OK, so the blog's been a bit quiet again. You only have to look at this photo to understand why.
That's right, I've been away again, to Cassis near Marseille. Hell, doesn't that Shameless guy work? And hasn't he just come back from a month's holiday in Portugal? I like to call it "squeezing the last out of summer", making the most of things, right up until the very last second.
I drop my head in absolute shame!
Wouldn't it be nice though to just stop this daily working thing and spend more time reading, writing and visiting inspiring places? How can I sort this out? Luckily, I do manage to get blocks of days off and long holidays - France is generous with annual leave and the law prescribes that there can only be 35 hours in the working week - but I am hungry for more time to be creative.
On the other hand, I do love my job as a journalist. The writing is for the broadcast medium, but at least I write every day. Many pieces I work on also require a certain amount of creative juice. What isn't so good is the fact that I am bound to be somewhere on a regular basis, at a time that is not of my choosing. I crave that feeling of being a free agent. Free to write when I want to. Free to read when I want to. Free to take to the road when I want to.
Alas, this is life. And it is a damn comfortable one. I cannot complain. Some people don't even have the luxury to pose these kinds of questions. I guess I shall just continue this mad mix of this and that.
OK, so the blog's been a bit quiet again. You only have to look at this photo to understand why.
I now have a link to my original fiction.
See the side bar on the right and click on "Shameless Fiction". Here you will find extracts from novels and short stories.
The first item on this new site is an extract from a novel I am currently working on. Please feel free to pass this on to those who may be interested in reading it. And don't hesitate to leave your comments as well.
Short stories and an extract from another novel I am currently trying to sell will be added to the page soon.
Also, don't forget to visit Shameless Poems. The link is also on the right. Feel free to send these to friends and family if you think they would appreciate them.
We have now booked our tickets for a trip to New York in October, where I will celebrate my 38th birthday. It will be a Saturday night and I will try to find somewhere memorable to dine. New York is one of those places I have always wanted to go, where I feel I need to go. Start spreading the news!
While I'm there - seven days - I want to get a taste of the literature scene. Can anyone recommend some "must do" visits and the like for someone who likes writing and books? What literary pilgrimages should be made? What inspiring place should a writer visit? Are there any readings or writing festivals going on over the week from October 25 to November 1?
Any help here would be very much appreciated. Did I mention that I'll be having lunch with Paul Auster while in New York?
Across the Mystic Shore by Suroopa Mukherjee is a tale set in New Delhi and Varanasi. It explores the mystery surrounding a young boy born in an ashram, with four women forced to confont their past lives when the infant turns up in an upper-middle-class Bengali household.
This book - one of six that launched the Macmillan New Writing imprint in April - seems promising when you begin, with a velvet-like texture to the language and an old-fashioned feel to the narrative, like a sweeping saga written in the 1940s. I won't go on about the saga relating to the annoying errors that turn up in the text of this book (see my earlier post titled Macmillan New Righting); I want to be fair to the author by reviewing the book without focusing on something I feel the editors are responsible for.
There is no doubt that this book has been written with an enormous amount of passion, and it's clear the author has a great sense of what ingredients are needed for a mesmerising tale. The subject matter here is unique to other fiction I've read from India, and there seems to have been a bold attempt to explore aspects of Indian life that are often taboo in that country. The characters first struck me as strong and appealing, with their views of the world they live in accessible and frank, and a nice sense of setting was evoked. However, the positives, in the end, weren't enough to keep me engaged.
The weakness of the novel, for me, was the author's decision - or maybe it wasn't deliberate - to move the point of view from one character to another, often in the same paragraph, making it very difficult to feel anything for anyone for any length of time. This "head hopping" - a term used in writing groups - just didn't work for me, and in the end it stopped me from enjoying the story. The author's omniscient voice seemed to take over. I also felt there was an overuse of adverbs to qualify speech, taking away the reader's chance to work out for themselves the atmosphere being created.
I would like to make a formal offer to Macmillan New Writing: pay me 200 pounds to proofread each of your books before they are sent off to the printers, before they are set in stone!
I say this because there seems to be a problem with the editing that goes on there - at least with one of the six novels that launched the imprint back in April. I have already read three MNW titles - The Manuscript, Taking Comfort and North - and the number of typos and mistakes didn't seem to be a big problem, although there were the odd one or two to be found. The stories
were of a very high standard and I thoroughly enjoyed them. MNW and I had a bond.
That was until I started reading Across the Mystic Shore by Suroopa Mukherjee. The novel itself was OK - although for me there were basic problems, which I will talk about in a separate review - but what made this book a disappointment was the high number of mistakes.
I know that MNW tries to keep its costs down to give new writers a chance to get published, and this probably means that they rely on individual authors to do the lion's share of proofreading and editing. This is all very well when the system works and the author, without supervision, comes up with the goods; it becomes, in my opinion, MNW's problem when a book is sent off to the printers with lots of mistakes.
What kind of quality control is there? Regardless of the philosophy behind the imprint, the public is paying good money for a professional book, and they don't expect to be sent something that has an unfinished feel to it. MNW cannot place the blame on the author. In the end, the final book - mistakes and all - is the product of a professional publisher. Did anyone at MNW read the manuscript all the way through? Does no one have a red pen to circle typos? It's a shame that the reader is left to spot them and get annoyed!
I don't think I am exaggerating about the number of mistakes in Across the Mystic Shore. We can all live with one or two typos. This book contained at least 25 errors, and many of them were more than simple typos. I'm also not even talking about other problems with sentence construction.
My heart sank when I read on the second page: "She had been lucky today morning." It doesn't make you feel confident when you come across something like that on page two. It makes you feel you are reading a draft. You ask yourself: If they haven't paid attention to the typos, what about the structure and plot? You tend to read with your guard up! (The MNW book North also had an error on page one: a misplaced hyphen, which would've been the result of sloppy editing.)
I will give you some other random examples of glaring mistakes in Across the Mystic Shore.
Page 8: Myra's favourite past time was to check on the people who walked in.
Page 75: It made her forehead stretch out just below the hairline, where fell tiny curls like delicate tendrils ... she had never been consious of her looks.
Page 84: Abha was wearing thin-soled sandals, which she removed dextrously ...
Page 96: Her eyes were instantly flooded with tears, but she brushed then aside ...
Page 107: Sameer felt sorry for him, and decided on an instant to give him a handsome tip.
Page 161: I could see the bare body of the the pujari ...
Page 218: I knew the boys name ...
Page 225: Its funny how imaginative we were ...
As I say, we all accept that we may find one or two typos in any novel - it happens even with top authors from major imprints - but it's the exception rather than the rule. I think it is such a shame that Across the Mystic Shore wasn't proofread by a few more people.
I would strongly recommend that MNW takes another look at its editing and proofreading policies. Too many books like this, and reviews like this, and word will start getting around about the quality of the books. That would be a shame as I like the whole idea of the imprint and the doors that it's managing to open up for writers.
This is also a warning to other MNW authors who have books in the pipeline there. It seems you can't rely on MNW - for now at least - to do the proofreading for you. Don't forget, however, that I am offering to read your novels for 200 pounds and give you a list of the typos and errors before they are sent off into the world!
I put my technical head on today and worked out how to group my poems and fiction together in one place, so it can be easily browsed. I think they call this "pulling the threads together" in blogland.
So, on the right hand side of my main blog page, over there, you will see a link for Shameless Poems. Any poem that I put up on my main blog will automatically be displayed on this separate site as well. The fiction - short stories and extracts - will be grouped together soon on a separate site called Shameless Fiction.
It's been a long time! But I'm back, ready to put black on white and regularly update my blog. This is the kind of view that was cleaning out my brain in Portugal for a month.
I took about 500 photos, but I couldn't possibly post all of my favourites here. I will select some of the best over the coming days, just to give you a taste of the sights.
There are so many different aspects to the landscape and the visual feast here. The people are extremely friendly, patient, open to strangers. They eat lots of grilled fish, they drive like maniacs, they are distractingly good looking, they enjoy a slow pace of life.
We drove 7,500 kilometres, from the north to the south, taking in the pulse of the place by staying in camping areas that were often packed with locals. I didn't write or read very much because my senses were already overloaded. I've come away full of oomph!
Everything good must come to an end ... not yet though, please, another week to go!
I'm calling in here just to do some dusting, and to get the awful fright that I'm down to just six visitors a day! I suppose I can't complain; I haven't been around to keep people entertained. I will work hard to win you all back!
So, here I am now in Portugal's capital, Lisboa, where I have only been able to manage obrigado (thankyou). I´ve been very relieved though to find that many people speak very good French. I've been letting people think I'm French, even the young English couple who pitched a tent beside us this week.
We've been doing lots of camping. It's a good way to get one's feet and hands back on the earth. It's good to get back to basics for a bit and then afterwards I'll hopefully appreciate the blessing we have in our European lives. (I will enjoy a nice soft bed though, free of ants and a savage early morning sun that turns the tent into an oven).
I haven't read as much as I wanted to, and I haven't done one ounce of writing! Yes! I took Skint's advice in the end. There has been so much to see and do. This whole adventure has been like a cool, blasting shower over my stale bits - the mental bits, that is!
I hope the summer has treated the rest of you readers and scribes well, and you've managed to do what's best for you. It will be nice to get back into the blogging when I return on the 13th of this month. I have so many letters to throw at you!