Tag Archives: writers

Slow Reading

I had a gorgeous evening last night. I went to a reading group in Melbourne conducted by bibliotherapist, Sonya Tsakalakis.

The set up was simple: a handwritten sign announcing ‘Literary Salon,’ a couple of chairs placed together, a xerox copy of the short story, ‘The Garden Party’ by Katherine Mansfield, and four strangers.

What took place over the next hour and a half was beautiful.

First a short summary of the story:  The Sheridan family is preparing to host a garden party. Laura, one of the teenage daughters, is excited and happily interacts with the workers hired to put up the marquee. She frets over the excessive order of lilies by her mother. She sinks her teeth into a delicious cream puff that is to be served to the guests. Suddenly into this idyllic day comes the news: a local man has been trampled and killed by a horse. Laura has the good grace to suggest that the party be stopped. After all the guests would walk right by the dead man’s house at the bottom of their path. But no one else agrees. Later Mrs. Sheridan sends Laura down to the dead man’s house with a basket of leftovers for the man’s family. Laura is brought in and shown the dead man’s corpse. She is unable to articulate what she feels, managing only: “Isn’t life…”

We took turns reading, stopping about every two pages to discuss. It flowed easily. Sonya deftly molded the evening around the written text and our conversation.

We chatted about what we thought of this comment, that nuance. We laughed. We discussed intimately what it is to be human in today’s world: How we don’t spend time mourning our lost ones. How very apropos the short story remains about poverty and the cluelessness of so many privileged people (I include myself). How we continue to try to distract young women from important issues by concentrating on their looks.

It was different to a book club where you’ve read the book and then get together to discuss. Often by then your first thoughts are forgotten. You are quick to judge. Sometimes the only real question is whether you liked the book or not. Yes, I quite liked it, you might murmur as you reached for the red wine. But what was different about this was that you read together, you remembered the sentences, you remembered your feelings.

I found the whole experience very soul-nurturing because as an author I tend to read too professionally. Either doing research or dissecting a book, wondering how did they do that. Thinking sometimes snootily, Is this really something that got published? Or more often, Wow I could never do this. I never turn off my professional eyes.

Which is sad because the main reason I became a writer is that I loved to read.

So it was good to relax into the story, to concentrate on the text, to fall deeply into the spell. No thoughts of who the author’s agent or publisher must be or any tricks of the trade. Just a long slow deep reading with new insights and conversation.

Slow reading.

If you’re in Melbourne, check out Sonya’s website. You will never read the same way again.

painting: Charwomen in Theater (1946) Norman Rockwell (USA, 1894-1978)

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Writers, eat your heart out (Best fan letter ever!)

For those of you who might have noticed I have been avoiding the internet. And I have to tell you I have been getting a fair amount written. Two rewrites, and half of a first draft. And I’ve even started chatting to my husband and children. So all good.

Then I received this email today from a Russian woman (Mounting Desire was translated into Russian about two years ago) and I just had to share it because it made me laugh with gratitide and pleasure. This email has made all past work worth while.

And if I could bottle and take a sip every morning of the joy and exhuberance and the good will of this woman, I would live forever.

Thank you, Katerina. You made my day.

Dear Nina!
My name is Katerina. I am from Russia. I am very happy write the letter to you!! I am in love in you and your creative!You help me survive when i was in trouble. First I would like to thank you for enjoing you give by writing. Your books realy give relax and happy to readers!!!!You know the best romantic book i read was called “MOUNTING DESIRE”. The heroes are for ever in my heart. When i feel bad i think about them and i fell good myself. It was very very exiting!!!But that would be beautiful to read in in your native language))) Thank you very-very-very much for my the happiest houres with your book!!!!!! I just want to thank!!! I am a big fan of romantic book sinse i met your book!!! And now study english for read your book in english!!!I have been studing english for year. I am trying read the book in english but only with a diccionary. Bur i have goal and i will do it!!!! I going to know english as a first language))))).
Your creative made my life better. I think in the way more positively.
By the way there is not much yours book in Russia:((((((i would love to read all your works!!! your creative inspire me very much!!! Thank you for all!!! You are wonderful writer!!! You have so nice name! I saw your photo. You are the most beautiful women!!! I wish i live in your country. Then i could meet you and speak with you one day).You are sinshine for me. I respect you very much! When i feel i dont understand an english tense or rule i go to your blog and watch cover of yours works. And i feel how it inspire me!!! Well i believe i will speak fluently english one day)))
Have a nice day.
Best wishes.
Helth, love and happy!!!

photo by smuzz (flickr)

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Writer vs. Author

I went to a literary salon in London the other night. It was at the house of a dynamo new comer to the publishing world called Meike Ziervogel. She is a long time Londoner, an energetic German and a bombshell blond.

I remember not so long ago, three years tops, when Meike and I went walking together, (there is a group of us who tackle the English South Downs every four months or so) and she was talking about starting a company to publish contemporary European literature translated for English readers. I walked along, nodding and murmuring, yes, excellent idea! while thinking, Damn, that’s gonna be a hard one.

But lo and behold, a blink of an eye later, Peirene Press has just won the Independent Publishers’ Guild Newcomer of the Year 2011 award. Meike is remarkable and I am so proud of her. (Her blog)

The reason I’m mentioning this is that as part of her publicity she runs sensational literary salons where she invites authors to come and talk about their work.

The latest one I went to had two very engaging writers David Flusfeder and Matthias Politycki being interviewed by book critic Nicholas Lezard.

It was Matthias who brought up the idea of Writers vs. Authors, saying that neither one is better than the other. They are just very different approaches to writing.

The authors, he said, see an interesting story and develop it. They have the ability to stick with a story that is not their own. They are able to create plots and characters outside themselves and their obsessions.

The ones he called Writers are bound by their life, chained by their passions (hence the clever photo of chains…). They are forced to write the story that comes out of them, whether they want to or not.

I think I am firmly in the second camp. Which is why, after writing three satires set in the U.S. I suddenly wrote an emotional novel about the plight of childhood which I’ve set in Hampstead Heath in London.

It was prompted by my own feelings of what children today are going through. All based on watching my children and my friends’ children.

For about a year I kept putting it aside, saying No, that’s not the kind of book I write. Go away.

But it kept tapping me on the shoulder, kept turning up in my dreams, until I finally said, Fine. I’ll write you. And then will you please go away. So I can write another book, closer to the kind I usually do.

It nodded its head and solemnly promised.

Well, that book, called Sisterwood, is done and we’ll see what happens with it.

And I am free to begin another book. But the book I aimed to write:  a thriller I said thrillingly to myself –a real book with a real plot and potential sales!–is being pushed aside. Another book is tapping me on my shoulder. It’s another one that I started two years ago but put away as unpublishable.

Write me, it now whispers, don’t forget me.

And again, even though I worry that no one will be interested, that my agent will raise a weary eyebrow, I have begun meeting with this book, furtively like a lover.

Come to me, it calls, write me. You know you want to….

photo by racineur (flickr)

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