Monday, 15 February 2010

The Art of Losing

A few of you have asked for news of the Hound as we move to Qatar. As she has played such an integral part in WKDN I thought she deserved her own post. Improbably Afghans are banned in Qatar. (The other dogs banned are pit bulls, mastiffs ... what's an Afghan going to do? Accost you with her beauty?) We tried everything, but my lovely girl has had to go home - yesterday the pilot took her back to the place she came from, and she is now living with her mother and grandmother. I sobbed like a baby. The house is empty without her. There's no warm bod curled beneath the table as I write. But, for her, it is the best thing. Wisely the pilot sent me a photo of her positively smiling with her new owner. Which helped. A bit. For those of you in the UK, watch out for her on Crufts - yes, Lola is now a Showgirl :) (her 'real' name is Krishan Ylang Ylang).

So here we are surrounded by packing boxes again. Tellingly I have forty boxes of books and two of clothes ready for storage. Most of the cargo going to Qatar is Lego, naturally. I'm looking at my one box of books and manuscripts wondering if they will make it through the censors. I've been stockpiling coursebooks for the MA - the other day I had two copies of Atwood's 'Oryx and Crake' in my hand, wondering which to take. One copy had pigs on the cover, the other had a nude. Would either get through the censorship that apparently all books are subject to?

We'll see. It's been a chance for a massive clear out - furniture has gone to a local homeless shelter, anything that I can bundle into a binbag before the children spot it has gone to charity shops. I've tried to stick to the old 'use or beauty' gauge - but it is relative isn't it? The tiny rompersuit, the ticket stub from a cinema in 1990 ... another person's junk but beautiful to me. Who knows when the boxes will ever be unpacked again. Maybe you know this poem by Elizabeth Bishop? As I saw the pilot drive off with Lo's lovely face peering out of the back window, I thought of it:

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.
--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Moving Stories

Maybe when you run out of bookshelf space, you know it is time to move. The latest addition to my teetering stacks of much loved books is Kathleen Grissom's 'The Kitchen House'. How many of us dream of having our debut novels downloaded on Kindle? No, you want the physical thrill of your book in your hands and on the shelves - and this first novel is a cracker. It's not only beautifully written, it is beautiful to look at, and beautiful to hold (why are US books 'silkier' than ours, with lovely soft pages as you turn them?). And this book certainly keeps those pages turning compulsively, late into the night. Life is crazy at the moment here with the move to Qatar - but this book has been something to look forward to, a great escape at the end of another day's packing. It is sweeping, romantic, tough - and the voices of the heroines ring out clear and true. Kathleen's book is published by Simon & Schuster this month - there's a link in the sidebar for anyone tempted. I'm sure you'll love it too. I caught up with Kathleen recently to talk about her road to publication ...

So, your debut novel is published this month. How are you feeling Kathleen?

Mostly, I am excited and happy, however, occasionally I feel like a “cat on a hot tin roof”! As a writer I led a rather quiet life, which I prefer, but it has recently come home to me that soon I will be on a book tour and in the public eye. It’s strange to spend years writing about characters that you come to love, then know that they, and you, will be thrust out for public scrutiny.

Have you always written? What was your working/family life before writing this novel?

I have always written, but this is my first published book. Before this novel, my husband and I were renovating an old plantation house in southern Virginia. There we were also raising Cashmere goats, while operating a tearoom and gift shop on our herb farm. In fact, it was during the renovation of our period home that we were shown the old map that inspired me to begin writing The Kitchen House.

What inspired you to choose this story?

There was a notation on that old map, located in the vicinity of the home we were renovating. It read “Negro Hill.” We had the original deed to our house and from it we learned that in 1830, when it was built, the owner had slaves. Immediately, I wondered if the notation on the map might have involved any of them. I spoke at length with some of the local historians, in particular, with an elderly African American woman, Mrs. Lowe, whose family had descended from slaves. Though she did not know the origin of the notation, she, and others, felt certain that it represented a tragedy.

What was your route to publication - agent? publisher? rejections?

After five years, when the manuscript was finally ready, I happened to meet (a coincidence?) Kate Longstreet, a published author who mentored me in the writing of a good query letter. I had plenty of rejections, but that only had me appreciate my terrific agent, Rebecca Gradinger, that much more when she signed me.

What's been the best bit so far of seeing your first novel published?

It isn’t so much seeing the book itself that thrills me, but when others respond to my beloved characters, it satisfies something in me on a soul level. I feel that I have done my job in telling their story.

Have you got a lot of readings/a book tour planned?

Yes, I will be doing a book tour. It will include a short stop in Manhattan, then I will be focusing on Virginia and North Carolina. If anyone would like to know more, I have the schedule posted on my website:

So what's next? Is there another novel coming along?

Yes, I have another wonderful group of souls who are waiting on me. The next book is about a true-life Crow Native woman, Crow Mary. In 1872, after she married Abe Farwell, a fur trader, Mary adjusted to her difficult life by sporting a Colt 45 and a large sharp hunting knife. And she wasn’t afraid to use them!
But then, there’s the rumor that she murdered her husband…

Finally what's your advice to anyone dreaming of seeing their first novel published?

If you feel called to write, create a space for yourself. Stay open to what comes. Trust. Then write!
Keep an open mind. Have only a few trusted readers, but if one of them asks you, as an example, why a character does a certain action, don’t become defensive. Ask yourself the same question. Stay open to help.
When you are writing, remember, “What does not come from the heart will not reach the heart”. (I didn’t say that and I can’t remember who did, but it is so true for me.)

Thanks Kathleen for sharing your inspiring story and advice - hope to see you on the bestseller lists very soon! x

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

World of Wonder

Kate Forsyth's study (her hound is clearly much better behaved
than this Kate's :)
One of the single greatest things about blogging has been 'meeting' writers around the world and following their success. Writing is solitary - we're all beavering away in our sheds, studios and basements, pouring our hearts out for months on end, only to often be met with rejection, (or worse a deafening silence). In the next couple of posts I'll be meeting a couple of friends who have connected with WKDN from as far afield as Australia and the US, who are celebrating big successes. Today, I chat with Kate Forsyth about juggling writing and family life. There's also an interview I did with Shanta Everington about the same subject over at 'The View From Here'. These guest posts have come at a great time - the usual juggling act has slipped into overdrive as we are definitely moving to Qatar.
More on that later - meantime, enjoy x.
Kate Forsyth: How old are you & how long have you been writing?

Kate Lord Brown:- In my mind I'm still nineteen, (that is until at the end of another long day I am brushing my teeth and catch sight of the exhausted 38 year old crone in the mirror and realise how deluded I am ..:). I've been writing since I was small, short stories and plays (dressing my long suffering pets in costumes and my poor brother in drag). About ten years ago I started my first novel, and I haven't looked back.

KF: Our stories are so similar! I’m a couple of years older (I’m 43), and I also wrote all the time. I think I was about 4 when I wrote my first poem, and I wrote my first novel when I was 7, with chapters and (appallingly bad) illustrations and a publication page with a copyright symbol. My first poem was published when I was 12, in The Sydney Morning Herald, though sadly I wasn’t paid for it. I kept on writing all through my childhood and adolescence, and spent my 20s struggling to get published. My first novel was published when I was 30 and I’ve been a full-time writer ever since. So When did you get first get published?

KLB:- When I was seventeen - I won a short story competition back in the 80s, and promptly blew the, (not inconsiderable then), £150 on an antique Turkish lamp, thinking I had discovered the secret of fame and fortune. Little did I know ... let's call it beginner's luck.

KF: Oh that’s fantastic! Do you still have the lamp? You didn’t rub on it & wish?

KLB: I do have the lamp, and still love it! I can see it from my desk, (but I'm still waiting on the wishes). So how many kids do you have?

KF: I have three. My eldest boy is 11, then another aged 9, and then my little girl is 5 and three quarters (that three quarters is very important when you’re five). Plus we have a very boisterous Rhodesian Ridgeback, a slinky black cat, and a cheeky cockatiel (a small Australian parrot). What about you?

KLB: I have two - a boy of four and a girl of seven. Add to this the usual menagerie of pets (hamsters, an Afghan Hound who is just as much of a handful as the children), and it's never dull!
KF: Has having children changed your writing in any way?

KLB In every way I think. Children shift the whole axis of your life, and I think once you have them you feel everything more, if that makes sense? Writers aren't known for being the most emotionally reticent people on earth, but the love, joy, fear, worrying, frustration and happiness that comes with raising a family breaks right through to the heart of life - and that has to be good for your work.

KF: Oh I so agree with you. And beautifully put. But how do you manage to write with so much on your plate? What is your writing routine?

KLB: Well, I'd love to say I retire to my elegant book lined study after breakfast and don't appear til tea, but at the moment it's a question of trying to get something done every day, and squeezing a space among the Lego on the kitchen table. I have the kids out of school 24/7, the pilot comes and goes, and with studying for my Masters degree, and working from home, it's ... challenging. But, as I tell my students - if you manage to sit down and do a little each day it adds up, and it keeps you connected with your story.

KF: Yes, that’s what I tell my students too. A little every day keeps you connected to your characters and to your story. You are going to hate me! I do retire to my elegant book-lined study ... first I take the kids to school and walk the dog, but I try to be in my study by around 9.30am or 10am, and I work through until around 4 or 5pm (except on Mondays and Fridays when I pick my daughter up at 3pm). However, this has only been possible since the beginning of last year when my youngest started school. Before that, when my children were your age, I was writing while cooking dinner, while the kids were playing in the park, while they were sleeping ... a few more years and you’ll have more time too (and hopefully that elegant book-lined study). So obviously you don’t need complete silence to work? (unless your kids are much quieter than mine!)

KLB:- Silence? What is that? I forget ... At this moment I have the hound standing on her back legs barking at the traffic, the Wiggles on full volume on the TV, the pilot taking a long distance phone call next door ... The ridiculous thing is I *love* peace and solitude (as most writers do). But it's not a luxury I have right now - so if you want to get anything done as a writing mother, you have to learn to tune out the world around you, don't you?

KF: You do!

KLB: So what do you see as the main challenges of combining motherhood with a writing career?

KF: I do find it hard sometimes to find the balance. At times I get frustrated because I see other writers who have the freedom to fly from one festival to another, who write and blog and comment endlessly, who live a ‘writer’s life’ like some sort of ancient hermit... when I am constantly struggling with the everyday demands of motherhood, like is there bread for school lunches? Have I washed the sport shirts? What shall I cook for dinner tonight? While I write this my daughter is dancing beside me, wanting something to eat, and asking me to look at the way she can poke her tongue out between the new gap in her teeth (I might need to add to my list of things I need to do remembering about the tooth fairy!) On the other hand, I want to be a wonderful mother, I want my children to remember a golden childhood of being loved and listened to. Sometimes these two things – wanting to be a great writer and wanting to be a great mother – seem opposable forces. But then all mothers have to juggle endless things, and I believe passionately that writing grows out of life – those writers who seal themselves up in silent cells are not living! Their lives are not filled with the funny, bittersweet moments or the true joy and anguish of a life lived struggling with what most humans have to struggle with – love, grief, fear of failure ....

KLB: What do you see as the main bonuses?

KF: Those times when you actually manage to keep all the balls in the air ... holding your child in your arms or your book in your hand... oh really, I think its all wonderful! Challenging, yes. Exhausting at times. But a life worth living!

KLB: It sure is. What are your top tips on how to survive as a writing mother?

KF: Routine, patience, a sense of humour. Setting achievable goals (today I will write 1,000 words, tonight I will read my child a story). Faith in yourself and your loved ones.

KLB: So what about you? Who inspires you? Which books have you read lately and thought 'damn, I wish I'd written that'!

KF: So many wonderful books! In just the past month or so I’ve read fiction by Tracey Chevalier (Remarkable Creatures), Juliet Marillier (Heart’s Blood), Susan Vreeland (The Passion of Artemisa) and Jonathon Stroud (Heroes of the Valley) that I thought were absolutely brilliant and I wish I’d written. Actually I wish the authors were best friends of mine and we could have dinner and drink wine and talk all night but that’s almost the same ... and I’ve also read the most brilliant non-fiction book by a neurologist, Alice W. Flaherty, called ‘The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block and the Creative Brain’. It was absolutely fascinating. I read it twice, just trying to understand ... and now I have a word to describe my overwhelming compulsion to write ... ‘hypergraphia’ ...
KLB: Hypergraphia - ha! It has a name. Thanks Kate. For more information about Kate's work visit Her excellent blog tour continues at: 1/02/2010
The Bookette and on 3/02/2010 at Chicklish - the UK Teen Fiction Site, and there's a link to her new book in the sidebar.
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