Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A brief break

We're off tomorrow here to spend some time with Gorgeous Goddaughter.

See you soon.

If you want to party in my comments box while I'm away, you're welcome.
But PLEASE tidy up afterwards.
It took me ages to scrape the chocolate off last time ...

The art of the scribe

What sort of life might you lead in a parallel universe?
I know what I would choose to be.
An archaeologist. Or, to be more, specific, an Egyptologist.

I've always felt drawn to Ancient Egypt.
I would love to travel down the Nile ...
... to walk on those same sands, under that same sun and gaze at the timeless features of images created thousands of years ago and to guess at their secrets.

In the meantime, over here in this universe, I've had to be content spending hours in The British Museum, imagining the hands that carved the flawless statues ... imagining the lives of the people they depict ...

Thanks to the power of fiction and the vivid imagination of one woman, I now have a clearer picture than ever before.

Allow me to explain.
Periodically, I receive emails from authors or their publicists asking me to review a particular book.
I've always sent a polite but firm refusal, explaining that I rarely publish reviews on my blog and only then when I have a close connection to either the author or the subject matter.

I received one such email a few months ago.
I was about to compose my standard response when the book's title caught my eye.
A single word.
A name.

Intrigued, I followed the links to Michelle Moran's site and blog.
And then emailed Michelle to tell her that I would be delighted to make an exception to my usual rule.

From the moment I held the book with its sumptuous cover I was drawn in, fascinated to learn more.
Narrated by Mutnodjmet, Nefertiti's younger sister, the book brings to life the period from 1351 BC to 1335 BC.
During those turbulent years, Nefertiti married Akhenaten, the Heretic King, bore him 6 daughters, presided over the virtual collapse of the once great kingdom, became Pharaoh in her own right, was widowed and finally died a violent death.

Michelle's rich evocative prose enables you to feel the desert heat, smell the herbs and spices and the sweet smell of death, taste the unfamiliar food and drink ...
Yet in terms of corruption and political intrigue, it seems little has changed in the last few thousand years.
The story of 2 very different sisters and the dynamics of their family life is likewise timeless.
The pacing is spot on and the dialogue positively crackles with authenticity, with only the very rare lapse into Americanisms.

Michelle quotes an Egyptian proverb:
To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.

Nefertiti, that ancient icon of beauty and power, is a name familiar to most of us, but I doubt if many will have any real insight into her story and character, or be able to picture the times in which she lived.
Thanks to this book, that need be the case no longer.

I have the feeling Nefertiti would approve.

Monday, July 28, 2008

This scares the shift out of me ...

I don't know about you, but this video makes me want to run away and hide.

Too much.
Too fast.

(UK version here.)

I think I might have been Babel Fished

My Google alerts told me about this.

It looks like a blog ... sort of ... but it also looks spammy.
There are bits of me, my blog and site in there that look like they've been translated into another language and back again several times in a Chinese Whispersish style ...

Anyone got any ideas?


No refuge from ignorance

Around the corner from where I live there's a refugee hostel in a converted church.
It provided the setting for some of the scenes in Trading Tatiana.

When I wrote the book, the system was very different from now.
In those days families would be housed there in flimsy adapted units for months at a time.
The children went to local schools, learned English, made friends ...
... and then disappeared without warning to be dispersed around the country or deported.

These days no one stays longer than a few days.
A fleet of mini-buses sits outside at all hours, moving lost and confused-looking people in and out like livestock.

I walked past yesterday.
3 guys were sitting on the steps outside talking quietly.
I looked into the eyes of a man who reminded me a bit of my brother and wondered what his story was.
What sights had he seen?
What had induced him to leave his home and seek refuge here?

I'd never seen him before.
He wouldn't have been there the previous day and he won't be there the next, when his place will be taken by another refugee with another story.

An elderly English couple was walking towards me.
'Just look at them hanging about,' the man grumbled. 'That's all they ever do. Just hang about ...'

Strange, isn't it?
We were looking in the same direction but seeing very different things.
I saw a fellow human being.
He saw a problem.
I saw a victim.
He saw a scrounger.

I wonder what that young man saw when he looked at us ...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Let the editor beware

Some writers are more sensitive than others.

Giles Coren was - um - very cross when someone removed the word 'a' from a review he'd written.

Yes, very cross indeed. See here for a copy of the letter he sent to complain.

See? Now that's what I call cross ...

(Thanks to Tommy at Toasting Napoleon for the link.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Future imperfect

Is that a tense?
The concept makes me feel tense. Does that count?

I whinged about it here and moaned a bit more here.

But you just can't stop progress.

Because IT is here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Spex appeal

One of the consequences of getting older is facing the inevitability of a certain choice:
you either get much longer arms ...
... or you get reading glasses.

I'm not vain but I can be quite lazy so I chose the latter rather than shift all my long-sleeve clothes to the summer end of the wardrobe.

In fact, I'm so 'not vain' that if I'm reading outdoors I wear my shades and my glasses.
(Another consequence of getting older is that you don't care so much about looking ridiculous.)

But there are disadvantages.
I don't lose my glasses that often but I do have an irritating tendency to lose the case.
You can hang your glasses round your neck on a chain, but you'd look really stupid if you did that with the case.
And where would you stop?
Keys? Wallet? Tissues? Bottle of water?
All ending up dangling from your neck?
You'd end up with a season ticket to the osteopath ...

A friend of mine has one of those chain things and also keeps a spare pair of glasses at work.
Trouble is, whenever she uses them she forgets they're not the ones on the chain and spends the day flinging them on the floor.

More often than not, I shove mine on top of my head and only occasionally forget they're there.

Last night I was saying goodnight to da boyz.
As I kissed and cuddled LG on the bottom bunk, my glasses tumbled from my head.
Somehow they shot behind his pillow and through the tiny gap between bed and wall.

What you have to bear in mind is that their room is cluttered.
Very cluttered.
Every square inch is taken up.
If you want to move anything of significance you have to shift everything in the entire room.

Suffice to say, it was over half an hour later when their light was eventually switched off and my specs, with new must-have cobweb accessories (it's the latest thing, darling) were returned to their rightful place on my nose.

Now, has anyone seen where I left the case?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Demonstrating the quality/quanitity conundrum

There's a blogger I know and love who posts rarely, but when she does ...

She can't do links.
She does strange things, creating new posts when I suspect they're all part of the same one.
Her sidebar has a mind of its own.
As do some of her photos ...

But her words ...

Ah ...
Her words have wings and will make you laugh, cry and gasp as you grapple with their profundity.

Check this out.

The Commitments

Right now, let's see ...

First we have the human ones: G, the boys, dad, extended family, friends ...

The there are the practical ones:
  • my WIP
  • editing
  • blogging
  • Bookarazzi and the forum
  • EDWG (admin and co-ordination)
  • Parents' forum at FB's school (secretary)
  • Reading Connects Parents' Steering Group at same school
  • Volunteer reading mentor at same (starts next term)
  • job-sharing role of barmitzvah class teacher at our synagogue. (Complicated - I have no qualifications, experience or training, so I'm going to have to learn as I go along in order to stay one step ahead of the class ...)
The problem is that when I'm in the grip of my WIP (which sounds like something he'd be interested in - but isn't) all I want to do is write... write ... write ...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Blogging the life - and death - of Riley

How strange that I should have published this post about birth and death in the blogosphere just before the news came out that we have lost our oldest contributor.

Olive Riley started blogging last year at the age of 107.

(I mentioned her here back in Feb 07 when her first post was published.)
She published 70 posts giving a unique insight into the perspective of a woman born in 1899.

On one day in January 2008 the blog had 350,000 visitors.
In the days since she died, her blog has crashed, unable to carry the load.

Olive's voice reached around the globe and her words will live on in this amazing new world she became a part of.

And so goodbye, Olive Riley, and thanks for the memories.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dan's the Man

Not all of us have births or other child-related rites of passage to celebrate.

For my mate Mait (Daniel Maitland, that is) there can be other types of creativity to shout about.

Dan's in my writers' group and is a talented novelist, short story writer, poet and musician.

Last week I went to the launch of his album, Rumours of a Nice Day, where he's pulled together his myriad skills and put them onto one lovely round shiny disc.

With elements of folk, blues, jazz and quintessential Dan-ness, the album is a worthy addition to any music-lover's CD rack.

You can check Dan's MySpace here to hear some of the tracks.
Then buy the album. And enjoy.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Blogging from the cradle to the grave

I've blogged before about the sadness of losing someone we have to come to know via the blogosphere.

Zinnia Cyclamen has written an insightful and important post about how we need to take into account the very real connections we make in this virtual reality and how we need to think about how to deal with our feelings when a blogger dies.

She links for example to Michael Thaler who started blogging in order to record his last months of life following his diagnosis of terminal cancer.

Yes. All life is here.

And so it's only fitting that we should also share in the joyous beginnings.

Followers of the blog by Clare Sudbery, prolific author and founder of the forum that led to Bookarazzi, will be aware of the ups and downs she has gone through over this last year or so, when she and her partner were trying for a 2nd baby.

We shared her devastation when she miscarried, with resonances for many of us who recalled similar experiences.
Then we went through the excitement and anxiety when she fell pregnant again, but suffered horribly with hyperemesis.
The baby was due on 7th July and we all held our collective breath.

She carried on blogging all through the long drawn-out labour.
And then yesterday ...


And mega congrats to Clare, Ally and Felix.
Thanks for allowing us all to share the road.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I have impeccable taste

Way back in Dec 2006, I came to the conclusion that I had no choice ...
... I was going to have to find a way to supplement my writing income.

A month later, I reported that I had the answer, when I completed my first freelance appraisal.
Since then, I have done approx 2 edits a month - most of these have been for The Writers' Workshop, but I've also done a couple for The Literary Agent as well as some private ones.

It's ideal.
I have the ultimate flexibility - I can work on manuscripts wherever and whenever - on the tube going to dad, in the park on hot sunny days, lying on the settee at night after everyone else is in bed ...
And I can fit it in around the needs of the family and still go on school trips etc.
It's also helped to hone my own writing skills.
I can see when something isn't working, analyse the problem and come up with solutions.
I know I can make a real difference and feedback from grateful clients is always very satisfying.
I see my role as akin to that of a midwife, though my commitment often goes beyond the gestation period and birth of a final draft.

And sometimes, not often but sometimes, I read an MS that takes my breath away.
One that I know deserves to be published, even though I'm fully aware of the realities of attempting to get a book published these days.
(If you need convincing, see here and click the links back to the previous posts.)

In over 18 months, I have felt so strongly about 2 submissions that I have told the Writers' Workshop that, subject to any issues raised in my report being dealt with, I highly recommend the author.
What happens then is the MS receives a free read and if the reader agrees with me it will be pitched to one of the agents the Workshop has links with.

In the case of John Constable (no links though I'm trying to persuade him he needs a web presence) the book was a Chandleresque thriller, filled with witty one liners, a plausible plot and strong characters.
The Workshop agreed with me that the MS was well-written and strong.
Sadly, they felt that given the overcrowded nature of the crime market, John's book wasn't sufficiently different to be guaranteed success.

Nothing daunted, and armed with the knowledge that the people who make it are the ones who never give up, John began pitching to agents himself and meanwhile started working on a new book, into which I also had some input in the early stages.

I've just heard that this second book has been shortlisted for the Harry Bowling Prize.
You can see the full short list here.
The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony in September.

So - well done, John! I couldn't be more delighted for you that you are receiving the recognition you so richly deserve.
And well done, me - for spotting the potential of your writing.

Now - what can I do to persuade you to start a blog ...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tatiana lives on

Sue Guiney (may the blessings of the blogoverse rain down upon her) has published a wonderful review of Trading Tatiana on her blog.

For the clickphobes among you, this is what she says:

One of the unexpected joys of becoming a part of this blogging world is the way I have met authors I might never have come across and have become familiar with their work.
One of these authors is the talented and funny,
Debi Alper and one of those books is her novel, Trading Tatiana.
This is neither Debi's first nor most recent book (which is why I chose it, to be honest). It was published in 2004 and has everything a political crime thriller should have: drug-addicts, Eastern European thugs, S&M devotees, mysterious foreign women, oppressed single mothers, dangerous and ruthless men. It is fast-paced, expertly constructed, written with an acute eye for detail and facile use of language. In short, it was great fun to read. I, quite literally, couldn't put it down.
But there is something else about this book which makes it more than a terrific beach read and I believe it is the heart and soul of all of Debi's work and, probably, Debi herself.
Trading Tatiana is steeped in the difficult political issues of our urban community back in the UK -- political asylum, the plight and exploitation of Ukrainian refugees, the abuse of women. It is about how one single person can change the world and be changed by it by refusing to turn a blind eye.
And so
Trading Tatiana is more than "just" a great read with a terrific plot. It creates a world of living characters and forces them to do what so many of us "real" people refuse to do, namely, "the right thing." At the heart of this work is an investigation of the problems and power of political activism, and so Debi's work becomes not only exciting and captivating, but also challenging to us all, to the way we live our own lives and the roles we are willing to play in our own communities. An excellent find indeed!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The trouble with writing ...

When I'm immersed in my fictional world it can sometimes be very difficult to engage with the real world.

Today I was crossing London to see my dad.
Finding a corner seat on the tube, I grabbed my WIP and pen and found the words flowing faster than I could get them down.

Great, you might say.
And it was - except for one problem.

In spite of the signs on the platform ...
... and on the front of the train ...
... and inside the carriage ...
... and the electronic voice announcements re the next station and where the train would terminate ...
I not only got on the wrong branch of the Northern Line, but had also gone halfway to High Barnet before I realised.

It doesn't end there, I'm afraid.
As soon as the tube came out of the tunnel, I phoned dad and told him I was on my way and not to eat lunch without me.
Aware I was running over half an hour late, I dashed out of the station, grabbed a copy of the Metro for dad and raced to his flat.

He wasn't there.
Double doh!

It's happened before and I prepared to scour the streets looking for him.
And where did I eventually find him?
At the station, that's where.
As soon as I'd called he walked to meet me.
I must have rushed straight past him.

In my defense, he must have missed me too.
His excuse is that he's 93.
Mine? I'm a writer, innit?

email schmemail

Apologies to JC (don't be silly, not that one) and anyone else who is wondering why I haven't replied to their emails.

Please check your settings as I've sent mail from different accounts and assume they are not getting through, though they don't bounce back.
I invariably reply to emails within 48 hrs of receipt, so if you don't hear from me, please assume my replies are going astray.

JC - I'm afraid I've misplaced your phone no to compound the problem ...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The youth of today ...

... have so much potential.

Given the right opportunities and encouragement, they are capable of mindblowing achievements.

Here's an example.
Remember I told you about the films First Born was involved in at school with Cineclub?
(See here and here.)

Today saw us back at the British Film Institute on the South Bank -
- one of the most prestigious venues in the country.

The cinema was packed full for the Silver Star awards - Cineclub's version of the Oscars.
Films were nominated in 8 different categories.
FB & friends' film was chosen from a host of other entries to be one of 11 schools nominated for the Cineclub choice award.

Considering this was their first ever film, the nomination is a massive credit to their ingenuity, talent, creativity and hard work.
In fact ALL the films were amazing.
A combination of the skills imparted by the Cineclub professionals, the commitment of the teachers who had given their time freely out of school hours and - most of all - the sheer breadth of imagination of these kids resulted in some staggering work.

Cineclub started in 2004 and since then has helped over 3500 young people to script, shoot and edit over 350 films, with the proviso that the students themselves take control of the whole process.

This is no patronising, lowest-common-denominator initiative.
The films produced are of a very high standard by any reckoning.
Cineclub itself is partnered by BFI, Film London and Empire magazine and the workers who facilitate the schools are all professionals working in the film industry as directors, scriptwriters etc.

And the schools themselves are not exclusive bastions of wealth and privilege -
- in fact some are among the roughest and toughest in the country.

FB's film didn't win the award, though we were told they were in the final 3.
You can see all the winners on the Cineclub site.

And if you haven't seen it already, you can see Retribution here.

Don't know what it signifies but ...

I have no idea how it got there, but it seems this post has been nominated for something or other and you can vote for it here if you feel so inclined ...

Monday, July 07, 2008

Debi recommends ...

This book by Joanna Czechowska.

Jo is a member of my writers' group. The book was originally published in Poland but had never been through an editing process and wasn't available in English.
Her publishers agreed to produce an English language edition.
When Jo asked me to do an appraisal, copy edit and proof read for her, I was only too delighted.
Why? Because it's a great book of course.

I was asked to provide a cover blurb - this is what I said:

Intelligently written, with a wry and gentle humour, The Black Madonna of Derby provides a vivid and topical insight into three generations of a Polish immigrant family as they struggle to find a balance between two cultures.

You can buy either version here.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Let's all run away and join the circus!

There can't be many people who are not captivated by the magic of the circus.

I know I am which is why there's a scene set at a circus in Trading Tatiana.

While some still operate on the old model of plastic smiles and performing animals, others have the imagination to come up with a new twist on an old theme.

One such visionary is Sarah Salway, who is involved with a novel and exciting concept.
Welcome to ... (drum roll, please)

The Tiny Circus.

Click here to see how it works,
here to check out the blog and follow the story as it unfolds,
and here to get involved yourself via the wiki.

Fun, or what?

BTW - did you know that John Major is reputed to be the only person to have run away from the circus to join a bank?