A Creative Exercise

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by Stella

For your consideration (and amusement), a creative exercise. You can do it in your head or try that old-fashioned pen and paper thing. Think of a simple sentence, like “The moon rose over the hill,” or “Joan went out to buy some cherries.” I’m going to go with Joan. Now we replace the word “cherries” with something slightly unusual:

Joan went out to buy some hockey sticks.

We increase the weirdness factor:

Joan went out to buy some hockey sticks for her dinner party.

Voilà. A potential story to tell. Why does Joan need hockey sticks for a dinner party? I have no idea. Maybe she needs them to serve the hors d’oeuvres. This is a little too self-consciously quirky, isn’t it? Hold on, I’ll bring back the cherries.

Joan went out to buy some cherries for her dinner party.

Don’t worry. We can still mix it up plenty. We will simply replace Joan, much as we all love her.

Evan went out to buy some cherries for his dinner party.

So, while the next obvious question is why is Evan throwing a dinner party, you could sidestep that by changing “his” to “her,” naturally provoking the question, why would you name a girl “Evan”? That’s a prospective story in itself. Perhaps we need to talk about Evan’s parents a bit before we get to the dinner party. Or say we change the action’s physical direction – Evan goes in some place instead of going out.

And you get the idea. That’s one sentence. It can go another way each time you replace a word, no matter what its grammatical function is, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. If you’re in the wrong mood, this can be completely paralyzing. Imagine having to navigate an endless maze of identical rooms. You’d never move from the square-foot of ground beneath your feet.

But if you’re in the right mood, the rooms don’t seem identical at all. They have different shapes and sizes. You trip over the furniture in this room. You find someone you know two rooms to the left. The room on the right has no floor – you have to swing across on a rope. Whatever. It’s up to you. And here endeth the lesson (and the extended metaphor). Now let’s see, what’s next?

Interview with Marina Lewycka - Part 1 of 2

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by Jen

The View From Here Interview:
Marina Lewycka

Marina Lewycka is of Ukrainian origin and was born in a British-run refugee camp in northern Germany, after the end of World War II. She grew up in England and studied at Keele University. She has written a number of books of practical advice for carers of the elderly, published by Age Concern England . She lectures in the department of media studies (journalism & PR) at Sheffield Hallam University.

Her first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (2005), tells of the exploits of two feuding sisters trying to save their elderly father from a glamorous blonde Ukrainian divorcee, Valentina. This book won the 2005 Saga Award for Wit, the 2005 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction. Her second novel Two Caravans was published in hardback in March 2007 by Fig Tree (Penguin Books) for the United Kingdom market, and was shortlisted for the 2008 Orwell Prize for political writing. In the United States and Canada it is published under the title Strawberry Fields.


Let’s start by letting me ask you, how do you pronounce your last name?


A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian was a worldwide hit - so your fiction career has really taken off when many people are considering retirement. How did your career develop - did writing non-fiction for Age Concern co-exist with your fiction writing in earlier life?

It’s my first published book. I’ve always been writing, ever since I was a child. Poetry was my first love but I also wrote plays and stories, and two complete novels. They were rather serious books with big issues. I had lots of rejections. Tractors was very different, and I really never thought it would be published - why would they publish this funny, silly book? But they did. I was 57 when it was accepted and 59 when the book came out. It’s nice to be starting a new career at 60!

Would you recommend going to creative writing school to other aspiring authors and why?

Many people – myself included – scribble away in private, because revealing your secret thoughts and not-fully-developed talent to a cynical world is embarrassing. However friends and family are useless as critics – they will always say it’s wonderful, either because they think everything you do is wonderful, or because they love you, and want to spare your feelings. So the protective environment of a writing course is a good place to start showing other people your work. You can also learn a lot from reading other people’s efforts; you may privately think that Ms X’s story is a load of semi-pornographic drivel, but of course you won’t say that – you’ll find a constructive way of voicing your criticism. And there will be a lesson in there somewhere for you.

You have said that Tractors is to great extent autobiographical and was something you had in mind to write for many years. How long did it take you to actually write, once you started?

Yes it’s not all pulled out of the blue. Many of the events started in autobiography, but as the characters took on a life of their own, they became distinct. I started writing it because I wanted to know more about the story of my family. I had recorded tapes with my mother, but after she died I realised there was not enough material there for a novel. My father could fill in some bits, but there were still gaps. That’s when realised I would have to create a fiction instead of a memoir. It was very liberating. Once you realise you can make some things up, you can make anything up. Once I got going, it took me about six years to write, fitting it in around a part-time job.

Aspiring authors are often told how critical selecting a “good” title is. How and why did you select “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian?” Did it meet any unexpected responses?

People often ask where the title came from. My father did write a history of tractors but his book is very different and technical. Unfortunately, when the book came out, some on-line stores filed it under ‘Agricultural History’.

Your characters include some who are clearly stereotypes. Why did you make that deliberate choice in selecting some of your characters?

Well, people are often a bit sniffy about stereotypes, but actually I think it helps the reader if the characters seem familiar – it makes it easier for them to colour in the detail, and saves time, and pages and pages of back story if the characters resemble people they know. Ian McEwan wouldn’t do that, but I’m not Ian McEwan, I’m known as a writer of comic fiction.

You dedicated Two Caravans to the memory of the Morecambe Bay cockle pickers. Do you deliberately use comedy to reveal political/economic criticism of the poor pay and conditions of foreign workers or animal cruelty?

Yes, it’s really a look at some of the darker aspects of life in Britain today, but told with a humour, so people don’t immediately put it down. Some of the characters do get lost to prostitution; there are gang masters, slavery, exploitation. But my aim is not so much to raise social and political issues as to give readers an opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

About the episodes of animal cruelty in Two Caravans - how did you research that? How did you feel about it?

I didn’t set out to write that, and I was shocked to discover how chickens are produced, but once I knew what went on, I couldn’t not put it in the book. I do feel very angry about it. But someone else did all the hard work. Felicity Lawrence of the Guardian went to the chicken farms and did all that first-hand research (you can read more about it in her wonderful book Not on the Label) She researched all the scams, and the way both the chickens and the workers are abused. All I did was buy her lunch! I also got help from an organisation called Compassion in World Farming, who sent me a video that had been secretly recorded. But I read a lot online as well. The worst abuses in the book were based on court cases of people who were prosecuted for doing those things.

Care homes and the aged feature in Tractors, Two Caravans and your upcoming third novel, We are All Made of Glue. How is ageing and how society deals with it a concern for you?

I owe much to my work with Age Concern England. I spent a lot of time with wonderfully stubborn, cussed and eccentric old people, trying to squeeze the last few drops of pleasure out of life, and their desperate families who want them to grow old gracefully. We can learn a lot from the old – but too often we patronise them and shut them away.

Did you grow up multi-lingual? How does your background affect your use of language in your writing? Was it difficult inventing the “English-Ukrainian mish-mash” or Malawi-English spoken by your characters, who use fractured syntax and elaborate combinations of expressions?

I spoke Ukrainian at home, and only learnt English when I went to school. I also spent a few years teaching English as a Second Language, and I got quite an ear for all the different varieties of ‘bad English’. I’m always fascinated by the way people speak, and can often be spotted eavesdropping in public places.

Do you think this “world-English” is the future of the English language?

English is a wonderful language, because it’s very easy to learn, but everybody adapts it to their own way of speaking and patterns of grammar. I think ‘world-English' is not just the future of the English language, but is also the future language of the world. It’s happening already.


Part Two
of Marina's interview will continue on Friday, followed by a review of her latest book out July 2, We are all Made of Glue .


Author image credit: Ian Phillpott

To visit Marina's web site click here.


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by Charlie & Fossfor (Artwork)

by Yasutaka Tsutsui
Publisher: Alma Books

I came to Yasutaka Tsutsui’s Paprika with a great sense of expectation. With themes of psychology, psychiatry, detective thriller and science fiction many of my buttons were pushed. Not only that, the cover boasted a quote from no less a publication than The Guardian that drew a comparison with J.G. Ballard. Much to my disappointment I came away from this book with my hopes shattered and a rather nasty taste in my mouth. But more of that later.

The story itself is set in contemporary Japan and postulates that machines can be manufactured that allow a person to both view and interact with another’s dreams. These devices are used by therapists to treat ‘mental illness’ but someone is also using them to drive people insane. It is left to the central protagonist Atsuko Chiba, a brilliant young researcher and therapist, to uncover what is going on – both in the waking world and in the dreams of her clients.

As a story idea this has much potential but it failed for me on two fundamental levels. The first was language, or perhaps translation. It has often struck me that translated texts can tend to a style, particularly in dialogue, that feels somehow ‘formal’ – as if one was reading subtitles. Of course it may be that this is a cultural difference in the use of language itself but for whatever reason the immersive experience one should get when reading was fatally damaged by both prose and style. That being said, whether an author’s voice rings true is always subjective and for someone else the issue may not arise here. For that matter, on more than one occasion I’ve taken a deal of pleasure from (to me) clumsily written work that told me a good tale. But sadly I felt the book failed on that count as well.

As a worker in mental health I could hardly not take a ‘professional’ interest in the ideas postulated but it rapidly became apparent that if Tsutsui is seriously putting forward a set of ‘what if’ possibilities, he has very little grasp of psychology, psychiatry and ‘mental illness’ in the modern era. Rather his hypotheses seemed based on Kant, Freud and Jung – all great thinkers and pioneers but with ideas on connections between dreaming and psychosis that no longer hold water. Again this may not be an issue for readers without an interest in the area but for me it was too big a hurdle to overcome.

Alternatively Tsutsui might be wearing another hat here, that of the satirist of contemporary views on medicine, morality and the soul? I freely concede that this may have been his intent and I wondered as I approached the latter stages of the book if a sub-text would be revealed? Alas it wasn’t to be and I was, as I said, left disappointed and disturbed. I had wondered if one point Tsutsui was attempting to convey was societal attitudes to women. Certainly he places great emphasis on the reactions by colleagues’ and the media to Atsuko’s physical beauty. Indeed many characters seem to be suffering from some form of Atsuko induced mental priapism. One character takes this further and attempts to rape Atsuko. All this could have been to some point that I’m missing but I really don’t think so. Instead Tsutsui reveals something about himself rather than society when Atsuko herself becomes aroused during the attempted rape and beating. There is no doubt that sexual assault is a complex issue for both protagonist and victim but this was not evident here, all I found was a lazy stereotyping ‘they all want it really’ attitude that bore no relevance to her character or motivation. Perhaps I’m making a cultural judgement or guilty of misunderstanding but I really don’t think so. At the end of the day there are some things for which moral relativism just won’t cut it for me. This was just a nasty pointless scene.

As for The Guardian, the quote asks us to imagine a manic Ballard and that encapsulates the problem here. Ballard was controversial, challenging and walked the fine line between alienation and revelation. On what is presented here, Tsutsui hasn’t inherited his mantle; rather he’s wearing the Emperor’s new clothes.

Original painting for the review by Fossfor

Shall I be a Writer?

by Mike Murphy

At the age of 19 I wrote a poem that started "Shall I be a writer? If so what shall I write?"

Nearly fifty years later I am still asking the same questions, but the point is I'm still writing.

A few years after I wrote the poem I had several short stories published in men's magazines and thought I had it made. So I began on my great novel.

That's when I learned it takes a lot longer, and a lot more determination and self-confidence to write a novel than a short story.

Over the next 20 years I started several novels in different genres, tried a screen play, had some more short stories published, until one day a counsellor lost patience with me and said "For God's sake, stop talking about it and write a damn novel."

So I did. It took me two years.

Twenty years on I had written five, and none have been published. Eventually I threw away the drawer full of rejection slips (117 was the record for one novel) and swore I would never write again, or bash my head against any other brick walls that happened to be around.

Then I met successful author Michael Robotham. He hadn't had my experience of rejection, but he understood why I had always had to write, and said if it was him he would just go on writing; there was no other way.

Oddly enough my wife had always said the same thing, but I didn't listen to her.

Is the drive just to write or do you have to be published to prove you could do it?

For me, the dream is still there but it doesn’t ache so badly. I write and there are times when it feels good and flows and times when I wonder why on earth I am torturing myself.

I have stopped making myself write for a set period every day, whether I feel like it or not. I write until I don’t feel like doing it any more and then a make some notes for what I am going to write next and leave it there for the moment. I may come back to it half an hour or half a day later. By not forcing myself to write when I don’t feel like it I am staving off that feeling of pointlessness that has seen me give up on many novels in the past. I have more than a dozen half or even three quarters finished.

Another thing I don’t do is look at other’s people’s writing, seeking the secrets they discovered that got them published. I just write what comes out of my head and edit it the way I think makes it read better, not to make it read like somebody else.

Maybe it’s the same as when you forget a word or name and then it pops back into your head when you are not thinking about it. Maybe if I’m not trying so hard, thinking only about the writing and not about getting published, I will get published.

God, I hope so, That 19 year old kid will be happy at last.

Mike Murphy lives in Walpole, Western Australia and is currently working on a series of crime novels featuring "The Grey Nomad Detective Agency" a group of elderly people spending their retirement travelling around the country in caravans and solving crimes along the way.

Photo credit of wall: star 5112

Love Letters

by Katie Fforde
Publisher: Century 2009

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by Jane Turley

When do you stop believing in fairy tales?

I don’t suppose that many of us actually do. We all dream at times of winning the lottery, a mystery lover or becoming a secret agent. Isn’t that why fiction is so popular? In it we find our escapism, our freedom to be whoever we choose. I’m sure I can’t be the only one who metamorphoses in to one or more of the protagonists as I read. In fact, I regularly imagine myself as James Bond which maybe why my car spends a lot time with the mechanic. It also may explain why my kids eat their vegs; when you’re looking down the barrel of a Walther PPK you don’t actually have a lot of choice in the matter. But my point is; if a book fails to entice me into its world then I know for sure that it hasn’t really succeeded.

Love Letters is a tale that has been repeated many times. Laura Horsley, the heroine, is a university educated, naive 26 year old virgin who works in a book store. Her wardrobe consists of black skirts and trousers, white blouses and flat shoes. She falls in love with a handsome hero and after a few fashion tips, a new career and some routine misunderstandings she captures his heart and well... you can guess the rest.

Now don’t be shocked Readers; I know I’m sweet, demure and a typical English Rose but even I couldn’t imagine myself as Laura. This is because not even in my wildest, most outrageous and yes even in my most boring fantasies would I want to be a 26 year old virgin with a life as dull as dishwater where the only fun is reading books. It’s not that I don’t like romances but I just have a fundamental problem with why so many of these romantic heroines are as about feisty as a wet dishcloth. And will someone please explain why these women never, ever have a decent wardrobe? I don’t want to be a bore but when a woman fancies the pants of a guy she usually makes a little bit more effort on the appearance front. Yep, when I had the hots for my hubby I remember making a huge effort (and that didn’t even include the “special” underwear.) Now Ms Fforde doesn’t describe Laura’s underwear but I guarantee, upon pain of losing my chocolate rations, Laura’s the sort of girl who wears Marks and Spencer’s wholesome white knickers with a cotton gusset. I also imagine that after they’ve worn out she uses them for dusting her books.

So Laura is definitely no Elizabeth Bennett and, irritatingly, like so many heroines of this genre she only becomes fulfilled as a person as a direct or indirect consequence of meeting Mr Right. Frankly, these insipid women bore me senseless. It’s the 21st century; I want to read about women who have confidence in themselves, who are not afraid to be who they are and who don’t need a man to make them complete. Isn’t the relationship between two fully fledged human beings more interesting? I think so.

Love Letters did hold some interest for me though and here’s where it gets intriguing. The plot revolves around our heroine being recruited by a literary agent to organize a literary festival and the hero, Dermot Flynn, is the potential star attraction who she must bring on board to make it a success. It’s fascinating as the novel progresses how Ms Fforde portrays the literary and non literary authors. The successful authors, in fiscal terms, are jolly smiley types writing marketable women’s fiction and the literary types are impoverished slightly sour ones. The only exclusion to this is the hero who is a rare bestselling literary author. However, he has been crippled with writer’s block for 15 years. Yes, 15 years! By God, that’ll teach him to write a literary bestseller! Forced to live with years of mental torture being unable to string two words together whilst simultaneously observing chick lit authors rocket to the top of the bestseller charts! No wonder the poor man took to drink and women. Crikey, even I would take to drink and women in those circumstances - and that’s saying something.

Bizarrely, as I was reading Love Letters it crossed my mind that maybe in a subconscious way Ms Fforde was almost justifying to herself writing a book which is basically fluff, albeit marketable fluff. Which leads to the question; how do you measure success? Is it in monetary terms or literary longevity?

200 years on, I wonder what Jane Austen would give as her answer?

But the bottom line is Love Letters will sell. Partially because of Katie Fforde’s track record and partially because this a formula that many women enjoy. It’s not my preferred reading but many women don’t need an intellectual read and there’s nothing wrong with that. The fact that Mills and Boon is so widely read is testimony to the universal popularity of a simple love story and even though I’m a cynic I’m also a great believer that reading anything, so long as it’s useful or enjoyable, is good for the mind and soul.

And as far as the author is concerned, I think that whatever you write, literary or non literary, so long as you’re happy with the result that is the true measure of success.

The trouble is, I have a sneaking suspicion that Katie knows she hasn’t done herself real justice with Love Letters.

But who am I to say?

Only Katie knows the truth.

To read Katie's interview with The View From Here click here.

Apocalypse Cow - - Todd Heldt

Everything seemed possible that summer Jeff and I stole the cow. We were living in a tiny rental house near the outskirts of Denton, and because it was summer, we had both had our hours drastically cut at the opinion research place where we acted as telemarketers. I had been placed on probation because I kept introducing myself to the female head of household age 28-37 as "The Telemarketer Formerly Known as Prince."


You KNOW you want more ...
The Front View. Expect the best. Find it there.

A Little Spice Interview Yasutaka Tsutsui


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by Kerrie-Anne

Excitement and anticipation would best describe my mood when Paprika was opened. After all Yasutaka Tsutsui is one, if not the, most respected author in Japan.

Critically acclaimed with an air of mystery for his somewhat eccentric ways, a multitude of literary awards follow him, he is a man whose literary genius had been touted far and wide.

I must say what I found was somewhat different. Now to be fair I may have missed something within the cultural differences we are all challenged with, Japanese and Australian Cultures are poles apart, however I find a certain amount of respect never goes astray regardless of the culture, having friends from every corner of the globe, respect is universal.

Perhaps understanding the man himself would shed some light on the novel. Help me understand the nature of his writing, his perspective and the cultural bounds to which he was writing, alas this was not to be.

Putting my disappointment in the novel aside, I approached the man himself hoping to gain an insight into the mind of Yasutaka. Initially I considered this interview to be a failure, the strange, quick and short responses, not to mention the apparent lack of consideration of the questions. However upon reflection I have done a complete 180% turn around, for the same reasons I considered this a failure, I now think it tells us an awful lot about the man who is Yasutaka Tsutsui.

This is how it went. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Can you tell us a few things about yourself?

I think I’ll leave that to you.

What was it, which drew you to writing?

Reading. And the fascination of novels.

Who has been your inspiration in life?

Comic actors. The Marx Brothers, in particular.

What would you consider to be the most important innovation you have seen in your 74 years?

Momofuku Ando’s instant noodles.

You have been honored with several literally awards including:
The Izumi Kyoka award, 1981
(for Kyojin-Tachi [Fictional Characters])
The Tanizaki Jun'ichiro award, 1987
(for Yumenokizaka-Bunkiten [The Yumenokizaka Intersection])
The Kawabata Yasunari award, 1989 (for "Yoppa-dani eno Koka" [A Descent into the Yoppa Valley]
The Japan SF award, 1992
(for Asa no Gasuparu [Gaspard of the Morning]).

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

The Pasolini Award (1997)

You have been described as the ‘Guru of Metafiction’. How do you find this description of your writing style and yourself?

What?! I’ve never heard that one. You’ve got it all wrong. I am not the Guru of Metafiction.

(he is described as this on his own website and profile page click here. )

Whilst growing up in Osaka life was a very different place to today.

What is your fondest memory of growing up, and how do you think this affected your writing?

I was born and raised in Osaka. Life then was indeed a very different place. But that aside, my fondest memory as I was growing up was seeing a lot of films. The so-called “programme pictures” taught me the importance of plot.

What do you consider your greatest achievement so far?

That will be decided by you all when I’m dead.

When writing Paprika what was the inspiration behind the story line?

Dreams, inevitably.

Do you think the technology seen in Paprika such as the Gorgon, Dream Capture Equipment and ultimately a Dream Detective/manipulator will one day be part of everyday life?

There is absolutely no chance of that happening. If it did, all my effort in stretching the bounds of fantasy would have been wasted.

The complexity of the characters in Paprika has been something I found as enjoyable and interesting as the story itself. How do you develop your characters personalities? Do you build from the story or do they take on a life of their own separate to writing of the story?

For “Paprika”, I remember the idea coming from an episode where two candidates for the Nobel Prize were fighting over a lunchbox.

Some aspect of Paprika, felt in some ways like a study into society. The treatment of Dr Atsuko Chiba by the media, Kosaka Tokita his weight issues, attitudes into mental health the stigmatism which is associated with them. Was it your intention to bring these issues into the public arena and raise awareness of the issues?

These are all merely details that drive the story. But it is these details that are so important for a novel. That doesn’t only apply to novels; god dwells in the detail.

So many wonderful characters abound in Paprika. Who was your favourite character?

I liked them all equally. I could happily act any one of them.

On your website it is stated

‘Unfortunately, the recent champions of PC consensus became so nervous about Tsutsui's literary experiments that the writer finally gave up writing -- at least publishing works in print media -- in the summer of 1993. However, he has since been getting more active in cyber-media, helping set up in the summer of 1996 the first literary server in Japan "JALInet," which allows us to read his new story based upon Shichifuku-jin (the Seven Deities of Good Fortune).’ Given the rise of the internet do you think published media is coming to an end, to be replaced with Cyber space or will there always be a place for the printed word and will you reenter it?

When that happens, I will already have entered another world. In fact, I think the human race will be extinct before the printed word ceases to exist.

What advice would you give to those attempting to become published authors?

Read the classics. Most classics can now be read as entertainment. They are also packed full of ideas.

Having accomplished so much over the years, what has been the most valuable lesson you have learnt?

Never to follow any teaching, mottos or life maxims, but to be free.

How do you see society and life in general over the next century?

I think the devil will be laughing.

I am a Writer

by Sophia Bennett

The conversation goes something like this:

(Grudgingly) ‘So what d’you do, then?’

Me. Thinks: ‘I’m a writer, I’m a writer, I’m a writer.’ Out loud: ‘Oh, management consultancy’.

‘Er … are there any more of those crisps?’

It’s a killer, every time. I understand Stella Rimington used to say she worked in HR, rather than as chief spy-catcher for MI5. It had the same effect.

Occasionally, out of boredom or desperation, I would try a different tack.

(Grudgingly) ‘So what d’you do, then?’

Me: ‘I’m trying to be a writer.’

‘Oh. So what have you published? Have I seen it somewhere?’

Me: ‘No. Nothing yet. I’m working on something. It’s a story about a girl who …’

The eyes glaze over. The gaze strays towards the place where the crisps might be.

Either way, I’m done for.

This lasted for ten years. But the feeling of being a writer on the inside and something else entirely, and guilty about it, on the outside, has persisted for thirty, since before I was in my teens.

I’ve written. I’ve written professionally, even. If you can count interviews and reports and meeting write-ups, which I do. I’ve written a thesis. I’ve written three detective novels, countless short stories and a screenplay. I’ve filled shelves full of notebooks with ideas and first chapters. I’ve written a LOT.

But not for publication, apart from a 500 word piece for a Times travel competition, which is still in my parents’ loo. Nothing that might hit a shelf in a bookshop. Nothing that I might spot a stranger reading in a bus or on a train. Nothing to justify my inner existence.

Until a few months ago.

What changed?

All I can think of is that I started acting like a writer. No, I don’t mean drinking, hanging around louche clubs in Soho and practising extra-marital sex (although I have a feeling typical writers don’t do this sort of thing so much any more). I mean going to the library at 9.30 every morning, turning my laptop on and writing till 5.30.

Of course, not exactly that. I mean, going to the library, reading the papers, finding a café with wifi, checking emails and googling for a couple of hours, then writing till 5.30.

I started a blog. My fourth, actually, but the first that didn’t have a strong ring of management consultancy to it. This one had more of a ring of fashion to it – my favourite obsession after writing and children. I use it like stretching exercises. If the book won’t come straight away, and it normally won’t, I can jot down 1,000 words about something frivolous but important to me and gradually get the words working.

I also heard about Elmore Leonard’s writing approach on Radio 4. (Question: Where do you get your ideas from? Answer: tube posters and Radio 4.) According to the programme, he writes every day on a pad of yellow paper and scrumples up the pages that don’t work and throws them in the bin. By the end of the day, the bin is full to overflowing and he has some pages he can use. And I thought – well, if Elmore Leonard can write stuff he doesn’t think is up to scratch, I sure as hell can.

So I started throwing more away. Just because it was funny, it didn’t make the cut if it dragged the story off at an unnecessary tangent. Just because it perfectly matched my chapter plan, it didn’t make the cut if it wasn’t funny enough. Just because it was funny and on-plan, it didn’t make the cut if I’d suddenly made my narrator bitchy, which she isn’t by nature. And I didn’t simply amend the bitchy lines. If a scene had a bitchy feel to it, it went. And the next one was better.

As a result of which, I have 34 drafts’ worth of story and one manuscript that will go public. So I’ve got enough backstory to last a lifetime. Certainly to keep me going through two sequels.

I think that’s the key. I’m not a writer, any more than I ever was. I’m a re-writer.

Something else. Years ago, I did a screenwriting course. I couldn’t bear to study novel writing. After nine years of studying literary criticism at school and university, the idea of going to classes about how to write the stuff was too painful. But screenwriting was far enough removed to be OK.

I chose a course run by Elliot Grove of the London Raindance Festival. The lessons seeped through to my book. It was like being taught gymnastics and then asked to complete an obstacle course. Not exactly the same thing, but there were some tricks I could apply.

My characters would be in a scene, talking about something, and I could hear Elliot saying ‘show, SHOW’ – so they’d stop talking and go back and do it. A character wouldn’t be quite right and Elliot would be whispering ‘make her a guy, make her old, make her an angel’. Elliot believed in taking a story, shaking it up, intensifying the colours. Nothing was sacred. If the action can take place in three days, why not three minutes? How do the characters get from A to B? Who cares? Go to B. As long as you know how they got there, it will make sense.

I realise this is obvious to lots of people who study writing properly, but it was news to me. It helped a lot, though. It helped so much that the last ten drafts flew by.

So I’m not so much a re-writer as a re-screenwriter. Perhaps not a typical voyage of self-discovery, but it works for me. It works so well, in fact, that it’s created a new problem.

In September, my book will be on real bookshelves in real bookshops, with my name on. And unless we experience a Farenheight 451, they’ll always be there. Remaindered, possibly. Ancient, eventually. But always there.

It makes me so profoundly content that I hardly dare talk about it. As Elliot said: ‘Happiness writes white’. What is there left to say?
So the conversation now goes like this:
Grudgingly) ‘So what d’you do, then?’
Me. Thinks: ‘I wrote a book. It’s being published. If I tell you, I will self-combust from sheer joy.’ Out loud: ‘Er, I used to be a management consultant. Fancy a crisp?’

Sophia Bennett lives and writes in London. She is working on a sequel to Threads , when not playing with her children, visiting the V&A, drinking cappuccino, or reading Vogue and Grazia. She has also written for the Guardian. Threads, is published by Chicken House in September.

To visit her blog click

Photo credit: Sarah Whitaker

Something Must Be Burning -- Suvi Mahonen

Earlier this morning I’d agreed that we didn’t need to leave. Now that a second helicopter has arrived I have changed my mind.

‘Brendan, we can’t stay,’ I say. ‘We need to pack the car.’
This will leave you wondering.

As always, the BEST new fiction, At The Front View

Words Can Not Say

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by Kathleen

It makes no sense. I didn’t even say the worst part. But Larry read my mind.

He was carrying a deli platter for the office party and my mind flew smack into something so appalling I couldn’t squelch it in time. I saw Larry’s face above the deli platter and he saw my sick, unspoken thought. I gasped and Larry gasped. And then thank God, he laughed. We were both laughing hysterically—it was either laugh or cry.

We’ve worked together in accounting for ten years. Larry was always irritable, even overwrought, except when talking about his son. Joel was a brilliant boy who was too good to be true. Larry said so when Joel graduated first in his class from medical school. And he was saying it again after Joel died on New Year’s Day. A chief intern at City Hospital, engaged to marry his longtime sweetheart, Joel died suddenly, the first tragedy of the New Year.

No need to ask the details. We all have the same theory, but nobody will say it out loud. Instead, we say, “It makes no sense.”

No need to say what words can not say. Everyone seems to understand that nobody can understand.

Larry says that Joel would never say if something was wrong. Even as a little boy, he never complained. Even as a child, Joel worked like crazy and excelled like crazy and to throw it all away makes no sense.

Management told Larry to take all the time he needed. But Larry said time off wasn’t going to bring Joel back. So he and his wife sat Shivah for seven days, following Jewish tradition. We visited, sat with them, and said prayers—surrounded by deli platters. So many deli platters that people attempted feeble jokes about them. You know, the way people do.

Larry and I work at a bank and all through January and February, on Friday afternoons the company laid people off. Not me and not Larry, but hundreds of others.

Now in March the company has announced no more lay-offs. And this Friday afternoon it hosted a morale-boosting party with deli platters and soft drinks.

The baby kept me up all night. I’m still nursing him but that’s no excuse. I stepped out of my office. And Larry was coming straight at me with this huge deli platter.

“Don’t tell me that’s from—” I stopped there.

Larry and I gaped at each other. Until finally he laughed and I laughed, thank God.

Foregoing the party, though, I drew the blinds and lay my head on my desk.

Larry’s knocking on the doorframe. “Don’t worry about it, Joanna. It’s nothing.”

“I know.”

But suddenly I’m crying.

“Give that little son of yours a kiss from me.” Larry’s crying, too. “Make sure he always knows how much you love him.”

Then Larry slaps my doorframe and walks away, choking back sobs.

Issue 12 of TVFH: The Summer Edition

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The View From Here issue 12

Interviews with ...
Andrew Davidson
Patrick Gale
John Baker

Original Fiction at thefrontview by:
Mike Hancock
Terry McKee
Ian Smith

Guest Writers:
Anne Brooke
Nick Weldon
Steve Potter

The Awkward Brunch article by Stella Carter
Original Short Fiction by Kathleen Maher
Rabbit Writer monthly cartoon from Naomi Gill

Book Reviews of
Dear Everybody by Michael Kimball
Don Juan de la Mancha by Robert Menasse

with original art by Fossfor.
ISSN 1758-2903

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Or read it free in our on-line magazine style format at Issuu:

The Problem with Places

by Paolo Giordano
(translated for us by his publisher from the Italian)

It is no longer in fashion – fortunately -, nevertheless a couple of
friends, particularly around September, still insist in proposing evenings at home to project on a white wall the photos of their own holidays. Punctually, in such occasions, my father’s similar initiatives come back to my mind, when I was still living with him: sleepy after-dinners spent in dim-light during which, voice out of sync with the picture, described with meticulousness slides of places that we had already seen, whilst my sister repeated the exasperating litany: “how many more?”.

I get annoyed when others tell me about the places they have visited. Therefore, in turn, I tend to avoid it. Returning from a journey, at the recurring question: “So, how was it?”, I always respond with a laconic and interchangeable: “Beautiful”. Maybe it’s my fault – a concentration span too short, an intolerance due to the abuse of slides at a young age, a congenital aversion to still life -, but I find the majority of people (and myself above all), incapable to narrate a place – and above all a city -, without inserting a sequence of “there was a church that, there was a beach where, there were some very tall trees with”. Still images, often not very original, flattened like the slides of my unshakable friends.

But is it really possible to narrate a city? Is it possible to restore that elusive mood – I couldn’t define it otherwise – that makes you declare “I’m madly in love with Berlin”, rather than “I can’t stand Florence”? Is it possible to describe Paris without the Eiffel Tower, London avoiding the Big Ben, and New York without the sun lazily setting behind the skyline? I was sure I didn’t know how to do it, not even my own city, Turin, which I know like I knew the playground near my native home, inch by inch in all its surface, situated between the hill and the bypass. So, when I wrote my first novel, “the solitude of prime numbers”, I chose not to mention Turin not even once, to render each place, that in my head had a precise position, reachable by car in less then ten minutes from my district, a place generic and absolute: the park, the school, the river and so on.

In the months following the publication (by now too late), I discovered that each choice made throughout the writing, sooner or later, it needs justifying in front of someone: a reader capable of seeing in your intentions further than you pushed yourself. “Why does he never mention the town?”, I was asked numerous times (the torinesi, in particular, brought it up with a measure of vexation in their voice, as if I had betrayed one of our own). I, according to the occasion, chose various answers: “I wanted the story to be universal, that anyone could reconstruct it in their own place, in their own park, in their own school, near their own river”, or: “I believe it depends on Turin. I love my city, but I don’t find it powerful enough, incisive. It’s an excellent setting, but it’s not a protagonist. You see, if I was living in Venice, I could not manage without mentioning it, because it is eccentric and unique, with all that pomp tottering on the water. If I was born in Sicily, the same. I would have certainly recounted that place, because there nature is powerful, it overwhelms you. Not Turin”. Or, again: “Turin was notable for being the city of Fiat, industrial, austere. In the seventies the streets became empty at sunset and at nine o’clock the lights were all switched off, because in the morning the shifts at the factory started early. In the last few years it’s going through a rebirth, it has become an artistic and cultural breeding ground. But I don’t feel comfortable recounting that blossoming, my fingers stop dead on the laptop keys. I need the decadence and tiredness of an anonymous suburb”. Sincere answers, all of them. But biased. Because, in my heart, I nursed an embarrassing unsatisfaction, the same one drawn on the faces of my friends when, returning from a journey, I settled their curiosity with my reticent “beautiful”.

Then, some time ago, I found myself having to recount the life of Evariste Galois, a mathematician who lived in Paris at the beginning of the 19th century, whose story is inextricably tied to the history of the French capital. All my worries of failed narrator about places suddenly materialised: if I was not able to describe my city, how could I not reduce to a shoddy sketch the metropolis of world literature more talked about? So I gathered information, with maps, with photographs, with books, I racked my memories about visits to France going back to when I was a child and I tried to reconstruct a Paris that was more or less credible.

Some weeks after having delivered the story, by a strange coincidence, I journeyed to Paris and I discovered, without surprise, that in spite of the commitment I did not succeed in my intent. Leaning over the parapet of Pont Neuf, where a crucial part of the event took place, I thought: “Here the river is wider. The horizon seems further away. Everything is more impressive than how I described it”. The bridge of my story resembled more the one that is found at a stone’s throw from my house, built less than two hundred years ago, the Seine became narrow and brown like the Po (the river that cuts Turin sideways, isolating a segment): in short, in my Paris there was more of Turin than I would have ever imagined I could tell about it. All in all, a failure. And, at the same time, a more important victory.

I can choose not to mention my city – I thought -, to call a park simply The Park or, even, to cross the national borders and the ocean and to set a story in a quiet American district, but the place that I am really talking about will always be found in the radius of a kilometre from my house. Apparently, there is more to discover digging in my own yard [literal translation is: digging under the weeds in the yard in front of my block of flats], than there is going far and wide through Europe. That’s why the projection of my friends’ slides make me yawn so much. Maybe, I would be more attentive if those clicks immortalized the bedrooms where they retired to every evening, the landing where, many years before, we played pretending to be archaeologists, the bench with the peeling paint where they intertwined their fingers for the first time. Every bench photographed around the world will nevertheless be that one. I became aware of it through writing and every day I am convinced more and more: writing is also this, to send postcards from a place that is always the same. From a city, from a district, from a room.

Since publication in Italy in 2008, The Solitude of Prime Numbers has sold over 1 million copies, sold in 34 countries and won five literary awards, including Italy’s premier literary award, the Premio Strega. At 26 years old, Giordano is the youngest author to have received this literary recognition, placing him alongside previous winners primo Levi, Umberto Eco and Niccolò Ammaniti. His achievement is all the more remarkable when you realise he wrote the entire novel during the evenings of his PhD in Particle Physics. The book is published in the UK today in hardback under the Doubleday imprint from Random House.

Photo credit: Eric Borda: A musuem in Turin depicting a village in 1884