Thursday, December 20, 2007

A wandering I will go...

Yesterday one of the kids said to me: "I know why Wonderland is called Wonderland."

"Oh really," I replied. "Tell me why."

"Because there is lots of wandering in it."

"Did you say wondering or wandering?"

"Wandering. The characters wander about a lot."

"I wonder if they wonder too?" I asked.

So this little intro is to offer my readers a bonafide reason for not blogging for the next two weeks. I'm going to India. To me India is a bit like Wonderland, I may meet a blue Elephant or a tiger or a Maharaja or a beautiful bescarfed princess and then again I may not. I guess I've been reading too much magic realism related to India and now I will be confronted with nothing but realism and I am hoping it will be magical.

I fly out at 00.30, which confuses me because officially that is early Saturday morning, but I will be leaving my home on Friday evening and will spend 7 hours in transit at a Moscow airport! I have a crappy book that claims that 'if you loved the Da Vinci code dive into this'. I did not love the Da Vinci code, I made a mental note of every single bit of writing that pulled me out of the plot and made me question whether Dan Brown had ever actually been to Paris. Despite all this, I couldn't put the bloody book down, so I am hoping that The Rule of Four will have the same effect: disengage brain and read on.

Other holiday reads are: Kiran Desai - An inheritance of Loss and Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (that one was recommended by Claire, but I am a bit dubious about it, we'll see).

The camera is packed - actually I better check that is charged, but no worries if it isn't there is plenty of time to do that.

And my early christmas pressie to myself is also charged. I finally decided that the old poddy with the average battery life of 30 minutes had to go and I replaced it with a new Nano model! He He.

Oh and before I forget I have been awarded a roar from Kimy over at Mouse Medicine. I feel kind of unworthy because I have really neglected the old blog recently; there's the WIP, which has taken lots of time, but there's also some other stuff going on, good stuff, I assure you it's all good at the moment. I'm not going to pass on the roar just yet as I want to think carefully and be as thoughtful as Kimy when I pass it on, so that's a future post to do...

Other future posts will include piccies and roving reports.

OK, I think I'm leaving the blog in order, all I have left to do is to wish you all a very happy Winter Solstice. Remember that after the 21st the days are getting longer and longer (if you live in the same hemisphere as me. If not I guess it's the opposite). Have a Merry Christmas if you celebrate that and basically rest up guys and I wish you all the best in 2008, I hope next year is a good and peaceful one for all.

Friday, December 07, 2007


Claire sent me a review for The Golden Compass film today. It appears the religious right are up in arms for the books anti-church stance and the atheist left are disgruntled because they feel the film has been toned down in relation to the book. I can't really give my opinion either way on this point as I have not seen the film yet. But this wee intro does lead me into giving my opinion; quite forthrightly at that too.

When I first arrived in Paris, many, many moons ago, I didn't know about a young wizard with a lightning shaped scar on his forehead, and I didn't know that books were banned, but I was struck by the enormous tomes that my young students seemed to be dragging around with them. Having been open-minded enough to let one of my reading groups force me into reading a Redwall saga, I had then rather narrowmindedly shoved all those books in the 'large' category into my slush pile of 'never to be read' books.

I asked a colleague to tell me about the Harry Potter books, and while she lovingly stroked the cover of her book she did nothing to convince me to read it. Meanwhile 'His Dark Materials' was doing the rounds. I picked it up one day when I found it on one students table and couldn't get my head round the first page. It was Oxford, but not as I knew it. And what were these daemon thingies?

What did finally encourage me to pick up a copy of 'Northern Lights' was when the Librarian informed me that she was thinking of sending the set to the High School.

"Why?" I asked.

"I think it's too difficult for the students. If they don't read it, they are big books and it takes up room on the shelves. I could get other books."

It seemed like a convincing argument except I had seen many a student reading it. So I asked the students about it. They described the worlds and the characters and what they really liked about the books. I became a little more interested.

"The kids seem to understand the books." I told the Librarian the following week.

"Oh." The Librarian got shifty. "One of the parents brought it back. She didn't think it was suitable for her child."

I shrugged. "That's her choice as a parent."

"It's on the banned list in the States."

"Excuse me!"

We had a rather heated debate which may have involved a few words I shouldn't have been uttering even in hushed tones in the library, but the upshot of it, was that I would read it and decide whether the set should stay or not.

Nowadays, I don't think I would have agreed to the last bit of that agreement. Having said that, I am glad that I got past the first page of the book, because I thoroughly enjoyed it and having to wait three weeks to get the Subtle Knife was hellishly long. But that's not the point.

The point of libraries are there to encourage reading and to help a child develop. Think of the child who does not have the privilege to buy a brand new book, but can borrow it from their local library. Is it then the role of the library to decide if it is acceptable or not? No.

I don't think a public library is too different from a school library, it functions under the constraints of budget and space. And if it isn't being read then, that might be a reason to not keep a book. But should it be swayed by the views of minority extreme groups? No.

The hope is that the Library is the one place that is there as a neutral ground to provide the reading material and it is up to the readers to choose whether they want to read it or not.

I'm glad that I managed to get through life for so long without realising that books were banned (well apart from 'Lady Chatterly's Lover'). I'm also glad that having scanned a most Banned Books list that I have read quite a few of the books.

Meanwhile, I will continue to encourage children to read 'quality' literature and they will continue to check out 'Garfield' books. And when I look down the stairs and wonder why Martin hasn't made it up with the rest of the class I will smile when I see him with his nose stuck in the Garfield book, chuckling away.

Monday, December 03, 2007


What with life, things and whatnot, it appears that I have been neglecting this poor blog woefully. I know that if it were a plant and my words were water, that after 13 days it would be looking a little on the brown and dried up side. But on the whole the neglect has been because of good things.

The strike ended the day after I started a strike inspired series! Having said that the word on the street is that the negotiations will collapse, so I may have to bring the series back.

I also went to the Alberto Giacometti retrospective at the Pompidou. In fact it was the 2nd time I had been that week. The first time I went I discovered this view over Paris...

The 2nd time I discovered portions of Giacometti's atelier that had been cutaway when his wife was finally forced to move out in 1972. When I first moved to Paris, I lived round the corner from where Giacometti's atelier once was. I kept hoping that by passing that scruffy little door with the tiny plaque, that creativity would pour out and fill me. I don't know if it did, but I do remember that the first time I saw a full sized real life Giacometti in Venice (don't ask) I was blown away by the strength of emotion contained within those scratchy lines. Seeing so much work together made me feel as if I had a new depth of understanding about this artist. I knew which pieces of work I wanted to see, but I also felt that I understood his journey more and who he was.

Apart from that as I mentioned before I have picked up the MS/WIP, bloody mess of a book and started ploughing through that first draft. Chapter 1 (now Chapter 2) was critiqued by a group made up of several members of the 'Paris Chapter' of SCBWI. When I first opened up the critiqued document my initial reaction was: WHAT THE F... Hang on...

I've described the process of writing the first draft as verbal vomiting onto the paper. I spew it all out and then sift through it to see what is good. With short stories that tends to involve a fair amount of cutting. This time though I realised I had written half a story. Well not half exactly, more a skeleton; I got it out so quickly that sometimes I forgot to get the characters to sit down.

That initial critique has turned on a different part of my writing brain, the 'Who are you? What do you see?' part. The writing process is so different to the first it's almost like writing the book again. It's exciting all over again.

Also at first I felt that I needed to have every chapter critiqued to the extent that the first one was, but the critique gave me so much food for thought that I sailed through 2, 3 and 4. At Chapter 5 the brakes screamed as I came to a halt. I've managed to write it, but I now see how this group is going to work for me. These red light chapters, they are the ones that need critiquing.

So, blog I apologise for the neglect. I really will try to water you more often, but you understand why now, don't you?


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