Innate Need to Write

I am a writer.

Though I’ve been writing for years, I can finally say it. I can say it aloud and without shame. No more mumbling or down playing it.

And it’s not because I’ve been published. It’s because I’ve discovered that I have an innate need to write. And that – that alone – makes me a writer.

Let me try to explain.

As a child, my family would go on vacation to all kinds of different places. There was just one requirement: my father had to be able to do some sports. There had to be a tennis court or a fitness room or something similar. If these weren’t available, he’d get moody within a few days. In fact, growing up, I never knew a week to go by without my father playing sports at least twice a week. It wasn’t for the social contact (as he does individual sports). It was his passion. A passion I (unfortunately) never inherited, and I never understood until now.

In the first half of this year, I didn’t write at home. I didn’t write at work either, as I only had to do editing. And because of my move at the end of last year, I had to set my hobby aside for a while. When things finally settled, I was drained and tired. In the evenings I couldn’t find the energy to write. After endless evenings of watching TV, I felt bad. I was in a rot.

Then I just started writing! I can’t remember what spurred me, but as I wrote I felt the difference immediately. I realise now that writing is my ‘sport’. It’s my passion. It gives me energy and I get moody and insecure without it.

My father was never a professional player but he is a sportsman. Even nearing seventy he plays whatever sport his body will still allow him to. So, I may not be a published author, but I’m a writer and I’ll be writing as long as my mind will allow me to.

Vanessa Deij

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Writing Prompt: Pacing

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia

When I’m reading fiction, pacing is everything. It’s because I see literature as a dance. The author takes the lead. The reader follows. The sentences wind and, hopefully, the reader makes the pages turn.

Though reader and writer remain two separate entities, the connection that binds them is intimate—it flows out of the language. Yet there is a temporal component as well. Writing as an art form is overwhelmingly linear, perhaps more so than any other. Each piece of writing is read word by word, line by line, regardless of size or complexity. To achieve basic coherence, let alone literary quality, the sequence of letters, words, and clauses must be exact. The sentence is a finely tuned mechanism. String enough of them together into a story, and you have something much larger, grander.

Imagine a freight train, a machine of pure language barreling forward in time. Read More

Publishing and Reading in Bulgaria

Did you know that Jane Austen had written for more than 20 years before publishing her first novel, and Stephen King threw out his first manuscript of Carrie because he thought it was not good enough? Both of them were working hard on improving themselves, and although they had to go through a number of difficulties, they were able to do it, and thus, set an example for others. This highlights the importance of books being discussed, popularized, recommended, and sometimes rejected. The latter is especially important for those writers who think that there is nothing easier than writing a book. After all, being a poet or a writer is not just about seeking public attention and recognition, but also about having something vital to say and knowing the best way to do it. Literature requires dedication and vocation, and something very important without which it just does not happen ­­– dedication. If you cannot understand this yourself, people who understand literature should be the ones to tell you. Nowadays, in my country at least, literary criticism has become a meaningless and incomprehensible occupation to some extent. The reasons for this are yet to be clarified, but that is not my goal.

Nineteen ninety-two proved to be a golden year for Bulgarian publishing compared to the vacuum of previous years. After the artificially sustained paper problem dropped out, the number of private publishing houses grew in geometric progression. In Plovdiv, if they were 7 or 8 in 1991, only a year later, they were 20. Private publishers quickly took the initiative into their own hands and began to dictate the conditions of the book market. The reasons for that can be found both in certain favorable socioeconomic circumstances and in the new course of democratic changes in the socio-political development of the country. In the same year, total book production was about 300 titles with approximately 7,000,000 prints. In comparison to three years previously, the highest number of titles was at 160 with about 1,000,000 copies. The number of titles in 1992 had increased nearly twice, and the circulation by seven times. This data shows that in the last years there was a strong hunger for books in the market, but that it was satiated as much as it could. It also reveals that the market had been artificially restrained so far. Read More

The House of a Famous Character

This year, we spent our holidays in the Lake District in North West England. The plans was to go for hikes, which we had practiced for the last couple of weeks. Taking a 16-month-old with us was a bit of a gamble. We had no idea what his reaction would be to sleeping in a tent; we expected the walking part to be fine, since he did not mind the walks we had done so far.

One of the walks we set out for would go through a hamlet called Watendlath. A place where we not only could enjoy a lovely cream tea in the teahouse, but also visit the farm where Judith Parish lived. The house has a plaque and everything. The name did not ring any bells. Luckily, the description of the walk informed us who this illustrious person was. A famous character from a best seller in the 1930s.By not available (Hampshire Bookshop Collection) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the early 1920s, writer Hugh Walpole moved to the Lake District. Walpole was a famous writer in his time, he wrote countless books between 1909 and his death in 1941, an average of one book per year. An impressive feat that critics used against him, they considered his work outdated and described Walpole as “a sentimental ego” and “workmanlike writer who was not much appreciated among other writers”.  In 1921, he settled in Keswick, Cumbria, where he wrote The Herries Chronicles – a series set in the Lake District. Read More

The Poetry Market

Walk into any bookstore in the United States and you will find rows upon rows upon rows of shelves dedicated to the various and nuanced genres and subgenres of prose. Along a back wall, there will be perhaps a shelf or two (or in the case of my local Barnes and Noble, half a shelf) dedicated to poetry. You may be able to find a couple of anthologies or the newest work of prolific poets – or famous people attempting to brand themselves as artistic. You may find the complete works of Maya Angelou, a copy of Beowulf, or a coffee table book of poetry from Instagram. You will watch the bookstore patrons stroll curiously by the shelf but not stop. No one is buying the poetry. This is true even in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I live, a university town with a thriving local bookstore market. The following question is asked almost daily in my graduate department: Why poetry? What can poetry do that other mediums cannot?

From an analytic angle, it seems the answer is not much. According to Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, two of the top-ten bestselling books of poetry in 2016 were The Odyssey and The Iliad by Homer. The fact that books like The Odyssey or Beowulf are bestsellers really reflects the idea that poetry is staid and passé. Even among my more well-read friends, most of them do not buy books of poetry. I decided to ask some of them why they did not seek out poetry. One friend of mine explained her apprehension towards the genre: “While I enjoy poetry, the part of literature that has always moved me the most is story and narrative.” Although poetry has some story elements, she felt that “often the purpose behind poetry is completely different than that of prose.” I recognize that I read more poetry than the average reader; I am literally branded with the language of American poet, Wendell Berry … via a tattoo. But even I at times feel frustration with the poets for binding their meaning in expressive language like a process of rime mummification. In the United States, most people are only exposed to poetry in high school or in university during literature classes; the focus remains heavily on canonized works, such as William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, or Walt Whitman. Readers are asked to analyze and discuss the seemingly archaic language, much of which has since fallen into the realm of cliché. For most people, reading poetry is associated with having to do the hard work to interpret it. Poetry demands much from its reader; it is asking us to dwell in a land of metaphor and language and of subtext and sounds, which is not easy to grapple with. Another of my friends noted she did not like poetry, feeling it was dense, perhaps too metaphorical, and often “went over her head.” This perception that poetry is something created for esoteric artistic minds and not for everyday people permeates the potential market. Read More

Tsundoku – the looming stack of books…

https://www.flickr.com/photos/austinevan/1225274637I know you have one, admit it. If you like to read, you are definitely guilty of having the TSUNDOKU (cue the ominous thunderclap). It sounds like a Japanese horror movie. Well, it is Japanese and the kanji (or written characters) are: 積ん読.

(Read all about Cecile’s own TSUNDOKO here.)

I can’t read kanji and I hope that I don’t offend anyone or the beautiful Japanese written language, but don’t they just look like stacked books, then a whimsical line, and then more books?

These lovely kanji, literly mean to pile up reading. (A word of caution, the link is to a wiki. However, there is a blog post on it at oxforddictionaries.com).

Mine accumulates with every passing year, because I love books! Books, books, glorious books! Can you smell them? New or old, whichever your prefer, heck, even dusty books smell great, moldy ones, why not? They smell like words and stories and things I don’t know yet. Far away places, imagined spaces, even ‘getting real’ with Dr.Phil sounds like an adventure.

While looking at “There’s a Word for That: 25 Expressions You Should Have in Your Vocabulary”, I found this little word: Tsundoku.

My Tsundoku has, a couple of classics, several ‘science for the layman’ type of books (think Dawkins, Gleick, etc), several self help books (I love reading those), and a couple of half finished best-sellers books.

What does yours have?

Happy reading!

Sofia

 

Review: A Life Elsewhere by Segun Afolabi

“Sometimes we feel we straddle two cultures;

at other times, that we fall between two stools.”

– Salman Rushdie

I feel, or at least in my experience, that African literature is not held in the same regard as Western literature. I remember one day talking to a friend and her making the comment that the writing in African novels seemed ‘barbaric’. I realized that to the West, Africa has been made to seem like a dark, shrouded continent, often only communicated from that same removed Western perspective.

Literature tends to be, and is often used, as a political, cultural and historical tool. As such, African literature is powerful in the matter of identity and ownership of one’s own culture and history. The problem in postcolonial states is when they fail to have an identity and to know themselves, which often leads to disastrous situations. So, yes, I think it is valuable to read African literature, especially as an African person. And as a non-African. I have also noticed that there is a tendency to anthropologize African fiction. Whenever I ask friends what they think about it, they usually expect that African fiction exists for one thing only: to comment on the social condition of Africa. Unfortunately, publishers, reviewers, and authors often promise this. It would seem that African literature is invisible except when it is reflected on a mirror of social ills and political concerns. 

Nevertheless, African fiction deserves readers who see its value as a literary object versus readers who are drawn to it because of some imagined anthropological value. We have to stop telling the single story about African stories.

Read More

Paz on Poetry

I am swept away whenever I read essays or poetry by Octavio Paz. In the current collection of essays, Alternating Current, that I am still savouring and forcing myself to not rush through, Paz offers insight on poetry with his succinct writing:

The meaning does not reside outside the poem but within it, not in what the words say, but in what they say to each other.

With clarity and ample examples of interrelationships between poets and poetic schools, Paz demonstrates both his experience of the canon and his interpretation of poetic techniques:

The difficulty of modern poetry does not stem from its complexity—Rimbaud is far simpler than Góngora or Donne—but rather from the fact that, like mysticism or love, it demands total surrender (and an equally total vigilance).

Then to bring it together, he comments on form and meaning:

The real ideas of a poem are not those that occur to the poet before he writes his poem, but rather those that appear in his work afterward, whether by design or by accident. Content stems from form, and not vice versa…. The meaning of a poem does not lie in what the poet wanted to say, but in what the poem actually says.

And all this in just the first 4 pages of the collection of essays. Reading these essays is having the privilege to be in the mind ofPaz as he links his thoughts on various aspects of language, art, poetry and technique.

Samir Rawas Sarayji