Need a good title? Try Shakespeare..

Everyone else does, apparently, especially crime novelists. I wonder if it’s because so many of Shakespeare’s expressions sound sinister these days. Maybe it’s because there’s so much death in his plays, most of it violent. But I’m sure you can recognize a Shakespeare title without thinking twice. When I search just for Murder Most Foul on Goodreads, I gave up counting after I got to 38 books.

Here’s an article by Moira Redmond of Clothes in Books, published in the Guardian this week. And she’s only restricted herself to titles from Hamlet, so heaven knows how many others there are. All suggestions welcome.

If you’d like to read more about Moira’s blog, see my previous entry about her.

Neil Gaiman explains why we need libraries

Neil GaimanOn October 14, Neil Gaiman gave a lecture for the Reading Agency, at the Barbican in London. Neil Gaiman is the author of over 30 books, mostly fiction, including many for children and graphic novels. The Reading Agency’s annual lecture series was initiated in 2012 as a platform for leading writers and thinkers to share original, challenging ideas about reading and libraries, and The Guardian reprinted an abridged version of the talk. You can read the whole thing here, but there are a few sentences that stood out for me;

I want to talk about what reading does. What it’s good for.

I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.

It’s not one to one: you can’t say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations…

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them…

The second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.

Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals…

Get a Clue!

I already knew that crime actually does pay, if you’re a crime writer, that is. But I had no idea how widespread the fascination is, until I read a recent (July 19) article by Louise Millar, one of the Guardian’s reporters, in which she picks some of the best crime-writing festivals. They are held in places as far flung as Reykjavik, Munich, Oslo, Bristol and New York. If you’re a crime fiction fan, and would like to meet your favorite authors, here’s a way to do it.

The best crime writing festivals around the world

Whether you’re a fan of Scandi dramas or planning to pen your own thriller, add a twist to a city break at a crime-writing festival. The hunger for Scandi TV and fiction has sparked a new interest in crime festivals (as perhaps will JK Rowling’s foray into the genre with Cuckoo’s Calling). No longer solely the domain of die-hard thriller fans, these events are increasingly offering everything from live music and food stalls to film screenings and tie-in tours. If you want the thrill of seeing your favourite crime author in the flesh on a city break, here’s our round-up of the best crime-writing festivals around the world.

(The first on the list was in Harrogate, England, but it’s just finished, so I’ve left it out. GC)

Stirling: Bloody Scotland, 13-15 September 2013

A stunning setting is part of the appeal of Scotland’s crime festival, with views over Stirling Castle and the Forth valley. At the Stirling Highland Hotel this year, you can meet lots of Scottish crime writers, including Denise Mina, Louise Welsh and Stuart MacBride, alongside Jo Nesbø, Lee Child and many more well-known authors. As with Harrogate, events are individually priced (from £7), leaving you time to explore the medieval city. For an extra thrill, attend the festival dinner to hear the live announcement of the Scottish Crime Book of the Year.

The book to read: Cold Grave by Craig Robertson (Simon and Schuster, £6.99) follows DS Rachel Narey’s investigations into a 20-year-old cold case that haunts her retired detective father, that of a young woman who disappeared after walking across the frozen Lake of Menteith in winter.

Take a local literary crime tour: Follow in the footsteps of Ian Rankin’s DI John Rebus in Edinburgh. The guided tour starts at the Royal Oak Pub on Infirmary Street on Saturdays, 12-2pm, £10, (The tours will be running every day during Edinburgh Festival.)

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Why we need to invent new words

Andrew Kaufmann of the Guardian newspaper in London has an interesting POV. He thinks that instead of criticizing new words in the language and trying to squash them, we should be welcoming and even encouraging them.  He has a point. There’s nothing more aging than constantly saying “why can’t people talk properly, the way they did in my day?” Stephen Fry reminds us that if that attitude had prevailed, we’d all still be speaking Shakespearean English. Whereas, with the evolution of language, we can use the many words Shakespeare invented and enrich the language with new ones. Here’s the beginning of Andrew Kaufmann’s article:

Why we need to invent new words

Don’t let the dictionary define what you say. Make up your own words. Here are rules you need to follow

'What a cidiot!' Country folk know how to handle snow, unlike this urban driver. Photograph: Philippe Huguen

‘What a cidiot!’ Country folk know how to handle snow, unlike this urban driver. Photograph: Philippe Huguen

Do not be afraid to make up your own words. English teachers, dictionary publishers and that uptight guy two cubicles over who always complains about the microwave being dirty, they will all tell you that you can’t. They will bring out the dictionary and show you that the word isn’t there – therefore it doesn’t exist. Don’t fall for this. The people who love dictionaries like to present these massive tomes as an unquestionable authority, just slightly less than holy. But they’re not. A dictionary is just a book, a product, no different from Fifty Shades of Grey and only slightly better written. But you must be careful. Every new word must be crafted. It has to have a purpose, a need. A new word cannot be created with a fisted bash to a keyboard. Like every other word in the language, your new word should be a mashup of pre-existing words. You can steal bits from Latin and German, like everybody else did. Or you can use contemporary English in a new way. But you must capture something that already exists, which for whatever reason has been linguistically mismanaged. Here is an example:

Blursing: noun

When an event, gift, or circumstance presents qualities and consequences that are simultaneously positive and negative: Jenny was made partner but it was a blursing because her hours were so long that her husband left her.

Why not just say “curse and blessing”? Well, for one thing that is cumbersome. But more importantly, something that is both a curse and a blessing is different from a blursing.

And he’s got more words (cidiot, oprahcide, and bironical among others) in the rest of the article. Read it here.

Twitterature – how to write a novel in 140 characters

A while ago, I mentioned the Guardian’s requests to various novelists to write a novel as a Tweet. I believe I called it Twitfic, but it’s also known as Twitterature and my friend Sally Allen has some great pointers on how to do it yourself. If you can manage it, it’s a great way to get your skill as a writer showcased on Twitter. Sally is the editor/owner of Hamlet Hub Westport, a local online newspaper/magazine, and writes a regular Tuesday column about books. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Here’s the beginning of her piece:

Photo by Anthony Karge

Every sentence tells a micro-story. We have an actor (the subject) who does something (the verb) and then consequences ensue (all the other stuff, like objects and direct objects and all kinds of phrases and clauses). We can be spare in our telling (“Run!”) or embellish the story with details (“As the tornado bore down on us with alarming speed, Bonnie hollered, “Run!”).

This is how I explained the structure of the English sentence to my English-as-a-second-language students back when I was a graduate writing instructor. I thought I was a grammar geek, the kind of grammar geek who finds sentence diagramming relaxing, but my students put me to shame with their awe-inspiring ability to recite the rules of English grammar. I mean, their textbook knowledge was impeccable. So I was rather surprised to discover that knowing the rules did not mean they could implement them (I was young and foolish, I suppose).

To address this, my students and I took things vertical, making lists of all the people, places, and things that could do something (potential subjects), lists of all the actions they might take (potential verbs), lists of everything else going on in that moment (the other stuff). From there, we would painstakingly construct sentences simple and complex (and sometimes compound-complex).

And this was also how we began to think of every sentence as telling a story, with a beginning, middle, and end, and even, possibly, an Aristotelian dramatic arc.

This, by the way, was all before Twitter existed. But Twitter would have been an interesting case study for the study of the sentence—140 characters to do and say something interesting? Quite the fun challenge!

Just about anything you can dream of has a Twitter handle—Salman Rushdie’s tree, Paul Ryan’s bicep, a llama in Easton, cats and dogs all across the country, more inanimate objects that I can possibly account for here.

But for book lovers, the social media site is also exploding with literary diversions. Oh, and also? “Twitterature” is a thing.

So here are 4 ways for book lovers to geek out, literature style, on Twitter:

Read on here

TwitFic via the Guardian – 21 authors try their hand at 140-character novels

Last Friday, the Guardian published this great inspiration for those of us with writer’s block. Even blocked, surely you can write a 140 character story, right? here’s the beginning of the article. You can see the whole thing here.

We challenged well-known writers – from Ian Rankin and Helen Fielding to Jeffrey Archer and Jilly Cooper – to come up with a story of up to 140 characters. This is their stab at Twitter fiction

Twitter View larger picture

. Illustration: Kelly Dyson

Geoff Dyer

I know I said that if I lived to 100 I’d not regret what happened last night. But I woke up this morning and a century had passed. Sorry.

James Meek

He said he was leaving her. “But I love you,” she said. “I know,” he said. “Thanks. It’s what gave me the strength to love somebody else.”

Jackie Collins

She smiled, he smiled back, it was lust at first sight, but then she discovered he was married, too bad it couldn’t go anywhere.

Ian Rankin

I opened the door to our flat and you were standing there, cleaver raised. Somehow you’d found out about the photos. My jaw hit the floor.

For David Lodge, Sophie Hannah, Helen Fielding and more click here

Designing a bookish tour of Britain? No problem.

I can’t help myself. I love maps that tell me where the best literary events, or sites or bookstores are. I own the Atlas of Literature, which covers the world and is great for browsing, but it doesn’t keep me up to date. So I was thrilled to see that the British newspaper, The Guardian, has designed an interactive literary map of Britain. The reason it’s interactive is that you’re free to add events you know of, and, I suppose, literary sites you feel might be missing.

You can add reviews of your favorite bookshops, which I’m sure is encouraging people to visit the independent bookstores of Britain (although the chain stores are listed too, in case you need a book right away…).

The London section has reminded me of all the writers’ houses I’d like to visit: Orwell, Keats, Karl Marx (his house is now the Quo Vadis restaurant) and more. There are literary festivals, book readings, poetry evenings listed from Aberdeen in the North of Scotland, to Exeter in the Southwest of England, to Ireland and Wales.

If you’re one of my British readers you may already be using the map. For those elsewhere, it’s a great way to plan your next trip to Britain. Here it is!

By the way, it’s sponsored in part by the National Book Tokens, a terrific British way of giving someone a book but letting them choose it themselves. The tokens (we’d call them vouchers in the US) are redeemable at any bookstore, but only for books. So you know that your gift will be used for a book, and not some other piece of merchandise. You can give someone a Barnes and Noble or Amazon voucher here in the US, but you never know what the recipient will buy with it. Ah well. Enough of my pet peeves. Time to make plans for my next trip.

Sailing above London in a boat of your own

What’s wrong with this picture? Could it be that there’s a boat perched on – not to say about to fall off of – the top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the South Bank Centre in London?  What the heck is it?

Photo: Charles Hosea

It’s a gorgeous one-bedroom ‘installation’ with two decks which provide incredible panoramic views of the Thames and famous London sights like the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s cathedral. It was built by Living Architecture and designed by David Kohn Architects in collaboration with the artist Fiona Banner, and is designed to stay ‘afloat’ through 2012 as part of the London 2012 Festival. It’s called A Room for London

View from the loo – Photo: Charles Hosea

Why?  It’s a studio retreat for artists, musicians and writers – just one at a time. Each month a different writer checks into the Room and spends several days writing a new work. Then the writer records his/her work and it’s available to listen to as a podcast from the Guardian or on this website. There’ll be twelve readings in all under the umbrella title of A London Address.

Projects include a one-off performance by British actor Brian Cox of Orson Welles’ unmade film “ Heart of Darkness” based on the novel by Joseph Conrad.You can watch the video here until June 30th.

International writers, including Caryl Phillips, Jeanette Winterson, Sven Lindqvist  and Michael Ondaatje, have stayed there and written new works under the banner : A London Address, which you can hear via podcasts here:

One of the chief sponsors is Artangel,  a London-based not-for-profit that commissions art projects and installations by contemporary artists around the UK. Here’s what they had to say about the idea behind the boat:

The original Roi des Belges

An intimate space in a cultural quarter with a sweeping view of one of the world’s great cities, A Room for London is more than a hotel room: it’s an observatory, a retreat and a studio, whose design was inspired by the Roi des Belges, the boat that Joseph Conrad navigated up the River Congo in the late nineteenth century, before writing Heart of Darkness. There is a deck, a crow’s nest and a cabinet of visual curios – and a centerpiece bed which slides on rails to make the most of the views over London. Before departure, guests will be invited to fill in a logbook in the ‘bridge’ of the boat, detailing what they have experienced during their stay, out of the window as much as within themselves. An octagonal library with a carefully curated selection of books and twin desks looking out across the river enables visitors to use the Room as a remarkable studio space.

And members of the public have been able to rent it for a one-night stay. They’re sold out now, of course, but there are plans afoot to place it somewhere else next year, so there’s hope.

A 49,00 word play

I don’t know how I missed this when I was in London last week, but it seems that there’s an eight-hour play currently running in the West End of London. And to rave reviews. Sounds ambitious? It is. It’s an off-Broadway hit called Gatz, that has transferred to London and is now wowing the audiences who can spare the almost eight hours to watch it. The reason for the length of the play is that it’s a reading of the entire 49,000 words of Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby.  London critics have generally loved it. Michael Billington, in the Guardian says: “A great American classic has been captured with total, transfixing fidelity by this dedicated ensemble.”

Sarah Crompton in the Telegraph said that “the other appeal of Gatz is that you go into a theatre early in the day, and emerge late at night, having devoted a day to one single cultural pursuit. This type of marathon is always a joy.”

The play is presented in a 1990’s office where one of the employees is waiting for a computer repair man to fix his computer. He picks up the novel while he’s waiting, and begins to read. As he does so, the workers around him begin to turn into the characters he’s reading about.

What fascinates me about this is the fact that it brings yet one more rendition of this famous book to the public. I’m not sure that someone who wasn’t already familiar with the novel would sign up to see it, but I like the idea that books can live on, not just in paper or eBook, but in films (although, of course, adapted) and now as a stage performance. Do I yearn to see it? I think I’d go if I were in London.

What do you think? Is this idea pretentious or brilliant?

The Oddest Book Title of the Year – vote now!

The Bookseller is an English magazine devoted (of course) to book-selling and all related subjects. It’s well worth a look, not least because they organize a contest every year to find  the Oddest Book Title of the year marks the 30th anniversary, and there are some amazing (or appalling, depending on your point of view) titles to vote for. This is a reprint from their website, giving the titles and a straight-faced description of each book, these titles are begging for comments.  Head over to the site and cast your votes – don’t forget to read the comments; they’re hilarious.

Here’s Philip Stone’s article:

A Guide to Estonian socks, an examination of the role of the fungus in Christian art, and a celebration of the humble office chair are among the books in contention for the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year—the prestigious literary award run by The Bookseller since 1978.

A total of 64 books were submitted for the latest instalment of the prize, which celebrates the very best in books with odd titles published around the world last year (2011). Judges from both The Bookseller and its sister consumer magazine, We Love This Book, whittled down the original submissions to a shortlist of seven. This is one more than the traditional six, in recognition of the high standard of oddity witnessed in publishing last year.

This year’s winner will be announced on 30th March. Votes can be cast here.

The full shortlist:

A Century of Sand Dredging in the Bristol Channel: Volume Two by Peter Gosson (Amberley). A book that documents the sand trade from its inception in 1912 to the present day, focusing on the Welsh coast.

Cooking with Poo by Saiyuud Diwong (Urban Neighbours of Hope). Thai cookbook. “Poo” is Thai for “crab” and is Diwong’s nickname.

Estonian Sock Patterns All Around the World by Aino Praakli (Kirjastus Elmatar). Covers styles of socks and stockings found in Estonian knitting.

The Great Singapore Penis Panic: And the Future of American Mass Hysteria by Scott D Mendelson (Createspace). An analysis of the “Koro” psychiatric epidemic that hit the island of Singapore in 1967.

Mr Andoh’s Pennine Diary: Memoirs of a Japanese Chicken Sexer in 1935 Hebden Bridge by Stephen Curry and Takayoshi Andoh (Royd Press). The story of Koichi Andoh, who travelled from Japan to Yorkshire in the 1930s to train workers at a hatchery business the art of determining the sex of one-day-old chicks.

A Taxonomy of Office Chairs by Jonathan Olivares (Phaidon). Exhaustive overview of the evolution of the modern office chair.

The Mushroom in Christian Art by John A Rush (North Atlantic Books). In which the author reveals that Jesus is a personification of the Holy Mushroom, Amanita Muscaria.

Horace Bent, the custodian of prize, said: “Never has the debate raged so fiercely as to which books should be put forward for the shortlist. Which is why this year we have selected seven shortlistees, rather than the traditional six. And what a shortlist we have.”

Philip Stone, the prize administrator, said: “Despite the global economic turmoil, publishers continue to invest in imaginative, diverse and niche publications, and this award wonderfully reflects that.

“Sadly, though, and despite publishers regularly boasting that they are moving with the times, just one of this year’s seven shortlisted titles is currently available to buy in a digital format: Scott Mendelson’s intriguing work, The Great Singapore Penis Panic.”

The Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year was first awarded in 1978 to Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice.

©2012 Bookseller Media Ltd rights reserved.

And you can check out the front covers of previous winners here on The Guardian‘s website. Celtic Sex Magic for Couples Groups and Solitary Practitioners, anyone? GC