Monthly Archives: August 2012

Ben Okri at Bath Library

Yardstick is proud to present the highly acclaimed novelist, short-story writer and poet Ben Okri. He is often described as one of Africa’s greatest writers. Okri’s best known work, The Famished Road, was awarded the 1991 Booker Prize. He has also won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa and the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Ben will be talking about his work and life as a writer.

Tickets are still available- Early bird £4 or on the door £6 (Cash only)

Yardstick presents
An Evening with Ben Okri
Wednesday, September 5, 8pm to 9pm
Bath Central Library
19 – 23 The Podium
Bath
BA1 5AN

Call to reserve your ticket on 01225 394041 or book online via Eventbrite (subject to booking fee) http://benokri.eventbrite.co.uk/

Scones recipe

Here’s my tribute to the Great British Bake Off which is back on the telly, my attempt at Mary Berry’s scones recipe.

These are the ingredients you will need:

450g (1lb) self-raising flour
2 rounded tsp baking powder
75g (3oz) butter
50g (2oz) caster sugar
2 large eggs
about 225ml (8fl oz) milk
To serve
raspberry jam
clotted cream or double cream, whipped
Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7. Lightly grease two baking-sheets.

For the instructions visit the website so I don’t infringe any copyright by just taking Mary Berry’s work. Briefly:

It doesn’t take much – rub the butter into the flour; mix in the sugar; top up the two eggs with milk until you get to 300ml and then mix.

Roll out on to a floured surface and cut with a round shape. Push round cutter in and then pull out, don’t twist.

Bake for 10-15 minutes.

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Publishing on Amazon Kindle

I have just added Ephemeral Digest to Amazon Kindle and will post a link once it’s available. For the moment the blog addition is pending approval but no matter the outcome, I thought other people may be interested in adding their own blogs.

You can add your site to Kindle Publishing via its RSS feed and Amazon will pay you for every subscriber that adds your feed. This is available to UK and US bloggers for now and the process of addition is very simple. See the following post.

You need to add a blog masthead:

And a blog screenshot:

Then add a few words describing the blog, provide your address and details. If you are a UK blogger you specify that you get paid by check (sic) rather than via bank account and it’s done.

My addition is not for profit but out of curiousity and for purposes of finding a way to reach a different audience. I can imagine that other bloggers with a high volume of output like my friend Judith (Leeswammes) would have an appreciative audience if they made their content available in such a structured way.

To start using Amazon Kindle Publishing for Blogs, visit the link below:

https://kindlepublishing.amazon.com

The heartbreak of shoo

Little M is 18-months-old now and has recently acquired, developed, discovered a few more words.

She has new o and oo words. Hel-lo with the second syllable about an octave lower; twoo as in the number two; and shoo as in shoes, as in ‘Mersina, where are your shoes?’ as in we need to put your shoes on before we go out.

She knows that shoes mean going out. For months now she has brought my shoes to me, has brought her cardigan and her little backpack so I can put them on her and she then gets excited because she believes we are going out.*

Last night around 10pm she was failing to fall asleep and she rushed off to find her cardigan, the one her dad calls a rainbow jumper but is neither rainbow coloured nor is it a jumper.

She then proclaimed ‘shoo’ and rushed off to the door. She picked up my trainers and brought them to me.

Shoo!

No, it’s late we have to go to sleep.

She picks up the shoes from where I put them down and holds them out again.

Shoo!

The shoes go back on the floor and she picks them up and takes them to the edge of the bed where we sometimes sit to put her shoes on.

No. No shoes. No going out.

Utter heartbreak.

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*Little M has not yet learned that correlation does not equal causation. (“The heartbreak of correlation does not mean causation” was an alternative title possibility.)

Lions

Yesterday, for the first time, Mersina got scared at something on television. She was watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and there was a lion being carried around. It was a toy lion but another character had a speaker which amplified the roar.

ROAR.

ROAR.

ROAR.

Went the lion and Mersina came rushing up with a gasp and an Ah! for a cuddle.

A Million Little Pieces, James Frey

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey is an autobiographical piece about Frey’s drug addictions. Alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, crack, glue, gasoline, you name it, he did it and he writes about recovering from it.

The story starts with Frey waking up on a plane with four broken front teeth, a hole in his cheek, eyes swollen, nose broken and no memory of the last two weeks. From there we follow as he proceeds with recovery and slowly details how he came to be where he is.

There is a strange style to the writing which first niggles and then becomes addictive. Repetition and an idiosyncratic style of punctuation serve to illustrate compulsion which eventually works very well.

One of the most memorable scenes is a trip to the dentist which because of Frey’s status as a patient in recovery, means that he has two teeth capped, one cavity fixed and two root canals and a bridge fitted without anesthetic. He describes it a in detail.

The story is set almost entirely in a drug rehabilitation centre and it reminded me of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in the way that someone eating at a burger joint thinks back to their last meal at a Michelin starred restaurant. Both experiences are of food but whereas one inspires and uplifts, the other satisfies a need.

The book is ok, in fact it’s quite an experience and just writing it must have been an impressive achievement all on its own. The protagonist Frey does things his own way and refuses to follow the AA 12-steps program and maybe because he’s his own narrator the praise he receives for being stubborn and for doing things his own way sounds a little hmm… Oh James, they seem to chuckle, you are so stubborn and yet you have shown us that you can do it so we begrudgingly admire you. You impress us. His responses are usually heartfelt, sincere and intimately thoughtful.

Have you seen that Simpsons’ episode where Homer gets drunk at a dinner party at his own house and pictures himself to be sophisticated and intelligent while a scene later shows him to be foolish and embarrassing. The former part is how Fey writes himself. There is no other version and that’s a shame.

This isn’t literature but the style is fascinating. I liked it and I’m glad I read it.

3.5 / 5

Anecdotes

Anecdotes – so I don’t forget

Tuesday – August 7, 2012
First thing in the morning: I put Mersina in her high chair and we both sat down to breakfast. I had my coffee, she had her juice, we both had scrambled eggs and we were sharing baby-friendly Heinz biscotti.

I dipped my biscotti in my coffee and she leaned forward and indicated for me to bring my coffee cup closer so she could dip her biscuit too.

Saturday – August 11, 2012
She starts to say hel-lo in addition to her usual hiya.

Sunday – August 12, 2012
Mersina did lots of dancing to the Olympics closing ceremony

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Voom voom

Mersina picked up her blue Happyland toy car, today, ran it across the top of the unit, on which the TV rests, and made the noise voom voom, voom voom. It’s the first time I’ve heard her do it.

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The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides

I came to Jeffrey Eugenides’ Marriage Plot somewhat disappointed with his previous novel Middlesex which no matter how brilliantly it was written, promised one thing and then failed to deliver.

It has to do with his style of writing, I suppose. Eugenides writes backwards. He presents a beautifully written scene, a believable and slightly perfectly flawed character or two, and then adds the depth and the detail through a lot of backstory but it’s all written so well that it’s hard to tell where the cracks in time appear.

In The Marriage Plot, one third of the book had gone by before I realised we were still only on the first day which is where we started. Madeline, one of our protagonists, wakes up a lot worse for wear on her graduation day, from Brown University, with her parents ringing the doorbell so as to take her out for a celebratory breakfast.

She has broken up with her boyfriend Leonard and outside the cafe, in which she and her parents end up, sits her friend Mitchell Grammaticus, who is no longer her friend but he pretends for a while to please her parents. These are the main characters and this is the starting point. We find out how they got here and where they end up.

Leonard is enigmatic, charismatic and all set to be a research fellow over summer. Madeline is not sure what to do next but is investigating the marriage plot, what happens to women after marriage, in Victorian fiction and Mitchell is trying to find some sort of religious truth which will give his life some meaning.

The time is the early 1980s but luckily Eugenides does not use this as an opportunity to revisit pop culture. The timing, instead, is useful as a backdrop to social conditions and it’s almost a bit of a shock how much feminism has changed the way we live in just three decades. Of course, these characters have parents who were raised in the 50s and 60s.

The role of women in society at that time, did not occur to me as a theme but in hindsight I can see how it works really well. There are many layers and even the unsympathetic parts are ultimately wrapped in compassion by the time we get through them.

Eugenides delivers on every single count in this book and has created a rather wonderful story which is possibly the best thing I will read in 2012.

5/5

A brief history of mothers in fiction, Carrie Dunn


A brief history of mothers in fiction: The marvelous, the mean and everything in between by Carrie Dunn. Published by Crooked Rib publishing which is one woman, feminist Sian Norris who is based in Bristol. This collection began life as blog posts and if you want to critique, disagree or comment you can go to the How To Be A Daughter website at www.daughtersnet.com.

To my mind, there is something quite clever about examining the role of mothers in books throughout the years, decades, centuries. It’s like the scene in Austin Powers where we segue to the henchman’s family and friends waiting for him. No one thinks about the henchman, we are told. In that same vein, does anyone think about the mothers?

Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t apparently. The role of mothering is not consistent and as Dunn starts from Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare c1594, detours via Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables to the more recent Tony Parsons, Marian Keyes and Nick Hornby we are introduced to varying roles of mothers.

But to what purpose? There aren’t enough examples to allow a pronouncement about any particular time period even though she writes “Romeo and Juliet is also a tragedy about loss, bereavement and parenting. The fact that this element is often overlooked is indicative of the way the parent-child relationship is neglected by critics, writers and readers.”

You only have to look at Hamlet (Google, 11,700,000 search results) and King Lear (Google, 99,800 search results) by the same author to realize that this isn’t true.

Nevertheless, there is a useful point about Juliet’s mother – namely that she was probably only 27-28 years old herself and had probably gone through the same experience as her daughter at being married off to an older richer man. She also suffered the loss of her only child. This is a great example with which to start the book because for one, it points out a rather sad redundancy to women as mothers when it comes to love. This is the time when a child looks away from the parent to fulfil his or her sense of being whole. I hate the term ‘other half’ but here we have a great example of a mother’s influence disappearing and the new loved one being drafted in as adviser and measure.

Some case studies were familiar to me while others are a little more obscure and needed more explanation. A summary of the story was infrequently included in the commentary. Dunn made a lot of assumptions about her readers’ knowledge: the plots, mothering stereotypes, literature critiques, and other narrative styles. I would have liked to have seen this fleshed out a bit more. Often she was answering a criticism, about a character, that she neither explained nor referenced which is a huge shame as I would have enjoyed the greater depth.

In the more modern section about mothers, Dunn writes about Tony Parsons’ work being considered a breakthrough novel, I have no idea to what she is referring. When she writes about Anne Shirley Blythe (better known as Anne of Green Gables) as a mother, she neglects to mention the whole series of literature that Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote and based around Anne herself. She is more than a mother and more detail would have added a lot to our understanding of both Anne and motherhood. Maybe even Montgomery.

This is a clever idea and Dunn makes it look deceptively simple. There must have been a lot of work that went into doing these 20 case studies. However, the limited number of stories and examples of motherhood leave me not only wanting a lot more but wanting it a bit more structured and a bit more meaningful.

Why are we reading about these mothers? What does our new understanding add to our understanding of what it means to be / have a mother? The colloquialisms, particularly the sarcasm, which work well on casual publishing formats such as blogs could maybe be augmented to thoughtful questions and insights which involve the reader.

This is a great idea and the writing is at times a pleasure to dip into but it still feels rough around the edges and too short. Hopefully we will be treated to more at some point in the future.

3/5
A Brief History of Mothers in Fiction