writingandbreathing

SOUTHAM BOOK FESTIVAL – SUNDAY OCTOBER 24TH

Southam Book Festival is going ahead again this year at the Graham Adams Centre on Sunday 24th October.

It will run from 11am to 4pm.

​Last year the event was on-line. But this year, subject to any Covid-19 restrictions, the organisers are planning to fill the GAC main hall with authors, illustrators, story-tellers, publishers, book sellers, book collectors, bookbinder/restorer – in fact anyone who supports the written/spoken word as an art form.

And I will be there, on a stall for Coventry Writers’ Group with their new anthology – Telling Tales. I will also be bringing copies of my new novel Silent Echoes, based in Coventry and published specially to coincide with the city being the UK City of Culture for 2021. Plus a few other books.

There will be plenty of book related activities going on throughout the…

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SOUTHAM BOOK FESTIVAL – SUNDAY OCTOBER 24TH

Southam Book Festival is going ahead again this year at the Graham Adams Centre on Sunday 24th October.

It will run from 11am to 4pm.

​Last year the event was on-line. But this year, subject to any Covid-19 restrictions, the organisers are planning to fill the GAC main hall with authors, illustrators, story-tellers, publishers, book sellers, book collectors, bookbinder/restorer – in fact anyone who supports the written/spoken word as an art form.

And I will be there, on a stall for Coventry Writers’ Group with their new anthology – Telling Tales. I will also be bringing copies of my new novel Silent Echoes, based in Coventry and published specially to coincide with the city being the UK City of Culture for 2021. Plus a few other books.

There will be plenty of book related activities going on throughout the day and entry is free to both the exhibition and to speaker sessions

​11:00 Festival opens – 30 stalls / exhibitions

11:30 “How to Publish Your First Novel” – talk by Andrew Thomas

12:15 “Sue Moorcoft in Conversation with Bella Osborne”

12:45 Flash Fiction competition winner announced

13:00 “Illustration for Children: Draw Your Own Felix the Fox” with Simon Lucas

14:15 “Behind the Scenes for A Hundred Years to Arras” with Jason Cobley

15:00  “How I build a Poem” with Chris Burleigh

15:30  Book in a Window competition winner announced

16:00  Festival closes

​Entry is free to the speaker sessions – first come first served, but you can sign up on the day on arrival.

Here is the link to find out more about the writers who will be in the hall, selling, and no doubt also buying, books from over 30 stalls.

https://www.southambookfest.co.uk/copy-of-authors-speakers

There will be a range of books on offer to suit every. Great Christmas gifts – with suitable books ready to go under the tree, you can tick a pile of people off your present list by the end of October 24th. All done at a leisurely pace and absolutely no need for panic buying.

Schadenfreude as a Plot Twist

How many books have you read recently where, if not the main plot, at least one of the supportive narratives turns on the concept of schadenfreude? This German word has been adopted by English language speakers and doesn’t really need translating, as, with its ‘sounds like’ resonance of ‘shudder’ and ‘fear,’ you get the general idea when you come across the word for the first time in a book or newspaper. The word itself comes from two German words: schaden – harm / danger, and freude – joy; i.e. deriving pleasure in another one’s suffering or misfortunate. (If you were unlucky enough not to know this, I will have a brief frisson of schadenfreude at your expense.)

Key to the pleasure from schadenfreude is the fact that you didn’t directly cause the suffering, but are in a position to savour the ensuing sense of satisfaction in seeing some form of righting of wrongs being enacted. When writing, the novelist’s narrator can be pleased the mean guy doesn’t get the girl (losing out in some unpleasant way), and the kind guy does; or the baddie gets a nasty come-uppance as the detective is finally able to exonerate the good guy who has been under suspicion. After which, a reader finishes the last chapter with a sigh of satisfaction. All is well with the world, at least for a while. Such themes make for good escapist literature to take on holiday, or in which to lose yourself in after a hard day at work.

Philosophers understand that humans have a craving for justice to be seen and done, in real life as well as literature. Nietzsche wrote that ‘to see others suffering does us good,’ but the pleasurable feeling of schadenfreude only really applies when the suffering happens via a third party to someone who deserves it (we aren’t monsters, after all!) Personally inflicting cruelty on others, whether in our eyes they deserve it or not, goes beyond schadenfreude – and may not be the ideal subject matter for the cosy read you’d want to take to the beach.

Links to my books and social media

You can find all my books and short stories on Amazon books, At least one story always free. ALL BOOKS FREE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED

www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

fb.me/margaretegrot.writer

Twitter: @meegrot

NEW!! A story set in 20th century Coventry for Coventry 2021

Silent Echoes: The Carters seem just like any other family. Apart from the life changing events nobody talks about. Will history just keep repeating itself? Ebook-£1.99, Print-£7.99.getbook.at/SilentEchoes

‘Trigger’ Warnings

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about some academics being concerned about the content of Shakespeare’s plays and how theatre goers should be warned about scenes involving matters that they could find upsetting: colonialism / antisemitism / racism / sexism / misogyny / suicide / depression (the list goes on …).

Othello

Other academics, such as Carol Chillington Rutter, disagree robustly – Shakespeare, she argues, offers many layers of interpretation in his plays – that is why most of his plays are still performed regularly. It is up to the director and actors to explore the issues he raises, including interpreting them with twenty-first century sensibilities. The audiences have come to be entertained as well as educated and should leave a theatre with plenty to talk about.

Plays, poems and novels will almost invariably reflect the era they were written in, and few will pass the ‘decade two of the twenty-first century sensibility test.’ But they can still be thoroughly absorbing. Should they automatically have ‘trigger warnings’ to alert the reader that the language or themes may cause them distress? I am very squeamish – I know some plays / films / books are not for me as pure entertainment, and I am prepared to leave early, or stop reading if I’ve misread the blurb and it all gets too much. But sometimes I realise it is important to persevere as the topic is important (slavery for example) and I should be prepared to know more, however upsetting.

I count myself among those who would say that ‘trigger warnings’ are unhelpful and infantilising and I suspect Laura Freeman, a young Times journalist, would agree. She noted recently how much she had enjoyed reading two books by a mid-twentieth century writer, Barbara Comyns. Both reflected the attitudes of the time, but the text was left exactly as the author had first written it, and there was a note at the beginning of each novel stating:

This book was originally published in 19XX. It is a historical text and for this reason we have not made any changes to the language.

This, Laura believes, is a neat justification for re-publishing, unaltered, the potentially ‘triggering’ issues raised by  an arguably problematic text. After all, wasn’t it another writer in the mid-twentieth century, LP Hartley, whose opening line for The Go Between (1953) is ‘The past is a different country, they do things differently there’?

And if we start to re-write the way people thought and wrote in the past, we lose key parts of our history, and what we have learnt (or failed to learn) from it.

Links to my books and social media

You can find all my books and short stories on Amazon books, At least one story always free. ALL BOOKS FREE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED

www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

fb.me/margaretegrot.writer

Twitter: @meegrot

NEW!! A story set in 20th century Coventry for Coventry 2021

Silent Echoes: The Carters seem just like any other family. Apart from the life changing events nobody talks about. Will history just keep repeating itself? Ebook-£1.99, Print-£7.99.

getbook.at/SilentEchoes

Sex Sells (And Why I’m Not Rich)

Sex sells, we’re told. The allure of sex (most often manifested by scantily clad females) sells clothes, perfume, holidays, even airports – remember the famous Luton Airport ad? Sex scenes in books are reputed to be a strong selling point and the sales figures for 50 Shades of Grey would bear this out. Well it certainly wasn’t the quality of the prose, wherein page after page of quasi (and not so quasi) sexual abuse is recorded with repetitive tedium. (Or so I’m told; I only read an excerpt in a newspaper, thought it was a clumsy parody, and wasn’t tempted to read more.)

The best-selling novel, Normal People, by Sally Rooney contained a lot of sex: talking about it, doing it, discussing it afterwards … It all helped with sales, apparently. But she confessed recently that she didn’t enjoy either writing sex scenes or reading them. She wanted to be more allusive in her recent novel – Beautiful World, Where Are You – but her publishers insisted she kept the sex activity in as it was ‘a crucial part of how the characters relate to each other.’ So we will never know how well it would have sold if the characters had settled for just talking pre- and post- coitus.

Decades ago, many readers bought D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Henry Miller’s Tropic novels and Anne Desclos’s Story of O, for the sex scenes; porn being much harder to get hold of back then, sex education non-existent, and films and TV positively chaste. But more recently, 50 Shades apart, readers of mainstream fiction, as opposed to erotica fans, seem, by and large, to prefer the tongue-in-cheek jolly and improbable romps of writers like Jilly Cooper. Or for the author to just get on with the (non sexual) action.

Many writers say they steer clear of detailed sex scenes, as such writing can often end up cringe-inducing for both them and the reader. Or so boring it sends the reader into a coma. Giles Coran still rues the fact that his first (only?) foray into novel writing is now only remembered for it winning him the bad sex writing award.

Ian Rankin admits to including a sex scene in his first Rebus novel, as he thought that was what writers were supposed to do. But his heart wasn’t in it, readers didn’t like it, and he found himself feeling very squeamish thinking about Rebus in bed with someone. So all later books leave the couple as they enter the bedroom or, more often, see a disappointed Rebus going for a pint or three on his own – and developing a new twist in the plot.

Avoidance is my cop out too. Characters may think about, or even discuss, their sleeping arrangements at the end of a chapter, but the next chapter is likely to begin with one of the happy couple down stairs making an early morning cup of tea for the other.

Maybe I should try spicing things up and increase my chances of fame and fortune? Make the earth move, or at least get a few floorboards squeaking? Maybe not. At least, with the bedroom door firmly closed and the lights out, I will avoid being in the running for that dreaded bad sex award.

Links to my books and social media

You can find all my books and short stories on Amazon books.

At least one story always free. ALL BOOKS FREE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED

www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

fb.me/margaretegrot.writer

Twitter: @meegrot

Does Shakespeare need Re-writing?

Shakespeare, to his fans, is timeless. His plays can withstand almost any interpretation; be set in any era – past / present / future; and take colour / age / and gender blindness to virtually any level (see the 82 year old Ian McKellen currently playing Hamlet). With the exception of The Taming of the Shrew – which struggles to rise above bad old-fashioned misogyny whatever the director tries to do with it, all his plays seem to be productive fields of innovative exploration of human behaviour for every new director and cast: see the African themed Hamlet, starring Paapa Essiedu.

Essentially, the words are there – it’s up to the actors and their director to find new insights; no need to change or omit or give ‘trigger warnings.’ Anyone going to a theatrical production should be prepared to have their sensibilities challenged (I know from experience I can’t take the gore in Titus Andronicus, and have to close my eyes when Gloucester’s eyes are stamped out in Lear).

Mind, the powers that be at the Globe theatre in London might disagree about being tough on audience sensitivities. In one of their recent anti-racist lectures, an American academic argues that audiences should be warned that The Tempest is a manifestation of ‘settler colonialism,’ – an interpretation that (white) audiences have been unwilling to accept and need to be more aware of. Prospero, a high-born westerner, lands on the magical island with his infant daughter, Miranda, and takes charge. But he was washed up there unwillingly and wants nothing more than to get back to his homeland, rather than colonise this one.

Prior to his arrival, the pregnant witch, Sycorax, had been dumped there, also against her will, where she gave birth to Caliban. Was she the original ‘settler coloniser,’ rather than Prospero?

Sycorax was dead by the time Prospero arrived and he took the young Caliban into his home until he tried to rape Miranda. But before Sycorax and Prospero, the occupants of the island had been ethereal figures, including Ariel, whom Sycorax had enslaved and locked in a tree until Prospero rescued him. True, once ‘freed,’ Ariel has to work for Prospero until gaining his full freedom just before Prospero leaves the island. But one imaginative director has Ariel holding Prospero’s broken wand at the end of the play, as if trying to figure out how to mend it, so would he now be in control of the island?

These many layers, based on what Shakespeare actually wrote, make it hard to interpret the play as a just an unthinking pro-colonial manifestation, tying in with the sixteenth century Western exploration and exploitation of the Americas and the role of black people in Tudor Britain. And what should we make of Caliban trying to ‘colonise’ Miranda’s body?

As another academic, Carol Chillington Rutter, says: ‘Shakespeare’s plays are multi-vocal, multi-perspectival. If you cut them, mute one voice to privilege another, erase “what could distress theatre-goers” you deny audiences access to recognition and understanding.’

If only we aspiring modern authors and playwrights, with all our education and social awareness, could provide so much food for thought for our readers and viewers.

Links to my books and social media

You can find all my books and short stories on Amazon books. At least one story always free. ALL BOOKS FREE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED

www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

fb.me/margaretegrot.writer

Twitter: @meegrot

Something for fans of George Eliot

Coventry is the UK City of Culture 2021. The bid was successful largely because local people were able to put together a compelling case for the city. It does, after all, have a long and honourable cultural history, including the Lady Godiva story, the Mystery Plays of medieval times, numerous references to Coventry in Shakespeare plays (he was almost a local, living just down the road in Stratford). Add to this the fact that the first post World War Two civic theatre was built in Coventry, Philip Larkin went to school in the city, as did George Eliot – then Mary Ann Evans – and many other famous writers musicians and artists. The city is also famed for its innovation (watches, ribbon weaving, bicycles, sewing machines, motor cars …)

While some of all these attributes are being celebrated this year, quite a few people feel that the very things that made the bid successful are being squeezed out in favour of fashionable ‘memes’, ‘themes’, ‘concepts’ and the like. Yes, this is a youthful city – but that still leaves the majority of the population aged over 35, and whilst many of the street events and musical offerings have been enjoyed by all ages, it still leaves many wanting something a bit ‘meatier’.

George Eliot hasn’t been completely ignored – there was a two minute (approx.) video of quotations from her work at the launch of the city of culture year, and a play about one of her novels was put on in the grounds of a school out in the suburbs. But there has been a feeling with many of us that more could have been done. Her novels are internationally renowned, timeless, and still reflect human emotion and nature – warts and all – as it is today. So why not something bigger, and more central?

All is not lost. Gabriel Woolf has been coming to the area every year for over 50 years at the invitation of the George Eliot Fellowship to put on a tour-de-force of selected readings from her works. 89 years young, he is still going strong and for decades he has been accompanied by Rosalind Shanks.  Last year was the only year they were unable to come, owing to the to the pandemic, but they are back this year with a selection of readings from her, in my opinion, greatest book – Middlemarch.

This ‘George Eliot Roadshow’ will be great, I promise you. So if you are free on Saturday 25th September in the afternoon, and within shooting distance of Bedworth (five miles north of Coventry city centre) then do come along. You can book online or pay at the door – see details below.

Writing About Nature

I don’t write ‘nature books’ – it sounds like a specialism requiring, at the very least, years living in the country, or a degree in botany / biology / zoology, or some close up lived experience with a wild animal, or a fascination for clouds, or a mix of any or all of these things. Some nature writers may concentrate on newer issues, like climate change, and apocalyptic weather patterns: floods, fires, winds. Again, it seems important to have a good knowledge of the issues, though a few writers will avoid the technical details, and the risk of getting them wrong, to concentrate on a fictional post-apocalyptic world.

I don’t do any of those things, and I rarely read books that do; although when younger I did read Tarka the Otter, Ring of Bright Water, Born Free, and, in my early twenties, a manual on self-sufficiency when I believed living close to nature sounded pretty idyllic – rather than the cold and muddy experience it turned out to be once autumn arrived. But reading any books marketed as nature novels? No. Not my scene.

But hold on! What novel is fully satisfying without any reference to the weather? No novel may actually have opened with the words: ‘It was a dark and stormy night,’ but where would Wuthering Heights be without the odd storm? Or Emma without the sultry weather on Box Hill? What would the main character in Mrs Dalloway have done if she had no flowers to arrange? How many books’ characters travel without ever looking out of the carriage or car window to remark on the changing landscape? Or gaze out of the aeroplane window and marvel at the sun tinged clouds beneath?

My latest book, Silent Echoes, is definitely not a nature novel. But it has a pivotal crisis during a rain soaked holiday by the seaside when family members couldn’t get away from each other – a crisis that certainly couldn’t happen when the weather was better and people could escape into the surrounding countryside. And one of the central characters finds solace admiring how nature is taking over the bomb sites in his native Coventry.

In short, it is hard to avoid writing about the natural world, whatever your genre, and the danger is that you might get carried away with your beautiful / dramatic descriptions. As a critic says of what she regarded as an otherwise great new novel, Something New Under the Sun, by Alexandra Kleeman, ‘[It] could be subtitled A Thousand Different Ways to Describe Wildfire and, fatally, the reader’s attention wanders.’ Sometimes, as the saying goes, less is more. The American author, Anthony Doerr, may have got it about right in his latest book Cloud Cuckoo Land. This, a Times reviewer has described as a ‘fantastical historical adventure’ (think Tolkien) full of ‘… beautiful plants and animals.’

Link to my new book:

NEW!! A story set in 20th century Coventry for Coventry 2021

Silent Echoes: The Carters seem just like any other family. Apart from the life changing events nobody talks about. Will history just keep repeating itself? Ebook-£1.99, Print-£7.99.

getbook.at/SilentEchoes

Have you ever cocked a snook /snoop / snoot?

Cocking a snook is a rude, childish, gesture of derision that can be strangely satisfying, even for adults. I remember my father being rather fond of it as a means of amusing small children and, to his huge delight, simultaneously horrifying their parents. To cock a snook consists of putting a thumb to the nose and wriggling the fingers, blowing raspberries at the same time being an optional extra.

The derivation of snook is unclear. It is possibly related to the snook – an American marine and fresh water fish Also, in seventeenth century Dutch, snoek is word for a pike (a long nosed fish). But no one seems quite sure how either of these became the term for a rude gesture involving thumbing the nose.

There was a mild controversy in The Times recently when an article used the term, cocking a snoop. A number of readers pointed out that the term was cocking a snook, and a Times commentator had to agree that it was the word snook, not snoop, that was recommended in the paper’s style guide. Certainly there seems to be no link between snoop and the nose – to snoop being an alternative verb for pry and, in nineteenth century Dutch, it also meant to eat furtively. Maybe the author of the article thought snook was too rude, and snoop would cause less offence?

If that was the issue, the author may have been better off using the term, cock a snoot. This means just the same as cock a snook and is more common in the US than the UK. Snoot is a close relation to snout (nose) so there is some logic in the term. Both snook and snoot appear in Greens Dictionary of Slang.

In the US, I understand, it is possible you would want to blow someone’s snoot off (give them an earful in the UK) if they have annoyed you – possibly for cocking a snook (or snoot) at you first.

Links to my books and social media

You can find all my books and short stories on Amazon books, At least one story always free. ALL BOOKS FREE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED

www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

fb.me/margaretegrot.writer

Twitter: @meegrot

A Word About the Humble Index

When I was very young and I wanted to know something I asked my parents – or my big brother – and they would give me an answer of sorts. After a bit my big brother was either too bored to reply, or to busy with his friends, so I gave up asking him. It wasn’t long before my parents told me to stop pestering and look it up for myself in the family encyclopaedia. 

Older still, I joined the town library, which had a range of reference books, and looked things up there. The process could be time-consuming, especially if you included the three mile round-trip on foot. Though of course, if you knew what information you were looking for, you didn’t just leaf aimlessly through the pages of any old reference book – you checked first in the index, and then went directly to the pages indicated.

All this happened in the decades before we had computers, the Internet, and search engines such as Google. It seems like a different era, but I was certainly still taking trips to the library into the twenty first century, in just the same way the curious-minded had done in the centuries before.

But how much of a different world was it? When you think about it, apart from not having to leave your sofa, the process of looking things up in a library isn’t much different (albeit much, much quicker) from looking things up on Google. You have a topic you want to research so:

  • you open your laptop / set off for the library,
  • fire up your search engine of choice / find the appropriate reference book,
  • type in / look up some key words.
  • Press return / turn the page
  • And, with a bit of luck, the information you want will appear on screen / be on the page you’ve selected.

Google and other search engines are, it would seem, basically extensive indexes; that is, an organised table of information wherein you can look something up and be pointed to another location to find out more. And these days you can sit in a library surrounded by reference books and look things up on the computer they’ve thoughtfully provided.

Index ‘technology’ goes back nearly a thousand years. In France in 1230 a group of monks created a word index they called the ‘concordance’ of every word in the Bible that they listed in alphabetical order.

Almost simultaneously an Englishman, Robert Grosseteste, was compiling an index of all the books he had read under various subject headings. Each entry recorded which bit, of which books, dealt with each particular subject. He was a voracious reader and a polymath so his index was astonishingly wide-ranging. Literally, the medieval equivalent of a modern search engine.

My latest book is out now with Amazon. Getting good reader feedback so far ……

A story set in 20th century Coventry for Coventry 2021

NEW!! Silent Echoes: The Carters seem just like any other family. Apart from the life changing events nobody talks about. Will history just keep repeating itself? Ebook-£1.99, Print-£7.99.

getbook.at/SilentEchoes