the mutt

Up At The Villa – Somerset Maugham

Posted in Book Reviews by grx20 on October 29, 2008
up at the villa

up at the villa

For years now, I’ve wanted to give Maugham a shot, but Of Human Bondage seemed to be a rather large bite to chew.

Up At The Villa is wonderful introduction to one of the finest writers. It’s a small book – just about a hundred pages. Some may argue Maugham’s best works were behind him when he wrote it, but that is a matter for intellectuals to worry about. I found it to be a warm, entertaining read and a writing style that was easy, fluid and tender. The story is a delicate balance of suspense, romance and human drama.

Villa (which reads like a classic crime thriller) is about Mary, a widow contemplating her next steps in life. Trying to play a significant part in that are Edgar, a 54 year old pukka sahib who’s just been offered a plum administrative role in Bengal that could eventually raise him to the post of Viceroy. To this duo, Maugham adds the roguish Rowley Flint who, too, is trying to win her favour. In Edgar and Flint, we have the extreme choice that lies before Mary.
Halfway through, the story takes a sharp turn – tragedy strikes when Mary meets a young Austrian refugee, Karl Richter and gives him a moment he will never experience again.

That basically is the set-up in which Maugham explores human drama. I particularly enjoyed reading Mary’s conversation with Flint as she drives him back home after a party. The latter half of the story is a real page turner and reads like a thriller, except written with more flourish and style. In fact, Maugham’s dialogues are beautiful. The cat and mouse manoeuvring and jibes that underlie the Mary-Flint conversations are a pure delight to read – and an invaluable lesson for writers.

Villa is a nice introduction to Maugham. I think I should be able to manage Of Human Bondage next.

Aside: Director Philip Haas gave us his version of the novel in a movie of the same name, released in 2000. The star cast – Kristin Scott Thomas, Sean Penn, Anne Bancroft, Jeremy Davies. From what I gather, the movie did neither justice to the novel, nor made money at the box office.


A classic post

Posted in General by grx20 on October 29, 2008

It’s Back To The Classics time.

I’m going to drown in classics – and hopefully learn a thing or two.

Wish me luck … mutt overboard.

Finished two small ones during the last week – The Turn Of The Screw – Henry James and Up At The Villa – Somerset Maugham.

Thoughts on that to follow soon.

5 day postal holiday

Posted in General by grx20 on October 26, 2008

It’s Diwali! And I’m off for five days. Up in the hills, finding quiet time, writing stories. See you in five days.

Have a great holiday season.

Famous rejections

Posted in General, Writing by grx20 on October 22, 2008

A couple of my friends are going through a rather rough patch. At least one of them has aspirations of becoming a writer … well, starting to write, actually. It’s been something he’s always wanted to do, but for whatever reason, has not been. Recently, however, he has been speaking more about it than ever before. I hope he does it and makes it. 

Instead of pumping him with more inspiring quotes I thought I’d post about real life examples. Famous authors and famous books that had a tough time getting published. We all know the Harry Potter series didn’t have it easy. The cult classic Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance was rejected 121 times before finding a publisher – and the editor’s quote is today as famous as the book –  “It forced me to decide what I was in publishing for.”

No no no! It’s not to put the brakes on his endeavours and make it seem like a uphill struggle or a thankless venture. The idea is to encourage him to keep at it. To say, the rough patch will give way to a better road, and a better path. Hope this helps.

(Entire list at: How Stuff Works – and also available at

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Richard Bach has always said that this story, told from the point of view of a young seagull, wasn’t written but channeled. When he sent out the story, Bach received 18 rejection letters. Nobody thought a story about a seagull that flew not for survival but for the joy of flying itself would have an audience. Boy, were they wrong! Macmillan Publishers finally picked up Jonathan Livingston Seagull in 1972, and that year the book sold more than a million copies. A movie followed in 1973, with a sound track by Neil Diamond.

Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
Within a month of submitting the first manuscript to publishing houses, the creative team behind this multimillion dollar series got turned down 33 consecutive times. Publishers claimed that “anthologies don’t sell” and the book was “too positive.” Total number of rejections? 140. Then, in 1993, the president of Health Communications took a chance on the collection of poems, stories, and tidbits of encouragement. Today, the 65-title series has sold more than 80 million copies in 37 languages.

Dubliners by James Joyce
It took 22 rejections before a publisher took a chance on a young James Joyce in 1914. They didn’t take too big of a chance — only 1,250 copies of Dubliners were initially published. Joyce’s popularity didn’t hit right away; out of the 379 copies that sold in the first year, Joyce himself purchased 120 of them. Joyce would go on to be regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Dubliners, a collection of short stories, is among the most popular of Joyce’s titles, which include A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Finnegans Wake, and Ulysses.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
Pirsig’s manuscript attempts to understand the true meaning of life. By the time it was finally published in 1974, the book had been turned down 121 times. The editor who finally published Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance said of Pirsig’s book, “It forced me to decide what I was in publishing for.” Indeed, Zen has given millions of readers an accessible, enjoyable book for seeking insight into their own lives.

Carrie by Stephen King
If it hadn’t been for Stephen King’s wife, Tabitha, the iconic image of a young girl in a prom dress covered in pig’s blood would not exist. King received 30 rejections for his story of a tormented girl with telekinetic powers, and then he threw it in the trash. Tabitha fished it out. King sent his story around again and, eventually, Carrie was published. The novel became a classic in the horror genre and has enjoyed film and TV adaptations as well. Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement from someone who believes in you.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The only book that Margaret Mitchell ever published, Gone With the Wind won her a Pulitzer Prize in 1937. The story of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, set in the South during the Civil War, was rejected by 38 publishers before it was printed. The 1939 movie made of Mitchell’s love story, which starred Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, is the highest grossing Hollywood film of all time (adjusted for inflation).

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Posted in General by grx20 on October 20, 2008

Just a quick, short update.
It’s been a little over 2 months since I started this blog and today, it crossed the magical 1000 views mark!Thank you everyone, for stopping by, leaving comments and coming back.

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Hotter than idlis

Posted in General, indian writing in english by grx20 on October 20, 2008

The White Tiger

As we all know, Aravind Adiga has won this year’s Booker for his debut novel, The White Tiger. Naturally, the book has been flying off the shelves.

Cut to Sunday, Bangalore, India, one of the most well known bookshops. I asked for The White Tiger and was informed that it’s not in stock. ‘Sold out, sir.’

And as if that wasn’t enough – he goes on to add – ‘It’s easier to get Adiga’s idlis, sir.’
(Adigas is a famous fast-food joint, whose idlis are legendary. )
Everyone is claiming Aravind Adiga as their own boy, from Mangalore to Chennai. Will Adigas follow suit and introduce, Fluffy White (Tiger) Idlis?

Mankind’s oldest Plot Generator

Posted in General, Writing by grx20 on October 16, 2008

It doesn’t get older and more reliable than this!
Following is a list of Basic Human Drivers, (in no particular order), from the Science of Influence by
Dr Kevin Hogan.

Basic human drivers

Defence/fight or flight
Order and organisation
Physical activity

As a source of writing prompts, it’s quite useful.

For instance, The Hero could be seeking one of these and has to overcome hurdles (which could also be drawn from this list), before he finally gets what he wants. Er … or does not, depending on how kind-hearted you are.

Let’s give it a shot: 12 year old seeks Acceptance by his friends. But his friends have a sense of superiority coming from their financial position – Status. They give the boy a test to prove he’s worthy of joining their Order/Organisation. It involves a Fight. The boy loses, badly and becomes a laughing stock. Swears Vengeance … etc. etc.

Primitive – but you get the idea.

Another idea is to jumble the list and go in sequence and use each Driver to take the story forward.
If you come with something interesting, let me know … not the plot … just that it worked!

Overheard at another site

Posted in Oddities, Writing by grx20 on October 14, 2008

In “Overheard” I usually post something I have, well, overheard that serves as a writing prompt.

I found a collection of absolutely hilarious stuff here. It’s called People say the darndest things, and is at a blog called Where Pilgrims Disappear and has some interesting reads. This list is great fun, even just to read.

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Putting my typewriter where my mouth is

Posted in General, Writing by grx20 on October 13, 2008

Just to clarify : )

A good friend of mine, and a regular visitor and commentor here asked me if I only write about writing, or if I actually write any original fiction.

Yes! I do write original fiction. It’s just that I don’t post them here. The net is not a safe place for young stories to be roaming around. More than someone flicking it, I have aspirations of seeing these babies in printed form sitting on many bookshelves.

So, apart from pointing out interesting links and sharing thoughts about writing, the mutt writes, too. In fact, I wrote my first story when I was in 8th grade. I don’t remember what the story was, nor do I have a copy of it, unfortunately. But I sent it to a children’s magazine, and in a few weeks got my first rejection letter. I don’t have that either : )

The editor said they published only original fiction, so if I may please send in something I had written myself, that’d be nice. I was thrilled! I was delighted! They thought my original story couldn’t have been written by an eight-grader, and must have been copied. Damn! I could be a writer after all.

Thankfully, I didn’t stop writing. When I got my second-hand portable typewriter, a few years later, I really churned it out. When I read those stories now, and see the number of stories I produced, I am stunned. How did I get so many ideas, and how did I muster the discipline to type with so much dedication. If I had a quarter of that, now!

As years went by, this waned. There would some months and years of great prolificity and some at the other end of the spectrum. There have been spurts when I’ve quickly written about thirty odd pages of a novel and then come to a dead stop. Sometimes, one short story a year is all I could manage.

Recently, it’s come down to a trickle. The last few years, especially have been terrible. Every December, I would look back at the year gone by and feel depressed about the lost opportunity.

But this year has been good. I’ve got the motivation back. I’ve found a sense of direction. And I’ve written a couple of stories, one of which many of my friends and readers believe to be my best effort to date.

So … The Mutt, writes too. Original stuff. Even if it seems, there’s no way I could have thought of it : )


Writing quirks

Posted in Oddities, Writing by grx20 on October 12, 2008

I read somewhere that Tolstoy could write only if he had a rotten apple on his desk!

We all have our writing quirks don’t we?

One of mine – I can’t write when the pen cap is attached to the back of the pen. Ball point or fountain pen, the pen cap must sit alone. It’s not the weight – it just feels wrong.

What’s yours?

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