Archive for August, 2006

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Lewis Buzbee

1). How has the experience of publishing The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop surprised you? What about the experience has stood out from your other writing endeavors?

It has been a lovely surprise all the way around, to find so many readers–booksellers, librarians, and civilians–so passionate about the bookstore. I’ve always knowns this, from my first bookselling days on, but to see it fleshed out like this, well, it’s great. Not for me necessarily (though it has been that, too), but for the bookstore. I’m not nearly as pessimistic about the future of the bookstore as others, and the reaction has been heartening.

One of the great delights of all of this is meeting these folks in person, at trade shows and in bookstores. I’ve been out of the business for 12 years–I’m a teacher these days, at the University of San Francisco’s MFA program–and so I’m seeing old bookstore friends, sales rep friends, old customers. And meeting new friends, too, booksellers and librarians and those merely besotted with booklust. Terrific. It feels oddly like home.

2). What writing projects are you working on currently?

Right now I’m working on a series of kids’ chapter books, JoJo Pearlwhite’s Mix and Match Adventures, for readers 6-9. It’s always been my hope to write kids’ books, and the moment seems right. We’re just sending those round to publishers now. Part of my desire to do this comes from having an 8 year-old daughter, Maddy, and the immersion in kids’ books that comes with her. But as a bookseller for so long, kids’ books have always been a part of my adult life, a compulsion. And it’s been a gas writing these.

3). Do you practice any writing rituals?

Well, with an 8 year-old, rituals get a little suspended. My ritual is to write when I possibly can. Usually when Maddy’s at school, and I’ve the time. It’s catch as catch can. The ritual that’s replaced the regular time-slot for writing is that since Maddy’s been born, I write in long hand again–at least for the first drafts–which I used to do all the time, of course, before computers. It was a wonderful return, writing with a pen again. The slowness and quiet of it, the commitment one makes to a sentence, the scratch and smooth of the paper.

4). What have you been reading lately? Is there anything you’re reading now, or have read recently, that’s impressed you?

As you know, people like us are always reading and always reading too much. So much. And isn’t that a lovely feeling, that one never runs out of great, and I mean truly great books to read. I re-read a lot these days, books from an earlier time in my life I find it compelling to revisit. I’ve just re-read James Agee’s A Death in the Family, after a twenty year hiatus. What a beautiful, wondrous book that it. The writing is exceptional, and there’s something about the quiet of the times he writes of, 1915. Entrancing.

But the exciting new find is a book I’m about halfway through right now, The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, a young Australian writer. This is billed as a young adult novel, but like the best young adult novels, it’s as sophisticated and thrilling as any “adult” novel. The narrator here is Death, who tells the story of a young girl in WWII Germany. It’s sweet and harrowing, absolutely unflinching, and the writing is exceptional, completely unique. A true discovery for me.

One of the great developments in recent years in publishing is the breakdown of the barrier between children’s literature and adult. Harry Potter, of course, helped that along. But Philip Pullman’s novels, too, and Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, and Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi, and many others.

5). Aside from writing and reading, what else do you feel passionately about?

My daugher, of course, family life. That’s where I live now, and most of my recent fiction’s been about that. I’ve also just published a new book of stories, After the Gold Rush, and they’re all centered on this. But music, too. I play bass–badly–with some musician friends now and then, and there’s nothing better than playing music with friends.

Family, friends, that pretty much takes up the space in a day. And what a way to take up one’s time.

6). Do you have a favorite quotation, or perhaps just a few words, you feel sums up your philosophy on life?

Ach. Such a hard question. I’m more of an Aristotle than a Plato. I don’t think I’m smart enough, or sure enough, to have a philosophy. In fact, it seems that so many of the problems we have in the world today come from philosophies, this one or that one, and the people who carry those philosophies and try to impose them on everyone else.

But a question that made me think. So, not a philosophy, but a stance rather, an attitude. Italo Calvino said the he was a pessimist of the mind and an optimist of the soul. I try to keep that in mind. A balance of engagment and observation. Or as the Canadian musician Jane Sibbery sings, “half eagle, half angel.”

Oh, and one should always be as polite as possible. That helps.

7). If you were marooned on a island, stuck on an elevator, or otherwise cut off from society, what one book would you want to have with you?

Oh, I want a clever answer here. But honestly, the one book that comes to mind is The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 1. From Beowulf through Shakespeare. And preferably the one I had–and still own–in my sophomore year in college. It’s all beat up, taped together in places. But that would last me.

8). What memories do you have, from your childhood, about your experiences in public libraries? Did they play a role at all in your love of books and reading?

I was visiting my mother in San Jose recently, and happened to drive by the public library I’d used as a child, the local branch. It was gone, razed. I couldn’t believe it, shocked. Then I saw that construction was going on and that they were building a new branch, a much bigger one. I was saddened to see the old one go, but thrilled to think there’d be a new one.

Perhaps my most vivid memory of a childhood library is of the very tiny one at my junior high school in San Jose, where one late, dusty afternoon, the librarian introduced me to a wonderful little book called the Teddy Bear Habit, by James Lincoln Collier. It’s one of those important memories that just attacks you now and then; I’ll be walking along, and boom, something in the shade of light or the particular quality of a hushed moment will strike me, and I’m back there. We can never underestimate the importance of libraries in the literacy of our culture. I mean, just imagine this, after centuries of books being owned and read by only the most wealthy, here come public libraries. Every book is yours, and for free. That’s progress.

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The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee

From The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop:

“It’s not as if I don’t have anything to read; there’s a tower of perfectly good unread books next to my bed, not to mention the shelves of books in the living room I’ve been meaning to reread. I find myself, maddeningly, hungry for the next one, as yet unknown. I no longer try to analyze this hunger; I capitulated long ago to the book lust that’s afflicted me most of my life. I know enough about the course of the disease to know I’ll discover something soon.”

This quote could have come from my own autobiography, were I ever to feel compelled to write one. How comforting to know I’m not the only book addict on this earth, even in this age of reality TV when the average attention span is all of three seconds long.

As someone who reads books about books compulsively, I’m always on the lookout for anything new in this genre. Often I’m disappointed by either lightweight content or lack of a really interesting style, but in the case of this book that wasn’t a problem.

This is a book that’s both charming in style and very rich in content, something that’s all too rare. Books like this need champions to proclaim their glory to the world. They’re little books, from the standpoint of having to battle the heavy-hitting bestsellers, but huge books if you are anywhere near as enamored by books as Lewis Buzbee. And, if you were attracted enough to look this one up on Amazon, I can only trust you ARE enamored and I hope you’ll not just read this one but comment on it wherever you can. This book deserves as wide an audience as it can get, but it’s largely by word of mouth that so many small press books achieve that. So, give it a read and proclaim it to all the world!

Don’t make me beg…

As countless other readers will likely find, I identified with so many aspects of this book, from the author’s musing on the My Weekly Reader book orders from his grade school days through his various bookstore jobs. His wonderful sidetrips into the history of the book itself made fascinating reading, adding so much to what could have been a fine stand alone memoir of book lust and bookselling. Absolutely wonderful stuff, and a must for all the book-obsessed.

Now comes my big decision, whether to hoard this book all to myself or set it free to delight my other bookloving friends. Though I’m torn, I think I will send it on. It pains me, but as Buzbee put it, “Reading is a solitary act, but one that demands connection to the world…”

So, humbly, I send my copy of this book forth into the wide world, with the full knowledge that another copy of this book is only a One Click finger twitch away.

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From A Spot of Bother: A Novel:

“If he were given the choice he would rather someone had broken his leg. You did not have to explain what was wrong with a broken leg. Nor were you expected to mend it by force of will.

What he felt mostly was a relentless, grinding dread which rumbled and thundered and made the world dark, like those spaceships in science-fiction films whose battle-scorched fuselages slid onto the screen and kept on sliding onto the screen because they were, in fact, several thousand times larger than you expected when all you could see was the nose cone.

The idea of genuinely having cancer was beginning to seem almost a relief, the idea of going into hospital, having tubes put into his arm, being told what to do by doctors and nurses, no longer having to grapple with the problem of getting through the next five minutes.”

Mark Haddon’s follow up novel to the curious incident of the dog in the night-time is another sort of exploration into the darker, more obscure regions of the human mind. Instead of an adolescent main character with Asperger’s Syndrome, in A Spot of Bother Haddon portrays a 61-year old who begins to think he’s losing his mind shortly after finding a mysterious skin lesion on his hip.

George Hall is convinced he has cancer, and that there’s nothing that can be done for him. He’s plunged into a dark, confusing sort of despair in which the world seems to wobble on its axis, throwing life as he knew it into an alternate nightmarish dimension. Fear overtakes him, often crippling him, and he begins having panic attacks he believes are a further proof of the cancer he’s convinced himself is ravaging him.

Meanwhile, his daughter is planning her second marriage to a man he and his wife disapprove of. His wife is having an affair with a former colleague of his, and his homosexual son lurks like an unsolved problem in the background.

George Hall is falling apart.

Mark Haddon’s second novel is stellar. It’s at times riotously funny, deeply empathetic and peopled with characters the reader comes to identify with so closely it’s not surprising to find yourself actually worrying about them. Well, at least I hope it’s not surprising to find yourself worrying about fictional characters! Perhaps I’ve just hit on fodder for Mark Haddon’s third novel, devoted to the notion that readers can actually come to care so much for fictional characters they build a delusional world around them.

All royalty checks accepted, Mr. Haddon.

A Spot of Bother is a book not to be missed. Thanks so much to Doubleday for sending me a review copy of this book.

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Mark Haddon

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Have anything planned for the long holiday weekend?

If not, I have a suggestion for you and it’s only about a four hour drive away. Why not attend the annual Arthur Cheese Festival in Arthur, IL?

Even if cow chip throwing isn’t your thing, the ceremonial cutting of the cheese is not to be missed. Of course I mean the ceremonial cutting of the 300-lb wheel of cheese, presided over by local celebrity Miss Slice. I think I can guarantee a toe-CURDling good time will be had by all this weekend at the Arthur Cheese Festival in Arthur, IL.

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After you’ve enjoyed a slice of cheese may I suggest a visit to a quilt shop or two? Amish quilts aren’t only gorgeous. They’re also a piece of genuine Americana. Pricey, yes, but they’ll last forever. Even if you aren’t in the market to buy, though, you can have a good look at these beautiful works of art.

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Arthur is the town I grew up in, and it’s located in the heart of Illinois Amish Country. While I’ll admit growing up there it seemed the place was about as entertaining as watching corn grow (and there was a lot of opportunity for doing that), now it seems one of the most charming and bucolic places on earth. After having lived in Chicago suburbia for twenty years, going back to Arthur gives me a chance to exhale and decompress. The pace is slower there, and the traffic definitely less challenging. The worst traffic congestion there happens when a buggy doesn’t give you right-of-way. It’s a whole different world.

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I appreciated the charm of watching buggies go by as a child, but the Amish had so little contact with we “English” it seemed a bit offensive. We did take it personally, silly as that sounds now. It drove a wedge between Amish and English, which is something they really encourage. They aren’t hermits, and don’t cut themselves off entirely (they need the commerce too desperately to do that), but too much mixing isn’t perceived as a very good thing. Knowing they thought us inferior, sinful and overly-worldly didn’t lend itself to very much positive feeling, growing up. A person takes exception to that.

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There was one Amish child in my class in school. He attended with us through junior high. That’s as long as the Amish children tend to go to school. They’re only there to get enough education to ensure they’ll be literate, generally educated, and have basic math skills. Generally they attend their own one room schools, but for some reason this boy, Willard, attended with the English. He received a lot of abuse in his years with us, shamefully, at the hands of the bullies who singled out anyone who was different. Being Amish painted a target on the poor kid’s back, and I really don’t know why he stood for some of the treatment he got. Maybe it was a lesson to him, that life with the English would lead to a lot of heartache and unhappiness. Whatever the reason, I’m sure he was glad enough to leave when the time came.

Martha Stewart featured Arthur in one of her programs. She did a program on the Great Pumpkin Patch in the rural Arthur area. You may have caught that on TV, but if you didn’t something tells me you can buy a video of it somewhere in Arthur. I have a strong feeling that’s the case, as it’s not every day this tiny town is featured on national TV.

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Even if you don’t make it down for the Cheese Festival, I heartily recommend Arthur as a getaway destination that’s not too far to do in a weekend. There’s actually a lot there, for such a small town, and the Amish area covers a few other small communities that feature their own share of charm and recreation.

Rockome Gardens (Arcola, IL) is one of the necessary stops. If you can imagine a rural Amish amusement park this is about as close as anything gets to that. There are also shops (Amish and non), plenty of restaurants and even a few hotels in Arthur, Arcola and Tuscola. Tuscola is along I-57 and also features an outlet mall, in case getting that far away from suburbia gives you the jitters and makes you have shopping withdrawal.

Keep this in mind when you feel the need to get away, and maybe I’ll see you there.

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Great bookish article in the Guardian this morning about the reading habits of the British public. “Unputdownable” summer reading books is the topic, and here’s their list:

1: The Island, Victoria Hislop. Has she got news for him? Wife of Private Eye editor eclipses husband’s media career with book in which Anglo-Cretan Alexis, fleeing man trouble on island of Plaka, uncovers family secrets involving leprosy. Infectious story.

2: My Best Friend’s Girl, Dorothy Koomson. Kam and Adele are best chums until Kam has sex with Adele’s Nate. Flash forward to Adele revealing to Kam that she has terminal cancer and Nate’s child. Can Kam bring herself to bring up the bastard’s bastard? Mother of all shlock.

3: The Righteous Men, Sam Bourne. Guardian political columnist mounts conspiracy to steal Dan Brown’s audience, using easily cracked pseudonym and less easily cracked plot about global murders linked to the Kabbalah. Da Vinci clone.

4: The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova. A young woman discovers ancient papers relating to the Dracula legend. A novel that tries to alchemise The Da Vinci Code, Possession and The Name of the Rose into one bookstore-entrancing potion. Long, slow bite.

5: Perfect Match, Jodi Picoult. Just the thing for when you’ve finally got the kids down. An assistant district attorney handling cases of abuse is forced to apply her skills closer to home when her five-year-old son is discovered to have been molested. Earnest importance.

6: The Abortionist’s Daughter, Elisabeth Hyde. George Bush claims to have read Camus’ L’Etranger this summer but might have been happier with this. A pro-choice champion is murdered in Colorado, leading to her daughter and husband becoming suspects. Sad to terminate.

7: Making Your Mind Up, Jill Mansell. There have been many reports of the death of chick lit, with crime fiction wanted for questioning. But the gags-and-shags genre survives in Mansell’s 17th novel: 30-plus divorcee lusts after office hunk despite the disapproval of her young children. Small minds only.

8: End in Tears, Ruth Rendell. The only veteran on a list filled with new writers. Chief Inspector Wexford overcomes media scepticism to solve the murder of a young girl in a case that touches on love, drugs and the anger of modern society. Same from Dame.

9: On Beauty, Zadie Smith. The novels of EM Forster and the paintings of Rembrandt are transferred to the email age in the third bestseller from a writer who has barely turned 30. Faster Forster.

10: The Devil’s Feather, Minette Walters. In the 12th book by the female pretender to Rendell and PD James’s crime-queen title, a foreign correspondent, exiled to England from Africa, dangerously uses herself as bait to catch a serial killer. Cool chills.

While I haven’t read a single one of these titles, I have read some of the authors. Ruth Rendell is my very favorite mystery writer of all time. She also writes, equally well, as Barbara Vine. I’ve never read a bad book by Rendell/Vine. I’d recommend them all, but Master of the Moor is a “thumping good” gothic.

Speaking of authors with pseudonyms, I can’t figure out why an author writes under two names, especially when (s)he puts both names on the book covers. Why do they do that? Rendell/Vine doesn’t, but many authors do. Defies any explanation I can think of, unless they have a big reputation under one name and want their readership to also read their “other” books, but that seems more than a bit schizophrenic to me.

I bought The Historian months ago, after the reviews started coming out. Still haven’t worked it to the top of the reading pile. I’ve heard mixed things about it. It’s one of those love/hate books.

Finally, Jodi Picoult. I read her The Tenth Circle for review several months ago. I thought it an ambitious task to model a work of fiction on Dante’s Inferno, but in some ways Picoult did a nice job with it. At times I wanted to hit myself over the head with a heavy object from the 3/4 point through the end, due to extreme improbability of plot and some rather tedious writing, but still overall it had some promise. I don’t read graphic novels but I thought she used that element well in this book. I won’t read Perfect Match, though. One was really enough for me.

Interesting to see what they’ve been reading this summer in the U.K. I half expected it to be a bit more highbrow than here in the Colonies, and the Guardian article has some really interesting insight into that. Give it a read if you have a moment.

And God Save the Queen.

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This has been an extraordinarily rich week for news stories. It’s been so huge the media may not even have a need to embellish anything. That’s a gift they don’t get every week. They’re putting their feet up at Weekly World News, scratching their heads wondering if they’ll even have jobs next week. They should take comfort knowing there are always aliens landing in remote, rural areas, not to mention the likely impending birth of more than one three-headed cow. It’ll be okay.

Even without going into the whole JonBenet wierdness there’s still an awful lot of blogger fodder. I can hear the airwaves humming as I type. The highlights below only scratch the surface of what’s been thrown around the blogosphere this week.

Jumpin’ Jupiter!

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Astronomers this week decided to kick Pluto out of the planet club. Apparently they’ve decided it no longer meets the definition of what makes a planet. It’s been in doubt for a while, so this wasn’t very shocking news. However, this will send textbook publishers and other informational sources back to the presses in order to make the correction.

I broke the news about Pluto to my children yesterday, and my astronomy expert middle child informed me, “But mom, they decided one of Pluto’s moons is a planet, so we still have nine. And didn’t they just discover more planets?”

Can’t put anything over on that boy! That’s why he’s our official family memory bank and fact checker. The child can remember baseball scores from games we attended three years ago, as well as defining plays in the games (extrapolating all of this out to compare the performance of specific players when they were playing for other teams, and how their performance has risen or declined since being traded). I have trouble recalling what I had for dinner yesterday.

I think this child will be going places.

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Bringin’ Home the Bacon

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In other news, there was a huge flap this week regarding an article published in Forbes magazine telling men to avoid marrying career women, as they’re apparently more likely to: a). not want to have children, b). leave them for another man, c). be slovenly housekeepers, and d). be more strong and self-assured, thus more threatening to the ego of some small-minded men.

Okay, that last bit was my own editorial comment.

As hard as women have worked through the centuries to achieve equality or at least recognition, it’s galling reading something like this Forbes article. That a national magazine of this stature would publish something so blatantly misogynist is really shocking, and this is in a world where there’s not an awful lot out there that seems shocking anymore.

But there’s good to be had from this. It acts to bring gender equality issues to the foreground, essentially rallying the troops. People are thinking about the issue, and debating it heatedly on both sides. It may also lead some to see there’s a grain of truth to the author’s premise, even if he does take it in a very misguided direction. There’s something he’s most definitely missing, and it’s a glaring omission.

In Elizabeth Corcoran’s rebuttal to the original article by Michael Noer she makes the point I immediately thought of when I heard about the article in the first place. The fact career women do divorce more often may be because they’re able to. Simply put, they have the resources to stand on their own feet, so when they find themselves in an unhappy marital situation they actually CAN leave. Women without these resources don’t have this option, which is something Noer doesn’t even take into account. Just a bit of a slanted article, which makes it even more striking seeing this published in a venue like Forbes.

You can read both opinions here. If you feel strongly about the matter let Forbes know. They’ve been inundated already, but it may make YOU feel better.

Saints Alive!

Finally, something entirely weird.

miranda_1.jpg This man says he’s Jesus returned.

Not sure I really need to expand much on this particular topic, but I saw him on the Today Show this morning and apparently he’s raking in an awful lot of money. People are giving him multiple millions in cash and houses. If you really want to know more about this, he has a website.

On that note, I think I’ll bite my tongue and leave it at that.

Though I don’t mind getting mail, I wouldn’t want to be in Forbes’ shoes right now.

Have a wonderful weekend.

” Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.”

– T.S. Eliot, from “East Coker” (Four Quartets)

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An interview with Linda Gillard, author of A Lifetime Burning and Emotional Geology, published by Transita.

1). How has the experience of publishing ALB surprised you? What about the experience has stood out from your other writing endeavors?

I had no idea I’d written a good book. I hoped I had, but I wasn’t sure. Reader reaction and reviews have astonished me, exceeding my wildest dreams. I’ve also been surprised by the warm response from male readers. I don’t think I write for a female readership (I’m certainly far more interested in writing about male characters than female for some reason) but my publisher Transita produces contemporary fiction aimed at mature women and that’s how my books have been marketed. I also had no idea how upset some people would be by ALB. An Oxford book group almost came to blows over it and one woman stormed out leaving the group in disarray. I didn’t realise mere fiction could provoke such strong reactions.

One way ALB has been different from the experience of EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, my first novel, is that although both books are issue-driven, I’ve been unable to promote ALB because of its byzantine plot! EG was a book about the relationship between mental illness and creativity and it was upfront about that. On the surface ALB is a “family drama” but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface but I don’t talk or write about it because it would spoil some of the plot’s jaw-dropping (I hope) revelations. If pushed, I say ALB is a book about compassion and tortuous moral dilemmas, how much damage you can do by trying to do The Right Thing. Whilst this is a fair summary, it’s not going to make copies leap off the shelves! So whereas I could actively target-market EG to interested parties I am very much dependent on word-of-mouth, in particular book group support, to get ALB better known in an overcrowded marketplace.

I think I’ve learned a lot about the marketing of books from the experience of publishing ALB but I don’t think it will affect what or how I write in future. I just write for myself and for the people who enjoy my books. I don’t do it to get rich or famous. (Which is probably just as well.)

2) What writing projects are you working on currently?

I’m now working on my 3rd novel. It’s set on Skye and in Edinburgh and once again the female protagonist is middle-aged. I’m at that stage (25k words) where I wonder if it’s going to become a real book or be an abandoned, half-formed manuscript that never really takes off. It could go either way. I’m trying to write something shorter and lighter than ALB, which was a demanding, at times gruelling book to write. It was also very complex (58 years of an extended family’s life were covered in a non-linear narrative) so this time I’m trying to be simpler but the truth is, I like complex, I like ambitious, so I doubt this one will stay short and sweet.

3) Do you practice any writing rituals?

Not really. I don’t have a problem with writer’s block or the terror of the blank screen. I don’t have a daily routine, I just write when I want to write. If I’m well into a book the problem is pacing myself so that I don’t become mentally and physically exhausted. In the final stages of writing a draft I’m quite happy to skip meals. I’ll happily work from 8.00am till midnight with a few breaks if it’s going well. I wouldn’t recommend this as a work method – you get too tired to appraise your work – but I do find it necessary to disappear, almost completely, into the world of the book. I do get obsessive and my characters seem to me at least as real as my family – possibly more so! I noticed that when I was writing about the pianist Rory in ALB who is left-handed, I ended up doing things left-handedly myself, so powerful was my identification with him.

I think my only foible is that I have to use a certain type of disposable propelling pencil. (I write longhand on lined paper for my first draft.) I buy them in packets of 6. I’ve often wondered if my writing career would grind to a halt if they stopped making these pencils.

4) What have you been reading lately? Is there anything you’re
reading now, or have read recently, that’s impressed you?

I’m always re-reading Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles – that’s just an endless cycle and I think I’d better be buried with one of my 3 complete sets. (Different editions.)

I usually have a novel on the go by a writing friend or acquaintance. At the moment I’m reading Adele Geras’ young adult read, ITHAKA as she sent me a copy. I’ve also read 3 novels this year by prolific fellow Transita author, Adrienne Dines, a versatile Irish writer who I think is going places. I read her SOFT VOICES WHISPERING in manuscript and found it compelling and beautifully written.

I read non-fiction for research purposes. Recent reads have been popular science: THE REVENGE OF GAIA by James Lovelock, THE SENSE OF BEING STARED AT by Rupert Sheldrake and UNWEAVING THE RAINBOW by Richard Dawkins. But the book that has impressed me most recently (apart from Dunnett) is Stephen Kuusisto’s PLANET OF THE BLIND, about the experience of being blind. The writing is quite wonderful.

5) Aside from writing and reading, what else do you feel passionately
about?

1. Global warming (which I refuse to call “climate change”.) The globe is warming. Period.
2. Education, particularly arts education (provision for which is lamentable in the UK.)
3. Music of all kinds. I was on a piano kick writing ALB but now I’m back on opera.
4. The Scottish Highlands. I live on the Isle of Skye. Every so often I have to go south to see my family or for work purposes. By the time I’ve got as far as Edinburgh, I’m already pining for the North again and counting the hours till I get home.
5. Mental health issues. A year after EG was published I’m still trying to raise awareness of the stigma attached to mental illness and promote understanding of the issues.

6) Do you have a favorite quotation, or perhaps just a few words, you
feel sums up your philosophy on life?

I’m tempted to quote chunks of HAMLET which has always been something of a vade mecum, but instead I think I’ll give you a quotation from Louise DeSalvo’s WRITING AS A WAY OF HEALING which got me writing again after a break of many years during which I’d been a teacher. “If you want to write and don’t, because you don’t feel worthy enough or able enough, not writing will eventually begin to erase who you are.”

7) If you were marooned on a island, stuck on an elevator, or
otherwise cut off from society, what one book would you want to have
with you?

Without a moment’s hesitation I can say The Lymond Chronicles by the Scottish historical novelist, Dorothy Dunnett but that’s actually 6 books, which form a series. As they don’t exist in one volume I’ll settle for the final book, CHECKMATE, which is the best and the longest.

8) What memories do you have, from your childhood, about your
experiences in public libraries? Did they play a role at all in your
love of books and reading?

Although my local library (in Dartford, Kent, England) seemed to me a sombre, rather forbidding place, silent and not at all child-friendly compared to its modern equivalent, I remember feeling transported to a magical world. There was a lot of dark, polished wood and 2 turnstiles. You went in by one door and out by another and I always wondered why this was. I remember too that people’s shoes squeaked on the floor – that’s how quiet it was.

I suppose excitement is the feeling I associate with that library and that excitement was to do with choice. I had never seen so many books before. I didn’t know that many books existed! I lived in a town with a very small bookshop, which we never visited. (We were not well off and I had few books when I was young. My mother used to buy us comics and my father bound them into books and covered them with plain brown parcel paper.)

I remember feeling overwhelmed by the choice of books in the children’s section of the library. (This was the 1950s. What on earth would I have felt if there had been the variety and quantity of children’s books now available?) I remember too the pleasure I got from the physical experience of books: their smell; the variety of colours on the shelves; the feel of big, heavy books in my hands; the sound of crisp pages turning.

I had an unfortunate friend who wasn’t allowed to visit the library because her mother said you could catch diseases from dirty library books. I was shocked by this piece of information. I remember considering it, then deciding I didn’t care. I was a reckless book addict from an early age!

Thanks very much to Linda for so kindly taking the time to answer my questions. Following is my review of her recent book A Lifetime Burning:

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A Lifetime Burning by Linda Gillard

I truly enjoyed Gillard’s first book Emotional Geology, and thought it so beautifully lyrical in style I read it very slowly, to savor every word. If it had a flaw I’d say it was the graphic, raw nature of both the sex and the language of the main character. It’s not that I’m a prude that way. Not at all, but I’m just not one for overly graphic language or sex scenes in general. A personal call, and there you have it. But the rest of that book was so lovely, and the story so wonderful, the bit about the graphic nature didn’t mar my enjoyment. Her latest, though, A Lifetime Burning, is brilliant in every way, start to finish.

What’s somewhat surprising about that is the fact the premise of this book hinges on what could only be termed rampant incest within the family, which is the focus of the plot. There are multiple incestuous layers, which you’d think I’d find more disturbing considering my minor criticism of Gillard’s first book, but the simple fact is this book is so wonderfully written as to present the reader with a completely non-judgmental exploration of what is love, and what should the limits be when pursuing something you believe to be “the real thing.” I found myself forgetting the taboo nature of the love, so wrapped up I was in the beauty of the raw need and complete, encompassing love between the characters. The fact it was incest was, of course, disturbing, but Gillard manages to work her way beyond that, finding just the right perspective that made the reader feel less uncomfortable, though just aware enough to see there was a horrible element to it. In short, the book is masterful and shows a huge leap of sophistication from Emotional Geology, which was at the same time one of the most outstanding first novels I believe I’ve ever read.

A Lifetime Burning is just unearthly beautiful in terms of prose style and lyrical quality. The language is gorgeous and lush, and if the author falters anywhere it’s at that hideously difficult three-quarters mark, building up to the climax, when so very many writers seem to have a difficult time filling the space. But even there, when the plot slows down a bit, my interest never actually flagged. I noted the bit slower pace of things, the slight slowing of the prose, but just as soon as I had the chance to notice it was happening things took off at a brilliant clip again, never to slow down again so much as a hair.

I will be recommending this book to everyone I know who enjoys reading contemporary literary fiction. I found it tremendously moving, and even the day after finishing it I continue to find it positively haunting. I will temper my recommendation to others by adding a caveat about the theme, as the issues raised could be very painful to some, but there will be no strong warning. It’s simply not needed, given the deft way Gillard handles the subject. The sheer beauty of this book is its biggest recommendation, and this book deserves a wide readership. I’ll be waiting very anxiously for Gillard’s next offering.

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I absolutely loved this book. The Other Side of the Bridge is one of those family saga sorts of novels, I guess you’d say, though it’s not a really long epic sort of book at 304 pages. It’s a variation of the Cain and Abel tale set in rural Ontario, Canada and takes places within the space of one generation in the Dunn family.

Arthur Dunn is the lumbering, slow-witted older brother, and his younger brother, Jake, is his nemesis. Arthur doesn’t have a vindictive bone in his body, but his manipulative younger brother pushes him to his limit, seemingly for his own entertainment.

Jake is a cruel person, almost completely without any sense of morality. He has been spoiled and indulged by his mother from birth, mostly due to the fact numerous miscarriages occurred between the births of Arthur and Jake. When Jake was born it was all but miraculous to his mother, and the fact he was a sickly, small child only added to her overprotectiveness. While their father didn’t approve of this kind of extreme coddling, he was such a pushover for his wife he wouldn’t step in and oppose her. That left Arthur very much on the fringes, to fight his own battles.

After years of being pushed by his brother, Arthur does eventually break. By his own inaction he causes a devastating accident to happen to Jake, and spends the rest of his life living through the guilt. This guilt becomes the force that overshadows the rest of the novel, casting a dark cloud on the lives of Arthur and his family. Before the end of the book an even bigger price will be paid, and the life of a complete innocent will finally pay the devil’s ransom that ends the feud between the brothers.

This is a powerful book, written in a very understated but lyrical style. It’s absolutely gorgeous. But will Lawson be the breakthrough winner of the Booker? I’d be inclined to think not, considering the staggering competition and her comparative newcomer status (though this isn’t her first book). However, if she does by some small chance win I would be thrilled. Her style reminds me a bit of two other tremendously skilled native Canadian writers, Margaret Laurence and Margaret Atwood. She seems to be following in the footsteps of these two icons, and I think she’s well on her way to achieving her own literary greatness.

But my final bet is no, The Other Side of the Bridge won’t be the victor. If it doesn’t win it won’t be from lack of worthiness, but rather from the lack of a big literary reputation backing her up. Having been nominated, though, greatly increases her visibility. If Lawson keeps writing this well she may have a shot at the prize in the future.

After this very positive reading experience I’ll be reading her first novel, Crow Lake. Reviews for this one are glowing, and I have no doubt it’s as beautiful as The Other Side of the Bridge.

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Mary Lawson