Friday, October 30, 2009

Blogging, Lit fests and writing longhand

I am feeling less of a need to blog right now, which is interesting. It seems to be something to do with the fact that more people are reading my blog, so maybe I am feeling a little shy. Also, it probably has to do with feeling unsettled, still, as I talked about on Petina Gappah's blog the other day, and unsure about my words. I am finding myself doing in English what I used to do in Hebrew, which is rehearsing what I am going to say before I say it, for example to the girl at the desk when I went swimming this morning. I found myself practising in my head how to ask her whether I am on the mailing list... but it's English. It's supposed to be my native language. How odd! I guess here it's not the words that are the problem, which was often the case in Hebrew, even after 15 years, but the tone of the request I wanted to make, the cultural framing of the question, how formal to be, how informal and chatty? I need to re-learn all of this. So that's perhaps why I've not been blogging much.

What I have been doing is going to hear people talk about short stories, which is heavenly! Last week I spent two nights in Lancaster with a great writer and friend, Carys Davies, who was chairing a short story session at the Lit Fest with another great writer and friend, Alison MacLeod, author of 15 Modern Tales of Attraction, and Panos Karnezis, whose short story collection, Little Infamies, came out in 2002. First, the room was set up cabaret-style, with tables and chairs rather than the audience in rows, which made for a great atmosphere. Second, each author read a complete story, which is such a treat nowadays, when often even short story writers only read excerpts.

The authors came and chatted to people in the bar afterwards, so there was none of that Us and Them that accompanies some literary festivals where the authors sign, sign, sign books and are then whisked away to a Special Area. Carys and I, and festival director Andy, went for dinner with Alison and Panos afterwards in the brand new restaurant at The Storey, and much lit gossip ensued! The next night, we went to hear novelists Andrew Miller and Sarah Hall read several excerpts from their new books, an entirely different experience, also very stimulating.

During the day in between the two events, Carys took me to Morecambe, which was such a fascinating experience. An English beach resort sounds like a contradiction in terms, and in some ways it is, with an abandoned theme park and some empty arcades filled with video game machines (see some old pictures of how it used to be here).

But it also has considerable charm: the recently renovated Midland Hotel is a wonderful example of Art Deco, and has some Eric Gill works in there. And we sat in a small cafe at the far end of the promenade, a modernist box with a wall of glass giving the most fabulous sea view (plus homemade cupcakes).  

We sat and we both did some writing, by hand. And this brings me to my next topic. I've been pretty stuck recently, not knowing what Big Project I am working on, not really feeling focussed, productive. So, I decided to try something new: writing longhand in a Moleskine notebook (thanks, J!). It's only been a week, but I am really enjoying the change, writing in a cafe with no laptop in front of me to block the view, to form a barrier between me and everyone else. The process is completely different when you can't move words around, cut and paste, check the word count every few minutes. I also like not having all the stories I've ever written - the published and the unpublished and half finished - looming over me. And... of course... no Facebook with its myriad distractions. Yes, yes, I have my theory about how playing online Scrabble as I write distracts my logical brain, but trying it without has its benefits too.

Apparently, one very well-known writer has a large house and she begins writing in longhand in the basement and, over the course of the day, works her way up to the fourth floor where the computer is... And another well-known writer can only write with fresh apples on a wooden table. Ain't it interesting to hear how others do it?

The next day, I took the train to Manchester for part 2 of my literary festivities. I wandered around the city a little, once again looking for the ghost of myself there as a Physics student in the early 1990s, searching for a familiar corner, but the city has changed so much, I couldn't find one. But it is fun! The next day, I had a lovely meeting with three writer friends, Elizabeth Baines, Annie Clarkson (who I had never met) and Mel, and more discussion about how we write, what we write, where we write...and about not writing too! And then off to the Short Weekend at the Manchester Lit Fest.

First, a session after my own heart, the launch of the When It Changed - Science into Fiction anthology from Comma Press which brought together fiction writers and scientists in order to encouraged science-inspired fiction. (Yes, I would have loved to have been in it.. but I need no encouragement to get hold of some science, so it was great to see others who'd never tried it.) There was an extremely articulate astrophysicist who made me want to head off to an observatory, and another writer friend, Adam Marek, read the tantalising beginning of his nanoscience-inspired story. Let's hope this is the start of many more science-into-fiction collaborations.

I stayed for the whole afternoon to hear a video interview with Gazan writer Atef Abu Saif (who hadn't been allowed out of Gaza to attend, sadly) talking about fiction not being political and about the need to write, and readings by fabulous Irish author Bernard MacLaverty and Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim, who had finally been allowed into England to attend, and who read a story in Arabic, with the translation projected behind him. (I was thrilled to be able to sort of follow the Arabic...!) His short stories have an element of surrealism to them and I really look forward to reading his collection, The Madman of Freedom Square, also from Comma Press.

And then, to finish off my day, a reading by Chris Beckett, whose award-winning collection The Turing Test had opened my eyes to the possibilites of science fiction (thank you Roy!). Of course, after dashing off to catch my train, missing James Lasdun's reading, the train was delayed and I nearly missed the last connection from Birmingham to Bristol. But in the end, all worked out well.

So, back now with a week before I am off to Ireland to see if my screenplay, adapted from my story North Cold, has triumphed in the Waterford Film Festival's short screenplay competition for which is is shortlisted. Nice to be home.


SueG said...

Wow! You're everywhere these days. You make my travelling shoes look like lead boots :-) I really do have to get out and go to more lit festivals, though. Really do...and fingers crossed on the screenplay comp!

Carolyn Jess-Cooke said...

I know what you mean about feeling 'shy' - darn sitemeter! It's made me wish I could blog anonymously... But your blog is wonderful.


Tania Hershman said...

Sue, darling, I don't think you are one to talk about being "everywhere"!!! Thanks re screenplay comp, it's exciting to be in another medium, whatever happens, and to have a damn good excuse to go to ireland again!

Carolyn, it's obsessive, isn't it, checking sitemeter, and then wondering who all these people are? Thanks for your lovely words, and huge congrats again on the Little,Brown deal!