Reading a wider world

Looking for new books to read in the new year?  The Guardian UK newspaper has come up with a reading list of diverse writing in English.  If you look at the reading lists on many University courses of English Literature, they are predominantly white, male writers.  Have a look at the Guardian list for alternative, equally well written books in English by a worldwide range of cultural diversity.  (To make this list, they interviewed well-respected writers of a wide range of ethnic cultures, themselves writing brilliant modern literature.  Jackie Kay, the Scottish poet is particularly good at offering a list of authors).

Find the list here.

Authors/books recommended on this list include: E R Braithwaite “To Sir with Love”, V S Naipaul, Arundhati Roy, Wagui Ghali “Beer in the Snooker Club” (1946), Michael Ondaatje “The English Patient”, Anita Desai “The fire on the mountain”, Audre Lord, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie “Half of a Yellow Sun”, “Red: Contemporary Black British poetry” ed Kwame Dawes, Patience Agabi “Telling Tales”, Lucille Clifton, Derek Walcott “Selected poems”, Tsitsi Dangarembga “Nervous Conditions”, Buchi Emecheta.

I have to put my hand up and say that I haven’t read these books, and so I am trusting to these writers’ recommendations.  I simply pass them onto you, to look through the list and try some new book which you haven’t heard of before – in the spirit of adventure. A quick way to find them is if you look up one of them on Amazon, you will find the other books popping up as “people who read this book also read these….” so it looks as if some people are already blazing a bookbuying trail through the Guardian’s list of books.

But of course you don’t have to purchase online, you can always try reading these books via a library so it doesn’t cost you anything – or purchasing them secondhand to keep costs low (and be able to buy far more of them on your budget!). Certainly, if you are looking for something new to buy a keen reader for a present, the list might offer some exciting new ideas.



7 actions for beginning writers

I found myself writing this encouragement to a young writer approaching a course in Literature at University – but much of it is useful to any beginning writers:

1.  Believe that you are a writer already.

This is tough.  You think “But I haven’t had my first novel published!”  “But I haven’t sold my first filmscript…..” and the minute you say “I’m a writer” to other people, they will ask “So what have you sold?”  – which doesn’t help.

But being an artist and selling work don’t always flow together.

Van Gogh was a painter to his fingertips, worked hard all his life and only ever sold ONE painting, while alive.

2.  Because you are a writer, you can begin planning a writing career.

Think of what you want to have achieved in 5 years.

Aim for it.

Don’t just meekly do what will get you good marks in School and University.  People who only concentrate on getting a good degree come to the end of it and are still waiting for someone – a lecturer – to tell them what to do, to set them a writing project.  Actually, University works best if you’re already reading and practising the art and the uni course just gives you better skills, and a chance to meet likeminded people and discuss different ideas.

3.  Look at any opportunities you have to attend workshops, lectures, writing groups – and take them.

Any local Book Festivals or writing centre?  Any free workshops on a weekend?  Consider also volunteering to help out at festivals – your face will become known.

4.  Network.  Be pleasant to people, the publishing world is small.

5.  Write often.

If it helps to have a deadline or audience, consider what you could write for a friend/family member’s birthday.  Then give it to them.  (Helps you get practice in getting your work out there).

6.  Avoid writer’s block.

Listen to Audible recording of Anne La Mott’s book “Bird by bird” – it’s a series of interesting, constructive and easy to listen to, talks by her on how to write.  (Also written in her book “Word by Word” if you prefer the written form).  Her big theme is “write shitty drafts” – write down even really poor sentences, because you’re going to refine it later.  But if you wait to write perfect sentences in the first place, you don’t even begin, you freeze up with writer’s block.  The way around writer’s block is to lower your standards and keep writing.

7.  Get the reading list for the course you want to do at University.

Usually a library will have a list of set texts online or if you phone up.  Read those key texts yourself in your holidays now, before you go to Uni.  That way, you’ll have your own thoughts about them by the time you come to study them.  It will give you less reading work to do when at college.  Even if your plans change and you end up in a different college/course – you’ll still have read some great books.  And you will have some references to bring into your commentary on other books.  If you’re an older beginner writer and not planning to go to University – these books are still worth reading, to get a grounding in what is considered great (even if you disagree).

Living the Sound of Music

Intriguing – you can now listen to the “Sound of Music” without the music – simply the audio of what happens with the characters – storms, birdsong, phone ring…..

It looks like – and sounds like – this:

So, if you are an extreme fan of the film – or you just love living life to a dramatic soundtrack – then put this on in the background and live life as imagined in Austria in the 1940s.

Incidentally, I heard about this from Kate Young, a lady who bakes based on characters in books – from her Twitter feed – so it all fits perfectly within the remit of this blog – the arts interacting with life.  Here: cookery, writing, music, film, audio.

Kate’s book “The Little Library Cookbook” is published this October – details here:

(I now know what I want for Christmas).

Doing the Knowledge

I am doing the Knowledge – of world poetry.  (Today, it’s poet Moniza Alvi)

“Doing the Knowledge” is a phrase used normally to describe how taxi drivers learn the map of London by going through it, so they know routes to take their passengers there.  I am exploring the little-known-to-me or unexplored writings of poets
from outside the British Isle.

Guide Book

My guide and basic map is a book with 4 DVDs “In person: world poets” filmed and edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce and Neil Astley of Bloodaxe Books.  Fifty-nine poets are featured, and they have also been videoed reading their poems and giving some small introduction.

I happened upon the book when I recently visited a large chain bookshop (but, nevertheless, a genuine real-life shelves/stairs/cafe bookshop).  And there I confronted my own mortality: 4 floors of books…. clearly there was no way that I
could read them all in a lifetime, even if I began immediately and did nothing else for the rest of my life.  (As if to underline the mortality idea, the sign in the shop was classical temple design and therefore unfortunately looked like the entrance to a mausoleum).  As with all unconquerable projects, you just IMG_3052.jpgmake a sigh and make a start.  So I dived into the poetry section.


Getting ‘into’ poetry

Go to a bookstore, find a big fat book of poetry that interests you, buy it and just dive in.  I love the advice in this video by Blur’s Alex James and followed it, with good results.

(I foolishly thought my Auden book would last me the weekend, but of course poetry is condensed and concentrated flavours, you can’t take too much at one sitting).  However, Larkin might be your poet of choice – or someone even more recent.  Or an anthology where a whole variety of writers are gathered into one place.  The important thing is that it genuinely intrigues or speaks to you, not that it’s a famous writer that you feel you ‘should’ read.

Don’t worry if you disliked poetry at school – this time you are in charge of where you explore and no one will ask you to write an essay on it.  This is reading for enjoyment and experience.

Poetry vs depression

Rachel Kelly has a remarkable story to tell – it’s her own life – of her 2 mental breakdowns and how poetry helped her recover.

The love of my family, drugs and therapy were hugely important in the battle to recover from an illness so severe that the first time I was bed-ridden for six months, the second for a year. But it’s no exaggeration to say that poetry proved a lifeline.

Her story is grippingly told in her book “The Black Rainbow” – which I recently read through in 24 hours straight as it is so well-written and gripping – Rachel is a journalist (more…)