peace]," she says.


Friday, May 4, 2007

[Interview] Margaret Kaine

Award-winning romance novelist Margaret Kaine worked as a lecturer at further education colleges before deciding to focus on writing. Her short stories have been published in women's magazines in countries that include Australia, Norway, South Africa and Ireland. Her first novel, Ring of Clay, won the Romantic Novelists' Association New Writer's Award in 2002, and the Society of Authors' Sagittarius Prize in 2003.

Other novels include Rosemary (Poolbeg Press, 2003), A Girl of her Time (Coronet Books, 2004), Friends and Families (Hodder Paperback, 2006) and Roses for Rebecca, which is coming out in 2007.

Margaret Kaine spoke about her writing and what she strives to achieve with each new book.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I always wanted to write, but found it impossible when I was younger. Working as a lecturer in further education and with a young family, there just wasn't the time to devote to it. I began to write when my son left to go to university.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

To be honest, I don't think any one person. But when I was younger, I used to love Catherine Cookson's novels.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

I think my close contact, through teaching, with women of all ages and backgrounds has influenced my writing enormously.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

As with any published writer, that the next novel should be as good as, if not better than the last.

How do you deal with these?

By always being aware of the challenge.

What is your latest book about?

My most recently published novel, Friends and Families, tells the story of two girls, from different backgrounds, growing up in the inspiring period of the 1950s. It contrasts their family lives, and describes the social and moral climate of the time. When men and romance enter their lives, their close bond becomes more important than ever before. The novel has been described as a compelling love story - a feel-good book.

How long did it take you to write it?

I always allow myself 18 months to write a novel of 105,000 or 120,000 words.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Perhaps trying to describe one of the minor characters, John. I wanted the reader to wonder whether he was autistic — a diagnosis which was virtually unknown at that time — yet only to give subtle hints.

Which did you enjoy most?

Writing about the ballroom scenes at Trentham Gardens, in Staffordshire. Such nostalgia for me as I met my own husband at a dance there in the 1950s.

What sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

I think it is the most light-hearted book I have written, and perhaps the most "romantic."

In what way is it similar?

With its descriptions of working-class life in the Potteries during that period.

What will your next book be about?

Roses for Rebecca, due to be published by Hodder & Stoughton in March 2007, begins with the story of a young woman left orphaned and homeless at the end of the Second World War. The book, set initially in the East End of London, describes how Rebecca, on the verge of happiness, encounters further tragedy. Left alone and pregnant, she faces an agonizing choice, and her courage then, and throughout the novel, is the main theme of the book.