Saturday, May 30, 2020
Overboard by Ivy Ngeow - 2020
"Crunchy, Crunchy Special" - A Short Story by Ivy Ngeow from her collection The Power Ballads and Other Stories, 2020 - my first venture into The World of Ivy Ngeow Is here.
Opening Day Presentation by Ivy Ngeow
Ivy Ngeow's Website (from which you can obtain The Power Ballads and Other Stories)
From Asian Books Blog - Elaine Chiew's very interesting interview with Ivy Ngeow
Ivy Ngeow released this book when many of us, including the author, were under lockdown. In her opening day video, linked above, we learn her book can take us far from our confines to posh London,Thailand and Cambodia. Overboard really is a perfect lockdown book.
As the story opens, we are aboard a boat off the coast of Thailand, a powerful storm wrecks the ship. There is only one survivor, a man, badly injured with severe facial injuries that will require several surguries. Thai authorities take him to a hospital in Thailand where they ascertain his identiy. He has no memory of his life at all. He is English and a person of affluence. His Chinese wife, Phoebe, arrives from London, he does not recognize her, they are not terribly close, and right away mysteries begin to emerge. There was a Thai woman on the boat with him. The wife wants to know if she was a prostitute or a mistress. She was much younger than Phoebe’s husband.
From Thailand we travel back to London, with a Cambodian excursion thrown in, where we gradually learn of complicated life of the man. Ngeow is a marvel at creating settings through details. The narrative is structured in a very interesting fashion, through the perceptions of four characters, Phoebe, Dominique and Przemek as well as the injured man.
The chapters are brief, each one draws us further into the mystery.
The victim, his story is told in the second person, slowly pieces together what seems to be his life history.
We meet Dominique in London. Her husband is in Singapore producing a documentary. She is 48 years old and has just lost her job. Very well off, she decides to fly to Nassau to stay at her favourite hotel, $1700.O0 a night for a suite. She gets a call from Singapore. She needs to go there right away to identify his body. They have a child together, in college.
Przemek is an emigrate from Poland living in London and working as a plumber. He plays an important part in the unfolding plot.
There are so many interesting things in Overboard. We learn about London “Sugar Babies” who seek out online older rich men, exchanging companionship and more for rent, fancy cars, and tuition. We see how home improvement projects are often a pain, even for the rich. Foodies will find lots to like in the descriptions of Thai, Cambodian and dare we say it, English food. There are several sexual encounters cinematically described. All the characters are well developed.
I see this as a cubist novel, similar in someways to The Good Soldier, in which we must be active readers putting together events.
I loved Overboard, the characters, the plot turns, the food, the posh apartments and much more. The people are of diverse ages and homelands. I have been to the countries in the plot and Ngeow made me feel I was back there even though I am locked down in Metro Manila.
If you are looking for a good book to help get you through these times, I totally endorse Overboard.
About the Author
Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. A graduate of the Middlesex University Writing MA programme, Ivy won the 2005 Middlesex University Literary Prize out of almost 1500 entrants worldwide. She has written non-fiction for Marie Claire, The Star, The New Straits Times, South London Society of Architects’ Newsletter and Wimbledon magazine. Her fiction has appeared in Silverfish New Writing anthologies twice, The New Writer and on the BBC World Service. Most recently, her story was published by Fixi Novo in an anthology.
Ivy won first prize in the Commonwealth Essay Writing Competition 1994, first prize in the Barnes and Noble Career Essay Writing competition 1998 and was shortlisted for the David T K Wong Fellowship 1998 and the Ian St James Award 1999.
Ivy has been a highly-accomplished multi-instrumental musician since childhood and won fifth prize (out of 850 entrants) in the 2006 1-MIC (Music Industry Charts) UK Award for her original song – Celebrity, when she formed her own band, Satsuma (2005-07). Her songs are funky, modern and eclectic, with strong urban grooves and lyrics. Satsuma has played headlining gigs at top London venues such as: The Marquee Club, The Troubadour Club, The Water Rats, The Betsey Trotwood, Plan B and Clockwork.
Follow @ivyngeow on Twitter, on Facebook, on Amazon, on Goodreads, Visit writengeow.com, Buy Overboard
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Imagining Chekhov - three short stories by Alison MacLeod from her collection, All The Beloved Ghosts - 2017
“Woman With Little Pug”
“The Death of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov”
January 29, 1860. Taganrog, Russia
July 15, 1904. Badweller, Germany
“Lady with a Dog” by Anton Chekhov - 1899
I first read Anton Chekhov’s “Lady With a Dog” very long ago, in days before the fall of Atlantis. I just read it again. It id a very acute account of the motivations for and perils of adultery. We see how, at least in 1898, adultery was very different for men versus women. (I wonder if the current pandemic is lowering rates of adultery, it certainly makes intimate contact with near strangers not a good idea.). The man in Chekhov’s story is a serial philander. He is skilled at finding vulnerable women and in past has avoided emotional entanglements. Chekhov shows us what happens when he loses control. In the process we learn about the privlidged
lives of affluent late Romanov Era Russians”
“Woman With a Pug” is set in modern Brighton, a seaside resort in England. Never having been there, i believe Brighton would be preceived as a bit tacky and downscale if the man and woman from Chekhov’s story were to visit there as Ghosts. Like the lady in Chekhov’s story, the woman in this story has (maybe?) a little pug. Pursuing the theme of down scaling, she won a week in the hotel where she meets her lover. In 1898 it meant considerable to call a woman a lady, this is also now a ghost of the past. We learn about the life of both parties, like the man in Chekhov’s story, he is motivated as much by boredom as sexual need. Something very perplexing happens with her dog. Certainly we are provided with a mystery.
As I read this story, and if I had not read Chekhov’s just before i read MacLeod’s my focus would have been different but I was haunted by the ghost of Chekhov.
Olga Knipper - married to Anton Chekhov from 1901 to 1904, when he dies of Tuberculosis.
Born 1868 in Glaszov, Russia
Died 1959 in Moscow
She was a very succesful actress, preforming in three of Chekhov’s plays, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, and The Cherry Orchard. She met Chekhov while in The Cherry Orchard.
“Chekhov’s Telescope” begins on a passenger yacht headed for Yalta. Russia’s most famous literary writer and a celebrated actress , Olga Knipperare, they are not yet married but very much in love are heading for a visit to a resort. The water is choppy
as Chekhov tells Olga to look through his Telescope at Yalta. His return to Yalta is being covered by the media. A reporter has been told to get details on the famous writer and the actress. They do stay in different hotels to avoid scandal. The reporter has been told, as modern tabloid writer might be,to get “The Goods” on the famous couple, even in 1898 scandal sales papers.
He shows Olga in the Telescope the reporter who is stalking them,
“Sergei Rogov had a ruthless eye, long legs and his quarry in view.”
In the conversation of Olga and Chekhov she teases him about other women attracted to a famous writer. Chekhov enjoys the clean air of Yalta over Moscow.
The reporter resents the good life of the couple, compared to his edge of starvation existence:
“He followed the Great Writer, first to the genteel home of Dr Sredin, where Chekhov had arranged lodgings for Olga, so that she, an actress, might appear respectable during her stay in Yalta. Such hypocrisy, thought Sergei. Nearby, Chekhov booked himself into a balcony room on the third floor of the Hotel Marino. The youth had waited on a bench opposite the hotel for five hours, sustaining himself on cured sturgeon and day-old bread, when his efforts were at last rewarded. A carriage drew up and Olga stepped out, her head bowed. Oh, the elaborate ruses of the middle-aged, thought Sergei, spitting out his crusts.”
It was great fun to listen in on the conversations of Olga and Chekhov. Olga makes a prediction of the great story he will be inspired to write. We get a look at Life of Chekhov, MacLeod’s desciption of a visit to The Imperial Palace was a wonderful interlude. We also get to read letters exchanged between Olga and Chekhov, copied by reporter who bribed a courier to read them.
There is a foreshadowing the closing lines of the story:
“And when Chekhov doubled over in Olga’s arms, racked with coughing, Sergei felt too the shock of it: of the wide world telescoping into a blot of blood on the white beach.”
“The Death of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov”
This story is told in the first person by Anton Chekhov. It truly is a story of a beloved Ghost, a masterful work, chilling.
Olga and Chekhov, now married, are checking into the very grand (and still open) Hotel Römerbad. It is just a 5 minutes’ walk from the Spa Park in Bad Salzuflen, Germany where on the advise of his
doctor, Chekhov will be treated in hopes it will defeat the tuberculois that Chekhov himself knows will soon kill him.
Chekhov begins to see Ghosts from this youth:
“But Olga and my physician agree a German spa is what I need, not the wilderness of the Steppe – and I suppose I am no longer fit for sleeping in gullies or in the lee of ancient burial mounds. When I was fifteen, my brother and I spent one last summer there, lodging with the family of a long-standing tenant of my father’s. They were Cossacks and owned a ranch, and were as wild and uncouth as my family were pious and fearful. The floor was earthen, the roof was made of straw, their goat shared the rug on which we slept and the walls of the house were covered in sabres, pistols and whips.”
The hotel tells Olga that she and her husband must leave, his coughing and sickly appearance are bad for business.
As his illness increases so does his love for and dependence on Olga:
“In the mornings, Olga finds me the Russian papers, and translates the German ones. In the afternoon, I play patience, and she narrates the daily dramas that unfold outside the Badenweiler post office. I tell her that Germany is incapable of drama. Everyone is far too well-behaved. But she assures me that a man is hurriedly posting a letter, that a dog truly does lift its leg against a lamp post and that a child falls down and scrapes its knee. I tell her the tedium of Badenweiler will kill me even if the TB does not. How I long for the dirt and commotion of Moscow. Later, we sit in the park until the sun goes down. Then, in our room, Olga injects me with morphia and rubs my feet. Sometimes I sleep.”
The relationship of Olga and Chekhov is just so real, it reminded me a bit of that of my wife and I. I see from this how lucky I am.
We see how Russians in 1904 viewed Germans.
I do not want to tell more of this story. It takes an artist of great skill to speak in voice of a master, MacLeod stunned me with this work.
There was recently a BBC production based on these stories. I am geographically blocked from The BBC so I do not know if it is still online.
Alison MacLeod is a novelist and short story writer. Her most recent book, the story collection 'All the Beloved Ghosts', was shortlisted for The 2018 Edge Hill Prize for best story collection in the UK and Ireland. It was a 'Best Book of 2017' for the Guardian, and a finalist for Canada’s 2017 Governor General’s Award for Fiction.
Her website has a detailed bio.
Sunday, May 24, 2020
“In the Bedroom” - A Short Story by Rokhl Bernshteyn writing Under The Pen Name of Yehudis - 1908 - translated from Yiddish by Jordan Finkin in 2020 - published by The Yiddish Book Center
Thursday, May 21, 2020
“Mapping Three Lives Through a Red Rooster Chamber Pot” - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew from her amazing debut collection,The Heartsick Diaspora - 2020
“Mapping Three Lives Through a Red Rooster Chamber Pot” - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew from her amazing debut collection,The Heartsick Diaspora - 2020
Gateway to Elaine Chiew on The Reading Life,
“My Mother’s Ashes” - flash fiction by Elaine Chiew. Click here to read
“Mapping Three Lives Through a Red Rooster Chamber Pot” is the final of foureteen Short Stories in Elaine Chiew’s highly regarded debut collection of Short Stories. The stories deal with various aspects of the Diaspora that created modern Singapore, a superlative place by any measure, and the subsequent Diaspora of children of immigrates to London and New York City. Some stories feature people in desperate poverty, where life is a struggle just to eat. In a way we see the grandchildren or great grandchildren of immigrants into Singapore from Malaysia or China now living, some as “Crazy Rich Asians” in London, starting chic resturants in New York City, trying to be a writer or a corporate drone. The stories Show us people trying to keep in touch with their ancestral culture, food plays a big part in this, while trying to fit in their new homes. Chiew shows us a vile xenophobic attack on an elderly Malay/Singapore woman living with her son and daughter in Law in London who wants to go home, a neophyte writer visited by a Hindu God, and much more. I have visited Singapore and now, I think understand it better. One story was a lesson in modern Singaporian art, another showed us life under Japanese occupation. Another took us into the life of a woman working in a resturant in Florida.
Writing historical Short Stories is not an easy task. To do it successfully, you must develop both the background and characters with economy. Today’s story, “Mapping Three Lives Through A Red Rooster Chambef Pot” is one of the best such Short Stories I have yet read. It tells the story of a very important group of women imm igrates, The Samsui Women, from China to Singapore.
I was not famliar with this group so i did a bit of Research.
“The term Samsui women (三水妇女; 三水婦女; sān shuǐ fù nǚ) broadly refers to a group of Chinese immigrants who came to Malaya and Singapore between the 1920s and 1940s in search of construction and industrial jobs. Their hard work contributed to the development of the Straits Settlements, both as colonies and later as the new nations of Singapore and Malaysia. Samsui women did manual labour similar to coolies but were more independent.
Around 3,000 Samsui women are believed to have moved to Singapore from China between 1934 and 1938. This migration continued until 1949 when emigration from China was declared illegal.
Samsui women mainly came from Sanshui (Samsui) in Guangdong (Kwangtung) Province, but also from Shunde and Dongguan. About 90% of them were Cantonese, while the rest were Hakka.
In Chinese, these women are referred to as Hong Tou Jin (红头巾; 紅頭巾; hóng tóu jīn), which means "red bandana", because of the red cloth hats they wore.
Coming to Singapore as cheap labourers between the 1920s and 1940s, Samsui women worked mainly in the construction industry and other industries that required hard work.”
A standard cliche in writing about immigrates is to say they helped build a nation. That is exactly what the Samsui women did. Their contribution is very much now recognized. The Singapore Broadcasting Corporation has produced an Award winning 24 part series (partially available on YouTube in Chinese.) The very good 25 minute documentary produced by The BBC has English subtitles.
The story is divided into three segments.
The first segment, Min Fong, samsui woman, 1938 details the very hard life of a young immigrate woman. She works on a construction site, carry heavy loads. She lives with numerous others in a communal House. All the older women are in her business. She has a never correctly diagnosed menstural problem which necessitates her bleeding into a chamber pot brought from China.
The middle section, Katharine, bookkeeper, 1969, takes us 29 years ahead. Katharinle’s life history has tragic elements but a real estate agent trying to sell her a shophouse thinks she and her husband “reek of money”. I will leave her story unspoiled but to quote a bit on her connection with the Red Chamber Pot:
“The coffin sat in a death house, and a washbasin with a rooster design had sat on a stool in front of a portrait of the deceased, who was a young-looking samsui woman with a stern expression, as if ever ready to cudgel you around the ears if you sassed her. Inside the washbasin was a cup, complete with toothbrush, toothpaste and a towel. Katharine remembered thinking, what the heck is this, are you supposed to wash your face and brush your teeth before you kowtow to the dead?”
It is the chamber Pot from part one.
The final segment, Heidi, documentary filmmaker, 1996 deals with a woman making a documentary about several very old Samsui women on a return trip to their home area.
All three have trouble frought relationships with men.
There is much more in the story.
As i write my last post on the fourteen stories in Elaine Chiew’s The Heartsick Diaspora I finding myself wishing for many more. This wonderful collection has helped me get through now 73 days of lockdown and taught me a lot along the way.
From her publisher
“Elaine Chiew is a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).
Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore.
Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London.
Elaine lives in Singapore and her book The Heartsick Diaspora, and other stories, will be published by Myriad in 2020.”
I expect great things from Elaine Chiew and hope to follow her work for a long time.
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
“Kingdom Come” - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant. First published in 1986
This story is Included in Selected Stories as well as in Across The Bridge
Buried in Print’s Mavis Gallant Project
August 11, 1922 born in Montréal, in 1950 she moves to France to pursue her dream of being a writer
February 18, 2014, dies in Paris, a place she dearly loved
"In her preface to the present collection, Gallant advises her readers: “Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.” Such advice may be superfluous. When you finish each of Gallant’s stories, it’s instinctive to stop and regroup. As much as you might wish to resume and prolong the pleasure of reading, you feel that your brain and heart cannot, at least for the moment, process or absorb one word, one detail more." Francine Prose in her introduction to The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant
I have been reading short stories by Mavis ‘ft- since 2013. I was delighted when a blogger I have happily followed for years, Buried in Print, announced they would be reading and posting on all her many short stories (116 published in The New Yorker alone) on a scheduled basis. I am reading along with Buried in Print as I can. I have access to sbout half her stories.
This, to me, was among the most poigant of her stories I have so far read. I really like this story, maybe as it reflects the sadness of life now or because the central character is an elderly man contemplating his life history. At 73, I can relate. A very big difference between me and the man in the story is a am highly connected to my family and feel my blog is something I can take pride in. He has nothing.
Here are the opening lines:
“AFTER HAVING SPENT twenty-four years in the Republic of Saltnatek, where he established the first modern university, recorded the vocabulary and structure of the Saltnatek tongue, and discovered in a remote village an allophylian language unknown except to its speakers, Dr. Domini Missierna returned to Europe to find that nobody cared. Saltnatek was neither lush nor rich nor seductive, nor poor enough to arouse international pity. The university survived on grants left over from the defense budget, and even Missierna had to admit he had not attracted teachers of the first order. He had wasted his vitality chasing money for salaries and equipment, up to the day when an ungrateful administration dismissed him and the latest revolutionary council, thanking him for nothing, put him on a plane.”
Missierna sees in his own end times the decline of Europe
“During the years when he was so obsessively occupied, Europe had grown small, become depleted, as bald in spirit as Saltnatek’s sandy and stony islands. The doubting voices were thin and metallic. No one was listening. His colleagues said, “One step after the other,” and “One at a time.” They trod upon discarded rules of address, raked the ground to find shreds of sense and reason. Salvation was in the dust or it was nowhere. Even if he were to reveal twenty new and orderly and poetic methods of creating order by means of words, he would be told, “We had better deal with matters underfoot, closer to home.”
He has children and grandchildren but he got a divorce long ago so he has no real family connections.
Like in so many of her stories in just a few pages Gallant sums up not just a life but a period of history.
Saturday, May 16, 2020
“A Wedding in the Cemetery” - A Short Story by Joseph Opatoshu - 1929 - translated from Yiddish by Jeffrey Shandler - published in Jewish Currents - May 6, 2020
Friday, May 15, 2020
O. was born on 1 January 1887 in Mlawa, Plotsk Gubernia, Poland. His father was a lumber merchant (the family lead yikhusfor the [tusfut] holiday, a Jew, a scholar, one of the first meschilimin Poland, he wrote songs in Hebrew. From age ten to twelve he attended the trade folkshul in Mlawa, learning with his father. At age fourteen he entered into a trade school in Warsaw. At the end of 1905 he went away to Paris, then went to the politechnium in Nancy, but after several months he returned to Mlawa. He began to write, and he became acquainted with Peretz.
In March 1907 he immigrated to America, where he worked for several weeks in a factory, carrying [fanander] English newspapers, and he became a Hebrew teacher, completing in 1914 his studies as a civil engineer, occupied, however for only a short time with a profession and he dedicated himself to literature.
In "Tsukunft" in 1920 he published programs for a drama "Beym toytn bet", in "Tsukunft", March 1922 he published a one-acter "In salon", and when in 1922 A. visited Poland, he collaborated with the material for a three-act drama "Heynt blut", which was staged on 25 October 1922 in the Central Theatre in Warsaw (Director: Zigmund Turkow).
In the same hear through "amateurs" there was staged in Poland a dramatization of A.'s "Roman fun a ferd-gnb".
In December 1928 he was in Warsaw through the society "Forbert-film" under the direction of Jonas Turkow, who produced a film from A.'s novel "Di poylishe velder" with the participation of Yiddish and well-known Polish actors. The same novel was dramatized by Jacob Vaksman and staged in 1928 in Lublin.
There are five novellas in the collection from which this comes. Here is the publisher's (Wayne State University Press) description.
Thursday, May 14, 2020
Day 21” - A Short Story by Ruby Cowling - first published in Wasafiri - A Journal of Contemporary International Writing - May 21, 2018 - By the Author of This Paradise
Sunday, May 10, 2020
“In Praise of Radical Fish” - A Short Story by Alison Macleod - From her collection All the Beloved Ghosts - 2018
Friday, May 8, 2020
Thursday, May 7, 2020
Interview: Alison Lock
Can you tell us a bit about your writing routine. Do you typically set aside a certain period to write, always write in the same place, do you listen to music while you write, do you need solitude to write?
I prefer to write in the mornings. I had a long period when I got up in the middle of the night to write – it helped to fill the hours of insomnia, but I realised that ultimately it is detrimental to health. It might work if the rest of the world has a flexible routine – but life's not like that.I need solitude.
"in the name of a humanism hypocritically turned champion of the reader’s rights. Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in literature. We are now beginning to let ourselves be fooled no longer by the arrogant antiphrastical recriminations of good society in favour of the very thing it sets aside, ignores, smothers, or destroys; we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author."
What is your reaction to these very famous lines from "The Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes?
I can understand why Barthes argues that the writing and the author are unrelated. The Classic way of interpretation is only one way of finding meaning and it is bound to be limiting. Of course, there is inevitably a connection: the views and background of the author are bound to infuse the writing, but I believe that the result – and by that I mean, the text and universally accepted interpretation – must be a combination of writer/text/reader.
When I have given readings of my stories or poetry and people come to talk to me afterwards, I realise that their interpretation of the work comes directly from their life experience and that they relate most strongly to the ideas and stories that they recognise as being like theirs – these are the ones that resonate with them. Sometimes, they areminor parts – single lines, words, rather than whole stories, or, pieces that linger longerand simply leave an impression of the whole.
"It is the habit of approaching works of art in order to interpret them that sustains the fancy that there really is such a thing as the content of a work of art" - from "Against Interpretation" by Susan Sontag
As a writer, how do you feel when people Interpret your work, attribute meaning to it?, see things in it you never thought about?
I am always surprised, sometimes delighted, and occasionally dismayed when people mistake my original meaning, but then it is not surprising as my writing tends to linger on the ethereal, the half light – that is what I am interested in – the thoughts that seep in when we are not looking. I know people who have read my stories have mistaken my sense of humour for something darker and that makes me want to explain.
When I chose my stories for the collection, I carefully ordered them so as to form a slow fall and then a rise towards the end – what I did not take into account was that a reader often picks out a story at random rather than read from beginning to end. Inevitably this affects the interpretation.
Who is your ideal reader?
What is an ideal reader? A person who reads a book from cover to cover, perhaps? Or one who gives it a 5 star review?
My favourite review on Amazon is from the writer, Iain Pattison. He writes re: Above the Parapet, that it 'keeps the reader tense and unsure in a world that seems to shimmer between reality and ominous fantasy'. He gives it 4 stars and I really appreciate his comments.
It seems more and more writers have MAs in creative writing, some PhDs. Education is a great thing but is there a negative side to this, will it produce in few years a literary culture where lacking this degree will make it hard to get published?. Is it homogenizing writing styles? Will the day of the amateur writer who comes from nowhere and changes everything be over because of this?
My MA in Literature Studies/Creative Writing gave me a chance to focus on my writing in an environment that was both stimulating and supportive. I studied part-time over two years in order to fit it into the rest of my life. I really felt that having spent many years bringing up children and working that I needed to engage with the world beyond my own. Taking this course was a credible means of achieving my aim. Nevertheless, I can see that with so many people studying an art form that is ultimately assessed under academic criterion that it could lead to a homogenization of creative writing. But writers, like all artists, have to live in the real world, and find the ways that work best for them.
How important is seeing different parts of the world to you in terms of stimulating your creativity?
As we were saying before, it is inevitable that our writing emerges from our beliefs and views and the ways in which we see the world. Many of our notions of the world are now seen through the TV news and other forms of media. I love travelling and experiencing the world for myself – nothing can replace that.
Where can we find you online?
Please tell us something about your recent publications and/or works in progress.
I have two books published: a collection of poetry A Slither of Air (2011), and a short story collection Above the Parapet (2013).
I have a forthcoming poetry collection, Beyond Wings (2015 Indigo Dreams Publishing); and a fantasy novella Maysun and the Wingfish (Mother's Milk Books 2015).
A busy year ahead!
Who are some of your favourite contemporary short story writers, poets or novelists? What classic writers do you find your self drawn to reread. If a neophyte writer in your primary focus were to ask you who to read, what might you suggest?
Short Story Writers: Anton Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield, Cate Kennedy, Sarah Hall, Hilary Mantel, Kevin Barry, George Saunders
Poets: Mary Oliver, Kathleen Jamie, David Morley, Moniza Alvi, Fleur Adcock, WS Merwin.Really, there are too many to name..
Frank O'Connor in The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story said short stories seem to be about marginalized people, the lonely, those with with little voice in society. Do you think he is on to something illuminating about the format? Why is there so much loneliness in the short story?
It is true that because of the nature and the length of a short story it is often very focused, intense, atmospheric, and from a single character's viewpoint: of an event, an interaction, or a relationship with self or another character. A short story is often static in that it can bebased in a precise geographic setting whether relating to the real world or a fantasy creation. Of course, this is not always the case: they can be a travelogue in time or/and place i.e. the stories of Henry James, or Guy de Maupassant – where author is intermediary and stories describe the exotic.
I am most drawn to stories where I feel that the author is in the shoes and body of the character and respects them. The characters created by the Australian writer, Cate Kennedy, are like this. It is as if we are invited to empathise with them, to understand their human frailty: they are people who might be similar or different from ourselves. This is the delight of writing – exploring new territory, taking off from the familiar.
I sometimes wonder why such a disproportionate amount of the regarded as great literature of the world is written in the colder temperate zones rather than in the tropics. I cannot imagine The Brothers Karamazov being written on a tropical island, for example.
I think extremes of any kind push the mind a little bit further and that applies to climate too, but it is not the case that it is only in the colder temperate zones that 'great' literature is produced. There are great African writers: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chinua Achebe come to mind; South American writers: Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda – for example.
Many cultures are permeated with references to seemingly supernatural creatures, some kind of malevolent. Do you feel any sense of these entities in the world you look out on in your daily life or in your writings? Do you sense a continuity between the natural and supernatural worlds. Is a belief in the supernatural just escapism and wishful thinking?
It is definitely the case that I like to explore the borders between different worlds in my writing, and my more fantastical stories include ghosts and time travellers. I like the idea of a continuum between the supernatural and what we generally accept as reality – probably a result of my Catholic upbringing – I can remember as a child, quite vividly feeling a sense of 'other'. I was never afraid, just comforted and curious.
If you found out that a favourite writer of yours was grossly bigoted would you lose interest in them?
Yes. I think personal politics is important. I would feel I could no longer trust them.
When you write, do you picture an audience or do you just write?
I just write – if I thought about an audience I would stop writing – I would feel far too exposed to reveal myself at the point of creating.
Assuming this applies to you, how do you get past creative "dry spells", periods when you have a hard time coming up with ideas or when things seem futile?
I find there is far too much to write about and too little time to do it – that's how I am feelingat the moment. I guess it might change.
What are the last three novels you read?
I am currently researching for a fantasy fiction novel and so my reading reflects this:
Something wicked comes this way by Ray Bradbury
Z is for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien
Ingo by Helen Dunmore
If you could give your eighteen year old self one suggestion, what would it be?
I have always enjoyed writing; poems and stories and sometimes I filled daily journals for several months at a time. But I never thought I could take writing seriously as a career. I would say to my eighteen year old self: 'Call yourself 'a writer' – even if it is only a whispered voice in the back of your mind.' That way I would be giving myself permission to take the time to write.
If you could live anywhere in the past for six months, or forever, and be rich and safe, where would you pick and why?
Somewhere very different, sometime long ago – Ancient Egypt – where women had better status than other ancient societies.
Are you open to e mail, Facebook or Twitter, contact with your readers or do you fear stalkers or don't want to be bothered?
I like to share interesting articles and news about poetry, novels, and short stories,particularly on Twitter: ali_lock_
Quick Pick Questions
A. tablets or laptops or smart phones?
B. E readers or traditional books?
C. American Fast Food- love it, hate it, or once and a while?
I prefer fresh, whole foods, any day!
D. Cats or dogs?
E. best city to inspire a writer- Paris, London, Dublin, or?
Vienna – only because I was there last summer at the 13th Conference on the ShortStory in English. I loved it.
Thank you for this interview, Mel – The Reading Life site is an inspiration!
My great thanks to Alison Lock for taking the time to provide us with such interesting and insightful responses.
I plan a major review of her collection, Above the Parapet in March