the tricky six

editing at page 223

I’m not sure if this is best way of doing things, but I’m leaving the heavy lifting – the tricky editing bits – until last. I’ll have edited the whole book (again) and included most of the editor’s suggestions by the end of tomorrow. That leaves six sections that I’ve put aside so far. The ‘tricky six’ as they seem to have described themselves inside my head. The good news is, I think I have found a better way to frame three key chapters towards the end of the book. The ‘soup masters trilogy’, or some such. Onwards.

tightening the screws


Back on the editing treadmill. Ryan at Ecco Books sent me her very thorough notes and suggestions last week. My deadline is the beginning of May, but I’m determined to get through the bulk of them by Friday 18th April. They mostly focus on tightening up the manuscript, adding more thoughts and opinion to a few sections, coming up with chapter titles (something I had completely neglected to think of) and possibly working on some kind of a map to include. A glossary has been mooted, but I’m not too keen on the idea. This stage of the editing process is akin to tightening the screws on a piece of self-assembly furniture and then adding a coat of varnish. It will make the book better.

cellphone novels

girl using a cellphone at night on lo duc street in hanoi vietnam

I hadn’t heard of cellphone novelists before I read this story today. It’s from 2008,

…cellphone novelists are racking up the kind of sales that most more experienced, traditional novelists can only dream of.

One such star, a 21-year-old woman named Rin, wrote “If You” over a six-month stretch during her senior year in high school. While commuting to her part-time job or whenever she found a free moment, she tapped out passages on her cellphone and uploaded them on a popular Web site for would-be authors.

After cellphone readers voted her novel No. 1 in one ranking, her story of the tragic love between two childhood friends was turned into a 142-page hardcover book last year. It sold 400,000 copies and became the No. 5 best-selling novel of 2007, according to a closely watched list by Tohan, a major book distributor. link

What with the 2014 Shorty Awards just announced, it made me wonder whether or not the Twitter novel might not be an idea ready for reawakening. Here’s some more on cellphone writers, from The New Yorker, also in 2008,

At the end of March, 2006, Mone, a twenty-one year-old college dropout, started posting a novel about her life straight from her mobile phone to a media-sharing site called Maho i-Land (Magic Island). She gave her tale a title, “Eternal Dream,” and invented, as a proxy for her adolescent self, a narrator named Saki, a high-school student who lives in a provincial town. By mid-April, Mone had completed her novel, nineteen days after she began. In December, 2006, “Eternal Dream” was published. The book distributor Tohan ranked the book among the ten best-selling literary hardbacks for the first half of 2007. link

I quite like the idea of that. Not just on a phone. I could see some people quite liking a novel running along a Tweetdeck column of a day.

Photo by me, from Lộ Đức street, Hà Nội, Việt Nam 2013

20 years after


20 years ago this weekend, the Rwandan genocide began. Here are a number of articles, videos and photojournalism pieces published this week that are all worth taking a look at during this memorial period.

What compounded the shock of it was that not only was it the most horrifying hell that I could imagine, but my first view of it was at a church. Rwanda is one of the most religious countries I’ve been in. It’s also one of the most physically beautiful countries I’ve ever traveled through. But this beautiful, seemingly pious nation also holds one of the darkest, most evil things I’ve seen in my life. I couldn’t understand or believe what had happened here. link

Photo on the road to Kibuye, Rwanda taken by me.

making the connection

Radio man in Byumba Rwanda

This is the thing with writing a novel, at least one of the things. You read something in the news. Have an idea. Make a connection. And it’s as if it was designed to fit into your story all along.

There are records of dreams we recounted to each other in the mornings. The transcriber knew us so well, he or she was able to read and duly note our moods. Some even took sides in family arguments, noting on the margins of the transcripts who they thought was right. It’s like having had a one-sided relationship with these invisible broadcasters of our tormented souls. link

I’ve lost track of how many news stories I’ve adapted for my novel. They’re all completely unrelated. Some serve to inspire an idea, others work as a plot device. I guess this might be one of the tricks of creative writing – that of being open to suggestion. Of not being fixed in thought or slave to a pre-planned plot.

Photo taken by me in Byumba, Rwanda.

forward motion

Jenny Offill, on writing,

Fuck the plot, as Edna O’Brien said. What I try to capture as a writer is the feeling of being alive, of being awake. Because of this, I’m more apt to follow the wisp of a thought or a half-glimpsed image than chart a sequential series of events. But I absolutely believe in momentum. Momentum is not plot, but it has that same quality of urgency and forward motion, I think. link

write or die

Writer AL Kennedy tries out – and gives up on – a number of apps for writers on the BBC Books and Authors podcast. Two other writers, Stella Duffy and Julian Gough, follow up with why they use these apps and others. The only one that they mention that I have not tried is Write or Die and, like AL Kennedy, I will not be using it. In a nutshell, there are ‘consequences if you fail to write a certain number of words in a specified amount of time.

It just rewires your brain. You just feel fantastic if you just keep going and the screen doesn’t turn red and the baby doesn’t scream at you.

Scrivener and Self Control and essential whizzbangs these days. You can keep Write or Die.


Francisco Goldman on where he lives and writes in Mexico City,

We’re right around the corner from one of Mexico City’s greatest cantinas, one I’d been coming to for years from more distant neighborhoods. They have a funny ritual there. A waiter will ring a bell to catch everyone’s attention, shout out a name, and then the cavernous room will resound with raucous shouts of ¡Pendejo! (it means, more or less, “asshole!”). You have to pay the waiter to do that. Once a good friend, a writer from Ireland, was visiting, and he paid the waiter to shout out the name of another Irish writer who’d given him a nasty review, and the waiter, though he could barely pronounce the name, shouted it out, and everyone in the cantina, the old men playing dominoes, the Mexican and foreign hipsters, and literary types who also hang out there, et cetera, joyously shouted “¡Pendejo!” link

blogs are like vinyl

blogs are like vinyl

I read Suw’s post about the decline of blogging with interest.

I wonder too if my lack of blog writing is related to a lack of blog reading. My RSS reader became so clogged that I feared it, wouldn’t open it, and ultimately, abandoned it. And then Twitter and now Zite arrived to provide me with random rewards for clicking and swiping, showing me stuff that I had no idea I wanted to read. Instead of following the writings of a small cadre of smart, lovely people whom I am proud to call my friends, I read random crap off the internet that some algorithm thinks I might be interested in, or that is recommended by the people I follow on Twitter. link

I don’t use Facebook. I don’t use an RSS reader. I tweet. I post to Flickr. I blog. I’ve blogged more this past past year than I have done for a very long time. There’s a good reason for that. During the writing of my book, I went and looked at all the blogs I used to read in 2004. Most of them were dead, but not all. Now, I make an effort to visit those blogs that are still active. I don’t want or need an RSS reader for that. Whenever that blog or blogger pops into my head, I go and take a look to see if they’ve posted anything new. I like the serendipity of that. It’s a more analogue way of reading blogs. And I think we need more analogue in our lives.

While I blog more these days, I (probably) have way less readers. I don’t know, because I never check my referrers or my statistics. I have no idea who is reading this. Six months or more ago, I left Typepad and went self-hosted. I knew it would break most of the inbound links – that Google loves – and ruin my ‘visibility’ but, it didn’t bother me. I’m not in that game, if ever I was.

Blogs and blogging are not the communal dining room that is Twitter. They’re like vinyl as opposed to an MP3. Something you can appreciate with others or on your own. A blog is as close to an ‘object’ as there is in the digital realm. Maybe, like vinyl, they’re ready for a comeback. Or, to put it another way, a blog is like loose leaf Japanese burnt rice tea and not PG Tips. Clear?

japanese burnt rice tea

Photos by me

noticing things

shoes outside a shop in hanoi vietnam at night

On writing and notetaking. From a 2006 interview with Joan Didion in the Paris Review,

…you get the sense that it’s possible simply to go through life noticing things and writing them down and that this is OK, it’s worth doing. That the seemingly insignificant things that most of us spend our days noticing are really significant, have meaning, and tell us something. link

Photo of shoes outside a shop in Hà Nội by me.