Monday, July 16, 2007

I'm wrong...apparently

While watching one of the evening entertainment mag shows on telly tonight, I was informed by Nancy O'Dell (I think that was her name) that Victoria "Posh" Beckham is definitely posh.

'How so?' You may be thinking.

Well, apparently her PR machine has leaked the following factoid (one of ten including she went on a pea diet) for, and no pun intended here, American consumption:

Victoria is posh because, as a kid, she was dropped off at school in a Rolls Royce...every day.

So the evidence is now before you America--straight from the horse's mouth, it seems. She is posh.

Was the school Roedean School, I'm now wondering. Hmmm. No. No, definitely don't think so.
And I wonder if Fergie, Duchess of York was driven to school in a Rolls Royce or a horse and trailer.

Another Factoid:

Son Brooklyn is called Brooklyn because he was conceived in Brooklyn. No Brooklynite worth their salt would consider Brooklyn posh.
(Related factoid--Son Cruise is called that because...have you guessed? Yes, because Tom Cruise is a friend. Why is he not called Tom, I wonder? Why the guy's surname?

I have just got up from the telly because Posh is now on doing her Coming to America stichk. She has just passed her LA driving test and told the driving test official handing her her documentation that she owns a Bentley--one wot the top comes down on.

Very nice. Very posh. Oh, unquestionably posh.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Mommy, who's Posh Spice?

I was watching the telly yesterday with some friends and they showed the arrival of David Beckham and Posh Spice at LAX. It's the official move state-side apparently. He's to play for a soccer team in L.A. and she will be on the telly next week (courtesy of NBC who hope they'll get a summer ratings lift because it's the silly season) showing America what it's like for her moving to the United States and her attempts to settle in, buy a house, apply for a driving license. Yet another reality show.

Apparently, they (NBC) must think their American audience is very gullible because it's supposed to be a reality show but they show her applying for a CA driver's license which means she has legal residency here already. No cliche was left unexplored because the promotional clip shows her asking if she can have her mugshot retaken for the driver's license. She pitches the show "Victoria Beckham, Coming to America" as a great opportunity to show America what the lives of the Beckhams is like. Judging from her remark, I guess America is definitely the target market. Get the picture? Pardon the pun. I imagine most of regular America will be indifferent. Some Americans will devour the pitched Hollywood glitz of course, but I'm not sure the ratings will be a high as "Fearfactor" unless she serves them worms and stink bugs for tea.

Judging by her accent, Posh is definitely not posh. (I'd never heard her talk until today.) It's not the enunciated, dulcet English vowels that Americans associate with 'cute British.' So that will undoubtedly disappoint. She admits she and her hubby have courted the press and want this to happen, but also states it's tough on the children.

If I hadn't had a publicity campaign for the launch of my novel a few years ago and learned about generating 'buzz,' I'd have been very impressed by the way the media and NBC are attempting to sell this couple to an American audience. Moreover, I believe "American Idol's" Simon Cowell is the magic wand. (Believe me, this campaign is costing millions not the mere thousands that my publishers spent on my book.)

It's amazing really. But all in all I think the whole things doomed. After all the Spice Girls are done. Posh doesn't even sing anymore. Her fifteen minutes are over as is the way of the world. Why Ginger Spice is now hawking salad dressing on an telly ad here--barely recognized by an American audience, I might add--and Posh is no Princess Diana despite the pretty couture. She's not even Sharon Osbourne, whom we love because she's warm and witty and bright. There's a rumor doing the rounds about a Spice Girls reunion tour, but there audience has moved on.

David is also being packaged but might have too many tattoos for mainstream America and he plays soccer which is not America's game. (I think that was a major mistake to feature his tattoos because they're not very artistic--a mish mash on his arms and something like a cross with wings on his back--not like the fantastic artwork you come across over here.) He made his inaugural appearance at the footie stadium today and it was hyped as only American media can do, but the background of an empty stadium did not help to convince us of the thousands and thousands in attendance. It was his loyal fans who attended. The rest of sports mad LA were getting ready the LA Dodgers game tonight.

But summer's boring so it'll be interesting to watch this circus via the entertainment shows. And no, I'm not going to watch Posh's show, which runs up against America's Got Talent--the irony, the irony--and Big Brother 8 or is it 9.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Insistent characters

A lot going on at the moment as I'm preparing to leave for Europe soon--Spain and Ireland. To top it all of, it's July 12, Orangeman's Day back in the old sod though of course I don't take part because I'm the other sort. Live and let live! New Northern Irish tourism slogan--or should be.

Editing started on Unusual Steps--the new novel--and the UK publisher has now emailed 12 edited chapters. As I read Scott's edits, it struck me that perhaps the Unusual Steps manuscript contains two novels (I'd thought this originally)as it's a long manuscript and alternates between three people's points of view. There's Marcus, the shy Irish chappie who moves to London in search of adventure, and Julia, a wellbred young English woman who's an immigration officer at Heathrow and hedonistic, and finally Tilly Hartley, a meddling widow. Oh, and by the way, Julia's lesbian.

I'd always conceived of this novel as a series from the beginning. It's kinda 'in' to write series now, right!!. Well, that's not the reason I'm doing it...not at all. It's just I love the characters and they have a lot to say. They're interesting and some are just downright eccentric and I'm having a lot of fun with them and, let's face it, writers should have a bit of fun with their creations when they labor alone in quiet studies and dens.

It's certainly a very different novel to Gabriel.

Anyway, both the editor and I chatted today after a few days of pondering--via Skype, which is the way to go if you're calling the UK because it's computer to computer and free--and we've decided its definitely the first two books in a series and I'm now going to pull the story apart and write Marcus's story. After I've done it, it'll be sent back to Scott who'll edit it.

It's a lot of work, especially since I've just emailed my agent the finished nonfiction manuscript of my first few years in America. After he and Lyndsey read it, they'll send me changes they recommend and that'll have to be reworked, too. But stories must be written the way they're intended to be written. No half measures allowed, not in my book. And besides, my characters refuse to allow me to tie them up in one big novel.

So all in all, it's going to be a busy, busy Fall.

Monday, July 09, 2007

A bit of reconnaissance

As it's a friend's birthday, we popped into a local strip mall that contains an amazing shop that makes homemade chocolates (that are as good as Belgian chockies though I believe the owners a frenchman) and an expensive day spa/hair stylist that boasts to its clients 'it's all about me' and then proceeds to define the definition of 'me' and 'pampering' on a parchment inside one of their front windows.

Not finding a parking space near the candy store, we parked in a bay belonging to said spa. Larry ran in to order the chockies and I remained in the car in case any of the irate owners came out and asked us to move. Two well-shod ladies came out--dripping in gold jewelry, matching fresh platinum blond hair tumbling over the nape of their Pierre Cardin scarves, wrinkled face skin, heavy blue eye shadow and blazing white teeth. They dropped their Gucci handbags into the leather back seat of the Mercedes, climbed aboard--the driver put on a pair of crimson spectacles--and off they rode for lunch.

A small red car with many dents zipped into the freshly vacant spot, the passenger door creaked open and a young teenage girl climbed out.

"You comin', Mum," she shouted when she got to the sidewalk opposite the spas entrance.

I was surprised.

"You go in," Mom shouted out the open window and she expunged her cigarette and flicked it onto the pavement. "I need to get decent."

The remark amused me endlessly. Mom was very jowly, very hefty and she had a mullet haircut--the sort of do some baseball players like--that made her rather mean of appearance.

"Shit Mom. Hurry up will ya'!"
"I said 'go on in' for chrissake. We're late already." She nodded at her daughter like an annoyed filly. "Go"

"Aw, shit, Mom." Her daughter disappeared.

With utmost care and discretion, I surveiled Mom. She brushed her mouse colored hair fiercely with a large brush, shook her head vigorously, then checked in the rearview mirror. Next came a potion of some sort, white, from a nubby stick, which was dabbed on the forehead, the fleshy cheeks, the chin, part of the neck. A fierce rubbing commenced during which she turned and saw my surveillance. I looked away instantly, raised a book I was holding and turned a page to give her the impression it was all in her imagination. Sidelong I checked, saw her continue to regard me for moments further, and then the rubbing of the potion continued again. A lipstick followed--color indeterminate--which was applied with a brush as one would varnish. Lips were smacked and checked in the mirror. The brush was taken in hand again and another spurt of vigorous grooming began again, this time followed with the bizarre act of raking heaps of her hair in between her small fingers and scattering them about her neck. Another check in the mirror seemed unsatisfactory because more desperate brushing continued until parts of her hair flew out due to static.

Her daughter put her head out the spa door and beckoned madly. Opening the door, Mom got out, seized her battered handbag, and slammed the door shut and walked away without locking the vehicle. All about me, indeed. Amazing what happens in a parking bay in front of a day spa/hair stylist.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Debut novel review and an author interview

As a rule I'm not a lover of novels that experiment with fonts and
grammar as a means of telling a story, perhaps because I'm a product of a rigorous Catholic school education where Latin, ancient Greek and the rules of English grammar are so inculcated (in my day with the aid of a leather strap) that one dares not stray or experiment even in adulthood. I'm also deeply suspicious of such experimentation because, more often than not, they're lazy gimmicks used in an attempt to gloss over flaws in the plot as opposed to flaws in the protagonist's character. But every now and then a work comes into my hands that does break all the rules magnificently and, as a result, rises above the fray of novels that do experiment so. Without question In Search of Adam by British debut author Caroline Smailes is one such novel.

(For the sake of full disclosure, I wish to state at this juncture that her publisher, The Friday Project, is the same publisher who will publish both A Son called Gabriel and my second novel, Unusual Steps.)

Set mainly in a gritty, working-class council housing estate (project in the US) in Newcastle, a coal producing city in the North of England, the child protagonist, Jude Williams, happens upon her mother who has just committed suicide and left a cryptic note bearing the words "Jude, I have gone in search of adam. I love you baby." What begins from that instant onward is the end of innocence for Jude and the commencement of a search for her mother and the meaning of life amid harsh circumstances.

A quiet, courageous novel, the author in simple direct prose--occasionally seasoned with Newcastle dialect in order to present and anchor the setting--unflinchingly and with admirable skill tackles huge universal themes including sexual abuse, parental dysfunction, bulimia (as Jude grows older) and the loneliness of childhood. In less accomplished hands, these themes would result merely in the reader journeying through the terrain of a dark novel landscaped only by ominous hillocks of pain and ponds of sadness; in Smailes hands however, while pain and sadness is certainly present, we are engulfed in the swirling current of the story so abruptly and powerfully that within twenty pages we already love and feel so protective of the protagonist that we'll follow her anywhere--a feat made all the more remarkable in that the protagonist does not speak a great deal throughout the work and yet we get to know her as intimately as we would a family member.

Moreover, Smailes does not resort to the trick of presenting us with a perfectly formed, unblemished and blameless protagonist to admire and cherish. Jude has flaws that exacerbate her situation, flaws that include silence, a terrible failure to tell her secrets at critical moments--understandable when she is a child but perhaps less so as she matures--and promiscuity in late adolescence. It is these flaws that are the essential keys to our growing understanding and sympathy.

One aspect of the novel that struck me particularly was Jude's observations during a street party to celebrate the wedding of Charles and Diana and the author's juxtaposition of dualing scenes of extreme happiness and danger. To many Brits, this is a moment of time that's permanently frozen within their cores and they remember exactly where they were on that day in exactly the same way that Kennedy's assassination is frozen in the American psyche. A very interesting interplay in the novel arises in the "Thoughts" section of the book. As the author begins to answer questions posed by an unknown interviewer, Jude intrudes and begins to speak her mind much more forthrightly than she has done throughout the story, even to the point of teasing the author and it's endearing. My only quibble, though it is a minor quibble, is that the fate of the molester during her childhood is left unresolved and I would have liked some kind of confrontation by Jude; but then I imagine the author is mirroring reality where the vast majority of these situations remain unresolved.

Kudos to Caroline Smailes for writing such an accomplished and insightful debut novel. It deserves a worldwide audience and I hope it gets it.

Author interview:

Caroline, thanks for stopping by to talk about your novel. I should have bought a couple of bottles of Newcastle brown ale that's available here in the US as a treat to myself.

CS: Thank you so much for inviting me.

DMN: I read on your blog that you felt compelled to write this novel,which reads so true-to-life it's as if it is nonfiction. What prompted you to write In Search of Adam and desire its publication?

CS: I started writing /In Search of Adam/ after having a miscarriage.The writing gave me an outlet to express the emotions that I was experiencing. I didn’t realise at that time that the story would continue to unfold. That initial part is still within the novel. I didn’t actually get around to seeking publication. I finished the final draft in August 2006, and then I launched my website and blog. I was beginning to write a list of possible agents to send the manuscript to, I’d managed to pull together a synopsis and a cover letter. Then, within 3 weeks of starting blogging, Clare Christian (an aside: Clare Christian is MD of The Friday Project and recipient of the 2007 UK Young Publisher of the Year Nibble) emailed me and requested the manuscript.

DMN: Who is Jude Williams and why did you decide to set your story in a council housing estate (project in the US)?

CS: Jude Williams is a little girl who lived and grew inside of my head. She lived inside of me for the 18 months that it took to write/ In Search of Adam/. I still have days when I am writing and I hear her voice, so I guess that Jude is now part of me. The setting of the story is very familiar to me. I grew up in a similar estate on the North East coast of England. I wanted a strong sense of place to emerge through the surroundings, place names and dialect, and so the setting emerged as Jude grew as a character.

DMN: How did you research the book?

CS: Unfortunately, In Search of Adam was not difficult to research. My research stemmed from extensive reading. We exist within a society where abuse is common place and is now documented within books and online. The accepted evidence of abuse, neglect, self harm and eating disorders are easily accessible for those who wish to look. I also referred to my own diaries as part of my research and I have acknowledged that some of the events within /In Search of Adam/ stem from personal experience.The researching was not difficult, but the findings often left me devastated.

DMN: How long did the writing process take?

CS: It took me 18 months from start to finish. I enrolled on an MA in Creative writing 5 months after my miscarriage and this ensured that /In Search of Adam/ became a priority in my life. Until I enrolled, I was juggling writing with motherhood and work. By studying, I was forced to meet deadlines and became less precious about my work. I am sure that this hurried the writing process along.

DMN: You have taken on some very large themes--sexual abuse, family dysfunction, abandonment, mental illness--in your novel and successfully treated them as if you have been writing for a long time and been much published. Were you nervous as to how your book would be received upon

CS: Thank you for your kind words. I have to admit that prior to publication. I was terrified. I had sleepless nights and was full of panic. I think people were expecting me to be ecstatic that I had been published, but inside I was terrified of reaction. Receiving praise from professionals, from others who understood Jude’s very core and from general readers has touched me beyond words. I set out to present an authentic journey of a young girl growing within an abusive and neglectful environment. I realised early on that I had a duty to present
as authentic a portrayal as possible and some of the reactions that I have had have overwhelmed me. I never expected to receive as much support as I have.

DMN: I am intrigued by the way you experimented with format and fonts in the book? How did you come to use this in your first novel?

CS: I teach linguistics and I have always been intrigued by the representation of spoken language. The different fonts were used to
indicate altered voice and mood. The first person child’s voice of Jude Williams had restrictions. I could only describe her world through her eyes and with her sounds, so the limitations of her language were expressed through altered fonts and variation in grammatical constructions. I wanted to give the words life and breath on the page. I wanted the words to speak and have a unique voice depending on Jude’s mood. I wanted the words to be given a creative expression beyond the surface meaning, so I experimented with format and fonts to add a depth that could not be obtained through standard presentation.

I see you are busy with your next novel. Can you tell us a little about that?

CS: During the countdown to publication of /In Search of Adam /a writer told me to focus on my next book. He said that it would keep me grounded. Those wise words stayed with me and guided me. I am currently on the second draft of /Black Boxes/. The story unravels through two very dissimilar voices and stories, as the reader is presented with the evidence that is left after a breakdown in communication. The story is in two parts and the clues that are held within two black boxes are presented after a mother and daughter’s relationship has crashed. I hope to have completed the final draft by the end of the summer.

DMN: Your novel is not yet published in the US. How can interested readers acquire a copy?

CS: Unfortunately, the rights to/ In Search of Adam/ haven’t been sold into the US yet, but the novel can be found in a number of ways. There is of course Amazon, or there are limited edition copies available direct from my publisher The Friday Project, or there are a series of travelling /In Search of Adam/ copies journeying around the world. One blogger has started a forum where readers cover postage costs and In /Search of Adam/ is travelling. I know that one copy is currently in Australia. All details can be found on the sidebar of my blog.

Caroline, I wish you much success with In Search of Adam and your next work.

Thank you.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Sipping life's nectar--a jolly evening with friends

Last night Larry, as a pre-independence Day sort of thing, Larry and I entertained L&L, Lynne's birth mother Joyce who was down from Connecticut and whom we love to bits, her friend Barbara from Staten Island, and Paula and Maddie--hereinafter to be known as P&M--from Long Island. All arrived in one enormous SUV, which Maddie (sporting an elegant new Susie Quattro-ish hairdo) handled with admirable expertise though Paula was playing Cinderella because I had to 'lock her' into the trunk when they left for home.

It's amazing how one experiences the countryside though another's eyes on occasions because P, Larry and I were standing outside on the steps peering into the bossoms of the trees (the snort of M's SUV audible in the background as she was executing said admirable maneuvers) and P remarked how breathtaking beautiful the area where the house is situate is--the tall trees with their sprawling canopies, the intermittent flicker of a million fireflies within them, the glow of the lilies in the flowerbeds, and the absolute silence.

"Good night," I said, after I'd walked her to the garden gate.
"Not yet. You have to lock me in the trunk."
Hahahaha. "Good night."
"I'm serious," she said.
I looked over at the SUV, at M who had both hands poised on the wheel and smiling over at us, at L&L, Joyce and Barbara nattering and laughing within because much vino had been consumed by all. I looked at the back door of the SUV, its window pane at an angle toward the sky as if waiting for the sun to rise. P, petite and very suntanned, skipped over, leaped inside and crouched, awaiting me to perform my duty.
I slammed down the trunk door and M did another quick maneuver (just to show me she could) and I waved as they sped past, the sound of laughter piercing the silence, though wasn't sure if Paula could see me. (Paula's beloved horse had to be put to sleep a few weeks ago, so I hoped especially that she'd enjoyed the evening.)

An enjoyable evening of rigorous conversation. One that touched on a myriad of subjects from Hillary and Obama that got a wee bit hot and sent P fleeing to Larry who was busy in the kitchen because some of the guests asserted testily that Hillary can never win and Obama was inexperienced, through the arrival of the latest Harry Potter novel in shrink wrapped crates at Lee's Borders store in NJ with an order written on their sides that they weren't to be opened until 12.01 on the day of the launch or there'd be consequences, and finally illegal immigration. Regards the latter, the discussion was whether foreigners should be compelled to speak English in the US. Everyone agreed they should. To everyone's astonishment, Barbara (who's studying Hebrew in NYC because she wants to read the Torah in its pure form and interpret it herself and not depend on a third party's interpretation) informed us that there's a part of Brooklyn where the road signs are only found in Russian.

Wishing everyone everywhere a great Independence Day. Now how does that go in Russian!!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Mommy Doe and the triplets

We decided to go to the shore for some R&R last weekend so we headed to Rehoboth in Delaware to stay with friends who have a condo there. Weather was disappointingly overcast though thankfully not as humid and brutally hot as we had last week in Pennsylvania. We were hoping to catch the spectacular fireworks display that the town lays on (from a barge on the ocean) and learned that this year it will take place on the actual July 4th--Independence Day falling on a Wednesday this year--as opposed to the weekend as they've done in previous years.

We did, however, eat delicious crabcakes (they were the size and shape of navel oranges) in a restaurant that is actually an old ship in the pretty nearby historic town of Lewes.

On our return, I chanced to look out our driveway and saw the doe and triplets who've made our grounds their exclusive territory. She's extremely vigilant, hears the slightest noise and senses the tiniest movement and begins to drum her hoof into the ground and flash her white tail to warn her babies. It's comical watching them dash into the underbrush--sometimes tumbling over one another--while she heads in another direction to distract the predator. Nature is truly amazing.

The fawns are still skittish so these photos were taken from a bit of a distance and you can't really see the clouds of white spots on their bodies. I will try again when they're more accustomed to humans.