Thank you Anita Shreve

Coincidence is a strange thing. Just two days ago I downloaded an Anita Shreve novel on my kindle and started reading it for no reason other than that I saw the title and suspected I hadn’t read it. Over the years, I’ve greatly enjoyed a number of Anita’s books so when casting around for ‘a good read’, this seemed a failsafe choice.


So, I’m currently enjoying The Lives of Stella Bain.

I was astonished and saddened to read today that Anita died two days ago – too young these days at only 71. An obituary piece is here in the Boston Globe.

The sad thing about the death of writers you like and admire – Helen Dunmore being another – is that somehow you expected that they would always be there, writing away, crafting more for you to appreciate and enjoy – forever…

Now, too late, one can only appreciate what they contributed throughout their life and thank them for doing so.

Three cheers for Anne Tyler

anne tyler    Interviewed recently in the Sunday Times, Anne Tyler responded to criticisms that not enough happens in her books. She commented:

“I have noticed as a woman writer … that an event like war is considered a more real literary subject than just a wedding. I feel so sort of ‘Oh, I’m so sorry I haven’t been to war.’ Then I think, no. What motivates me when I’m writing is that I’m actually awed over and over again just by the fact that people manage to endure. Just that. They have nothing particularly to look forward to, and some of them have really hard and humdrum lives, and they go along.

I mean, it’s a miracle, if you think about it – that we’re all putting one foot in front of another is a miracle. To walk down the street and practically every person walking towards me, for instance, has had a huge loss. You know? I’m just so interested that it’s possible.”

Thank you Anne for some of the most cheering and motivating words I’ve read in a long while.

The voices of our generation


I’ve only just caught up with The Daily Telegraph’s list of the 60 greatest female singer-songwriters of all time (well, if they will publish in December when there’s so much else going on…) There’s  nothing like a list for stirring up controversy but this time, with Joni Mitchell headlining and Kate Bush in second place, there’s not much for me to argue with.

Okay, on my list, Joan Armatrading would have been number 3 with Tracey Chapman, Sade and KT Tunstall ranked much, much higher than they are. But that’s nitpicking

Just reading down the names, I’m reminded of how all these women have said something so important, so memorable, so gut-wrenchingly appropriate about what it is like to be female that any one of them deserves a place in literary, as well as musical, history. These women are the poets of our time and if ever I came to write an autobiography, every bit of it could be framed within their phrasing.

By the way, I’m blown away to see that this March in my old hometown (Wellington, New Zealand) Joni Mitchell songs feature in what sounds like a fabulous homage: Both Sides Now – part of the 2016 New Zealand Festival.

Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither

sara baumeI’ve just finished reading Sara Baume’s award-winning Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither. I thought it was a fantastic creation, a hugely impressive  piece considering that it breaks many of the rules of storytelling. Very little happens. There’s a scant amount of dialogue (if any?). The main character – the narrator – isn’t hugely likeable… And yet, it really works –  what a great achievement.

As it is such an unusual book I was prompted to read the reviews on Amazon (with my writer’s hat on) to see what others made of it.

Predictably, for over three-quarters of reviewers, it was a four or five star read. Many said that they thought it was one of the best things they’d ever read: “poignant and thought-provoking”, “quietly brilliant”, “unbelievably moving” – you get the drift.

Unsurprisingly, some didn’t rate it so highly – but it’s easy to see that it wouldn’t necessarily be everyone’s cup of char.

But one review really amused me, from one of those people who not only will tell you that they don’t like your work, but exactly where you, in your naive stupidity, have gone wrong: “…this book is flawed. It’s a shame that the reviews it has gathered (here and in national newspapers) have been so lacking in critical analysis. It’s not good for a young author to be left unaware of the ways in which her work could improve…” 

I wonder if this reviewer marks exam papers as her day job?


How difficult is it to write a short story?


I was impressed by an interview with the writer Edith Pearlman published on the excellent University of North Carolina Lookout site.

In it, in response to the question ‘What is your creative process?’ she said:

Each short story takes several weeks (five days a week, about four hours a day) to write, in many, many drafts, all on the typewriter. The draft then marinates in a drawer while I work on the next story or piece. The marinated story finally gets withdrawn, re-revised, typed at last into a word processor, and presented to my dear friend, colleague and ruthless reader Rose Moss, who usually sends it back to the typewriter for another few weeks of revision. So each story takes about a month and a half in total time.

When asked for her advice for  new and emerging fiction writers, she added:
Revise. Revise each story from beginning to end at least three times. When I say revise I mean rewrite completely.

Although reading sage advice about the process doesn’t in itself help the quality of the output, I found this reassuring ammunition against those who imply that short-story writing is a quick and simple process…

A story that stays with you

I’ve just, rather belatedly, been catching up on all the stories in the Momaya 2014 annual review. The first of them, which wasn’t one of the top three, is nevertheless the one that I found the most memorable. Dog Days by Matt Barnard is just a simple story about a man and a dog. Simple – but really CoverImageFRONT-197x300powerful.

Writing competition organisers  often say they’re looking for the stories that stay with you long after you’ve read them. This is one of those.

Loved it! (and I’m not a dog person…) It gets the “I wish I’d written it” vote from me.