Category — Books & Reading

Book Crush: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel 1

January 16, 2018

 

Days after reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and I am still thinking about it. But, I’ll be honest, its fantastical premise initially put me off.

 

“One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as The Travelling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.”

(from Knopf jacket copy)

 

So in Station Eleven we have: a near-future world in which electricity, oil, cities, law and borders no longer exist due to a pandemic that wiped out most of the world’s population, a travelling troupe comprised of Shakespearean actors and orchestra musicians, a prophet and science fiction comic books, all with multiple threads that lead back to a miserable celebrity / actor who, in the first chapter of the book, dies in the midst of performing King Lear. See what I mean? It’s a huge web of an idea.

[Read more →]

In: Books & Reading, From Hannah, Writing

Notes From a Writing Trip 3

November 22, 2017

Recently I got the chance to go away, as I have before, to write. Just write. (Well, maybe there was a wee bit of socializing. But not much.) I have a tight revision deadline for my latest novel, so any time I can grab to work on it, I take. And this time I had a whole weekend. 49 hours, actually. How amazing is that? Really–it’s not a rhetorical question. I’ll tell you how amazing it is:

It’s a silence-filled writing space amazing. It’s hours, back to back, to ponder the words on the page amazing. No interruptions accept for bathroom breaks that didn’t involve toilet training amazing. Just–it was sanctuary.

I took a few diary-esque notes while away, so here’s how it went.

 

 

12:41pm: Finally the ferry is leaving, late, from the berth. De-berthing? Am exhausted. Both kids were up early and I was up with them in the night for all the many reasons kids get parents up at 2am. Was going to start writing as soon as I sat down in the ferry, but am going to take a nap first.

2:14pm: Slept the entire ferry ride. No writing, but feeling more human. Now to catch buses.

 

 

3:45pm: Arrived at writing sanctuary, unpacked most important items (laptop, notes and reading material), brewed some tea and sat down. To write and write and write. This is JOY.

 

(Reading material…a bit optimistic, aren’t I?)

 

5:30pm: Meet a friend for dinner and writing talk. Love love love writing talk. And Thai curry.

7:00pm: Will now sit down to write until eyelids can no longer stay open. What started this afternoon as a shifting of a relationship between three characters is now more of a re-write of several major scenes throughout the story. Must remember not to get so excited about ‘developing’ relationships next time.

11:35pm: Eyelids heavy. Save changes. Brush teeth. Read a paragraph of Maya Angelou and pass out.

7:20am: Wake up refreshed, having slept through the night, feeling sure it must be at least 9am (with accompanying guilt at lost writing time). Nope. Have apparently lost the ability to sleep in.

8:00am: Finish breakfast of toast, tea and chocolate and reread last few pages of revisions from last night. Ugh. Fix things. Force myself not to go back to the beginning. Plough forward, into the mess. Make it better.

1:00pm: Shut laptop, get out of pyjamas (sigh) and ready to meet friend for tea and writing talk. Love love love writing talk. Afterward, walk around the streets a little and think about the lives of the people who live here. It’s not my neighbourhood, but it’s my hometown, so the familiarity is bittersweet. And bittersweet is the best kind of sweet.

 

 

4:00pm Arrive back at laptop and make a a deal: if I write for two hours, I can have ice cream for dinner.

6:00pm: Get a double scoop (cookies and cream and sticky toffee pudding) and know, to my bones, that this is the right dinner for me.

6:20pm: Change back into pyjamas, brew more tea. Sit down. Write until eyelids droop.

10:45pm: Can’t do any more. Brain overloaded. Must stop looking at words. Scroll through Instagram, fall asleep.

7:03am: Dammit! Even earlier than yesterday?!

7:35am: Tea for breakfast–not feeling the toast. Ice cream hangover? Look through only the last two pages of last night’s work. Any further back and I’ll fall into the rabbit hole of editing edits. Scribble thoughts on paper, stare into space, find the offending chapter, and GO.

 

 

11:46am: Starving. Must get lunch. Buy a wrap, scarf it down at the kitchen counter while cleaning old tea mugs and utensils. Pack bag with everything that isn’t my laptop and manuscript. Get everything ready to go, then sit down to write until my alarm says run for the bus!

3:50pm: The ferry is late leaving. Again. A wild Pacific storm is thrashing around us and the crossing will be slow. Find a carrel and set up the laptop for the last hour and a half of writing I can squeeze in. It’s not enough. I’ve made progress, but the vast majority of the book is still in need of work. I know now I’ll need way more time to revise than I will have. There’s so much work to do. It feels so good to do it, but there’s so much more. It’s exciting and scary at the same time.

Who knows where the time will come from–I might have to make it out of nothing. But this book is important, the story is valuable, and making it better is a sacred service to it. I have to find the time. Somehow.

XO

Ria

In: Books & Reading, From Ria, Travel, Writing

Secrets In The Garden 10

October 26, 2017

 

Okay folks, I can admit when I need help. And here I am, asking for it.

 

As you know, I am a parent who happens to really, really, really dig kids books. Recently I started reading “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett to my two eldest (seven & five years old). I loved this book as a child but couldn’t remember too many of the finer details, just that there was a beautiful, hidden garden, a boy that could communicate with animals and a whole lot of mystery and wonder. Okay, I mostly liked the garden. I was excited to find a new version that had been illustrated by Lauren Child because, well, I am besotted with her. The kids immediately loved the protagonist, Mary, and the drama right from the get-go, with Mary’s parents dying of cholera in India. It was all going pretty swimmingly until…. well… it all got – quite quickly – racist. I’m not all that keen on repeating some of the content in the book but it is blatantly, upsettingly, alarmingly racist and I gaped and couldn’t read it out loud. I was puzzled and shocked because I couldn’t recall those parts from when I was a child. The kids were already transfixed by the story and I needed to make a call. I’m a quick reader so I could read ahead and omit any racist terms, remarks and sections altogether; which is what I decided to do. Here’s probably the worst example, to help you understand what I am talking about…

 

[May I reiterate – I DO NOT condone the language or sentiment in this excerpt]

 

“Eh! I can see [India is] different,” [Martha] answered almost sympathetically. “I dare say it’s because there’s such a lot o’ blacks there instead o’ respectable white people. When I heard you was comin’ from India I thought you was a black too.”

Mary sat up in bed furious.

“What!” she said. “What! You thought I was a native. You—you daughter of a pig!”

Martha stared and looked hot.

“Who are you callin’ names?” she said. “You needn’t be so vexed. That’s not th’ way for a young lady to talk. I’ve nothin’ against th’ blacks. When you read about ’em in tracts they’re always very religious. You always read as a black’s a man an’ a brother. I’ve never seen a black an’ I was fair pleased to think I was goin’ to see one close. When I come in to light your fire this mornin’ I crep’ up to your bed an’ pulled th’ cover back careful to look at you. An’ there you was,” disappointedly, “no more black than me—for all you’re so yeller.”

Mary did not even try to control her rage and humiliation. “You thought I was a native! You dared! You don’t know anything about natives! They are not people—they’re servants who must salaam to you. You know nothing about India. You know nothing about anything!”

 

So, in the face of this and other similarly racist references – what should I have done? What would you do? What have you done?

 

This problem is not uncommon with classic literature – it’s old and our attitudes have shifted (hopefully). But, naively, I didn’t suspect one of my nostalgic childhood favourites to be harbouring such stuff. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who has had this alarming experience. Another great article, by writer Leigh Anderson, warns against buying nostalgic books (including The Secret Garden) from your own childhood and exploring new, more diverse children’s books to read with your kids. Where to find those kinds of books? Here’s a good place to start and here’s a good place to go after that.

 

In nutting out this problem I’ve certainly have discovered great resources for selecting better, more diverse and respectful books going forward, but right now I am still stuck in the garden with Mary, Dickon and the robin. What should I do? I’m going to confess – I’d like to keep reading the book because the kids are so interested but I’m just not so sure. Do you have any helpful experiences to share?

 

This parenting business is tricky business isn’t it? Raising a young human to be a good human? I’m going to take some comfort from this quote, taken from the pages of another children’s book:

 

“You must never feel badly about making mistakes … as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”

—The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

 

With gratitude,

Hannah

In: Books & Reading, From Hannah, Kids and Parenting

The Window They Give Us 5

June 22, 2017

It wasn’t hard to think of a subject to explore from A French Wedding because, while there are many I could chase down a rabbit hole (Pastries! Seaside villages! Lost loves!), there was one that whispered to me the whole read through: old friends. The people who knew you when, and know how you’ve changed. They hold a key to your development just by having witnessed its progression in a way you’ve never had access to. There’s something so disarming and vital about that.

 

 

Two thoughts came to mind as I read. One comes from Glennon Doyle, who signs many of her social media posts with We belong to each other. The other is from my grandmother: If only we could see ourselves as others see us.

The characters in A French Wedding are at that bittersweet moment when you’re staring at half your life behind you, wondering how you could have been that young person your friends remember. Rosie questions her choices in marriage, Max wonders why he’s waited so long to tell Helen how he feels, Juliette is bewildered by how she got to where she is, haunted by her past. In the course of the story, they all get parts of themselves refracted and bounced back to them by those closest to them—the people who have loved them for ages, listened and helped and infuriated. I kept thinking about this—the idea that we can’t be complete unless we are connected to others. And that if we could only see what others see in us, we might give ourselves a break, we might be able to still the demons of self-destruction or torment. All this sat with me after I finished the last page.

So I asked a few dear friends, women who’ve know me since I was just fledged, to reflect back to me their memories of how—and who—I’d been in my early twenties. And their responses were like a window into a forgotten part of me. A window with a completely familiar, but somehow shocking, view. Oh right. I was like that. Huh.

They said I was feisty, self-assured, driven. Spontaneous. Full of energy. Hardworking, in it 100%. Slightly obsessed with my hair.

 

 

I realized how long it’s been since anyone offered me adjectives about myself.

I am tired now. My spontaneity has been worn paper-thin by my little ones. My confidence comes and goes in tides. Sometimes there is no feistiness in my life except for Feist. So hearing this feedback is bittersweet—where has that young woman gone and how quietly did she disappear? But I’m so grateful to hold these descriptors up against my skin and see how they look, now that I’m here. They still work on me, I think, maybe with a little maneuvering.

Those dear friends and I, we belonged to each other then, and even though we are now separated by distance and busyness and the mind-traps of life, we still hold each other up. I’m so grateful to them for answering and sharing and pushing me forward.

And this is what A French Wedding stirs in me the most. Remembering who we were, helping others do the same, and stumbling along as pieces of ourselves grow and expand and slough off.  I’m so glad this story is out in the world; it’s reminded me to be grateful for the friends who make up my world. Thank you, Christina, Kirsti, and thank you, Hannah, for writing the words that inspired these thoughts.

 

XO

Ria

 

A French Wedding, published by Doubleday, launched June 6th in the U.S. and Canada. For the month of June we are  celebrating the themes of the book with posts about France, feasting, friendships and family.

 

To win two copies of the book – one for you and one for your favourite reading partner – go to the Fork & Fiction Instagram or Facebook page and don’t forget to tag a friend. Winners drawn and announced Sunday 25th June.

In: Books & Reading, From Ria, Writing

A French Wedding – She’s here! 4

June 7, 2017

Here at last, A French Wedding has hit the bookshelves in the U.S. and Canada. I had absolutely nothing to do with the beautiful cover so it’s not immodest of me to say “Isn’t she gorgeous?!” Don’t you just want to pull out a chair and join the scene, under the trees and the festoon lights?

 

 

I am hugely indebted to the team at Doubleday and Penguin Random House who not only made the cover gorgeous but helped make the contents shine as well. I have been so supported by Melissa Danaczko and Margo Shickmanter who are a dream duo to work with – wise, encouraging, funny and kind. Add to that all the copyeditors, proofreaders, typesetters, designers, supporters and cheerleaders who worked so very tirelessly – I really could not have wished for a better crew. I’m very grateful to Catherine Drayton, my agent with Inkwell Management, who played matchmaker and set us up (I’m underplaying it here, she does a great deal more but she does it with such competent, no-fuss grace that she makes it seem easy).

 

It requires a lot of work, from many people, to get a book onto shelves. I am so thankful for each and every person who played a role in getting A French Wedding to her readers. I’ve already had photographs of the book on shelves in Calgary and New York City. I love seeing where my books end up so please feel free to send me a snap via the contact form, Facebook or Instagram. Word is that A French Wedding makes a great companion for a summer holiday…

 

To celebrate A French Wedding and to get a copy onto your bookshelf I have two books from Doubleday to give away to U.S. / Canadian readers. It’s super simple. All you have to do is head to our Facebook page or Instagram page, like or follow and tag in your favourite book buddy in a comment. This novel is all about friends so don’t forget that last part – you could make someone very happy.

 

With love and thanks to all those who continue to make this writer’s dreams come true,

Bons baisers, 

Hannah x

 

P.S. For my dear New Zealand and Australian readers, who had A French Wedding, published by Pan Macmillan Australia well before their North American counterparts had their own version, thank you so much for all your support and apologies for any confusion. I’m going to try and figure out a personal giveaway for you folk, of this lovely edition with its gorgeous hardback cover, because, well, I love ya. So please stay tuned! x

In: Books & Reading, From Hannah, Writing