stefan hertmans: war and turpentine

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Image © 2018 Kvocek via Shutterstock

“It was all so long ago, a century ago,” writes Stefan Hertmans in the closing pages of War and Turpentine, “I am walking here with his DNA in my body, lonelier than alone and too late for it all.”

This should not be misconstrued as an admission of failure. His book is successful at a number of levels: a touching tribute to a grandfather, a subtle sketch of a bygone era, a modern story laden with irony and self-reflection.

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the shadows cast by a falling child

SCFC mockupBack in 2011, when my novel was but an impulsive neuron playing Parkour across synapses somewhere in my brain, the title of my Magnum Opus was going to be The Bus Drivers. Shortly afterwards, that febrile neuron had to face the discipline board and its wiser elders settled upon Resilience as the working title for my book. The original title survives in the text as a little aside in a conversation––so you’ll be able to find out what I was thinking. Continue reading

elena ferrante: my brilliant friend (2011)

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Naples streetscape – copyright ilolab 2016

You have to love a novel that starts with the disappearance of one of its protagonists. When Elena discovers that Lila, her childhood friend, has not only disappeared, but also removed all physical traces of her existence, she gets angry. She resolves to write a novel in which she will record all she has found out about Lila over the past sixty years. Story-telling as a corrective, an act of vengeance.

Having thus framed the novel in the prologue, Ferrante takes the reader back to 1950s Naples, a gritty and at times violent urban environment, where being male is a distinct advantage, and being streetwise a necessity. Enter the unlikely protagonists: two six-year-old girls.

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liane moriarty: the husband’s secret

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Photo: Wolf Soul (2007) by Romel, under Creative Commons licence.

In the opening scene of The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty introduces Cecilia Fitzpatrick as “a school mum and part–time Tupperware consultant.” Happily married, mother of three, memories of her younger self stored in the attic in neatly labeled plastic containers, checking off tasks as she moves through the day. As readers we know that so much control and organisation constitutes hubris; it is rattling the cages of the gods of narration. Continue reading

resilience update #4: bragging rights

It’s not zen at all to brag. It’s poor form. It’s borderline impolite. Self–centered and narcissistic. All of that, absolutely.
Okay, so here I go: I have just completed the first draft of my novel. It has taken me four years of planning and plot development and six months of intensive writing.

Portrait of the artist as a young man

Portrait of the artist as a young man

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resilience update #3: finding your groove

Character or caricature? A Wayang Kulit puppet.

Character or caricature? A Wayang Kulit puppet.

Have you ever noticed how the pilot episode of a sitcom is weaker than the first series? The acting is wooden and the dialogue shrill. Themes and conflicts are introduced so emphatically that the characters seem like caricatures. Series get better as the writers and actors find their groove.

All of this came to mind as I reread the opening scenes of my novel. They were my pilot episodes and they suffer from all the vices listed above. It is clear I will have to edit those scenes quite heavily. The good news is that I also notice that my craft has improved in the course of the writing process. Continue reading