Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category
One of the greatest things about literary prizes, whether local or international, is that it introduces readers to incredible works they might not have read or heard of before. This is true in the case of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize winner, at least for me. However, upon investigation, it seems I owe a great debt to the panel of judges for bringing Hungarian László Krasznahorkai’s translated oeuvre into my life.
Sentences so long they sometimes covers entire chapters. A lava flow of words. Magisterial. Melancholic and brilliant. Fiction as epiphany. Surpassing all the lesser concerns of contemporary writing.
This is how his readers have described the work of the enigmatic Krasznahorkai. In the press release published by the MBI conveners after the announcement, he is described as “the perfect international writer”:
László Krasznahorkai is the perfect international writer for the Man Booker International Prize. Born in Hungary, the 61-year-old Krasznahorkai has lived and worked in Germany, Mongolia, China, Japan and New York (living in Allen Ginsberg’s apartment), so he has seen a bit of the world. His admirers, from the late WG Sebald to Susan Sontag, are similarly diverse. His writing meanwhile is equally hard to pin down. The phrases used by Dame Marina Warner when she announced him as the winner of the £60,000 prize suggested something of his complexity: ‘an absurdist who shows no pity’, a writer of works that are ‘often piercingly beautiful’, and of ‘fiction as epiphany’, a man who represents ‘a unique weave of thoughts and words and sensibility’, a writer who is ‘gallows humorous and surprisingly light footed’. A tricky chap to get a handle on then.
When asked recently how he would describe his works to someone unfamiliar with them, Krasznahorkai responded: ‘Letters; then from letters, words; then from these words, some short sentences; then more sentences that are longer, and in the main very long sentences, for the duration of 35 years. Beauty in language. Fun in hell.’ This definition, both playful and accurate, can be seen in the comma-less first sentence of his best-known novel, Satantango: ‘One morning near the end of October not long before the first drops of the mercilessly long autumn rains began to fall on the cracked and saline soil on the western side of the estate (later the stinking yellow sea of mud would render footpaths impassable and put the town too beyond reach) Futaki woke to hear bells.’
An equally good example, if only Krasznahorkai would publish it, would be his winner’s speech at the award ceremony. Long-term attendees at prize events have heard speeches take many forms, from the short and stumbling and the rambling and inclusive to the humorous and self depreciating, Krasznahorkai’s took the form of a recitation and an incantation. In looking back at all those who had inspired or helped him as a writer he name-checked a bewildering array of figures great and small. His first teacher of Latin and Greek was mentioned (now, in Krasznahorkai’s repeated ritualistic phrase, ‘no longer among the ranks of the living’); his first wife too (who was, apparently, quick to point out when his writing was no good); Dostoevsky and his literary hero Kafka were honoured; Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave had their moment alongside JS Bach; Krasznahorkai’s second wife too, naturally; the critic James Wood and W.G. Sebald (‘no longer among the ranks of the living’) and a host of others. As Krasznahorkai writes elsewhere in Satantango, ‘jokes are just like life. Things that begin badly, end badly. Everything’s fine in the middle, it’s the end you need to worry about.’ No need to worry here though: as he went, ticking off those still among the ranks of the living and those not, the audience was visibly delighted by the wit, flow and novelty of the performance (and it was a performance). If only all such speeches could be as good.
An acceptance speech may be an odd way to approach an unfamiliar writer but in the case of Krasznahorkai and his unique, complicated, flavoursome fictional world, conjured up (in Edwin Frank’s wonderful phrase), in sentences of incredible length that go to incredible lengths, it seems oddly appropriate. But the only way really to see why the Man Booker International judges chose him is to read him.
After the announcement Krasznahorkai spoke to BBC’s Nkem Ifekika about his life, his inspirations and most importantly, his writing. In response to a question about his flowing, long sentences he says: “The short sentences are absolute artificial”. He goes on: “You, my sweet reader, you think without short sentences. You think everything in your life, every moment, without dots, only commas commas after commas.”
Listen to the podcast of the interview, in which the author also shares his thoughts on the international attention brought on by a prize like this:
More links to interviews, reactions and reflections on MBI win:
Krasznahorkai’s website is an incredible resource, rich with information and links. Visit it to find out more about this multiple award-winning author:
Find out more about Krasznahorkai’s books, published in English by New Directions:
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Beauty, in László Krasznahorkai’s new novel, reflects, however fleeting, the sacred — even if we are mostly unable to bear it.
In Seiobo There Below we see the goddess Seiobo returning to mortal realms in search of perfection. An ancient Buddha being restored; Perugino managing his workshop; a Japanese Noh actor rehearsing; a fanatic of Baroque music lecturing to a handful of old villagers; tourists intruding into the rituals of Japan’s most sacred shrine; a heron hunting.… Seiobo overs over it all, watching closely.
Melancholic and brilliant, Seiobo There Below urges us to treasure the concentration that goes into the perception of great art, leading us to re-examine our connection to immanence.
Published September 24th, 2013
Read an excerpt from Seiobo There Below:
Everything around it moves, as if just this one time and one time only, as if the message of Heraclitus has arrived here through some deep current, from the distance of an entire universe, in spite of all the senseless obstacles, because the water moves, it flows, it arrives, and cascades; now and then the silken breeze sways, the mountains quiver in the scourging heat, but this heat itself also moves, trembles, and vibrates in the land, as do the tall scattered grass-islands, the grass, blade by blade, in the riverbed; each individual shallow wave, as it falls, tumbles over the low weirs, and then, every inconceivable fleeting element of this subsiding wave, and all the individual glitterings of light flashing on the surface of this fleeting element, this surface suddenly emerging and just as quickly collapsing, with its drops of light dying down, scintillating, and then reeling in all directions, inexpressible in words; clouds are gathering; the restless, jarring blue sky high above; the sun is concentrated with horrific strength, yet still indescribable, extending onto the entire momentary creation, maddeningly brilliant, blindingly radiant; the fish and the frogs and the beetles and the tiny reptiles are in the river; the cars and the buses, from the northbound number 3 to the number 32 up to the number 38, inexorably creep along on the steaming asphalt roads built parallel on both embankments, then the rapidly propelled bicycles below the breakwaters, the men and women strolling next to the river along paths that were built or inscribed into the dust, and the blocking stones, too, set down artificially and asymmetrically underneath the mass of gliding water: everything is at play or alive, so that things happen, move on, dash along, proceed forward, sink down, rise up, disappear, emerge again, run and flow and rush somewhere, only it, the Ooshirosagi, does not move at all, this enormous snow-white bird, open to attack by all, not concealing its defenselessness; this hunter, it leans forward, its neck folded in an S-form, and it now extends its head and long hard beak out from this S-form, and strains the whole, but at the same time it is strained downward, its wings pressed tightly against its body, its thin legs searching for a firm point beneath the water’s surface; it fixes its gaze on the flowing surface of the water, the surface, yes, while it sees, crystal-clear, what lies beneath this surface, down below in the refractions of light, however rapidly it may arrive, if it does arrive, if it ends up there, if a fish, a frog, a beetle, a tiny reptile arrives with the water that gurgles as the flow is broken and foams up again, with one single precise and quick movement, the bird shall strike with its beak, and lift something up, it’s not even possible to see what it is, everything happens with such lightning speed, it’s not possible to see, only to know that it is a fish — an amago, an ayu, a huna, a kamotsuka, a mugitsuku or an unagi or something else — and that is why it stood there, almost in the middle of the Kamo River, in the shallow water; and there it stands, in one time, immeasurable in its passing, and yet beyond all doubt extant, one time proceeding neither forward nor backward, but just swirling and moving nowhere, like an inconceivably complex net, cast out into time; and this motionlessness, despite all its strength, must be born and sustained, and it would only be fitting to grasp this simultaneously, but it is precisely that, this simultaneous grasping, that cannot be realized, so it remains unsaid, and even the entirety of the words that want to describe it do not appear, not even the separate words; yet still the bird must lean upon one single moment all at once, and in doing so, must obstruct all movement: all alone, within its own self, in the frenzy of events, in the exact center of an absolute, swarming, teeming world, it must remain there in this cast-out moment, so that this moment as it were closes down upon it, and then the moment is closed, so that the bird may bring its snow-white body to a dead halt in the exact center of this furious movement, so that it may impress its own motionlessness against the dreadful forces breaking over it from all directions, because what comes only much later is that once again it will take part in this furious motion, in the total frenzy of everything, and it too will move, in a lightning-quick strike, together with everything else; for now, however, it remains within this enclosing moment, at the beginning of the hunt.
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Already famous as the inspiration for the filmmaker Béla Tarr’s six-hour masterpiece, Satantango is proof, as the spellbinding, bleak, and hauntingly beautiful book has it, that “the devil has all the good times.” The story of Satantango, spread over a couple of days of endless rain, focuses on the dozen remaining inhabitants of an unnamed isolated hamlet: failures stuck in the middle of nowhere. Schemes, crimes, infidelities, hopes of escape, and above all trust and its constant betrayal are Krasznahorkai’s meat.
“At the center of Satantango,” George Szirtes has said, “is the eponymous drunken dance, referred to here sometimes as a tango and sometimes as a csardas. It takes place at the local inn where everyone is drunk… Their world is rough and ready, lost somewhere between the comic and tragic, in one small insignificant corner of the cosmos. Theirs is the dance of death.” “You know,” Mrs. Schmidt, a pivotal character, tipsily confides, “dance is my one weakness.”
Published March 5th, 2012
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As if some chained being had to shake its essence free, as if art taken to its limit were a form of howling, Animalinside explodes from its first line: “He wants to break free, attempts to stretch open the walls, but he has been tautened by them, and there he remains in this tautening, in this constraint, and there is nothing to do but howl…”
To create this work that strains against all constraints, László Krasznahorkai began from one of Max Neumann’s paintings; Neumann, spurred into action, created 14 more images, which unleashed an additional 13 texts from the author. Animalinside is the rare case of two matchless artists meeting across disciplines, and New Directions is very proud to publish a limited edition of this powerful novella, exquisitely produced by Sylph Editions and the Cahiers Series of the American University of Paris with a deluxe seven-stage printing process for the amazing Neumann images.
Published June 16th, 2011
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War and War, László Krasznahorkai’s second novel in English from New Directions, begins at a point of danger: on a dark train platform Korim is on the verge of being attacked by thuggish teenagers and robbed; and from here, we are carried along by the insistent voice of this nervous clerk. Desperate, at times almost mad, but also keenly empathic, Korim has discovered in a small Hungarian town’s archives an antique manuscript of startling beauty: it narrates the epic tale of brothers-in-arms struggling to return home from a disastrous war. Korim is determined to do away with himself, but before he can commit suicide, he feels he must escape to New York with the precious manuscript and commit it to eternity by typing it all on the world-wide web. Following Korim with obsessive realism through the streets of New York (from his landing in a Bowery flophouse to his moving far uptown with a mad interpreter), War and War relates his encounters with a fascinating range of humanity, a world torn between viciousness and mysterious beauty. Following the eight chapters of War and War is a short “prequel acting as a sequel,” “Isaiah,” which brings us to a dark bar, years before in Hungary, where Korim rants against the world and threatens suicide.
Written like nothing else (turning single sentences into chapters), War and War affirms WG Sebald’s comment that Krasznahorkai’s prose “far surpasses all the lesser concerns of contemporary writing.”
Published April 1st, 2006
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The Melancholy of Resistance, László Krasznahorkai’s magisterial, surreal novel, depicts a chain of mysterious events in a small Hungarian town. A circus, promising to display the stuffed body of the largest whale in the world, arrives in the dead of winter, prompting bizarre rumors. Word spreads that the circus folk have a sinister purpose in mind, and the frightened citizens cling to any manifestation of order they can find — music, cosmology, fascism. The novel’s characters are unforgettable: the evil Mrs. Eszter, plotting her takeover of the town; her weakling husband; and Valuska, our hapless hero with his head in the clouds, who is the tender center of the book, the only pure and noble soul to be found.
Compact, powerful and intense, The Melancholy of Resistance, as its enormously gifted translator George Szirtes puts it, “is a slow lava flow of narrative, a vast black river of type.” And yet, miraculously, the novel, in the words of The Guardian, “lifts the reader along in lunar leaps and bounds.”
Published June 1st, 2002
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The first review has emerged for JM Coetzee’s latest work, The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychotherapy.
The book, which Coetzee co-wrote with clinical psychologist Arabella Kurtz, is scheduled for a UK release on 21 May and will be available in the US in September.
Read an excerpt from The Good Story
Writing for The Independent, Gerard Woodward describes the shape of the discussion Coetzee and Kurtz undertake, which addresses “the possibility that the practices of psychoanalysis and novel-writing might have something useful to say to each other”.
The series of exchanges cover the nature of reality, the moral questions that arise from narratives of autobiography, the reliability of memory and the notion of absolute truth.
It seems surprising that Coetzee is so preoccupied with the notion of an absolute truth which fiction can either accurately reflect or distort. It is Kurtz who questions the idea of this kind of courtroom truth. The facts of anyone’s life are limited and rare. Psychoanalysis, says Kurtz, can sometimes be described as the process of setting free the narrative or autobiographical imagination. The truth is contingent upon viewpoint and context. If the goal of therapy is to set the patient free, is truth the only avenue to freedom?
There are, of course, many different kinds of truth – emotional, poetic, fictional, mathematical and so on. Coetzee is concerned by the idea of a separate, absolute truth outside and beyond the realm of the poem or the story, against which it can be tested. If so, then it is not something that seems to be recognised by the psychotherapeutic process.
About the book
A fascinating dialogue on the human inclination to make up stories between a Nobel Prize-winning writer and a psychotherapist.
Arabella Kurtz and JM Coetzee consider psychotherapy and its wider social context from different perspectives, but at the heart of both their approaches is a concern with stories. Working alone, the writer is in sole charge of the story he or she tells. The therapist, on the other hand, collaborates with the patient in telling the story of their life. What kind of truth do the stories created by patient and therapist aim to uncover: objective truth or the shifting and subjective truth of memories explored and re-experienced in the safety of the therapeutic relationship?
The authors discuss both individual psychology and the psychology of the group: the school classroom, the gang, the settler nation where the brutal deeds of the ancestors have to be accommodated into a national story. Drawing on great writers like Cervantes and Dostoevsky and on psychoanalysts like Freud and Melanie Klein, they offer illuminating insights into the stories we tell of our lives.
About the authors
JM Coetzee‘s work includes Waiting for the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Boyhood, Youth, Disgrace, Summertime and The Childhood of Jesus. He was the first author to win the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.
Arabella Kurtz is a consultant clinical psychologist and is completing psychoanalytic psychotherapy training at the Tavistock Clinic. She has held various posts in NHS adult and forensic mental health services and is currently senior clinical tutor on the University of Leicester clinical psychology training course.
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The five regional winners of the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize were announced recently. This Fiction Friday, take a few minutes to read the winning short stories of this prestigious prize.
The regional winners are Lesley Nneka Arimah, for “Light” (Africa: Nigeria), Siddhartha Gigoo, for “The Umbrella Man” (Asia: India), Jonathan Tel, for “The Human Phonograph” (Canada and Europe: United Kingdom), Kevin Jared Hosein, for “The King of Settlement 4″ (Caribbean: Trinidad and Tobago) and Mary Rokonadravu, for “Famished Eels” (Pacific: Fiji).
The overall winner will be announced in London on 8 September.
Read an excerpt from “Light” by Lesley Nneka Arimah:
When Enebeli Okwara sent his girl out in the world, he did not know what the world did to daughters. He did not know how quickly it would wick the dew off her, how she would be returned to him hollowed out, relieved of her better parts. Before this, they are living in Port Harcourt in a bungalow in the old Ogbonda Layout. Her mother is in America reading for a Masters in Business Administration. She has been there for almost three years in which her eleven-year-old bud of a girl has bloomed. Enebeli and the girl have survived much in her absence, including a disturbance at the market which saw him and the girl separated for hours while people stampeded, trying to get away from a commotion that turned out to be two warring market women who’d had just about enough of each other’s tomatoes. They survived a sex talk, birthed by a careless joke an uncle had made at a wedding, about the bride taking a cup of palm wine to her husband and leaving with a cup of, well, and the girl had questions he might as well answer before she asked someone who might take it as an invitation to demonstrate. They survived the crime scene of the girl’s first period, as heavy a bleeder as she was a sleeper, the red seeping all the way through to the other side of the mattress. They survived the girl discovering this would happen every month.
Read an excerpt from “The Umbrella Man” by Siddhartha Gigoo:
He unfurled the umbrella, held it aloft over his head and stepped out of his ward again that evening, thinking that it would rain. Rain had evaded the place for several months. Only in the evenings were the inmates allowed to go out of their wards and stroll in the compound of the asylum. But he was the only one permitted to saunter out of the gates and spend some time in the street nearby. This limited liberty was not an entitlement, but a privilege that had been granted to him by the doctors for his obedience and calm disposition. It had taken many months for the doctors to grant him this freedom which, if one were to measure, ended either at the wall around the one- hundred-and-twenty-square-metre compound of the asylum or the ninety-something yards in the narrow avenue outside the gates that ended at another wall. Beyond that wall, there was nowhere to go. For the inmates, the world ended at that wall. Beyond that brick-and-stone wall was a vast darkness, an oblivion.
Read an excerpt from Jonathan Tel’s short story, “The Human Phonograph”:
It has been seven years.
There are thoughts that cannot be spoken but can only be sung.
The summons comes in the form of a telegram to the secretary of her work unit. She has a week in which to pack.
They met in 1961 when she was a senior majoring in Russian at the Foreign Studies University and he was finishing his PhD in geology. They married and less than a year later he received the order. He was being sent to the far northwest to investigate a certain terrain – as much as he could say. He would remain there indefinitely. She was forbidden to accompany him. As if he were being sent into exile, or they both were, but it was presented as a reward, an opportunity to Serve the People … And in October 1964, Year of the Dragon, Mao proclaimed that China has the Bomb.
Read an excerpt from “The King of Settlement 4″ by Kevin Jared Hosein:
I gon start this one off by tellin you that I was born and raise along a backroad that always seem slightly more Trinidadian than the rest of the country. Settlement 4 is that old-timey, grassy, carefree type of Trinidad the illustrators adore. Open any Caribbean primary-school readin book and you gon likely see it there.
We have it all.
We have the little black boys bathin by the standpipe. We have the no-teeth man who rock-hard gums could cut through cucumber like butter. Take a walk down this mucky stretch of asphalt and look to your right. You’ll see a young, pregnant Miss Lady combin the lice out of the locks of she first-born. To the left, you’ll see a sunburnt savannah where children still fly mad bull kites next to a posse of nomad goats. Walk further down and you gon find a rusted sedan with chipped bricks for wheels, and weeds growin outta the glove compartment.
But then there’s the features that we illustrators would omit. Features of boys like Foster and me who had plans to spend the better part of we teenage years sittin on a crate and paint bucket. Makeshift lookout points, you could say.
Read an excerpt from “Famished Eels” by Mary Rokonadravu:
After one hundred years, this is what I have: a daguerreotype of her in bridal finery; a few stories told and retold in plantations, kitchens, hospitals, airport lounges. Scattered recollections argued over expensive telephone conversations across centuries and continents by half-asleep men and women in pyjamas. Arguments over mango pickle recipes on email and private messages on Facebook. A copper cooking pot at the Fiji Museum. Immigration passes at the National Archives of Fiji. It is 2011.
Fiji, with Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, had just registered the ‘Records of the Indian Indentured Labourers’ into the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, when my father, the keeper and teller of stories, suffered a stroke. Fate rendered his tongue silent. He cannot read or write – he first set foot in a classroom at fifteen, and was told by a nun he was too old. He ignores my journalist and doctor siblings to select me, the marine biologist, to finish his task. I am off the coast of Lifou in New Caledonia counting sea urchins when the call is relayed.
He hates me for not becoming a journalist, I say to myself.
Image courtesy of Commonwealth Foundation
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… stories, all the good ones, all the effective ones, are supposed to grip you. To charm you. Transport you.
And, yes, terrify you.
These are the words of critically acclaimed author Francois Bloemhof in an essay in Horror 101: The Way Forward on writing scary stories for children.
Horror 101 is edited by Joe Mynhardt and Emma Audsley and contains writing advice from seasoned authors in the horror genre. Described the Crystal Lake Publishing as “not your average On Writing guide”, Horror 101 contains career advice and tricks of the trade for aspiring authors, from writing for movies and comics to blogging and self-publishing.
Read Bloemhof’s essay entitled “Horror for Kids: not Child’s Play” in which he shares essential principles for writing scary stories for children. The author believes that a good story doesn’t need blood, death and violence to terrify the reader.
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There are a few principles I adhere to. Most of them are common sense and may have been clear at the outset if I had ever made a study of the sort of horror books that had already been written for children in other countries. I made up my own set of rules as I went along, but am pretty sure they have a much wider bearing.
The rules, then:
Little or no blood.
Blood flying all over the place does not heighten the tension, but dissipates it. So curtailing the blood-flow was no sacrifice for me. Being subtle often gets you a lot further anyway; the atmosphere can be much more disturbing if the central issue is not resolved so spectacularly. Besides, when it comes to movies, why are the torture porn and slasher genres even classified as horror? Those are violent suspense films that feature no monster, but often merely a main character with a penchant for cutting off limbs. Quite understandably, parents will not rush out to buy their children books in which kids get hacked to pieces. Again, that quite a few young readers might like to read stories in which that happens is beside the point!
Children don’t die.
Or in any event they don’t in my youth horror books. One or two adults may come to a sticky end, but then mostly offstage. The threat of death may be there, and in fact in many a story should be there, but killing off a child character, especially one the reader has come to like and identify with, is betraying the reader’s trust. You are also betraying the trust of the adult who placed that book in a child’s hands. Alfred Hitchcock always regretted having a child character get killed in a bomb blast in Sabotage, and even though it remains one of my favourite films of his and that scene has a devastating impact, I see his point.
Children don’t kill.
If a child protagonist does kill a monster or villain, it should be by accident and the event must be brought on by the antagonist. It seems to me better from a moral point of view that an evil force brings about its own destruction. The main character can’t be a murderer; he or she can’t remain a young representative of goodness once they become guilty of the same level of violence as the antagonist—not even if they are defending themselves. Evil must be destroyed by its own evilness.
Monsters are not safe villains …
Some of my youth horror books do have monsters in them, but this is risky in terms of sales. Many adults may just decide that their child won’t read about such things—forgetting that once upon their own childhood they might have wanted to read entertaining stuff like that themselves, and not the mellow type of book they now want to buy their child. If I do make use of monsters I try to work in a playful tone. If these creatures bleed (see the first rule), green or yellow blood is preferable to red.
… but ghosts are.
While many adults may object to monsters putting in an appearance in a children’s book, they accept ghost stories more easily. Perhaps the reason is simply that most people enjoy a good ghostly tale? The frisson of fear it may produce is more genteel than the shudder that waits within the pages of a monster story. That the threat seems less overt is rather a contradiction because for many people ghosts are easier to believe in than monsters. My ghost stories have sold in greater numbers than those starring monsters.
The Harry Potter books have been translated into Afrikaans after their tremendous success overseas and indeed over here, but had they originally been written in Afrikaans or otherwise in English by a South African author, I am not so sure they would ever have been published. They would certainly not have sold as well as the Afrikaans translations did, since those had the weight of “overseas acceptance” behind them. Though Harry Potter and his foes are certainly no horror icons, the element of witchery appears to be taboo in South African youth literature; otherwise it must be a great coincidence that books containing that element almost never see the light of day around here. In the rare cases where witches and wizards do pop up in South African youth literature, they are comic, eccentric characters that can’t do any real harm and whose supposed talents usually work against them.
I would suggest that anyone who wants to write horror stories for young readers should first take a good look at what has been done in that field in his or her own country, since no two countries’ banks of literature and criteria will be the same. What already exists and what is selling? That knowledge should help you determine the broad boundaries, as well as avoid blind repetition.
One of the greatest compliments on my writing I have ever received was when I was speaking to a reading circle about an adult novel, and one of the women mentioned that her son had wet his bed recently. He’d been reading a book of mine before bedtime and when he woke up in the middle of the night didn’t want to get up and go to the bathroom … She laughed about this unfortunate event – because she understood. Being an avid reader, she realised that a wet mattress, though certainly an inconvenience, was in this case also testament to a vivid imagination, one that had been activated and was being enforced by the power of fiction. She knew that stories, all the good ones, all the effective ones, are supposed to grip you. To charm you. Transport you.
And, yes, terrify you.
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There’s a scene in the recently released Avengers: Age of Ultron movie where Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, uses a cuss word during battle and Captain America reprimands him to the amusement of the crew when he calls out, “Language!”
These perfectly timed one-liners and witty banter have awarded writer and director Joss Whedon a cult following across generations – from the 90s Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans to the die-hard browncoats who still attend Comic-Con each year in the hopes of meeting the Firefly crew.
Whedon is well-known for his subversive world building skills (aka the Whedonverse). It was especially in Firefly where he showed his strength in creating strong, rich characters with memorable lines such as “Jayne, your mouth is talking. You might wanna look to that”, “Well, my time of not taking you seriously is coming to a middle” (Captain Malcolm Reynolds), “Terse? I can be terse. Once, in flight school, I was laconic” (Wash) and “Going on a year now, nothins twixed my neathers not run on batteries” (Kayle).
Firefly was cancelled after only 14 episodes and the Serenity movie was made to appease outraged fans and to tie up some of the loose ends. Yet to this day questions remain such as who was Shepherd Book really and why did Inara mysteriously leave the Companion’s Guild? The writer and his brother Zack Whedon have since attempted to sate curiosities with a series of Serenity graphic novels available from Dark Horse Comics.
When it comes down to the bare bones of it, the reason why Whedon is so popular is because of his fearless writing style and his dedication to the story. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone Whedon spoke about what he’d set out to achieve with the new Avengers: “Find the next story, that’s all. That’s the only job, I wanted to make a completely new movie about these people, not just make another instalment.”
Read the article:
What is your mood when you finish something like this?
I’ve never done anything like this [laughs]. The burden of it, usually I can just like tune that stuff out. That’s not my job. I’m here to tell a story. But at some point your brain starts running numbers. There’s some weird choices in this movie. You know? There’s some genuinely strange stuff. It’s very new.
Yeah, the decision to make 40 minutes of it black and white and Russian was…
[Laughs] You know, with hindsight … No, believe me, it’s not that weird, but I was like, we’re definitely going to go left of center here. And that was an adjustment for people. So, I’m like, if this doesn’t work, they’re all going to go, “Well, you went left of center!” I just wanted to make it as interesting and complicated – not complicated, complex— as possible, and really get inside these characters’ heads.
Joss Whedon: The Biography by Amy Pascale was published by Chicago Review Press in August last year and contains conversations with the word-smith’s family, closest friends and actors who starred in his various projects. Nathan Fillion, the lead actor in Firefly and possibly the best Mal Reynolds Whedon could have asked for, wrote the forward to the book.
Tor shared an excerpt from chapter 18 entitled “Curse Your Sudden but Inevitable Cancellation” in which all signs showed that the gritty space western had been doomed from the start.
Read the extract:
At times, Joss’s new show seemed to be considered the bastard stepchild even within Mutant Enemy. While his other two productions were successful, long-running series, Firefly was the little show that couldn’t. And yet “we got the best people from those other two shows,” Nathan Fillion recalls—something the people on those shows didn’t always appreciate. “They’re looking at us going, ‘What’s happening? What’s Firefly got that we don’t got? You’re taking our best guy? C’mon!’ ”
As the other Mutant Enemy casts may have suspected, Firefly had quickly found a special place in Joss’s heart. He was passionate about the universe he’d created and—even though he’d impressed upon the actors that they were all replaceable—about the cast he’d assembled. “I never worked with an ensemble that meshed like that,” he recalled. He’d never felt so sure right from the pilot how a show was going to work. “It was Camelot. It was the best experience of my career.”
His actors were just as enamored with the experience. “I’ve always pulled at least one friend out of everything I’ve done. With Firefly, I think I pulled about thirty-five friends out of that thing,” Fillion says. “Not just cast, but writers and producers and crew. People I still call and people I still chat with. People I still hang out with,” Fillion says. “Joss did this great job of saying, ‘You’re going to be great at interpreting these words and you’re going to be great to have around.’ I made so many good friends. That was ten years ago and I’m still close to these people. I still love these people.”
Dean A Kowalski, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, and S Evan Kreider, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley, edited The Philosophy of Joss Whedon in which they explore Whedon’s plots, characters and their moral decisions.
The first section entitled “You Can’t Take the Sky From Me” deals with freedom and personal limits, while “Live as Though the World Were as It Should Be” interrogates concepts of ethics and virtue. “I’m All of Them, but None of Them Is Me” looks into the nature of the human condition and asks questions about isolation, individuality and what it means to live a good life.
Whedon’s writing has left an imprint on the minds of his followers, his casts and the viewers and readers who wish they could live in his ’verse. Here’s a video of the Firefly theme song “Ballad of Serenity”, written and performed by Whedon:
Image courtesy of io9
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27 April is Freedom Day, commemorating South Africa’s first post-apartheid elections, held in 1994. To mark the day, Books LIVE has shared an excerpt from Long Walk to Freedom in which Nelson Mandela remembers voting for the first time.
Long Walk to Freedom was originally published in 1994, and covers Mandela’s early life and 27 years in prison. It sold millions of copies and was turned into a Hollywood film in 2013. In March Pan Macmillan announced that it will publish the long-awaited sequel, which was announced in December by the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
While we wait for that, read the excerpt:
I VOTED ON APRIL 27, the second of the four days of voting, and I chose to vote in Natal to show the people in that divided province that there was no danger in going to the polling stations. I voted at Ohlange High School in Inanda, a green and hilly township just north of Durban, for it was there that John Dube, the first president of the ANC, was buried. This African patriot had helped found the organization in 1912, and casting my vote near his grave site brought history full circle, for the mission he began eighty-two years before was about to be achieved.
As I stood over his grave, on a rise above the small school below, I thought not of the present but of the past. When I walked to the voting station, my mind dwelt on the heroes who had fallen so that I might be where I was that day, the men and women who had made the ultimate sacrifice for a cause that was now finally succeeding. I thought of Oliver Tambo, and Chris Hani, and Chief Luthuli, and Bram Fischer. I thought of our great African heroes, who had sacrificed so that millions of South Africans could be voting on that very day; I thought of Josiah Gumede, GM Naicker, Dr Abdullah Abdurahman, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Yusuf Dadoo, Moses Kotane. I did not go into that voting station alone on April 27; I was casting my vote with all of them.
Before I entered the polling station, an irreverent member of the press called out, “Mr Mandela, who are you voting for?” I laughed. “You know,” I said, “I have been agonizing over that choice all morning.” I marked an X in the box next to the letters ANC and then slipped my folded ballot paper into a simple wooden box; I had cast the first vote of my life.
The images of South Africans going to the polls that day are burned in my memory. Great lines of patient people snaking through the dirt roads and streets of towns and cities; old women who had waited half a century to cast their first vote saying that they felt like human beings for the first time in their lives; white men and women saying they were proud to live in a free country at last. The mood of the nation during those days of voting was buoyant. The violence and bombings ceased, and it was as if we were a nation reborn. Even the logistical difficulties of the voting, misplaced ballots, pirate voting stations, and rumors of fraud in certain places could not dim the overwhelming victory for democracy and justice.
It took several days for the results to be counted. We polled 62.6 percent of the national vote, slightly short of the two-thirds needed had we wished to push through a final constitution without support from other parties. That percentage qualified us for 252 of 400 seats in the national assembly. The ANC thoroughly dominated the northern and eastern Transvaal, the northwest, the eastern Cape and the Free State. We won 33 percent of the vote in the western Cape, which was won by the National Party, which did extremely well among Coloured voters. We captured 32 percent in KwaZulu/Natal, which was won by Inkatha. In Natal, fear of violence and intimidation kept many of our voters at home. There were charges, as well, of vote fraud and vote rigging. But in the end, that
did not matter. We had underestimated Inkatha’s strength in KwaZulu, and they had demonstrated it on election day.
Some in the ANC were disappointed that we did not cross the two-thirds threshold, but I was not one of them. In fact I was relieved; had we won two-thirds of the vote and been able to write a constitution unfettered by input from others, people would argue that we had created an ANC constitution, not a South African constitution. I wanted a true government of national unity.
Image courtesy of AFP
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A long weekend, the perfect time to catch up with reading. Why not start with this excerpt from This Day by Tiah Beautement?
This Day is Beautement’s second novel, published by Modjaji Books, and was recently longlisted for the Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize. (See the full longlist here.)
The novel takes place during a single day in the life of Ella Spinner, who has suffered a loss that has left her alone to care for her clinically depressed husband, Bart. Sarah Lotz calls it: “A searing and sensitive exploration of grief and loss”, adding “This Day held me in its thrall in one sitting and will haunt me for a long time. The writing is pitch-perfect, beautifully crafted, and full of acute and witty observations.”
Read the excerpt:
Turning to go into the house, I spot the remaining chard, still waiting to be planted. I rush over, kneeling down beside their wee leaves with red and yellow stems. Footsteps come up behind me. ‘Ma’am, I would be happy to do that as well, if you wish.’
I glance over my shoulder. ‘No, I’m fine. Thank you, but no. It will only take me a moment.’
His expression is unreadable, but I am sure I must sound barking mad. How to explain? I can’t. As the headmistress at my boarding school used to say, ‘Discretion is a virtue too often overlooked.’ I say nothing. Thankfully he does not press the point and, without further comment, returns to the lawnmower.
The moment leaves me exhausted, sad. A desire to quit beckons. My eyes sting, willing me to give in. Pressing my teeth firmly down on my tongue I mentally begin stacking the bricks, focusing on this day’s plans: Kamala this morning, the meeting at noon, Luxolo at three. I repeat the mantra over and over again, stacking the bricks higher. My heartbeat slows. A deep breath and then another. At last the final chard is planted without incident. Each one receives a gentle pat with the edge of my fingertips before I dash indoors.
For a moment the location of my camera eludes me. It has been so long. There was a time when it lived around my neck. I wanted to hold every moment. Show everyone how the world looks through my eyes. Beauty was everywhere, even in the wrinkle of flesh or a can abandoned in the gutter. I wanted to treasure all of it as the lens pulled me through each day, providing an avenue through which to interact with South Africa.
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In anticipation of her new novel which is set to be released later this week, The Telegraph’s Gaby Wood interviewed “the unwavering voice of black America” – Toni Morrison – about God Help the Child.
Morrison told Wood about her career, which includes working at Random House for 20 years, and this new novel, which has been seven years in writing. God Help the Child addresses, among other important topics, one of modern day America’s most raging issues: race. ““Race is the classification of a species. And we are the human race, period,” the great author told the interviewer. They also discussed her childhood and years at college, which gave her “a career-long project to – in her words – ‘turn the gaze’.”
This will be Morrison’s first novel to be set in the present, weaving a tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult. This fierce and provocative novel, written as only Nobel laureate Morrison can, shows what becomes of a daughter when her mother forgets that what you do to children matters – and they might never forget your actions.
Earlier this year The New Yorker shared an excerpt from the novel, offering the mother’s defence that what happened to her daughter, Bride, was not her fault.
Read the plea made by Sweetness, and decide for yourself:
It’s not my fault. So you can’t blame me. I didn’t do it and have no idea how it happened. It didn’t take more than an hour after they pulled her out from between my legs for me to realize something was wrong. Really wrong. She was so black she scared me. Midnight black, Sudanese black. I’m light-skinned, with good hair, what we call high yellow, and so is Lula Ann’s father. Ain’t nobody in my family anywhere near that color. Tar is the closest I can think of, yet her hair don’t go with the skin. It’s different—straight but curly, like the hair on those naked tribes in Australia. You might think she’s a throwback, but a throwback to what? You should’ve seen my grandmother; she passed for white, married a white man, and never said another word to any one of her children. Any letter she got from my mother or my aunts she sent right back, unopened. Finally they got the message of no message and let her be. Almost all mulatto types and quadroons did that back in the day—if they had the right kind of hair, that is. Can you imagine how many white folks have Negro blood hiding in their veins? Guess. Twenty per cent, I heard. My own mother, Lula Mae, could have passed easy, but she chose not to. She told me the price she paid for that decision. When she and my father went to the courthouse to get married, there were two Bibles, and they had to put their hands on the one reserved for Negroes.
Read Wood’s article about the interview with Morrison:
Toni Morrison is, without a doubt, a world-class novelist. Her work as an editor, however, has received much less attention. Morrison worked at Random House for 20 years, leaving in 1983, just before she set out to write her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved.
At her apartment in lower Manhattan, I ask her about the ways in which American literature has changed, and she volunteers that she “had something to do with that”. But she is not referring to her own fiction. “I said, I can’t march, I have small children,” she tells me. “I’m not the marching type anyway. So when I went into publishing, I thought, the best I can do is to publish the works of those who are out there – like Angela Davis, Huey Newton – and the literature. And let it be edited by someone who understands the language, and understands the culture.”
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Deji Bryce Olukotun leapt onto the literary stage with his 2014 debut, Nigerians in Space, which Matt McGregor described in a review for Warscapes as “a transnational mystery novel replete with assassins, abalone poaching and an international fashion model who exudes light from her skin”.
Olukotun was born in New Jersey and is half-Nigerian, half-American. The author obtained an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town under the guidance of André Brink, Mike Nicol, Andre Wiesner and Henrietta Rose-Innes.
Electric Literature chose Olukotun’s new ePublication, We are the Olfanauts, as their recommended read of the week and shared an extract from the chilling story.
Renton, the protagonist, works for Olfanautics, the “global pioneer in scented social media”, and holds a world of smells at his fingertips.
Read the excerpt:
Our team was based in a multibillion-dollar technology park fifteen kilometers outside Nairobi, and our data servers, which would have made us liable under Kenyan law, floated above national airspace in tethered balloons. The Danish architect had modeled the Olfanautics complex after a scene from Karen Blixen’s novel, as if that was what we secretly aspired to, a coffee ranch nestled against the foothills of some dew-soaked savannah. The cafeteria was intended to replicate the feel of a safari tent. Catenary steel cables held up an undulating layer of fabric, which gleamed white in the midday sun. In reality, the tent was the closest I had ever been to a safari. I only left Nairobi to go rock climbing.
Aubrey found me as I was ordering a double veggie burger with half a bun and six spears of broccollini. I could tell from the few frayed braids poking out of her headwrap that she had not slept well last night, nor had she gone to the campus hairdresser to clean herself up. I reached for her thigh as soon as she sat down but she swatted it away.
“I told you to send it up.”
“Nice to see you, too, Aubrey,” I said.
“I’m your boss, Renton. If I say send the video up, then send it up. You’re making me look bad.”
That was the problem with dating your supervisor. She thought any discussion could be resolved by pulling rank.
“Didn’t you whyff the strawberries? They were hilarious, hey. That girl’s an actress or something.”
TBN Fiction also shared an extract from Nigerians in Space, a crime thriller about Africa’s “brain drain” set in South Africa, Nigeria and America.
In the excerpt, Leon is trying to teach Thursday the intricate art of harvesting abalone:
It took four nights of heavy drinking, cajoling, and a wet kiss from Leon’s girl Fadanaz for Thursday to say he would consider going into the water. Even then he never thought it would come to pass. But soon they were sitting in the Merc next to a row of strelitzia palms that wound along a dirt road to the beach in the dusk, their fronds spreading out like press-on fingernails. He would have been able to hear the pounding surf if Leon wasn’t thumping his Kwaito music, and they’d both grown up near the sea so he didn’t smell the seaweed any more. Thursday had resolved that this time he would be firm with Leon—he was not going in the water, there was no way he was going in.
“I can’t do it, my broer,” Thursday declared. “I don’t know how.”
“Come on, Thursday,” Leon said. “I started with nothing. I was out there in the rocks all alone with the police, pulling myself on the kelp.” Leon laughed, in awe of himself, reminiscing. “Should have been on the news. I can barely even swim. You’ve got the breather and my lank equipment. The breather is easier than a tank.” He began pumping his head to the syncopated rhythms of the Kwaito.
“Can’t you give me your mask?”
“I gave you my old mask, voetsak. My new one cost a thousand bucks. It’s not my fault you’ve got a conch for a nose.”
Photo courtesy of ReturnoftheDeji and Deji Olukotun (@dejiridoo) on Twitter
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George RR Martin, the author of the wildly popular Song of Ice and Fire Series, has shared a chapter excerpted from the forthcoming installment The Winds of Winter.
The publication date for The Winds of Winter, which is the sixth book in the series, has not yet been announced. However, the author wants to have it on shelves before the season six of Game of Thrones, the television show based on Martin’s series, airs next year. (The first episode of the fifth season will air for the first time in South Africa on M-net at 3 AM tomorrow, 13 April.)
Game of Thrones fans have been baying for the next book since shortly after the release of A Dance with Dragons in 2011. The next book promises to be worth the wait; in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Martin revealed that he is thinking of adding a massive twist to the story. He says it is “nothing I’ve ever thought of before”.
The tantalising excerpt below is narrated from the perspective of Sansa Stark, who is disguised as Alayne Stone. At this point, she is evading Lord Robert Arryn’s romantic pursuit.
Read the excerpt:
She was reading her little lord a tale of the Winged Knight when Mya Stone came knocking on the door of his bedchamber, clad in boots and riding leathers and smelling strongly of the stable. Mya had straw in her hair and a scowl on her face. That scowl comes of having Mychel Redfort near, Alayne knew.
“Your lordship,” Mya informed Lord Robert, “Lady Waynwood’s banners have been seen an hour down the road. She will be here soon, with your cousin Harry. Will you want to greet them?”
Why did she have to mention Harry? Alayne thought. We will never get Sweetrobin out of bed now. The boy slapped a pillow. “Send them away. I never asked them here.”
Mya looked nonplussed. No one in the Vale was better at handling a mule, but lordlings were another matter. “They were invited,” she said uncertainly, “for the tourney. I don’t… “
Alayne closed her book. “Thank you, Mya. Let me talk with Lord Robert, if you would.”
Relief plain on her face, Mya fled without another word.
“I hate that Harry,” Sweetrobin said when she was gone. “He calls me cousin, but he’s just waiting for me to die so he can take the Eyrie. He thinks I don’t know, but I do.”
“Your lordship should not believe such nonsense,” Alayne said. “I’m sure Ser Harrold loves you well.” And if the gods are good, he will love me too. Her tummy gave a little flutter.
“He doesn’t,” Lord Robert insisted. “He wants my father’s castle, that’s all, so he pretends.” The boy clutched the blanket to his pimply chest. “I don’t want you to marry him, Alayne. I am the Lord of the Eyrie, and I forbid it.” He sounded as if he were about to cry. “You should marry me instead. We could sleep in the same bed every night, and you could read me stories.”
No man can wed me so long as my dwarf husband still lives somewhere in this world. Queen Cersei had collected the head of a dozen dwarfs, Petyr claimed, but none were Tyrion’s. “Sweetrobin, you must not say such things. You are the Lord of the Eyrie and Defender of the Vale, and you must wed a highborn lady and father a son to sit in the High Hall of House Arryn after you are gone.”
Robert wiped his nose. “But I want — ”
She put a finger to his lips. “I know what you want, but it cannot be. I am no fit wife for you. I am bastard born.”
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