the mutt

Roamin’ again

Posted in General, Writing by grx20 on November 24, 2008

Just a quick note – I’ve updated the list of websites I’ve been spending good time at – Where the mutt roams.

I found a site that has all of Chekov’s short stories. A little difficult to read on the screen, but, hey, it’s there if you want it.

The Writer’s Handbook Blog is a site with some pretty helpful articles on the life and craft of writing.

The blog – More novel by the week – I’m still going through it, but what I’ve read till now is quite interesting.

My last post mentioned the NaNoMo – the National Novel Writing Month. I won’t give you the link for that, it’s too recent – just scroll down! The Writer’s Handbook has a nice take on that – from the other side of the fence, and makes good reading.

BIC HOK TAM

Posted in Writing by grx20 on November 19, 2008

Been a while, hasn’t it?

BIC HOK TAM sounds like a Thai dish that one would look at suspiciously.
“It doesn’t have peacock ears, right?”
“No, ma’am, it not have the peacock ear.”

If you head over to this interesting site called book in a week, you will find their philosophy is captured in BIC HOK TAM.

BIC – Butt in chair
HOK – Hands on keyboard
TAM – Typing away madly.

snoopy typing

As they say, ‘this is the best way we know of to get any writing done.’ And I agree. I especially like TAM – Typing away madly. It brings to mind visions of a writer at his desk pounding away at his keyboard, a manic look burning through the paper (or screen), hands thrashing around and hair flailing, when the promise of dawn is still far away. I like TAM – it sounds good, inspiring almost. Type away madly – Swing Away (as in The Signs) … type madly, with abandon. Madly … like a brute, getting fingers wedged between the keys. The glazed, scary glint in the eyes is essential.

Get your story down on paper. Edit later. Make mistakes … hell, you will make mistakes. Don’t worry about it. No one’s going to see it. Not everything you write has to be published. Send your internal editor on a holiday under the Tuscan sky. If it sounds awful and terrible to read, that’s fine. You CANNOT get it dot-right on the first go. Books aren’t dropped at your doorstep by the Book Stork. It takes a lot … a lot of work. So focus on getting the entire story on paper, no matter how hard it seems.

It has worked for a lot of people – as their website will testify. And I agree with the fact that unless you get your BIC and HOK and TAM, you really will not get anywhere.

On a related note, I must mention that November is National Novel Writing Month. Or NaNoMo, (NaNoWriMo, in some cases). Of course – that’s in the United States, not here, in India. But it is an interesting concept. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Write hot is the mantra. The idea is to get that difficult first draft done, without editing, without correcting, worrying, or bothering about how good it is. Like the site rightly says, most people don’t even get to writing the first draft. Don’t worry about the plot, character development, flow, and other related demons. That’s for later, when you edit. You might not even write in sequence. Maybe just random scenes each day. Start with the middle, shift to the end, maybe a few parts of the beginning later … whatever. Get 50,000 words done in a month. 50,000 isn’t quite novel length. It is about 30 to 40 thousand words short. But it’s a start. And getting 50,000 words under your belt is not a mean task. Check out the website, for more details.

I would like to invite you to read (or re-read) my post called, The Price Of Your Dreams. What if the price of all your dreams is writing 10 pages a day? Assuming 250 odd words a page, that is 2500 words a day. At the end of week one (a seven day week, Herr Escapist), is a cool 17,500 words. In a month, you should have knocked off a jaw-dropping 70,000 words. That, monsieur, is a novel. And to nicely tie things up, the key to getting this done is BIC HOK TAM.

See the pages stacking up.

Type away madly.

MADLY!

12.5 writing rules

Posted in Writing by grx20 on November 10, 2008

Came across this picture while surfing the net. Don’t agree with all of them, some are nice.

I think you can buy it at art.com

12-writing-rules

Draftus Interruptus

Posted in General, Oddities, Writing by grx20 on November 6, 2008

The first draft is a pain. And I’m not talking about the approaching winter.

A small ramble about a part of writing that’s been very difficult the past month.crump

I wrote two short stories the past week. The first draft for the first one was written in very short bursts. I didn’t have quiet or uninterrupted time. I’m surprised I actually managed to get it down at all. Two lines. Interruption. Five lines. Interruption. One paragraph. Interruption. And so on.

Later, I typed it out on the comp, edited, rewrote as I went along and sent it off to a couple of friends for their thoughts. The story actually turned out quite well and I got good feedback too. When I was writing the first draft, a couple of thoughts kept running at the back of my mind – this isn’t working out fine, too many interruptions, just stop writing. It was terribly hard getting it down. Terribly hard. But the story came out all right.

The second story. The first draft wasn’t difficult. It was plain boring. To be sure, I like the idea of the story a lot and think it makes for a really good story. But as I was writing it, the only thought on my mind was to be done with it as soon as possible. I just didn’t want to look at my notebook anymore. I liked the story, most parts of what I wrote and the end. But I was bored out of my socks, writing it. The rewritten and edited version is working well. I like it.

But I’m trying to figure out, why is the first draft becoming so difficult? It was supposed to be fun. Exciting, even, as the story unfolds. I’ve had times when the story changes tracks completely, because that was the right way to go – the track I had intended was all wrong. Other times the end has just fallen into place when I was still halfway through.

Some first drafts are easy. Some aren’t. And as I’ve found, I can’t judge a story by that.

P.S. (This post was a first draft).

Tagged with: , , ,

Nadeem Aslam – A writer every writer should know.

Posted in Writing by grx20 on November 4, 2008

(Caution: Long Post)

I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a coincidence.

aslamSo when the name Nadeem Aslam cropped up twice in a week, I understood the signals. I googled up his name and came across some book reviews, biographies and an odd interview or two. After reading through all of them, I am left staggering. I’ve never come across a writer like him, and I haven’t read a single word of his work yet.

I have pulled out bits from each of these articles and interviews. These are parts, sentences and quotes that left me with the effect of being struck between the eyes with a wet fish. If you have the time, I strongly recommend you read the entire article.

When surfing channels a few days back, I chanced upon an interview with Aslam. He was incredibly articulate, spoke in a quiet and collected manner and wore an air of intensity that was overpowering. In a word, deep.

Let’s get ‘Who’ out of the way.
Nadeem Aslam was born in Pakistan and later moved to the UK with is family when he was 14. He quit studying biochemistry at Manchester University in his third year to write. His first novel, Season of the Rainbirds was published in 1993. This was followed by Maps for lost lovers in 2004 and his latest offering is the Wasted Vigil. Yes, he’s won a lot of awards, and was shortlisted for the Booker in 2004. The complete list is available at any of the links I’ve provided in this article.

Here we go …

(From: The Telegraph UK)

seasons of rainbirdsThe first page of the first book, which he started at 23, was the first creative writing he had done in English. He had no idea that literary agents even existed, and simply found the address of John Updike’s British publisher from a copy of one of his novels and sent off the manuscript. They got in touch within weeks, and he promptly started Maps for Lost Lovers.

At a time of whopping advances, world tours, glitzy launches, sudden Bookers, instant celebritification, Aslam reminds me of a boy who didn’t land up for the party. Instead, he shut himself in his room and wrote. He writes, slowly in long hand.

(From contemporarywriters.com)

There is a sense of craftsmanship about his writing, and a time-consuming attention to detail that is rare in a recent fiction. As Aslam has put it of his second novel:
I wanted every chapter of Maps for Lost Lovers to be like a Persian miniature. In these miniatures, a small piece of paper – no bigger than a sheet of A4 – holds an immense wealth of beauty, colour and detail. Trees have leaves each perfectly rendered. Flowers are moments old and the tilework of the palaces and mosques is lovingly detailed. That was the aim in Maps…”

Complaining of long working hours?
Aslam’s working style is the most extreme I’ve come across. He writes in complete isolation, shutting himself off from people by drawing black curtains across his windows, for as long as it takes – which is usually years.  

(From: The Independent UK)

mapsA few minutes into our conversation, Nadeem Aslam looks startled and asks, “Is it OK if I switch my mobile off?” He stares at it as if he’s never seen one before. For the last 11 years, Aslam has lived untroubled by must-have gadgetry. “I basically removed myself from the world,” he explains quietly. “My life has been so reduced. I didn’t have a mobile phone until I’d finished my book and could afford one, and until there was any need. Now I am trying to engage with the world – things like e-mail and the internet. I feel like Rip Van Winkle.”

For a while, he was also feeling bereft. Aslam was 26 when he embarked on his second novel, Maps for Lost Lovers (Faber & Faber, £16.99), thinking it might take two years to complete. “The only time I’m ever fully alive is when I’m writing. When I’d finished this book, I felt like a cage from which the songbird is being removed. For a month I just didn’t know what to do.”
But seclusion was essential. “I always think of the silence and the darkness of a root that enables the flower to grow.”

The joys of rewriting and editing … and rewriting and editing… and rewriting and editing
Over the 11 years of writing, the emotional content of the novel did not alter, although Aslam says his technical skills improved. He writes longhand, which may explain why Maps for Lost Lovers has a meditative feel. “Sometimes a sentence would take a whole page of crossing out.” He stringently revised, taking five years or so to get the opening chapter right and following a story about Kaukab for seven months, which he then rejected. Out of those 70 pages, he kept one sentence.

After the first two years, Aslam stopped working on the forward momentum of the novel altogether and spent four years producing 100-page biographies of the main characters. After that, “I fully understood what this family was. Then I was six years into the writing and in deep financial trouble.” He laughs: “But it had to be done.”

(From The Telegraph UK)

The author disappeared so utterly into his own world that he only found out about September 11 on September 20.

Did he not get lonely in his 11-year sequestration? “Yes, but there’s that wonderful line from Czeslaw Milosz. ‘Those greater than you suffered. Why not you?’ It just had to be done.” In effect, it took him six years to get to page one. Was there frustration that it took quite so long to finish? Didn’t he want to just wrap it up a bit more quickly? There follows a pause of about half a minute. Plainly, Aslam is used to such silences.

Finally, he breaks it. “It wouldn’t have been any good if I had let it go.” Then he adds: “People say that they like it and it’s good. My writing is so much a part of what I am that it’s like being praised for having a hand or for having blood. Does that make sense?”

The Vigil of Aslam’s family

(From bookbrowse.com)

wasted-vigil

Aslam’s latest novel, The Wasted Vigil, was written in seven months. During the time in which he was writing, he saw no one. His family brought him food while he was sleeping. In appreciation, he dedicated the novel to his sister and brother-in-law for their support. The title of the novel is derived from a painting by Pakistani artist Abdur Rahman Chugtai (1894-1975) with the same name. Aslam remarks on the connection between his novel and the painting, in which a well-dressed, smiling, hopeful woman sits waiting, saying “the artist and God knows that it ain’t gonna happen. So once you look at the title, it’s quite a chilling picture.”

And finally …
Maps for lost lovers is dedicated to Aslam’s father, “who advised me at the outset, all those years ago, to always write about love”.

I have rarely read about an author and then decided to pick up his book. Even in the case of some of my favourite authors – Orhan Pamuk (after he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2006), I read My name is Red, first and then discovered the man behind the book. Same with Rohinton Mistry.

But never has a writer’s working style, passion and obsession with the craft filled me with so much awe. I have to discover the book behind this man.

The Turn Of The Screw – Henry James

Posted in Book Reviews, Writing by grx20 on November 3, 2008

(As with all my reviews, no spoilers or revelations other than the ones already mentioned in the blurb. Promise!)

Digging into classics is a daunting task. I’ve approached it by starting with slim books that are over a hundred pages, but less than two hundred. Of course, as most of you are already commenting, slim books are not necessarily easy or light. Heart of Darkness. I rest my case.

The Turn of The Screw is easily the most famous work of Henry James and also one of the most debated. The jury is still out on what exactly happens in the story, and what it means.

Subtle horror. Not so subtle side effects.
It might come as a surprise to many, (as it did to me), that it’s a horror story. Not in the vein of Scream, but in a more psychological level. But the sense of eeriness that James creates makes you grip the book real tight. Almost every page presages an invisible and impending menace. The feeling is somewhat like huddling inside a fragile hut, waiting for an imminent tornado. You hear it outside; the sounds of destruction draw near and you wonder, when, when. It’s a deadly form of horror, one that preys on your mind. There are no sudden incidents to scare the reader. A growing sense of discomfort brilliantly wrought by flashes of brilliant writing, sufficiently prepares the reader. Yet, that doesn’t lessen the effect. In fact it only makes the novel more of a page-turner.

The setting
The Turn Of The Screw is a story of a governess and the boy and the girl she is in charge of. As she begins her duties, so do the visions – ghosts of the former governess and another man. Soon she is fighting to save the two children from terrible evil and has to muster all her emotional strength and guile to defeat the wickedness around them.
The governess’s only support in this fight is the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. What I found remarkable about this story is its dramatis personae – 2 women, a boy and a girl. For a horror story (or ghost story), I was pleasantly surprised to note the absence of any male bravado.

Tough read. Tougher writing. The writing style of Henry James
Here, we come to the finest and also the most difficult part of the book. Henry James’s writing is ponderous. As Oscar Wilde observed, “Henry James writes fiction as if it were a painful duty.” In another quote (I don’t have it verbatim), Wilde labels James’s writing style as infinitely long sentences that say nothing. Truth be told, I agree. James’s writing is perfect for those nights when you can’t sleep – which makes this story all the more dangerous!
Perhaps one must persevere and read slowly, savouring his laborious constructions like a glass of the fine wine. The problem is, one is so eager to find out what happened next, one skims passages and worse, skips them altogether. Both of which I am guilty of.

The final word
The last chapter is one of the most gripping finales I’ve ever read. For all those who thought the twist at the end – even with the last word – was the preserve and domain only of short stories, this novella proves otherwise. So don’t even turn to the last page, by mistake. Or the last word. The sheer breathlessness of coming upon it in natural course is an experience not to miss.