The writer is a lonely hunter

gailaldwin

Sicily

I’ve wanted to visit Sicily ever since I saw The Godfather. The film was released in 1972, so I must have watched it a bit later on the television. While chatting with other tourists, several mentioned that scenes from the film In Postino prompted their visit. I can’t remember seeing that film but like us, they were rather off-piste as Il Postino was filmed in Messina and the location for The Godfather was in towns outside Taormina. However, when we reached Ragusa, we learnt that this was the location for the Inspector Montalbano TV series, so we did finally make it a film location.

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The Next Big Thing: Paula’s Secret

I’ve admired the short stories and flash fiction written by Angela Williams under the name of Susan Carey for sometime time now.  Like me, Angela’s work has featured on the 1000 words website and her story was chosen for inclusion in the National Flash Fiction Day e-anthology for 2012. Angela lives in Amsterdam, and is a member of Writers Abroad. When she shared information about the group’s annual anthology on her blog, it gave me a chance to think back to my expatriate days in Papua New Guinea and I submitted a story that was accepted for publication in ‘Foreign Encounters’.  I was delighted when she tagged me in ‘The Next Big Thing’ blog chain and I answer the questions below:

What is the working title of your next book?

My latest novel started life as ‘First Time Mums’ but then graduated to the new working title of ‘Paula’s Secret’.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I started work on this manuscript during the summer of 2012.  I’d written a couple of pieces of flash fiction about those first few months after childbirth, when relationships shift to give priority to the baby and I thought there was mileage in the idea.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s a romantic comedy and I’m new to this genre. I met Allie Spencer at a story slam in Shaftesbury and when I read a couple of her books and some others, I thought I’d like to give it a try.

Which actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Paula is the main character, previously dotty about her dog but once Baby Boo arrives, she refocuses her attention. She’s juxtaposed with her best friend Kirsty, who is also a new mother and struggling to use the same methods that brought her success in the workplace to become a model parent.  It’s the different approaches to parenting that bring humour to the novel and I guess Ann Hathaway would be a good lead.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Kirsty struggles to make the most of family life with her new-born and when Paula won’t reveal who is the father of her baby, Kirsty decides that bringing her best friend’s family together is her next priority.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I won a competition during 2012 to have sixty copies of my fiction collection ‘Four Buses printed, so I know all about the rewards and pitfalls of self publishing. It may sound mad but getting the book into print isn’t my priority at the moment. I’m much more concerned with getting the writing to the best possible standard.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The first draft took five months and it’s currently in a drawer waiting for me to gather my wits and tackle it again.  I’m planning to begin the rewriting at the end of January, then I’ll be going full pelt ready to submit a decent draft to the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme at the end of August.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I haven’t read many books written about new mothers although when I was researching titles I came across one or two.  ‘The Hand that First Held Mine’ by Maggie O’Farrell is a good example of how the arrival of a baby casts light into the shadows of personal experience. But I can’t begin to compare ‘Paula’s Secret’ to such an accomplished novel and it’s not in the same genre, anyway.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Getting positive comments on the short stories and flash fiction that I’ve written has encouraged me to try writing with strong themes, on a bigger scale.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Floosie the Husky-cross dog has a significant role in the story!

I’d like to tag a wonderful writer of historical fiction, Carol McGrath, who is hugely knowledgeable about the medieval period. She’s a great on-line friend, tweeting early in the mornings and her blog Scribbling in the Margins, provides posts from all over the world. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with Carol during a writing retreat in Cornwall and another which she hosted in Portugal. Carol is an attentive listener and when I share my writing, her feedback is erudite. She’s a great companion, story-teller and adventurer. I can’t wait to read her first novel, which she wrote while undertaking post-graduate studies at the Royal Holloway University. ‘The Handfasted Wife’ will be published in 2013.

 

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Find out which published author your writing style resembles

Thanks to a post on Emily Ann Shaffer’s blog, I spent a happy five-minutes being distracted by the I Write Like website.  All you have to do is paste a couple of paragraphs onto the page and by clicking a button, the website uses a statistical analysis tool that matches your writing style to that of a famous author.  I’m always struggling to think of which published authors my writing resembles so, in spite of my scepticism, I gave it a go. I was hoping to be matched with someone like Anne Tyler but the computer said no. The name it came up with was Chuck Palahniuk and as I’d never heard of him, I got back to my writing.

But Chuck’s name has stayed with me and I decided to have a look on the internet to find out more.  Wikipedia says he is best known for his award-winning novel Fight Club which was later made into a feature film earning him a cult following.  That leaves me none the wiser but I’ve just asked my sixteen-year-old son who’s playing a silly computer game next to me on the desktop and he tells me it’s a great film, one that made Brad Pitt famous and that the book is even better.

"FIGHT CLUB" is embossed on a pink bar of soap in the upper right. Below are head-and-shoulders portraits of Brad Pitt facing the viewer with a broad smile and wearing a red leather jacket over a decorative blue t-shirt, and Edward Norton in a white button-up shirt with a tie and the top button loosened. Norton's body faces right and his head faces the viewer with little expression. Below the portraits are the two actors' names, followed by "HELENA BONHAM CARTER" in smaller print. Above the portraits is "MISCHIEF. MAYHEM. SOAP."

Suitably informed, I’ve watched the Fight Club trailer on You Tube and will be reserving the book at the library.

I also checked out the official Chuck Palahniuk website, where I found a link to 13 writing tips from the author. Now this is more my thing, with advice including:

  • Get author book jacket photos taken now, while you’re young.  And get the negatives and copyright on those photos

And, more seriously, he talks about the three different types of dialogue:

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Interview with Harry Grenville, Kindertransportee

Harry Grenville

Following Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in November 1938, when German and Austrian Nazis smashed 7,500 Jewish stores, the British Jewish Refugee Committee appealed to members of Parliament to admit to England children up to the age of 17. This resettlement was known as Kindertransport and in less than a year, 10,000 Jewish children made the journey from Germany and went to foster families, orphanages or group homes.  This was how Dorchester resident, Harry Grenville, came to live in Camelford, North Cornwall with his sister in July 1939.

What was it like leaving your family and coming to Britain?

As a child, I wasn’t part of the discussion, but I knew a lot of Jewish families in Ludwigsburg were talking about leaving. Not that anyone believed there would be an extermination, but life was getting difficult and there was talk in the community about an ejection.  The plan was that my parents and grandparents would apply for an American visa and we would meet again in the United States.  But my grandfather died from ill health in 1940 and my parents and grandmother were taken to Theresienstadt camp in 1942.

For me, the move was a very quick cut-off and I rapidly became immersed in village life. My sister and I were the foster children of a professional family and we were sent to the grammar school in the small town. I knew a little English when we arrived. I’d been kicked out of the German school in 1936 and then attended the Jewish School in Stuttgart twelve miles away, where I received some English lessons.  I also took private lessons with an elderly American lady from Boston.  In Camelford, I acquired English rapidly, within a month I was familiar with the North Cornwall dialect. My sister and I were welcomed by the village. The youngest son of my foster parents introduced me to others as ‘their refugee’ and the Headmaster’s younger son took a great interest in me. I became absorbed into Cornish life and regarded it as my home but not all Kindertransportees were so fortunate.

 Were you able to keep in touch with your parents?

When the war started it was no longer possible to keep up contact with my family in Germany.  Some relatives passed on letters through Rotterdam and some distant relatives in Seville were able to communicate.  My father’s elder sister in New York also helped.  Through the International Red Cross we received 25-word letters, the last one came in 1944  saying they were leaving the camp for the east. There were no more letters after that. 

Theresienstadt wasn’t an extermination camp but a place where Jews from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary were sent.  There was terrible overcrowding and the conditions were poor. Later, most were sent to Auschwitz. When I went to the International Red Cross in Northumberland Avenue in late 1945, their names did not appear amongst the lists of survivors and our fears were confirmed.  

Were you able to grieve for your family?

Not at the time.  I was too busy working for the army. I’d kept up my knowledge of German when I lived in London and worked in a lab at Hammersmith Hospital.  At the time, the army was recruiting interpreters and although I wasn’t accepted into the Russian programme, I was able to train as a German interpreter.  It was a very intensive course and I studied alongside service people and girls who’d completed German A level. Eventually, I was appointed as an interpreter and worked with the administration of the German Prisoner of War camps. I met my wife while I was based in Cattistock and my last job was in Cheltenham.  As part of the work, we had to give the prisoners of war a political grading.  I met a couple of unrepentant Nazis, but 90% were non political and didn’t care.

I came close to a sense of personal sadness in 2009 when I was invited to Germany to see the stolpersteine (stumbling blocks) laid by Gunter Demnig in remembrance of my parents and grandmother.  These are cobblestone-sized memorials for victims of Nazism, set into the paving stones.  I was glad my three children accompanied me as it was very emotional, revisiting the town, the building where my father ran his wholesale business and the flat we lived in.

How do you feel about the continuing market for books and films about the Holocaust?

There’s a lot of literary output about the Nazi period and it’s right that children learn about this in school. I watched The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas on television and was deeply disturbed by that – the horror of it all. 

How has your personal history impacted on your sense of identity?

I was born Heinz Willy Greilsamer but I’ve been Harry Grenville for much longer.  I joined the British Army and later became a teacher of biology.  I am very much part of the British way of life.  I am happy to talk about my experiences, I certainly don’t hide anything.

Thank you very much Harry.

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Clever Titles

I love clever titles but because  copyright law means titles cannot be protected (except in the case of sequels, like Harry Potter) it can be confusing!   Take Lost in Translation which is the title of a Hollywood film and a delightful book by Eva Hoffman

Eva’s family survive the Holocaust by hiding in the Ukraine. When she’s 13, the family leave Cracow and emigrate to Canada where Eva learns about the importance of language and identity.  The autobiography is subtitled: A life in a new language, and one of my favourite references is where Eva describes words in English, the new language she learns, as being like pearls on her tongue. 

Of course there are similarities between the  film and the book, for example, the sense of isolation when living in a a new country. However, the film is set in Tokyo and follows the development of a relationship between the two main characters (played by Bill Murphy and Scarlett Johansson) making the film part comedy, part romance. 

Another clever title I like is Foreign Bodies with novels variously written by Amanda Craig, Cynthia Ozick and Candy Neubert (with another list of authors using the title Foreign Body).  My favourite title is I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings which is the  first volume of Maya Angelou‘s autobiography.  A clever title that is unlikely to be copied.

If you’re interested in entering a competition to work the name of a fruit into a spoof film title, please see Circalit to enter by Twitter.  Good luck!

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