Kafez

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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Back in a Fortnight

Dear Readers,

I am going away for an interlude to finish writing my stage play. I will need about 2 weeks to do this. Presently, it is taking up all of my time which may be seen as a dreaded but exhilarating affair! :)
I think it would be glorious to return to say that the play is ready, printed, bound and sent off to theatre groups. At last! At last!

So March 12th it is then.

Monday, 25 February 2008

My new flat has finally been painted and I've been able to move back in. It's just a 5-minute car ride to the city.
Dublin is a wonderful place to be and its people, beautiful. As it turns out, I prefer a minimalist effect and my flat is more a working studio than anything else at the moment.

I am collecting the disjointed scenes of my play and trying to piece it all together. It should be finished within the next fortnight. It is hard work contacting theatre producers and such and takes up all the hours. I don't know if my play will make it but I've got to try.

Sometimes, I forget the clock. Forget everything. I may have been sitting on the chair for hours, the central heating still turned off, the lights not switched on. Even my favourite telly shows and treasured books are dismissed. Just me, my laptop and my music in the dark.

Then a friend or a neighbour comes through the door and like a mannequin, I slowly return to life. In the time of writing, I may have been in a trance. Or rather, it feels like it. If you think of a oneness of spirit or a solitary time of peace, this is it.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

An Interview with Margie Palatini, a prolific & exciting children's book author with HarperCollins

(The above illustration and its accompanying script is reproduced on Palette with the kind permission of its owner, Margie Palatini.)

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin

There may be snowstorms at the moment in Margie Palatini's neighbourhood and family home in New Jersey where she lives with her husband who works in advertising and their son Jamie.

And this no thanks to the inappropriate weather in New York at the moment but still, it's a merry shower of glitter shrouding Palatini's glitzy publishing career with HarperCollins.

Her rich collection of picture books full of fun and puns, continue to roll on like a rainbow in the sky.


And if her writings that may already have filled a child's tiny bookshelf isn't prolific with a capital P, the happy titles stretch on.

This September sees the release of Palatini's prized 192-page children's story, The Zoey Zone, published by HarperCollins Canada in hardback. Described as unique, funny, curious and smart, the book is aimed for a kiddy audience of between anywhere from 8 to 12.

"It's titled Geek Chic - The Zoey Zone and I'm hoping this book projects a positive message to girls that -- smart is cool -- brains are beautiful," says Palatini. "Zoey, my main character is strong and funny. A wonderful, individual thinker."

(For interested readers, Amazon.ca is already taking orders.)

If fall is too far away yet, Margie Palatini also has several new picture books on-the-ready and soon to be released.

This include Gorgonzola - a stinkysaurus and a sequel to the already popular Moo Who, called Boo Hoo Moo, and another 'bad boys' title also from a series called Bad Boys Get Henpecked.

Below, is a slideshow featuring just some of Palatini's work. The complete list of titles are displayed on her website over here.

OF FUN AND PUNS - Some Thoughts from Margie Palatini exclusive to Palette

(Pictured is Margie Palatini).

The first impression that would likely strike a viewer on children's book author, Margie Palatini's website, is how vibrant its design comes across in that jolly way.

No standing on hushed tippy-toes here.

Rather, the audio sounds of toots, laughter and applause; her relationship with her son Jamie that suggest an evident, sparkly sense of humour and especially too, her display of pictures books that thrill the senses, take precedence. No matter one's age, the inner child is at once skipping or racing up a joyous dance.


In real life, do the rich tones of colour depict a similiar zest for life?

"I think and hope it reflects the fun of the books and characters more than it does me personally," muses Palatini. "But I do hope it conveys my humour."

Palatini's philosophy as a children's book author is after all, a decidedly simple one. "Whimsy, fun and nonsense," she sums up.

Well, but her personality then. Surely exuberance comes close.

But Palatini turns the very thought into light-hearted banter. "That is a difficult question. Where's the couch?"

She points to a multi-faceted personality; that she may just be several things all at once and a true subject of contradictions.

"Optimistic, pessimistic, curious, neurotic, artistic, dramatic, difficult, easy.... I don't know
really. I think my husband or son would nail it much better. No, don't ask."

Perhaps the definition of favourite colours may be easier, considering the sunshiny golds that are so easily given the liberty of going over the top, when it comes to children's picture books.

"I love the combination of red, yellow and green, offers Palatini helpfully. "All the main living rooms in my home are based around those colours. They are bright and warm and very welcoming."

Then she does it again. With the contradictions, that is.

"Personally, however, when I dress, I'm a black- and-white girl. I don't have to think!"

In her website (link above slide), Palatini describes herself as having "doodled, dabbled, da-daed at the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, Pennyslvania. She actually planned to work at illustrating children's books and writing one instead turned out to a surprising self-discovery.

Her initial writing success however, she adds, is a slightly "long and convoluted story."

"My dream growing up was to 'draw the pictures," she explains.

"After graduating from Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, I worked as an art director in various advertising agencies and companies.

"When I saw an article in the newspaper about a course in children's book writing being offered at Rutgers University, I thought it might be an opportunity to meet a writer - and that perhaps I could illustrate a manuscript. I had known 'that ain't how it's done' -- I probably would never have gotten involved in that workshop - but I didn't know 'tha ain't how it's done.

"So I signed up - and once there, and part of the group, was encouraged to write. Scary.Scary. Scary.

Palatini persevered.

"But I discovered that I not only liked it, but could do it! I think...

"I really had no expectations of actually publishing. However, my group was very enthusiastic about a manuscript called Piggie Pie. The thing was, publishers were not.

"Rejections said the story was not funny, kids wouldn't find it at all funny, and that I should probably not write picture books.

"So I didn't.

"I did write several children's novels, which were surprisingly - quickly accepted and published.

"It wasn't until several years later, married, and with a three year old, that I found the manuscript, read it to Jamie, (who thought it
pretty darn funny), and decided to send it out again.

"I knew Howard Fine, who worked in an advertising agency with my husband. I loved Howard's drawing style, and felt he would be the ideal person to articulate the character of Gritch the Witch. I asked him if he
would like to collaborate with me on the book (again, neither of us having any idea 'that ain't how it's done').

"He said yes. We put together a dummy, sent it to an agent, who loved it - and wanted to represent us. However, there was a snag. (There's always a 'snag', you know.)

Again, Palatini persevered.

"Because neither Howard nor I had ever published a picture book, the editor who
was mulling over the project, had some reservations. (Publishers don't usually like to pair two unknowns.)

"In the meantime (told you this was long and convoluted), Howard had decided to leave freelance illustration and go to dental school. Yes, Dental school.

"If the editor who was 'mulling' didn't decide soon, Howard was afraid he wouldn't have time to illustrate the book, because he had attend
college. Howard had a friend who had done some work at Clarion, and Howard thought he might be able to get an appointment with the art director.

"We thought, that if perhaps she saw the dummy, we might get some feedback. Howard got the appointment, the art director saw the dummy -- she loved it -- and she showed it to editorial - who loved it too -- and that's how Piggie Pie was published.

Yet today, may still feel like yesterday when you think that after the experienced author puts together a manuscript for her agent and publisher, she still indulges in a carousel for an anxious imagination.

"Lots of praying. Lots of angst. Lots of agida. Do they like it? Don't they like it? Why don't they like it? They do like it? How much do they like it?"

Of course, her enduring admiration for the work of illustrators may just be at an all-time high.

"I have several very good friends who write and/or illustrate. Their talent is always inspiring; Diana Goode - is incredible; Elise Primavera is completely marvellous; Joyce McDonald is just sooo good...

"I also admire Brian Selznick's work. Betsy Lewin. Jerry Spinelli. Really, too many to mention."

Today, if asked how Palatini's life as an author has been remarkably enhanced because of her exciting career, she is most likely to shrug her shoulders and look askance.

"I have absolutely no idea," she mulls. "All I know is that somehow all that mish-mosh in my brain which makes me who I am, allows me to write silly nonsensical stuff."

She professes to a similiar helplessness that defines the logistics of character invention.

"I have no idea where my storylines crop up from. It's one of those wonderful mysteries of imagination."

Besides, Alice in Wonderland and Little Women that served as childhood favourites, Palatini still has a particular penchant for The Little Engine That Could. "I think all of my stories have a little bit of 'the engine' in them."

She has no particular favourites, her characters being cherished like adorable children.

Palatini's writing projects run to a schedule that often threatens to prove all-consuming. Time means indulging 'the force within her.'

"If I'm involved in a project whether it be a novel or a picture book, it's pretty much all-consuming until a completion. There is no clock. If not writing, you know, cooking, cleaning, making beds...sigh!"

When it comes to a working day, Palatini also confesses to being a 'spreader.'

"I'm all over the house," she enthuses. "My office upstairs, the game room...all windows with a wonderful view of the backyard, the couch in the library, the kitchen table, the dining-room table...

"I am everywhere to the dismay of my very neat, very organized husband. My desk is a pile of whatever."

In fact, the only diligent ritual Palatini would admit to before starting her writing day, would be if she was still "wearing her robe."

Today, writing a story for the experienced and popular author, is still no easy feat.

"It's constant rewriting, doodling, tweaking, re-drawing and scribbling. I end up with more drafts, discarded paper, note pads.

"I need a secretary or a very good cleaning lady. A 'keeper'. "

Finding it a great way to receive feedback, Palatini also relishes in school and club visits, reading sessions and other children get-togethers where she discusses her picture books, with a slant towards educational and perhaps too, moral and ethical purposes.

Those who confirm a visit by appointment, receive an Author's Day information packed filled with posters, bookmarks, fun activities and study guides.

"I love school visits and sharing my stories and characters," says Palatini. "The only drawback being the travel bit.

"That's the exhausting part. And the worry of actually getting to where I'm supposed to get... I am the person who gets on the wrong plane.

"Yikes! Told you I need a keeper."

Besides, Geek Chic - The Zoey Zone, due out this fall, Palatini's current writing projects include Gorgonzola 'a stinkysaurus' which will be released this spring, Bad Boys Get Henpecked, Goldie (you-know-who) & The Three Hares, Gone with the Wand, Boo-Hoo Moo and Lousy Rotten Stinkin' Grapes.

Palatini also feels that the children's market has always been competitive but in a steady way. "However, I believe there is always room for a unique voice and talent."

Today, her biggest fan is probably her son, Jamie. His cheeky humour is also evident on his mother's website along with hers as both pose cheerfully on the beach, for what seems to constitute a bad hair day.

"Jamie has been the absolute joy of my life," says Palatini. "It's always been fun for me to 'chronicle' Jamie through the various stories. Certainly, the most obvious being Bedhead! (The boy was born w/a bedhead - and has been follicly challenged since.)

"As a writer, I hope I have brought creative thinking into his life."

For the last 15 years,the family have always vacationed in Bermuda and that's where they'll be heading this year as well.

"We love it there and even if we took another vacation, we still go back to Bermuda - even for a couple of days. Just wouldn't feel like summer for us without going back."

When writing-exhaustion calls, and Palatini needs some time out, there's nothing like films from the Thirties, Forties and Fifities which she adores, to soothe the spirit.

Admitting to a love for biographies and history, Palatini is presently reading The Age of Betrayal.

And yes, the lively author and her son still own their fair share of bad hair days.


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Manil Suri's Blog

Dr. Manil Suri, an American-Indian mathmatician/professor in Maryland, USA and also the famed novelist for The Death of Vishnu, has just opened a blog.
He writes about his excitement, cradling his brand-new second novel, in his hands.
Once highly-praised by Time magazine, the writer is currently on a book tour in the United States to promote The Age of Shiva published by Bloomsbury last month.
See here for a listing of author events:
Do read an earlier review by Salon Books on The Death of Vishnu, here.

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Thursday, 21 February 2008

An Interview with Indu Sundaresan - a prominent author of elegant historical fiction

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin

Indu Sundaresan's website
Indu Sundaresan's biography
See here for more details on The Twentieth Wife
See here for more details on The Feast of Roses
See here for more details on The Splendor of Silence


Caption: (r) Indu Sundaresan. Photograph is author's own.

Classy and captivating! That's the cosiest way to sum up Indu Sundaresan's three popular historical novels at a close-up glance.

The engaging Sundaresan who today resides in Washington USA, and who was born and raised in India and brought up in several air force bases all over the country, would try her hand at stories after graduating from such an unlikely subject as Economics from the the University of Delaware when she arrived on American shores for further studies.

She had had her early influences in fiction from childhood when her grandfather and also her father a fighter pilot would persist in reciting thrilling folktales and with that familiar mysterious air which as a little girl she had come to expect; clearing the way for Sundaresan to supply an adequate but unforgettable end to an almost-finished story.

Such a delightful apprenticeship for the informal training of a skilled raconteur would stand Sundaresan in good stead in later years when the the writing craft finally beckoned. In the meantime, the filler years would be filled with wholesome girlish reads with Sundaresan's sisters as firm bookish companions.

Today, the historical novelist who has also worked with local contemporary theatre group, Encore Playhouse, has published 3 successful novels wound around the tapestry of India's flamboyant ancient courts. Consider for instance, the tragic romance surrounding the Taj Mahal.

Sundaresan also garnered the Washington State Book Award for her debut novel, The Twentieth Wife before she went on to write its sequel, The Feast of Roses. There is a fourth novel in the offing and an anthology of short stories to be published in the fall, called In the Convent of Little Flowers.

Indu Sundaresan's personal answers to my interview are beautifully self-contained and I am running them in their entirety.

Here is the interview exclusive to Palette:

When Nobel Prize Laureate, the novelist Doris Lessing remarked recently that literary festivals actually damaged the climate for new writers and did nothing to help their writing, since writers had their 'silent space' removed from them, could you please comment on how far you felt this was true? And if literary festivals may have benefited you as a writer in any way?

Sundaresan: I suspect that some noise filters into the writing space, but I wouldn't know differently, since promotion and publicity for published books which require authors to be present at literary festivals and readings and book tours have been de rigeur since my first novel, THE TWENTIETH WIFE, was published in 2002. I also make myself available for interaction with readers in some ways--I have a Web site and an email address on that site, and most, if not all of the feedback I receive from readers has been positive and encouraging. I don't think I would want this any other way.

Writing is a lonely, solitary occupation, and when I hear from readers it gives me a sense of who forms part of my audience, where they come from, what their lives are like, because readers most times tell me little stories about themselves, or what my work means to them, which I enjoy immensely. A case in point--a reader of the Hebrew translation of THE TWENTIETH WIFE wrote recently to say that he and his wife had enjoyed the novel and wanted to name their newborn daughter Ladli which means beloved, or one who is loved. Ladli is Mehrunnisa/Nur Jahan's daughter's name in the novel (and in actuality). He also later sent me a picture of his baby girl.

*********

In an interview question, you have mentioned that while in school, you did not pay too much attention to history lessons. When came the turning point for you personally with the subject of history ie. when it would become such an important part of your art? Do you still remember that moment when you embraced history and made it yours?

Sundaresan: I did not pay much attention to my history lessons in school, because, frankly, the textbooks were poorly written, and the teaching was unexciting. But I've always been interested in stories, and my father and grandfather were stellar storytellers. They dipped into history and Hindu mythology, or even just their memories, to tell my sisters and me stories. My father was a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force, and so we travelled a lot in the country, and at each Air Force Base at which my father was stationed, we would head out to the local monuments and palaces for picnics and outings, and he would always have something to narrate to us about the history of the places, or he would make up stories about their past inhabitants.

So the interest was always there, percolating somewhere in the back of my mind. My first two novels (THE TWENTIETH WIFE is my third novel, actually) were also historical fiction, set in India in the 1500s--these will never see light; they are quite awful, but they taught me how to construct a novel. I'm not sure why I'm fascinated by Indian history, unless it is because it gives me a chance to create a whole new world around the characters and give the characters a voice after so many years.

***********
As a prominent novelist of historical fiction, which authors have motivated or continue to motivate you?

Sundaresan: I had a very middle-class Indian upbringing, and I think most people will recognize my favorite authors as theirs also--Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell, the Bronte sisters. And of course, Christie and Wodehouse, staples in my library.

***********
What are your future aspirations for the writing of historical fiction? For example, with a meticulous detailed research that often gives historical writing its set structure, have you explored any other creative ways where you would continue to break boundaries for coming books? Would you experiment with new forms, for your writing in ways not tried before?

Sundaresan: THE TWENTIETH WIFE and THE FEAST OF ROSES were in some ways a straight chronology of events in the life of Empress Nur Jahan, with a fair bit of flashbacks and delving into other major characters' viewpoints. I did experiment with the actual writing in my third novel, THE SPLENDOR OF SILENCE, which is the story of an American soldier, Sam Hawthorne, who goes to the princely state of Rudrakot in May of 1942, to search for his missing brother Mike, and while there, he falls in love with Mila, the daughter of the local political agent.

The novel has three distinct parts--a prologue and an epilogue in 1962 when Mila and Sam's daughter, Olivia, begins to read a letter from an unknown narrator who promises to tell her the story of her parents' love for each other, and to fill the silences of her childhood and tells her that those silences were splendid indeed (hence the title). The second part, the main narrative of the novel, takes place during four days in May of 1942, and the third part is interspersed in this narrative, and takes place in April of 1942, just a month before, in Burma. The "Burma scenes" as I tend to call them, deal with Sam parachuting behind Japanese lines to escort out of Burma, and back to India, an American missionary who refused to leave when the Japanese first invaded Burma.

These latter two storylines, though a month apart from each other, are narrated parallel to each other, and I had to work hard to make the two storylines mesh by the end of the novel, and still make the epilogue relevant, when Olivia finishes the letter and puts it away and ponders on what she has just read.

************

What are you presently reading?

Sundaresan: Something a little macabre, a non-fiction book on Victorian murderesses.

***********
In an interview, you have mentioned that while being imbued in a work of fiction for a long while, sometimes years, it often takes you time to settle back into reality once a book is finished. How long does it take you to wind down and what is your process for this?

Sundaresan: While I was working on my first two novels, I used to be surprised by little, inconsequential things every now and then, like a phone ringing (wrong time period for my novel) or a car passing by. Now the process is somewhat ongoing. I write and revise, I send the novel in to my editor, she sends it back with editorial revisions, I wait for the copyedits, and with each process of revision, at every stage, I pull myself out of the novel a little by little.

It's also easier when I already know what I'm going to be writing next. Sometimes, it's a short story, and my short stories are contemporary, sometimes it's a novel, and these have been historical. So I start reading, researching, or writing, depending on what I'm working on.

***********
Could you please describe a day in your writing life?

Sundaresan: I have very little discipline in my writing life. I know author friends who will write every day, no matter what happens around them, and I've tried this method for many years now, all of my writing life, with little success. I read for my writing, I research, and when I'm ready, I write to the exclusion of all else--this is the method that works for me.

**********

Would you feel comfortable with the idea of exploring the writing for different genres of fiction or even with the writing of poetry or children's books? if so, which would you like to try your hand at and why?

Sundaresan: The answer to that is yes. But when, and what genre, I don't know yet. I'll have to try my hand at it first, see if I'm comfortable, and see if I make sense, to myself and then perhaps to an audience somewhere.

**********
What is your current writing project? Could you please tell us a little more about that?

Sundaresan: I'm currently working on my fourth novel which takes me back to Mughal India, and picks up the storyline a few years after the end of THE FEAST OF ROSES.

*********

Of all the fictitious characters, you may have created, do you have any favourites and if so, why?

Sundaresan: This is difficult, I like all of them, even (or perhaps especially) the flawed ones. But I worked very hard on Raman, Mila's father in THE SPLENDOR OF SILENCE, and I like him very much. I like his sense, his sense of calm, his wisdom, and even his prejudices in some ways. He's a thoughtful man, and thinks about his life, and the lives of his children, and realizes that youth and a lack of experience account for most of the mistakes they make.

*********
While writing your books, which character lived in you for the longest time and how was this evident in your daily life?

Sundaresan: Mehrunnisa would have to be that character. I worked on THE TWENTIETH WIFE and THE FEAST OF ROSES for a good many years (six or seven) and a lot of the working on the novels took the shape of marketing the novels, sending out query letters to literary agents, waiting for feedback (or an offer of representation) and then revising the novels until they were close to the form they are now, in publication.

I remember that members of my critique groups used to call me Mehrunnisa, which was funny, since my name is actually shorter and more easily pronouncable. (I'm not very much like her, by the way--the novels are not autobiographical, merely biographical.)

***********
What would you do for pastimes in your time out away from writing?

Sundaresan: I work in my garden. I knit. I love to cook.

**********
When did you start to take writing seriously? Please tell us the 'whys' and 'hows'.

Sundaresan: December of 1993. I decided to write a novel sometime before then; we bought a computer, I wrote a novel. And then I wrote another one, and then I wrote THE TWENTIETH WIFE and THE FEAST OF ROSES. I took my first creative writing class after I had completed THE FEAST OF ROSES, and learned, in that class, and others that followed, how to revise my work, how to edit.

**********
When do you feel pure exhilaration as an author and also do you have main concerns as a writer? If so, what are these?

Sundaresan: My most difficult writing period comes before I actually begin writing a novel. I know what it's going to be, I've probably plotted it out on my head and some on paper, but to begin, to continue until I hit the point where the writing becomes smooth and flows seemingly without thought--that period is an agony. Each time I write a novel.

The exhilaration comes at the point when the writing is seamless, almost easy. Finishing a work is great also, but it's nothing compared to the actual writing.

**********
Do you have any readings or tours planned ahead? Or for the promotion of Splendour of Silence? Where can your fans expect to see you next?

Sundaresan: I will have a collection of short stories published this fall titled IN THE CONVENT OF LITTLE FLOWERS. There are nine stories in this collection, all set in contemporary India, and I've been writing these over the past few years.

My fourth novel, the one I'm working on now, will be published, if all goes on schedule, late next year.

**********
When you do write history, do you feel so completely engulfed by it, that you may have wished you were yourself living life back in those ancient courts? Have you experienced any kind of surreal feeling about this instance? In other words, have the writing of your own stories consumed you to such an extent?

Sundaresan: I like to imbue a visual sense to the stories I write, so yes, I'm immersed in them, the time periods, the customs or manners of speaking and engaging others, and even the language of the actual work. The language itself, whether formal and traditional, or more modern and succinct, gives voice to the story, and I think you'll find this to be true of the novels and the short stories. There is a difference in tone between the first two novels, set in 17th Century Mughal India, and the third, set in India in 1942, and the short stories of IN THE CONVENT OF LITTLE FLOWERS, which are much more spare in their telling, more dark, much more stark.


************

When you write Indian history, have you felt America was simply too far away sometimes?

Sundaresan: The distance has actually turned out to be an advantage, in some senses. It gives me a perspective of looking in from the outside, of writing from memory of sounds and smells, also true, of course, since I'm writing of a historical time and place in the 21st Century.

***********
How did winning the Washington State Book Award for The Feast of Roses motivate you?

Sundaresan: I won the Washington State Book Award for my first novel, THE TWENTIETH WIFE, and felt it to be an immense honor that my debut novel would be so recognized. It's still a thrill and I'm grateful for the recognition.

***********
Your storytelling skills are attributed to that of your father where in staying at air force bases, he often told you many folk tales and would leave you with which to gauge the ending and test his audience reaction? Do you still recall the ways in which such an episode inspired you? Do you still remember a childhood tale from one of these occasions which practically delighted and moved you?

***********
Sundaresan: I heard many stories from my father, mostly at bedtimes, or sometimes on a lazy Sunday afternoon. My favorite ones were the ones he made up in his head, of two animals, Jumbo the elephant and Silver the horse. These were ongoing sagas of how the animals were born in the wild, how they lived in the forests, how one of them was captured and put to work in a circus or a farm...splendid, roaring tales to gladden a child's heart.

***********
Would you have any particular words or thoughts for ambitious new novelists to keep themselves grounded or confident in today's extremely competitive publishing climate?

Sundaresan: In one word, persist. I shopped THE TWENTIETH WIFE around for five years before I approached my agent, Sandra Dijkstra, and she agreed to represent me. She sent the novel out and we had an offer in less than a week.

***********
Could you describe your writing room and writing desk?

Sundaresan: My "office" has a nice desk and walls papered with maps of Mughal India and Southeast Asia. In the corridor leading to the bedrooms (because there's no more space on my office walls) are two cork boards on which are tacked dates, names and places from my research for my fourth novel. I write now (and am writing now) on a laptop in the living room, on a sofa, with my feet up on an ottoman, and a fire in the fireplace.


Picture of fireplace courtesy of AnimationLibrary

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A one-off Best of the Booker award announced!

There's a lot going on in the Man Booker Prize newsletter (21-02-08) and if I announce too many of the happenings, it would mean rehashing quotes and bits of news that many others who subscribe to the newletter would already have read about.

But one detail stands out.

To celebrate the prize's 40th anniversary, the Best of the Booker award will be handed out this year in addition to the annual award, presented every October. It is an award that heralds the championing of previous wins since the Booker was first launched on 22nd April, 1969.

A similiar celebratory award, The Booker of Bookers, was first handed to Salman Rushdie for Midnight Children in 1981.

This time, the public will decide which novel deserves to win in the one-off award, to be voted on the Man Booker Prize website, starting in May. The public will choose from a shortlist of six novels which would have been selected beforehand, by a panel of judges chaired by the biographer, Victoria Glendenning. The winner will be announced in July at the London Literature Festival at the Southbank Centre.

The Man Booker Prize is Britain's most coveted literary prize and its eligibility is opened to (not self-published) novels written in English and published in the current year, by any living author from the UK, Republic of Ireland, Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth countries. It is also open to online novel editions from the same regions, placed on the web by an established imprint.

Read all about it and more over HERE.

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Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Afternoon


(And as she sat reading an old Walter Scott, listening to Bjork, outside it poured, her curtains a blanket, while the world rained a million fountains...) - suzan abrams

Tuesday, 19 February 2008


Diary of a Broken Heart

by Suzan Abrams

I, the penguin, a clown, a joker, a skeleton and a blue whale dressed in moondust, all at once.


I am indebted to the fallacy of disbelief,
where suspicion crowns my giddy head
with an Eden thorn and so,
I must take my leave at noon,
for a swoon so soon
my dignity misplaced
while scraping the scales of my mermaid skin
and riding the crest of an ocean wave
that slid down from somewhere in the spying moon.


I am an illusion after the fact,
always you were seeing, now finally unseeing,
and by the time,
my shadow spirits away into the dusty dusk
I would have committed the perfect crime
of having outstayed the prime of my time.


And then your eyes popped out unexpectedly
from your beautiful face
and lay at my feet, gazing up at me,
they looked like wires mangled
in a sphere of darkness,
from where I stood, a lantern to your
sorrowed blindness,
a charcoal maze of broken kisses.


I hide and sigh sadly, in the state of your plastered mind.
Will you see me?
I must ask again in a 100 years.
Remind me...
where we sit holding hands, eating
supper in eternity.
And neither saying a word.

*******

Picture courtesy of Bestanimations.com

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Shobhan Bantwal: An interview with the author of The Dowry Bride (Kensington Publishing Corporation, USA)

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin.

Novelist *Shobhan Bantwal's website

Here is the book trailer for The Dowry Bride.

She shares the same literary agency in New York with fellow writer, Khaled Hosseni, author of the worldwide bestseller, The Kite Runner.

But the joy of writing profusely on a subject which grated on her nerves and tore at her heartstrings and this with an obsession, came late to the exuberant mother of one.

Shobhan Bantwal was more at home with the American way of life, dinner party evenings and indulging in the passionate hobby of Indian vegetarian cuisine. If evidence is needed, a generous number of carefully-invented recipes with its delicious temptation of spice, can be found on her website.

But turning 50 would instead tempt the spiritual palate with a refreshing portion of colour and flavour to a life already lived to a hilt. The lively and restless Bantwal in pursuit for the challenge of new accomplishments would fiddle with the keyboard and click away at a novel - in addition to a full folder of short stories, articles and monologues already going on- and this on an agonizing subject called The Dowry Bride. Gone forever were the old passions of cross-stitch and embroidery lovingly sewn up for family and friends. Gone too, the easel and palette for this former painter. There simply "wasn't enough time."

Yet, Bantwal stays one of the luckier writers in having secured a reputable agent in the quickest time and having her manuscript sold to an American publisher after just two months. Shobhan Bantwal's life would never be viewed in the same way again as is evident from the interview below:

Shobhan Bantwal on Reading:

"I have always loved reading. Absolutely! My mother was an avid reader and instilled this love in my sisters and me at a very early age. I grew up in a small rural town called Belgaum in Karnataka State, India and reading was our only entertainment. Even childrens' radio shows had its limitations. My mother is gone now but she'd be blown away at realising one of her daughters became published!

"Some of my favourite novelists are Harper Lee, Jane Austen, and more recently Judith McNaught and Khaled Hosseini. In fact, I loved Hosseini’s The Kite Runner so much that I ran a query by his literary agent and was thrilled when I got signed on by the agency. I’m now represented by a member of staff who works for Hosseini's agent.

"However, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird and its gentle handling of racism in the U.S. was an eye-opener for me. I haven't yet come across a similiar book. The plot made me aware of a delicate issue that hounds every culture on earth, whether it has to do with colour, nationality, language, race or religion.

"At the moment, I'm reading a romantic mystery called Superstition by Karen Robards. She's a delightful writer and I read her frequently."

"One thing that hasn't changed is that before I wrote my first book and even while I did, I have always made time for reading. I read in bed every night and during writing breaks. I find other authors highly inspiring for my own craft.

"I also have a favourite place; a worn-out couch next to the window in the family-room. In the winter, I read there all the time with a blanket wrapped around me and in the summer, there is the air-conditioner. Often, I feel so soothed, I fall into a cat-nap."

Shobhan Bantwal on becoming a Writer/Novelist late in life:

"My life took a completely different direction once I started to write. At first, it proved a hobby when my husband was away during a five-year consulting project. I only saw him at the weekends. Slowly but surely, this hobby surged on to become an unexpected and exciting second career. Suddenly, I had publishing ambitions.

"Writing has added a new dimension to my life, complete with its pros and cons. For example, I fret over deadlines, bad reviews and the dreadful thought that my creativity may be drying up and that I'll run out of story ideas. On the other hand, I get positive reader feedback that's heartwarming and that's earned me fans, friends and well-wishers. Writing keeps my mind alert always. It has made me more aware of people, places and events.

"Only rarely have I questioned the wisdom of becoming a writer. That happens especially when I read a particularly nasty comment about the book on someone's blog or an acerbic review, but a day later, everything is back on an even keel and I feel taking up writing has been one of the best decisions of my life."

Shobhan Bantwal on writing The Dowry Bride:

"The Dowry Bride first started out as a short story and class-project for the only creative writing course I signed up for at a community college in 2002. I abandoned it soon after. But in 2003 and 2004, I re-visited my manuscript several times and kept adding on new storylines. Still, I was dissatisfied. But when I joined a critique group in 2004 and found 2 critique partners to comment on it, The Dowry Bride finally turned into a manuscript that appeared worthy of an agent's perusal. Once the writing bug hit me, I was obsessed. Every rejection letter was one more reason for depression. But now after the release of the first book, I've learnt to balance m writing with everything else. It occupies a major part of my life but it doesn't rule it.

"Still, I've made many new friends since I took up writing. I've joined writers' groups, attended conferences, appeared on panels and participated in workshops.

"I'm a member of the New Jersey Romance Writers and I also belong to two local informal writers' groups. Then there are my two critique partners which I mentioned earlier and with whom I meet once a month to exchange chapters and receive feedback. They stay a valuable asset together with my married daughter who happens to enjoy the kinds of books I like to read and write. All three offer constructive criticism without damaging my ego."

Shobhan Bantwal on publishing The Dowry Bride:

"At first, I sent on another fiction manuscript to literary agents. It held a chick-lit plot and I was offered representation by three agents. I chose the current one. Unfortunately, there was no success with that manuscript even after months of trying. When I submitted The Dowry Bride, my agent liked it very much and started marketing it right away. Within 8 weeks, it was sold to Kensington for a 2-book deal.

"To be honest, I’ve found the process to be quite stressful, but not always in a negative way. Sometimes there is the good kind of stress filled with hope and euphoria. The day I got “The Call” from my agent with the good news, I didn’t sleep all night. I was running on adrenaline for days. I’ve made many new friends since I took up writing, especially since I’ve joined writers’ groups, attended conferences, appeared on panels and participated in workshops."

Shobhan Bantwal on her thoughts about the book she published so suddenly and successfully:

"I would like people to remember the unique flow of The Dowry Bride. Most South Asian writers write serious literary novels while I decided to take a gamble with a Bollywood-type melodrama. There would be romance, intrigue and a bit of everything else thrown into the plot.
At the time, I wasn't sure if a publisher or readership existed. I'd like people to remember it for its difference in environment and plot."

Shobhan Bantwal on her reviews:

"Although The Dowry Bride was termed primarily as women's fiction with strong romantic and cultural elements, I've also received positive feedback from men; even the kinds who don't read anything but thrillers and non-fiction.

"I get heartwarming feedback through my web mail. My readers are mainly American women. One young lady said she fell so in love with the hero that she started fantasising on meeting someone like him. Another young Indian man added that he was so touched by the story, he couldn't sleep for days. His review is posted on Amazon.com. Many readers also suggested I write a sequel as they found the characters engaging enough to want to know what would happen later on in those fictitious lives.

"On the other hand, I've had a few really nasty reviews. Still, they're a good way to keep my feet on the ground, a forced attempt to get me to improve on my writing.

"My only flaw was that I paid a ridiculous amount of attention to them. Now, I've learnt to be more objective and less stressed about the content. Every review is one person's opinion and that's the best way it's treated. Everything comes with positives and negatives and as an author, one needs to develop a thick skin. In the end, most writers write for the joy of it."

Shobhan Bantwal on The Writing Life:

"The window near my home office looks out to a row of surburban houses across the street. My writing desk is the same one that holds the household papers, bills etc. so it's cluttered and messy. Above my computer hangs a wall calendar for obvious reasons. But thank goodness for computers, those handy technological marvels that files away tons of documents without any show of clutter.

"With a full-time job and a hectic social life, it's hard to describe an average day. I wake up at 5.00am on weekdays. After a shower, a cup of tea and the local television news, accompany my exercise regime on the threadmill. I'm off to the office at 7.00am. Each workday is unpredictable with impromptu meetings, phone calls and paperwork to be dealt with.

"I'm back home at 5pm and tackle my personal email, first thing. Then dinner needs to be whipped up for my husband who's now retired. He's a great help but hates cooking so that's still primarily my job.

"I try to write as much as I can between 8 to 10 at nights. I'm not a disciplined writer so I don't adhere to a scheduled routine. I may write several pages at a go on some days and then nothing at all for days afterwards. My moods call the shots. My favourite writing time is on a weekend afternoon and this accompanied by a hot cup of masala chai. (spicy Indian tea).

"When the mood strikes, I write several pages & chapters all at once and return regularly to re-write drafts and edit them too. Sometimes, I feel I add more texture to what was originally missing in an early draft. But I rely on several edits before I feel the chapter looks acceptable.

"The bottom line is that if I'm in the mood to write, I keep plugging away. If I'm not, I use that time to edit my work. I do crave a good cup of tea to keep me company if it's not yet close to bedtime. Otherwise, my sleep is ruined. By the way, a chocolate bar is always welcome whether I'm writing or not. Chocolate is always very inspiring."


Shobhan Bantwal on her culinary skills:

"When I first came to the US as a young bride in the mid-seventies, I had no experience in cooking and so learnt the hard way. At the time, there were very few Indian grocery stores in this country and nothing came ready-made. I taught myself to prepare elaborate sweets and savouries from scratch. The experience turned me into a pretty decent gourmet cook and not just for Indian cuisine. As a result, I eventually enjoyed putting my culinary skills to good use by entertaining frequently at our home. But now that writing takes up my spare time, I've cut back on a considerable amount of cooking and entertaining."

Shobhan Bantwal on her second novel and future writing plans:

"At the moment, I'm rolling around some ideas for a second novel with my editor. Every one of them will require some research. As soon as she approves of a plot, I'll get down to some heavy-duty writing.

"I haven't written a play or performed in one since I took up novel-writing. Between the years 2000 and 2004, I wrote three sets of monologues/anecdotes and performed in two plays. But there's been nothing since then. I'd love to do more plays but two current 'full-time' careers do leave me exhausted.

"Of course, I hope to touch many more lives with my books then I could possibly have done without my writing. I consider it a blessing to be able to reach out to such a wide audience."

****************

*Shobhan Bantwal is the author of The Dowry Bride, a debut novel set in India and released by Kensington Books in September 2007. It is the first of two books for her publisher. Bantwal's articles and short stories have also appeared in a variety of publications that include India Abroad, Little India, U.S. 1, Desi Journal, India Currents, Overseas Indian, New Woman India, Kanara Saraswat and Sulekha. Her short stories have won awards in fiction contests sponsored by the Writer's Digest, New York Stories and New Woman magazines respectively.


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Saturday, 16 February 2008

Exclusive: Taslima Nasrin speaks to me on the Indian visa extended a day ago.

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin

On January 13, I featured a post on Taslima Nasrin, the famed and exiled Bangladeshi writer, who had just won France's prestigious Simon de Beauvoir award. Already having championed several international awards, Nasrin had lived and worked in Europe for several years. An increasing amount of death threats did not help the situation but Nasrin bravely attempted another return to India.

However, more political troubles accompanied the steely writer for what are supposed to be her anti-Islamic remarks, in her literary works. Her beliefs are suspected to have stayed unforgiving to many in orthodox Asian communities, although such an intense hysteria could have been greatly exaggerated, especially when held in consideration with the passing of time. Still, the Indian Government's retaliation of "a fear of riots" has forced the radical author to stay in strict hiding until this present day.

You can catch the older link HERE.

A day ago the Indian government extended Nasrin's visa for an unspecified period of time with the condition that she was not allowed to leave her apartment in the event of explosive riots. If she chooses not to adhere to the condition, she must leave the country.

I contacted Taslima Nasrin immediately. She replied less then 10 hours ago (UK time 6am), that her "mental state is not very well now."

Here she answers the questions:

Thank you, Nasrin.

a) Your visa has been extended. What is your first response?

Nasrin says: I am happy. I am grateful to the Indian government for allowing me to stay on. I have already lived in India for almost four years now. Kolkata has become my second home. The same language, the same culture matters to me. After all, I am an author. Literature can only bloom in a cultural context. That is why I believe my staying on, in India, is important....

b) Some amount of protest has been registered after your visa has been extended. Idris Ali, the man who organized the Kolkata protests, has spoken out. He says he is disappointed.

Nasrin says: There is a tiny minority in this country that objects to my presence. I don't think they need to be taken seriously. I have been moved by the spirit of Indian democracy, the way people have come out to support me; the way intellectuals have expressed their solidarity. Just the other day, there has been intellectual support expressed in my favour by important thinkers. I want to thank Arundhati Roy, Habib Tanveer, Girish Karnad, Mahasweta Devi, Sumit Sarkar, and everybody else for coming out in my support. I want to thank the late Safdar Hashmi's organization, the Sahmat ..

c) But this visa does not give you enough liberty. You have to stay in the safehouse at an undisclosed officials where nobody but the government officials can meet you? Don't you feel suffocated....

Nasrin says: Well, I will feel suffocated until the time I am allowed to go back to Kolkata. I don't have much of a life now. I am naturally a person who loves to mix with people. I love to meet fellow authors, literary people. I am not allowed to do that. How can an author's mind grow and flourish when the author is being confined.
Kolkata is my home. Whatever it is in Delhi, Delhi is not home. I do get food and necessities, but I don't have the freedom even to step out of where I am being confined. I have no freedom to receive friends. Life in Kolkata is dynamic, flowing, friendly. Life in Delhi is whatever it might be if you are free, but life cooped up in a room anywhere on Earth is stagnant, inhuman for a creative writer.

d) I am told that you the president of the European Union has sent you mail.

Nasrin says: Yes the president of European Parliament, Mr Hans Gert –Pottering, has written a very nice letter to me, sympathising with my cause, understanding my problems.

e) What has the government really told you; how long will your freedom be curtailed?

Nasrin says: I was told by the govt officials that if I go out, 10 people will be killed. Even though I don’t think 10 people will be killed because of me, I have no other option but to remain in the condition they have demanded that I live.
I have been told that this will be my future, but they have not given me any time frame.

f) Are you able to write?

Nasrin says: I am trying to write, but it is not easy to concentrate. Writing is somehow keeping me alive - that's the only way to stay sane under these trying conditions.

Picture courtesy of SinDioses

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Thursday, 14 February 2008

It is my impression that the New-York based Martin Amis is probably one of the more fashionable English writers of the current age, here in Ireland. From the aspect of brands, his name alone, makes for a terrific book advertisement. I have just purchased Amis's latest controversal offering titled, The Second Plane. Very-newly published by Jonathan Cape in London, the small taut hardback consists of originally-printed essays, reviews, a travel account and two short stories that all ride on the September 11 catastrophe. In his AuthorNote upfront, Amis's urgent passionate attention to the international disaster, may easily be observed. His cajoling may just form the silent plea that readers embrace his opinions and guard them with fragile devotion.

The displayed copies were wrapped in tight plastic at Chapters on Parnell Street, where you could pick one up for 16.99 euro; 2 euro off the original price. I very much look forward to reading it as soon as I have finished with Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House.

Writing my play at this present time, I stay fascinated by the determined and radical Norwegian playwright who battled turbulent emotions, family betrayal and rebellious angry voices to invent with speed and ease; a lifelong sanctuary on stage.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

My mother always bought flowers, fussed about in the kitchen, read Woman's Own magazines and listened to instrumental music on the radio.

It was the Sixties then and I, a little girl in Singapore.

Dave Brubeck's jazzy Take Five tune was tied to warm memories of marshmellows soaked in hot milk, broken Andy Pandy dolls and my father' car rides to forgotten coffeeshops that whipped up tasty Chinese noodles in antique porcelain bowls. Oh...and always ketchup on the side.

I often watched my mother as she dipped into countless romances stored in those colourful 64-page Women's Weekly paperbacks which she picked up religiously from newsvendors, who ordered them, as it was boasted, all the way from England. The pretty little books which advertised Cliff Richard concerts or a messy Beatles' mop, were hung up like buntings in their crowded stalls.

Later, as my mother bent closely into the pages, she would smile her small, secret smile and I wondered what it was all about.

On quiet afternoons, she relaxed in a floral housecoat on her favourite wicker chair and I stared at the way the nail-polish on her toes glittered like a startling watercolour show.

When we returned to Malaysia, my mother a schoolteacher, filled her shelves with an assortment of Mills n Boons.

As a teen I read them too. I mixed it up with a few of the classics and other contemporary novels and definitely, I couldn't avoid the charms of Pearl S. Buck.

My mother and I had very little in common...I was always my father's daughter. It was he, the voracious reader of serious social commentary, the tireless walker and the avid traveller who taught me to do the same.

But I still remember the way we sat together and once before, reading those romances ever so diligently; never speaking...except when we exchanged copies but otherwise, scouring and turning each page with ferocious speed.

I wanted to be so like her... my beautiful mother but never quite succeeded. She was a do-er rather than a talker and it was hard to read her thoughts. I heralded each moment of delving into a Woman's Weekly love story as one of a spiritual communion. Today, I recall happy-ever-after plots affectionately and marvel at the remembered reverence that was so quiescent, I could have caught the silence with my fingers.

My schoolfriends who battled stricter parents told me I didn't realise my good luck.

But unlike my chums, my mother and I would never again hold anything in common.
Now, in the middle of my passionate quest with universal literature and returned to my own graceful world at last, I think if destiny throws up too much nostalgia, well... there's always the marvellous Ripping Yarns bookshop in North London. Then hopefully, the swaying memories will sink into repose like an anchor in the dark.

"I suppose life is held tightly in place for me, by the dance of an odd percussion tune rather than the drone of a delusional dilemma." - suzan abrams

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

On Bray's Way

Only one living creature took offence while I fished out my Carey, sitting on a park bench at the seaside in Bray, County Wicklow, this evening.

And feeling somewhat nonplussed too, at that.

The posh black poodle wearing glossy red ribbons growled fiercely, worried that my dog-eared copy of His Illegal Self, Carey's latest offering, would steal its thunder.

Not that I would fancy giving myself airs of course, but 'prestige' barked the poodle - just in case I had entertained the notion - was a condition reserved solely for the snooty mandarin ducks, a family of swans and a party of gulls. Masquerading a goodwill mision, they splashed about arrogantly near a towering stone ledge; secretly demanding sole ownership of the raging indigo-faced Irish sea.

And if I would so dare expand on this thought perhaps too, the catch that came with it! After all, it's every feather for itself when it comes to wrestling up a supper of juicy fish.

The sporting village of Bray doubles up as a colourful bustling seafront, nestled in Dublin's greater south. Sports enthusiasts and hobbyists jolly on with a lively stir for activities comprising bowling alleys to tennis lawns. For the sedentary, consider those lush and expansive golf courses. Then there are the dozens of luxury motorboats parked on the marina although gay bobbing yachts on the cold sea, are visible far and wide.

Of course, the half-hour train journey from Connolly Station in Dublin city guarantees you a scenic ride along the way with anything from hillocks and breathtaking beach properties to a tranquil canal - one of the passing stations is called Grand Canal Dock - and sharply-turned inlets where you may walk barefoot in the icy rivulets and squelchy black sand. The train terminates its route right on the beachfront. Be prepared for children in the carriages high on excitable chatter - a trip to the sea is always a novelty - and impatient tantrums.

Dogs rule in Bray. Be warned that collies and spaniels don't cause you to trip as they run helter-skelter along the nearby parkland in a frenzy; what with a kind touch of sunshine and the number of happy babies for a cooing audience. The army parade of nifty "dog poo" dustbins, all along the waterfront, may have just added to the merry scene.

Feeling piqued by the poodle's misconjecture - although I was ravenous at the same time - I adjourned to the chic Palazzo restaurant on Strand Road, for an Italian omelette, a bowl of potato wedges and a Chilean wine. I was unable to resist the Red for its unusual black pepper ingredient. My serving turned out to be a drink so light on the palate, one could gulp it all down in a single breath. The omelette was dressed with mild spices and served on request with ketchup or different sauces.

The restaurants along this stretch of road are slightly expensive but if it is any consolation, the diner is treated to stunning views of the sea, courtesy of tall, glass windows.

There are hardly any cafes. However, it is inconceivable that already, one would picture hundreds of picnic hampers, come the summer.

The greatest attraction turns out to be an elongated promenade that is partly straight, somewhat jagged and finally, made up of a curly maze that snakes its way onto the piers and surprises the first-timer with breathtaking alacrity.

It's seen as fashionable to stroll along the promenade. Many people hurry on briskly, grabbing the chance of an excellent workout. Both the young and old, either solitary or in noisy jocund groups, share an ebullient enjoyment. I loved the gentle sea-breeze brushing against my face and the way it mischeviously proceeded to untangle my hair.

The Irish as always stay friendly, if not sometimes a little bashful, in a warm-hearted homey way.

And now, perhaps the poodle may be kinder that I have finished Carey and am eyeing Henrik Ibsen' famous play, A Doll's House, for my next read.

Monday, 11 February 2008

The painters are coming to paint my flat tomorrow at 8.00am. I'll be up in Belfast for the day.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

To think that such a dreary subject as shelves could prompt a fabulous article in The Times Weekend magazine this time round, as only Lucia van der Post could muster in her widely-read column, Scenes of Domestic Life.

So gorgeous a vision did this paragraph provoke within the mind's eye, that I had to look up the link for you.

"While the library is probably a far-off fantasy unlikely to be realised this side of the pearly gates, I recommend a solution that the French are partial to: combining a library with a dining room. Books all around the walls are a soothing background to dining, and the table itself can be used for writing." - Lucia van der Post, The Times

You can read the rest of the article here.

Today turned out to be a cold wintry day with an overcast sky. The Artic winds would not let up while the sun battled on for a comforting hint of spring. Several university students swung up a peaceful protest march on O'Connell street this afternoon. They blared out denunciations on Scientology and urged the rest of the strolling, window-shopping public to join them in the fray. Someone approached me too incidentally but I could only smile my disinterest. However, it was quite the spectacle.
Many dressed like Halloween creatures in long black garb and wore dark sunglasses for an added effect. Some mannequin-ed up a freeze, standing incredibly still and bowing their heads dramatically - with what may only be described as some sort of silent meditation - while their friends waved placards and banners as enthusiastically and as high up in the air as they could. The posing models playacted death and could have easily masqueraded as professional performers.
On a brighter note, you just know it's spring when Eason starts advertising its lively book and author events and I was pretty fascinated by the brightly-coloured leaflets in its store today. I bought The Observer and Sunday Tribune, adoring both papers for their indepth reviews, commentaries and detailed - no holds barred sort-of-thing - investigative reports.
I was also pleased to see 40-year old British playwright Roy Williams featured in a double-page spread in the Observer today. Known for his gritty urban plays where characters combine the roles of tough criminals with what may hopefully be, empathy and compasssion from watchful observers; Williams currently has 3 plays in performance at various spots in England. He is presently in Jamaica, conducting reseach for his next play. It was immensely gratifying to know that Williams had made his name from pure talent and not a celebrated writing course.
I had earlier bought Henrik Ibsen's famous play called A Doll's House and so look forward to devouring it as soon as I have finished Carey.
I have also gathered together, the neglected disjointed scenes of my play and have begun re-writing them. Oh...I write everywhere these days; in bed, curled up on an armchair or on the living-room rug but sadly, never at the writing table. It's nothing more than a white elephant at the moment. I like the feel of a wide space around me to see my books and literary journals scattered everywhere while I write and to feel comfy at the same time. I am also writing other things. My little library now holds such a motley mix of books thanks to my whims and fancies that I simply can't make sense of it all.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

A lovely spring day this Saturday in Dublin. All of fresh, clean air with no pollution. Clear blue skies. Golden sunshine mixed with the classic chill and absolutely no humidity. No wonder, Dubliners cheered on a party in the carnival-like atmosphere that bustled about downtown all of today.
I woke up late, caught some telly, made what I presumed to be a healthy breakfast, dressed and went along to my favourite bookshops and cafes. All the time, the brilliant sunshine streaming in through the windows had busied itself, urging me to come out and play so off I went.
I felt so light-hearted I may have been walking on air.
I picked up the Saturday papers with their weekend reviews except that there are one too many publications and I often feel spoilt for choice. I settled for The Times.
I also grabbed the latest Vanity Fair magazine with its glossy Hollywood edition. It's only just out.
I bought a few British classics, went shopping for dinner and got a call from D who was already in town. We arranged to meet on Jarvis Street. D, an Irish poet, lives just upstairs from my flat. We went to an Italian cafe, next to the Liffey river, sat ourselves at a sidewalk table, close to many happy people, - yes, all laughing and talking nineteen to the dozen they were - and I had myself some long awaited wine. As is often the case, I smiled at everybody. Then after a time, we crossed the Ha'Penny bridge over to Temple Bar where in the long cool evening, people stood fashionably just about everywhere, languishing in the splendid weather.
Right in the middle of the Square, we happened on a book sale that appeared to be in full swing. In the fading twilight, obscure books and untitled paintings lay scattered about on hastily-arranged tables. Such is the spirit of Dublin, Ireland as I've already mentioned with its overwhelming love for various literature that books are evident everywhere. Still, it's a modest city and never showy, that you may be cajoled to tasting its poetic charms for yourself.
As we chose more reads, diners had filled the cafe tables roundabout to listen to the sound of loud African drums thanks to a few clever musicians playacting buskers.
I regaled shyly in the party mood that the intoxicating atmosphere had conjured up.
Des picked up 2 paperbacks; one on the poetry of WH Auden and the other featuring British contemporary works. I settled for a fascinating collection of non-fictional essays bundled up into a very old dog-eared book titled The Modern Approach to Psychology in the Western Mind. It talks of the workings of the human psyche in great detail, starting from the time of the Greeks.
We then walked on to this lovely pub called The Palace Bar made up of 2 levels that demonstrate the venue's rich literary history. It's situated on Fleet Street, had been in operation for several years and was often a second home to famous Irish journalists and writers during the pre-war and post-war periods.
Here was where they met for that necessary camaraderie over a regular pint or 2.
Last September, also saw the celebration of the annual Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Festival. The late Kavanagh was one of Ireland's most famous, rebellious poets.
But back to the pub.
Carefully-framed b/w photographs of such jolly meetings and intimate chatter by these old-world journalists hang everywhere on the walls. A large pencil sketch of a Samuel Beckett portrait resembles a steely gaze complete with dagger looks.
The tall ceiling is circled by old-fashioned stained glass windows and I began to steadfastly admire the polished mahogany wood panelling that shaped the rest of the decor. More wine for me and another 2 generous pints for D before we strolled back out into the cold night air. The pub featured interesting and sometimes eccentric customers as well...you knew somehow that the patrons had all lived colourful lives up to now. Upstairs, a party of young Italians made a deafening noise.
Far from wearing a frown, their voices stayed music to my ears! :-)

Friday, 8 February 2008

On Reading Peter Carey...

I haven't had time to update my sidebar but I'm currently reading Peter Carey's newly-published novel titled His Illegal Self. It's very good. A refreshing plot that draws you into sharp thought while bypassing the heavy introspection. Lots of rolling action instead and exquisite wordplay.
You may catch Carey's cleverly-executed trailer here on YouTube.

When I read in The Daily Telegraph- we also get the Belfast Telegraph here in Dublin - that Facebook would be available in the Spanish language for its Latin audience, I was thrilled. I realised it was a really good time to be in my forties and to be visiting here in Europe.
I say 'visiting' because as a world traveller for 10 years, you never really shake the stardust off.
If you check out my bookmarks, you'll observe a long list of my favourite international newspapers. Those are the first online pages I read diligently through every morning, with my orange juice.
And though I may be playing houses for the moment, - my new flat will soon be painted, I bought my first apron since domestic science lessons in school and I got my telly today - it could still be a novelty. One never knows when I may take off.
I lived in Melbourne for five years and London for 3 and now in Ireland. During my time in Australia and England, I travelled constantly to the South Pacific, East Africa and the Middle-East. I remember fondly, acquaintances and friends. There are still ever so many places for me to go. Hey...Acapulco and Capri. :-)
One of the most wonderful things about our Barisan Nasional government, is that my Malaysian passport is welcome everywhere. And the liberal freedom with which I as a Malaysian am allowed to fly the globe without hassle, is probably one of life's more durable gifts. I consider my travel document more valuable than a gem.
Now, I am at times dissatisfied, excited, challenged and enthused all at once.
You couldn't feel those things unless you saw life as really beautiful and tasted the scent of its sugared-lemony breath on your skin. This, in spite of its failings. Or perhaps you viewed it as an adventure or as my friend says now, a fun game.
Don't be fooled.
I have crossed through excruciating circumstances and languished in my fair share of upheavals but I still love waking up in the mornings.
And because of my universal passions, here I am in my 40's having been fortunate enough to savour all the different flavours of an iced cake since the psychedelic era. But I have always latched onto a fascination for world history in any case; possibly in the form of a lighter entertainment context like an old Broadway musical or medieval chants.
I can never understand why people often moan and complain about nothing in particular. Or that a mountain may force itself out of a molehill. Nothing is changed from a gripe or sneer.
There is something very comforting to be thankful for the things we have and that has always been my philosophy. To call out to the beckoning stars and not to cringe down at the squelchy mud. Even the damp soil will slowly be dried up by the sun and patterns sketched on the hard earth.
I love my past and my history but very much relish the present and the future. A hardback or its Kindle version, gladdens the heart equally. I admire the swift way in which the world advances and any kind of technological advancement appears to suit me. Hence, Facebook.
For instance too, I collect beautifully-packaged editions of ancient European classics as a hobby but I am also enraptured by the charms of quirky online classics, the sort you may never spot in a bookshop.
I know from having lived in Australia and England and especially what I observed in Singapore last December, that there will always be a place for retro inclinations. Nothing old is ever forgotten. History is adored and cherished.
And so, as we move on, let's count the sparkling hallways that lie ahead and stop lamenting as some of us so often do, over the dreary ones that shadow the light.