Date Archives April 2009

Wislawa Szymborska

Just discovered the work of Wislawa Szymborska through a poem reprinted in an old edition of New Internationalist from last year. It was called Psalm and I thought it was a beautiful and humorous poem, perfectly illustrating the absurdity of man-made borders. Here are the first few lines to give an idea: How leaky are the borders we draw around our separate nations! How many clouds cross those boundaries daily, without even paying the toll! She goes on to list all kinds of animals, stones, fog, etc., permeating the borders… Read More

“Mr Palomar” by Italo Calvino

Mr. Palomar sets out to examine every possible aspect of his life and the world around him, trying to name everything and categorise everything scientifically. Of course he fails, and it’s in the episodes of life squirming away from his rigid attempts at classification that the absurd humour comes. The arrangement of the book corresponds to Palomar’s classification attempts, being broken up into sections, sub-sections and sub-sub-sections, with each section having three sub-sections and each sub-section having three sub-sub-sections dealing with three different categories of experience. There is no real… Read More

Present-tense novels

I was experimenting with writing my next novel in the present tense. For a while it went well. The present tense felt more immediate, a little fresher, and was appropriate to the story I was trying to tell. But gradually I began to feel constricted. The present tense seemed to work well for describing scenes as they were happening, but not for filling in the gaps between the scenes. My novel was becoming a slightly repetitive series of mini-stories with no clear link between them. I found it difficult to… Read More

Monday Morning Inspiration

I often find myself reading something beautiful over the weekend, only to forget it as I get all caught up in the craziness of the week. So I thought I’d start posting some inspirational quotes here each Monday morning, in the hope that some of them stick with me through the week. Feel free to play along with me if you’d like to. Link back here or post a comment so that I can see what gets other people motivated. Could be religious or secular, could be advice for your… Read More

“An Elegy for Easterly” by Petina Gappah

This debut short-story collection by Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah is a wonderful read. The tone of each one is perfect: the language is consistently beautiful but also completely natural. You get to know the characters very quickly, through small details artfully described, and are left at just the right moment to move on to the next tale. The title gives a clue to what’s in store. “Elegy” is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “A song of lamentation, esp. a funeral song or lament for the dead”. This book… Read More

Melting ice shelfs

Do you ever have that experience where something you’ve known for a long time suddenly hits you as it’s never hit you before? That happened to me this weekend. Here’s what set it off. Every few days another huge chunk of ice seems to break off from Antarctica. Last week, for example, the Wilkins Ice Shelf broke off on Monday. That’s a lump of ice the size of Jamaica. Then on Thursday came news that the Wordie Ice Shelf had disappeared. Normally I read this stuff and feel generally concerned,… Read More

“A Time to Tell” by Maria Savva

This is a novel about secrets. It begins with Cara as a young woman attempting suicide, and most of the novel takes place in Cara’s old age, as many of the secrets within her family begin to unravel. From the first scene, the first big secret is born. Cara is attempting suicide because she’s discovered that her lover Frederick is a married man. She then quickly marries Billy, the man who saved her from drowning. But what she can never admit to anyone is her suspicion that their first child,… Read More