John Baker's Weblog



Some reflections of a working writer and reader
Winged with Death current word count: 74534
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Recently read:
Ghostwritten by David Mitchell.
The Sound & the Fury by William Faulkener.
The Ikon Maker by Desmond Hogan.
The Buenos Aires Quintet by Manuel Vazquez Montalban.
True at First Light by Ernest Hemingway.
Absolute Friends by John le Carre.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel.
The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunnant.
You Can't Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe.
The Return of the Dancing Master by Henning Mankell.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.
The Blind Man of Seville by Robert Wilson.
The American Boy by Andrew Taylor.
Tokyo by Mo Hayder.
Samuel Pepys - The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin.
Blackwater by Kerstin Ekman.
Sheer Blue Bliss by Lesley Glaister.
Perfume by Patrick Suskind.
Always a Body to Trade by KC Constantine.
The Tupamaros, The Unmentionables by Major Carlos Wilson.
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks.
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.
Atomised by Michel Houellebecq
Don't Look Back by Karin Fossum.
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.
Mary Swann by Carol Shields.
The Forest of the Hours by Kirstin Ekman.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf.
Brick Lane by Monica Ali.
The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor.
Family Values by KC Constantine.
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson.
Unless by Carol Shields.
Good Sons by KC Constantine.
The Dark Room by RK Narayan.
The World's Wife by Carol Ann Duffy.
Hen's Teeth by Manda Scott.
Disgrace by JM Coetzee.
Burial of Ghosts by Ann Cleeves.
Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore.
Thinks . . . by David Lodge.
Darwin's Worms by Adam Phillips.
The Private Parts of Women by Lesley Glaister.
Death and the Oxford Box by Veronica Stallwood.
The Investigation by Juan Jose Saer.
The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert.
The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine.
Russian Disco by Wladimir Kaminer.
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink.
Dockers and Detectives by Ken Worpole.
Heartbreak Tango by Manuel Puig.
Foe by JM Coetzee.
Shame by Bergljot Hobæk Haff.
Memoirs of the Author of 'The Rights of Woman' by William Godwin.
A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark by Mary Wollstonecraft.
The Sleeping and the Dead by Ann Cleeves.

Movies remembered:
Diarios de motocicleta (2004) by Walter Salles.
La Mala Educacion
(2004) by Pedro Almodovar.
Bowling for Columbine (2002) by Michael Moore.
Hable con ella (2002) by Pedro Almodóvar.
Elling (2001) by
Petter Næss

The Dancer Upstairs
(2002) by John Malkovich.
Laissez-Passer (2002) by Bertrand Tavernier.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) by Anthony Minghella.
Todo sobre mi madre (1999) by Pedro Almodóvar.
The Big Lebowski (1998) by Joel Coen.
Looking for Richard (1996) by Al Pacino.
Il Postino (1994) by
Michael Radford.
The Piano (1993) by
Jane Campion.
Änglagård (1992) by
Colin Nutley.
Thelma & Louise (1991) by Ridley Scott.
37°2 le matin (1986) by
Jean-Jacques Beineix.
Prizzi's Honor (1985) by
John Huston.
Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) by Hector Babenco.
Body Heat (1981) by
Lawrence Kasdan.
Atlantic City (1980) by
Louis Malle.

All That Jazz
(1979) by
Bob Fosse.
Scener ur ett äktenskap (1973) by Ingmar Bergman.
Cabaret (1972) by
Bob Fosse.
Morte a Venezia (1971)
by Luchino Visconti.
The French Connection (1971) by
William Friedkin.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967) by
Arthur Penn.
My Fair Lady (1964) by
George Cukor.
Marnie (1964) by Alfred Hitchcock.
Cape Fear (1962) by
J. Lee Thompson.
Jules et Jim (1962) by
François Truffaut.
La Notte (1961) by
Michelangelo Antonioni.
La Ciociara (1960) by
Vittorio De Sica.
Psycho (1960) by Alfred Hitchcock.
La Dolce vita (1960) by
Federico Fellini.
The Defiant Ones (1958) by Stanley Kramer.
The Key (1958) by Carol Reed.
The Young Lions (1958) by Edward Dmytryk.
Giant (1956) by George Stevens.
The Ladykillers (1955)
by Alexander Mackendrick.
The African Queen (1951) by John Huston.
The Third Man (1949)
by Carol Reed.
Key Largo (1948) by
John Huston.
The Big Sleep (1946) by
Howard Hawks.
Double Indemnity (1944) by Billy Wilder.
The Maltese Falcon (1941) by John Huston.
Citizen Kane (1941) by
Orson Welles.
Theatre, music and exhibitions from the recent past:
One Touch of Venus by Kurt Weill, performed by Opera North at the Grande Theatre, Leeds.
Steve Earl at Leeds Irish Centre.
Tynan at Newcastle Theatre Royal with Corin Redgrave in an RSC production.
Edward Hopper exhibition at Tate Modern.
The Permanent Way by David Hare at Leeds Playhouse.
Suddenly Last Summer by Tennessee Williams with Diana Rigg at Newcastle Theatre Royal.

Measure for Measure by the RSC at Newcastle Theatre Royal.
Käthe Kollwitz museum in Berlin and Cologne.





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Archive 2003(return to current weblog)

23rd December 2003.
Nothing to say. I am overwhelmed by the season of infinite commerce. Going into retreat now with the Margaret Atwood book and my family and a turkey. Hope you get yours.
13th December 2003.
I'm reading Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace and enjoying it. I've tried to read her before and not enjoyed the experience, but there's something quite compelling about this book.
For those people who had to ask me who it was in the photograph, above; forget it; if you don't know it doesn't matter.
The visit and talk to Clifton Library Reading Group was good. Nice people, readers. I'm always surprised that their conversation and questions are more intelligent than other people (none readers). But of course, they would be.
10th December 2003.
Merry Christmas to all our readers:
6th December 2003.
Still reading Carol Shields' Mary Swann, although I re-read Huckleberry Finn as well, yet again. Another short break from Winged with Death, while I get some notes down for a talk to Clifton Readers Group this coming Monday.
30th November 2003.
I read the first 100 pages of Jules Hardy's Altered Land but couldn't bring myself to believe in John, the central male character. He didn't seem to have an authentic masculine (subjective) voice. Yesterday saw the RSC in Newcastle, Measure for Measure. Always good, although the first half went off at a cracking pace and almost lost me. The second half was better.
21st November 2003.
Mary Swann
by Carol Shields. An early Shield's novel, if not the first. Adventurous, charming, full of insight and memorable characters.
17th November 2003.
It's a while since I last wrote in this blog. My parents-in-law, both of them, died, and Anna and I were in Norway to bury them. Testing time, especially for Anna. A spin-off means that I haven't done much work in the last weeks, so head down now, trying to catch up. Still no heating, so typing with gloves on, beginning to feel like Emile Zola. Where's that quill?
4th November 2003.
Scenes from the US concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
1st November 2003.
I was probably unfair about The Hours. I quite enjoyed it.
24th October 2003.
I've finished The Forest of the Hours. It was a great novel, one of the most beautiful and intelligent I've read in a long time. Now I'm reading The Hours by Michael Cunningham for my reading group. The word turgid comes to mind. The house boiler has blown up and is not useable. We have to get a new one installed. In the meantime it's not warm in here. When I breath out I can see my breath.
18th October 2003.
I'm having to do some research before I can continue with the novel. Something on Time and something else on Ambivalence. It'll take a few more days before I start writing again. Interesting, though.
11th October 2003.
Continuing the the Kirstin Ekman novel, and still enjoying it. Otherwise I'm working on Winged with Death. I've got it up to 40,000 words and am pleased with the way it's turning out. It is not going to be easy to resolve it satisfactorily, or at least it doesn't seem so at the moment. But there is an inevitability about it already so it won't be impossible.
Saw the shortlist for the CWA's gold and silver daggers. What a farce.
4th October 2003.
I got the book proofs of White Skin Man this morning. Everything seems to be running to schedule on that. It's got a great cover. I'm reading Kirstin Ekman's The Forest of the Hours. A novel about a spiritual being living with and around humans over a period of five hundred years. Fascinating Swedish novel with a lot to say about the way we are made and how we relate to each other and the world.
27th September 2003.
Concentrating hard on the writing this week, apart from Saturday when I attended Newcastle/Gateshead Readers' Day, which was great.
20th September 2003.
I'm coming to the end of the first part of Winged with Death. The novel will be in two parts. It seems to be going faster now, although that could be due to certain threads coming together at this stage. What I have so far seems to work well, but it will have to be seen in relation to the rest (which is still unwritten) before I can be sure.
In the meantime I'm quite gripped by the Kent Haruf book. I thought it might be too downbeat for my current mood but it's quietly upbeat and strangely optimistic. I love the writing.
12th September 2003.
Winged with Death
, the novel I'm working on at present, has some of the characteristics of a crime novel but is an exploration of our consciousness of Time and Place and the impact they have on identity. Like my other novels it's also concerned with loss. It also gives me the opportunity to write about revolution and disappearance and tango and family. The novel has a first-
person narrator and ranges over the time period from around 1970 to the present day. I've been writing it for over a
year already and it is beginning to look as though it may take as long again to complete.
I also have the page proofs for White Skin Man on my desk. Nearly finished with them. Publication date for that one remains as February 2004.
I'm in the early chapters of Kent Haruf's Plainsong. There are comparisons with Cormac McCarthy, who I didn't really enjoy reading. But this is closer to the knuckle; spare prose but with some emotional muscle.
10th September 2003.
The Elizabeth Buchan book is only lukewarm. I thought it might pick up but the middle-aged woman lacks passion. and tips over into sentimentality. We don't feel that she suffers enough and seems to accept everything that comes towards her without much of a fight. The whole thing was far too overloaded with traditional values for my taste.
6th September 2003.
Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman
by Elizabeth Buchan. I'm reading it for my reading group, although it isn't obviously something I would read.
My own novel seems to have picked up pace. Still enjoying it, although I sometimes think I might be writing it for the rest of my life.
Got the jacket proofs for White Skin Man today. It's a good job, very striking.
3rd September 2003.
'Perhaps the most striking illustration of the influence of uniforms to affect or alter role perspective is reported in the "Uniform Experiment" (Tenzel and Cizanckas, 1973). In 1969, the Chief of Police of the California community of Menlo Park, in the interest of professionalising the role of police and improving community relations, embarked on a program whose most apparent feature was a change in the style of police attire. The police of Menlo Park shifted from the typical blue, military style uniform to a civilian green blazer. The results were dramatic, both on the attitudes of the police and the community.
Tenzel and Cizanckas found that stripped of the established symbols of authority, police began to develop new patterns of relating to the community and gradually adopted the role of police as "public service officer". In later years, this shift away from the militaristic model of authority led to the elimination of rank altogether and its replacement by a more horizontal organizational structure.
In follow up studies (Tenzel, Storms, Sweetwood, 1976) it was found that assaults on Menlo Park police officers decreased by 3O%, citizen injuries resulting from arrest decreased by 50%, morale rose, and the staff turnover rate dropped from 25.5% in the year prior to the shift in uniforms to 2% three full years into the program. Finally, community approval of the blazer experiment rose from 69% following their introduction to 80% by 1975 (Cizanckas and Feist, 1975).'
LITERATURE REVIEW: THE EFFECTS OF UNIFORMS IN CORRECTIONS. No. B-02. Prepared by: Research Branch, Communications and Corporate Development, Canadian Correctional Service. FEBRUARY 1989.
26th August 2003.
Good holiday reading. Got through Monica Ali's Brick Lane, William Trevor's The Story of Lucy Gault, KC Constantine's Family Values, and am now ploughing through the 766 pages of Lars Saabye Christensen's The Half Brother. Brick Lane is a remarkable first novel with strong central characters. Paints a vivid picture of immigrant life in the UK and should find a broad audience. The Story of Lucy Gault is a beautifully written elegy which I couldn't put down. Family Values is Constantine at his best. He writes men better than anyone else and his command of dialogue is unparalleled among modern living authors.
The Half Brother is a modern Norwegian novel, an epic family saga which won the Nordic Prize for Literature in 2002. Unfortunately, the English translation is not up to the job and leaves you without much of the original flavour. At 766 pages there is much that could have been edited out. But there is still much to value in this book and at times it is utterly unputdownable.
Came home to a barrage of around 1400 emails, most of them offering me a larger penis and breast enhancements. Dunno if I should go for it or not.
17th July 2003.
Carol Shields died today. A sad loss. A wonderful novelist.
15th July 2003.
I'm going away to Norway, so this journal will be discontinued for a while. At present I'm re-reading sections of JB Priestley's Man and Time, first published in 1964 but still way ahead of its time. It's not a novel or a play but an essay on Time and the way that we look at Time and how it sometimes plays tricks on us for being so stupid.
I'll continue working on my own novel in Norway and hopefully get to somewhere around the half-way mark.
12th July 2003.
Weird book. Wyndham first published it in 1951 and it's a period piece. Topical because of the genetically modified foods issue, but essentially a conservative right-wing tract. It tells us what we are afraid of now; no longer is it the prospect of little green men from Mars, but it is our own intelligence, the realization that we have the power and the ability to destroy our universe and ourselves.
7th July 2003.
I'm going to read John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids. I've never read it before. I once sat through a dreadful film of it. Hope it's better than that. I've never read anything by him before. I'm branching out. Hope I make it. Hope I don't break it.
5th July 2003.
This Tove Jansson book is very nice. It's short and it goes slow, but it's something like a series of vignettes or short stories, only loosely held together by the repeating characters. I'm enjoying it. I've also finished the revisions to White Skin Man and am getting around to returning to Montevideo, circa 1972. At the same time beginning preparations to go away on holiday.
Oh, and my back gets a little stronger every day.
28th June 2003.
The physical condition slowly improves. I should get back to work next week. Finish off the bits and pieces to White Skin Man and hopefully get started again on Winged with Death. We go away to Norway in July so I want to be well into the novel before we go.
I had a look at a couple of the Books and Literature Chat Rooms on Yahoo. Seemed to be mainly populated by twelve-year-old illiterates with only one or two notable exceptions. I wonder why people want to chat there. Why don't they find a group called Idiots Anonymous?
22nd June 2003.
OK, it's official I've slipped a disc. Still flat out. Haven't worked for over a week. My editor at Orion has gone grey and bald. Not a lot of change there. I'm hurting bad but I'm stoical and not even gonna mention it.
10th June 2003.
I'm reading Tove Jansson's The Summer Book, about a young girl and her grandmother on an island in the Gulf of Finland. Reminiscent of Hemingway in its quiet detail about nature. Silently absorbing. First published in Swedish in 1972.
The medics seem to think I've slipped a disc. Can't be sure yet.
7th June 2003.
I've put my back out and can't sit down. Sleeping difficult. My writing career seems to have been peppered with regular bouts of only being able to write standing up. With a typewriter, back in the dark ages, it was much simpler, you only needed a few fat books to stand it on. But with a computer it's a little different. You have to get the screen and the keyboard to manageable levels, and take into account the length of cables, etc. In the event I tend to do less work, only sitting for as long as I can manage and then going for a walk.
31st May 2003.
Viva la
Carol Shields.
28th May 2003.
I've finished with White Skin Man, though I enjoyed rereading it. I sent it back to Jon Wood yesterday. And I've begun looking at the novel in progress. Will get back to it tomorrow, perhaps today if I'm fortunate. Picked up a copy of Unless by Carol Shields with the idea that I'd take it on holiday. But I can't wait that long. It's sitting on my desk already, calling out to me.
24th May 2003.
The KC Constantine book is great. Dialogue doesn't come much better than this. In between him and Lucinda Williams I'm still editing White Skin Man, itching a little to get back to the new novel.
17th May 2003.
I was in Glasgow with Margaret Murphy the last couple of days. A talk and reading at Kirkintilloch Library and another reading at Waterstones in the evening. Nice change. Since then I've been playing the Lucinda Williams CD, World Without Tears, none stop. Great stuff. And I've just started reading KC Constantine's Good Sons. Been holding it back for a long time. Deferring gratification.
12th May 2003.
This week I'm reading RK Narayan's The Dark Room, which was first published in 1938. It reads well. Narayan published his fiction between the thirties and the nineties of the 20th century. He died in 2001. He combines humour and compassion and describes a teeming world similar to that of Dickens. I haven't read anything by him for many years, and it is a great treat to return to his territory. He was a great storyteller.
Also, I found a second-hand copy of Carol Ann Duffy's The World's Wife, and I keep dipping into it, once, maybe twice a day. It's like having a secret store of chocolates hidden away, different flavours, so you're not sure what you're getting until it dissolves in your mouth. You only know it's going to be good.
9th May 2003.
I'm reading Manda Scott's Hen's Teeth. Surprisingly good. I say surprisingly because I read Night Mares, her second book a couple of years ago, and it was only a poor imitation of this one. A few months ago I heard her reading from her latest novel, Boudica, and she was obviously a writer of some authority. There's real style here, making it an enjoyable and intriguing read.
My own novel continues at its own pace. I'm quite happy with the voice now and although I've still not much of an idea where it's going, it is good to follow in its wake. The writing in the first 20,000 words is some of the best I've ever done.
6th May 2003.
I'm reading JM Coetzee's Disgrace. Written in 1999, when it won the Booker. Exhilerating, stylish, lyrical, written with great skill; it is pure joy.
3rd May 2003.
I've got 20,000 words of the new novel. Still slow, but inching ahead, and it's certainly got its moments.
26th April 2003.
I'm reading Ann Cleeves Burial of Ghosts. Good first chapter, moody. Nice first-person voice with real telling character, exact detail. Lizzie Bartholomew is a troubling character. One of those women who are damaged beyond repair and whom we cannot love and can only offer pity. She's a brave character to write and Ann Cleeves never gets close to the obvious pitfalls of sentimentality.
23rd April 2003.
I'm not reading a novel at the moment. From time to time I go into dipping mode, looking up odd poems and pieces of prose that have come into my head, or skimming through the books on my tbr pile. I read John Crowe Ransom's Blue Girls last night, which in turn made me chase down Robert Herrick's To The Virgins, to Make Much of Time. There are so many poems like these, which urge young folk to make the most of their youth, with dire warnings about the coming of old age before they've had time to blink, all that beautiful taught flesh morphing into hanging folds of leathery hide. I doubt if the young ever appreciate this kind of thing, preferring to think it'll never happen to them. The real audience for this kind of poetry consists of the middle aged and the old who wish they'd read it when young.
22nd April 2003.
Haven't done a lot of work the last days as it's Easter and we have visitors. Also my editor at Orion, Jon Wood is at last ready to do some editing on White Skin Man. This means putting Winged with Death to one side for a while and at the same time keeping an inner eye on it, so it doesn't get too far away from me. This is not my favourite way of working but I tell myself to be flexible.

13th April 2003.
I just stole this butterfly off Matthew Branton's site:

Dunno where he got it from.

12th April 2003.
This novel just creeps along. The content is good, and I'm still feeling excited about it, but the word-count is very slow. Still haven't got past about 18,000 words. There's probably about another year's writing before the first draft will be finished.
The Helen Dunmore book is brilliant. She writers wonderfully, not always, but certainly in the Zennor novel. Highly recommended.
6th April 2003.
Woke up again last night bursting with inspirations. Had to get out of bed and commit it all to paper. I don't know how or when I'll be able to use it, but it's good to have so many possibilities. I've begun looking into Helen Dunmore's Zennor in Darkness, her first adult novel.
3rd April 2003.
David Lodge's Thinks. . . was actually much better than I thought. I also read Adam Phillips' Darwin's Worms, which claims on the back cover to be a book about extinction. We'll see, I thought. But it was very good, lots of stuff I've been searching for in there. The question of loss and impermanence and the way we live with the reality of an ever changing internal and external environment remains the main concern of our time.
25th March 2003.
Started Skinner's Ordeal by Quintin Jardine but gave up after 40 pages. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with it. It's better than most of the novels around at the moment. It's just that there's nothing 'special' about it. OK isn't good enough. If it's worth spending time with it has to be more than that. I feel I have to check things out. If someone says something is good, then I'll have a look at it. But I don't have to plough right through to the end.
I've started David Lodge's Thinks. . ., about artificial intelligence but after the first couple of chapters I can't really see myself finishing the book.
I might try to get a copy of Albert Camus' The Rebel. Read something I know I can rely on.
The book I'm writing has nothing to do with the Sam Turner series, and is definitely a standalone. It's set in Montevideo and York and written in the first person. At the moment there are two apparently unconnected strands associated with each location. But at some point in the narrative they will have to merge.
21st March 2003.
Bush and Blair have gone ahead and done what they were always going to do. Surprise, surprise. I can only surmise that they care not a jot for public opinion, the truth, or human life.
15th March 2003.
Busy week preparing for and promoting York Readers Day and struggling with Bluetooth on my phone. Not a lot of writing, which is frustrating because I'm gripped by the possibilities of the novel now. Two places and cultures, two different times, two separate but integrated stories, a strong political element and promisingly interesting characters.
7th March 2002.
I'm reading Robert S. Fowler's Themes in Life and Literature, with in introduction by Herbert Read. The book was first published in 1967 and consists mainly of quotations and extracts from various authors and sources. Noteworthy not least for its juxtapositions of DH Lawrence and Ian Fleming, Joseph Conrad and Matthew Arnold, and Hitler and Shakespeare.
6th March 2003.
The Private Parts of Women
is a great book. Really memorable characters and a plot and storyline that seems impossible to maintain. Yet Lesley Glaister handles it all with consummate skill and carries the thing onward until the last page. Very impressive. Must find her other books.
Watched more British Reservists going off to the Gulf yesterday and today. These two comedians, Bush and Blair are absolutely fixed on war and are now leaning on other sovereign states to get UN backing for their plans. It doesn't seem to bother either of them that if they achieve their ends by these kind of bully-boy tactics, the UN resolution, and the organization itself will have been compromised beyond credibility.
1st March 2003.
I'm reading The Private Parts of Women, by Lesley Glaister. Didn't get a lot of writing done this week, as I had to be in London and a dozen other places. So it progresses, but slowly. Maria Jose sent me a street map of Montevideo all the way from Uruguay.
20th February 2003.
10,000 words. Almost. And it still feels like an opening paragraph.
18th February 2003.
I'm reading Death and the Oxford Box by Veronica Stallwood. Oxford, witty, and keeps you turning the pages. My own novel dragged me from my bed at 4 am this morning. It's worse than having small children in the house.
16th February 2003.
Just found this. It's a Tibetan cyber prayer wheel:
15th February 2003.
This month there is a discussion of Poet in the Gutter on the Yahoo group, British Mysteries.
12th February 2003.
I've spent a long time researching Montevideo. I spoke to the Uruguayan Embassy this morning in a last ditch attempt to procure a street map of the city. But they didn't have one, didn't know where I could get one. Totally unhelpful. Perhaps there is no such thing as a street map of Montevideo? The best thing would be a city guidebook of the place from the seventies. If you've got one, please tell me. At this juncture I'd accept almost anything. I've exhausted all the info on the www.
8th February 2003.
I'm enjoying the writing at the moment, though it goes very slowly. Building characters, trying to discover what makes them tick. I really haven't a clue about the storyline apart from a vague outline. Even the main characters are walking in shadows as if they are living in a police state. Strange because at the time of the setting in Montevideo the place was run by a military dictatorship. I'm working at winning their confidence, but it isn't easy because they think I want to put them in a book.
1st February 2003.
I'm reading A Second Skin, edited by Kirsty Dunseath. A collection of stories and essays by women about clothes. Research. Wonderful. Some of the women involved: Joyce Carol Oates, Carol Shields, AL Kennedy, Helen Dunmore, Freya North and Margaret Atwood. Lots of others, not such big names but great writers. It's a book about silver shoes and stripy socks, purple crimplene, cashmere coats, blouses, zippers, basques and handbags.
29th January 2003.
The Juan Jose Saer novel is quite short but taking time to read. The prose is dense and studied and although the subject matter is compelling I find I can only take it in short doses.
25th January 2003.
My own novel is at the stage where ideas come thick and fast. Sometimes so many that I can't get one of them down, even in outline, before there is something else crowding me to be included. Trying to take it in my stride.
24th January 2003.
This morning I began reading The Investigation by the Argentinian writer, Juan Jose Saer. Fascinatingly different to the last couple of books I've read. Set in France and Argentina, it might have been a kind of research for me, but if this is research, gimme more.
23rd January 2003.
The Dark Room
was wonderful. I don't expect to read anything better this year, which is a great drag, as it's only January.
Montevideo is a dreamland.
17th January 2003.
I got fairly deeply into Rachel Seiffert's The Dark Room. It gobbled me up. She's the daughter of a German mother and an Australian father; born in Oxford and living in Berlin. The Dark Room is an accomplished first novel dealing provocatively with the subject of the individual in history. It's also about guilt, shame and responsibility. It's an important and powerful book full of large ideas.
My own novel has got me researching Montevideo. I might have to go there. In the meantime I'm much happier about the 'voice', there's a vulnerability crept into it which I didn't know was there in the character.
15th January 2003.
Time, Europe are holding an informal poll to decide who is the greatest threat to world peace - North Korea, Iraq, or the United States of America. Currently the USA are leading by 80% of the vote.
13th January 2003.
I'm reading Anne Fine's The Tulip Touch, for which she won the Whitbread children's book of the year award in 1996. Malevolent little book about the possibility of evil and collective guilt. The first half is compulsive but lots of cliches. Nevertheless the whole is thoughtful and is all the more interesting for having read Schlink's The Reader.
12th January 2003.
I'm going to restart the novel. Maybe it isn't a Sam Turner novel after all. Doesn't feel right at the moment, goes too slowly. I still have a feeling for a first-person narrative. I'll continue with the same plot-line, an abduction of sorts. But I want to see it through the eyes of a personal narrator. There is, as yet, no final vision of the shape of the thing. Truth and reality begin when one no longer understands what one is doing or what one knows, Henri Matisse said. Poke around, said William Carlos Williams. I hear you, guys. I'm still not quite clear of the shredder, but once I get myself out of here. . .
11th January 2003.
Finished The Reader. Enjoyed every word. I'm now reading Wladimir Kaminer's Russian Disco. Funny book, makes me laugh. Again mostly set in Berlin, though it isn't a novel but a series of sketches.
7th January 2003.
I'm reading Bernhard Schlink's The Reader. A marvellous novel about collective guilt and fear and understanding and atonement. The book is sparingly and simply written and is as evocative a read as I have ever come across. Haunting.
My own novel creeps ahead at a petty pace.
4th January 2003.
The family have all gone, leaving me with a thick head and a sore throat. But it was a good time. Now back to the grindstone.