writing

REVIEW: David Szalay’s “All that Man is” Man Booker 2016 shortlist

I started this book in 2016 and finished it in 2017.

That is because I did not want it to end. This book is on the Man Booker Prize 2016 shortlist. There are famously 9 parts to this novel. It has been heavily debated whether it should be a novel or nine short stories. I think it is a novel. It has the impact of a novel. Each is not self-contained. Each leads to the next character. Supposedly this is a novel about masculinity. I wonder if the majority of the readers are men or women. I would be surprised if it was men. The book has universal appeal because it is about the human condition (again) as all literary novels are, and secondly it is about ageing, and therefore the descent of the human over just a few decades.

I don’t know about you, but when I read I like to be taken to somewhere else.

Even if it is a mundane somewhere else, it is not in my own mundane world. All that Man is is nine different men of six nationalities in 13 different countries. I never thought I would be so interested in men. I am not, really. Yet I am fascinated by each of them as their stories unfold. It is the purity of the moment that Szalay excels at. Every moment, even and especially the mundane, is rich and evocative, and lived, in every sense of the word. Plot, grand themes, idea, character exposition is of secondary importance to the living the moment.

The first character is an artsy bookworm type 17-year-old inter-railing around Europe in the summer with his friend before going up to Oxford. The last character is a 73-year-old depressed, lonely and retired civil servant in his second home in the Italian town of Argenta infested by mice and poor central heating.

p1050609

SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read this section if you don’t want to know the plot.

The civil servant reads an email from his daughter regarding his grandson who is inter-railing in Europe, who has just written a poem and has been published. Then only the reader finds out the twist, that life has come full cycle, as the novel has. The first character is the lasat character’s grandson after all. These are the only two characters connected to each other. The second character is a lazy unambitious Frenchman, probably in his early twenties, who has been sacked from his job and is now on the pull in Cyprus and manages to sleep with an obese girl AND her mother (because he doesn’t really care and just shags). Next up: a Hungarian working as bodyguard for an acquaintance who pimps his girlfriend in Park Lane hotels in London and he fancies the pants off this girl that he is supposedly bodyguarding. This is followed by a thirty-something Belgian scholar of medieval history who really fancies himself, like an academic would do, driving across Europe to meeting his ambitious and young Polish TV presenter girlfriend who is pregnant. He is totally against it, and reticent about fatherhood. My least favourite character comes next, and I had to speed read this section because I didn’t get it: a Danish journalist flies to Malaga to confront a minister about his affair. Next up: an English estate agent from Earlsfield, London, works with a developer trying to sell cheap Alpine chalets and he fancies the girl who is local Swiss agent but as he is middle-aged he can’t be bothered to make a move on her. Probably my second favourite is the miserable Scottish alcoholic in his fifties relocates to Croatia as it’s cheap, after he has sold his flat and is now drinking himself to death but encounters scams, punchups, mishap after mishap and bad luck; The second last character is a suicidal Russian oligarch in his sixties on his yacht in the Mediterranean, losing all his money to his third wife in some complicated divorce trial and having meetings with butler, cook, and lawyer and various staff. He has lost his verve and passion to live. He realises that he does not want any of his substantial assets and the wife can have it all.

SPOILER OVER. It’s OK to read this last paragraph now.

Therefore it is not quite true to say that plot is secondary. Plot comes from character. The characters make the plot and they become the story. The first thing that occurred to me was – how did he know all that? There is a lot of detail and all of it is relevant. It must have been thoroughly painstaking to write this book. The simpler to read, the more complicated the writing. He knows the minutiae about people, their jobs, their cultures, their countries. These are drawn into photographic detail. Everything rang true. Sadly I have now finished the book. I made it last as long as I could because it is a 9 course meal! Come on! I do not want to rush it as it is the most intense and endearing reading experience that David Szalay has given us. He is so talented and he writes in extremely simple language. It reads like it is a translation. There are no big words. There is nothing he would like to show off except how finely he writes. I really would like David Szalay to write The sequel: All that Woman is.

Heart of Glass 24% funded! Week One crowdfunding with Unbound

 

crowds of children

Where to start? What nails? I have no more nails to bite. Come to think of it, no cuticles either. Where am I going to get my daily intake of protein from? I’m going to be eating a low carb humble pie from now to eternity. I can stomach this. There is no room for dignity.

It has been a crazy week. I have never done this before. I am learning myself each day. I learn from others. I am learning the ropes. I am learning to give what people want and need, which is this niche I seem to have created, a grave I have dug, back rod I have carved, for myself. The niche of international fiction, postcolonial writing, crime noir, etc. Exactly! What is the et cetera bit?

I have taught myself patience and humility. This is the opposite of vanity publishing. If anybody thinks this, it’s the total opposite. Don’t even go there! Being vain has sold nothing. Ask any cosmetic-peddling salesgirl in a brightly-lit luxury departmental store. Never in my life after three degrees would I think I would have a sales job. Yet now, I have a sales job. I could be selling makeup but I am not selling makeup. I am selling something that does not even exist yet. I am selling the idea of potential, of investment in writing, of myself, selling a dream.

This is me reading from near the beginning, but not the beginning, in my Unbound shed vlog.

 

“Heart of Glass” a novel by Ivy Ngeow

Heart of Glass

 

Heart of Glass

“A pacy, stylish 1980s literary thriller set in Chicago and Macau”

Support this book here.

Watch the trailer (pitch video) here:

My name is Ivy Ngeow and I am an award-winning writer. I am raising funds for Heart of Glass, a finished product, a completed novel of 74,000 words, with Unbound, an imprint of Penguin Random House. When the funding target is reached, the book will be go into publication.

Why?

It is a unique story. There is nothing like it on the internet or in the market. It is cross-genre and features themes of music, crime noir, vintage 1980s in an international setting, with an Asian female protagonist. It is an underdog story, addressing issues of life as an immigrant in a big city, whose constant desire for success is often squashed by repeated failure. This is a story that needs to be told. The ambience is rich and stylish. The setting is dark, exciting and exotic, set in the days of disco, drugs, smuggling and casinos.

Please support my project and me as a writer

1/ to make the book a reality. Readers and writers today are part of something exclusive and special, a community, a network, a team.

2/ to invest in the publication. The book does NOT required funding to be written. The funding is purely for pre-sales to enable its publication with Unbound, getting it off my hard drive and into the world.

3/ to promote cultural diversity and the post-colonial writer, who is from an ethnic minority that is under-represented in fiction, a non-English person writing in English. I am not only writing in my second language, I am writing about immigrants.

Testimonials:

“It is commercial, punchy, crossover, popular fiction.” – Anna Jean Hughes, Editor, Pigeonhole Publishing

“Ivy Ngeow is a huge talent.” – Isabel White, Isabel White Literary Agency.

Please read the about me, excerpt, and the synopsis here.

Pledge your support now !

Thank you very much.

 

PS I designed the above title graphic for promotional purposes only and may not be actual cover. 😀

 

Pitching your Ideas in 3 minutes

this-way-books

Pitching is presenting your ideas.

What people and I myself don’t realise is how tough my business life as a designer is and has been. I pitch for ten jobs to get 2. Five jobs to get 1. Clients today make you bleed. You are competing against younger, cheaper and more innovative pitchers. So how do I make myself stand out against the competition? By being totally rehearsed, slick and experienced. I am already very used to pitching. I can do a 3 minute, 30 minutes, 45 minute, 1 hour pitch. All of it is the same process, across all industries.: 1/ This is what I have got. 2/ If you want what I’ve got, then great. 3/ If you don’t want it, this is why you need it 4/ Think about it, cos if you do, this is what it costs. 5/ If you don’t like what it costs, what is your offer? And it must always finish with a question. Because the answer in the end comes from them, and it is a yes or a no.

And that is pitching. If you are in a marketplace you will understand what I mean, except you are both behind a stall and in front of a stall. You have got to sell what people want. Otherwise the stall will have to pack up. I come from customer service. I know how to make people happy. And if they are happy, I know how to make people happier. I have done this for 20 years in my architecture and design business. Once you get the whole point of pitching, you can move on to pitching like a fork and making your pitch stand out from everybody else who is pitching.

What about the market – not in demand and so on?

Don’t worry about the market. If we did, nothing would be invented. You make something. You make people want it. If they don’t want it, modify the product so they want it. It they still don’t want it, make them want you.

Pitching like a fork

Already I had spent an enormous amount of time prepping for the pitch. Making the pitch video took me something like 28 hours. 2 hours initially to storyboard and write the script, then 3 hours every night for a week plus another six hours or so and then the file was corrupt, and so I had to re shoot half of it, and then edit it down to half. I thought I was going to go insane. Then the sound was wrong. So I had to re-record the voice over AND dub. I never questioned what am I doing and why am I doing it? I just thought – I gotta finish this damned video. I made the footage and all the music myself, so I had some files left which were undestroyed. It was the live footage that was spoilt but what can I do? I have to work with what I have to work with which is a nine-year-old MacBook (I swear I love you, MacBook, please don’t give up on me. I just love you, OK). I am still prepping. The launch date is technically Monday 12 December. I have got the weekend.

What about writing it?

But 28 hours – still quicker than writing the novel, right? It took me a year to write, two years to edit (8 drafts) and two years of living in my hard drive, untouched by time and energy and emotions. With two young children, two jobs and almost no time at all, I was doing all this in the early mornings, late at night, weekends for three years. Finally I wrote the book. I had the best literary agent who was also my editor. She was kind and professional. We parted ways a few years ago. Therefore the book is polished and finished-finished. It does NOT need funding to write it. When a friend Fiona Parker-Cole badgered me into showing her the first 30 pages, I demurred and reticently agreed. I sighed and pressed print, thinking all the time this is a bloody waste of paper and ink and she won’t read it. But she did and she told me she could not believe that it was living in my hard drive like some caged animal. She convinced me to start submitting it again. It needs to be published. It needs to get off my hard drive.

Pitching is a skill. So like any technical skill, you will get better and quicker at it.

 

How I came to be Crowdfunding with Unbound

 

hog-banner

I was on around Day 27 of NaNoWriMo and doing quite well I thought, writing my third novel, with my word count of c 24,000 when suddenly I was hit with news that I was being offered a book deal by Unbound, an imprint of Penguin Random House. The caveat was that it will be through crowdfunding. I will have to reach the target before the book is published in both digital and paperback.

 

Three publishing deals this year:

Before I submitted to Unbound, I already submitted to two other digital publishers. The first came back to me in June this year. and the deal was not bad and not good. I had a friend Keith of Strident Publishing look at the contract in detail and fine-toothed combed it. Armed with about 14 questions regarding the contract, I emailed them to the publisher (let’s call them X). But X never replied. Therefore I concluded X just want your MS to put out there in order to make money. All I wanted to know was how much are they selling each copy for, so I can work out my cut. They did not even have the courtesy to reply saying, actually we don’t answer questions. So I moved on.

The second publisher, let’s call them Y, were in Hong Kong. As my book is partly set in Macau, I tried a Hong Kong publisher. They were great at communicating and absolutely full of ideas, they loved the book but for two months they did not prepare a contract. So I was left hanging just waiting and waiting. In I think July or August, they replied with a contract saying I have to foot the bill of 15000 HKD and I worked that out at 3,500 GBP. But that came from nowhere. There was talk of funding at the start but they didn’t say who was funding. Also I would have to fly to HK at my own expense in order to attend my own book launch. Where is the sense in this? When I thought should I pay for this out of my own pocket? I realised I did not want to. If I had 3,500 GBP spare I would rather get my teeth done. That is an investment too.

What about Createspace?

Between the second and third publisher, I started setting up a Kindle and Createspace account. I did not even get to the point of uploading my MS. I just lost interest and I do not want to self-publish. The books looked crude to me. Unless you pay top designers and publishing experts to get it out to a professional level, they did not look right. And to do that we are talking in circles. It would be in the tune of around 3,500 to 4,000 GBP. Which top designer is going to do it for peanuts? I wouldn’t! And I am a designer and have been for the last twenty years! I know what design costs and it costs. Am I a snob?

The third publisher

So I submitted my package to Unbound and heard back after six weeks and now believe it or not I am crowdfunding. A word that was alien to me even last week. It is not who you know but who knows you. i.e. the crowd, the vox populi. It is they who will pay for my blood, sweat and tears, my labour of love, my confection.

My first NaNoWriMo

headernnwm

This year is the first time I am participating in National Novel Writing Month. I am doing this partly as a challenge and partly as a way of getting another book written under pressure. Today is Day 21 out of 30 and I am only on around 18,000 words.

Why I am doing this thing:
My first novel took 5 years to write. The second took a year and now I am trying to do it all in a month. I wrote nothing in the last five years because I was very put off and I wanted to give up. I can’t give up because in my heart of heart I am an addict, I am consumed by writing and though I have tried I cannot quit. I don’t know why because it is very masochistic and I can’t stand being hooked to anything. Obsessive yes addictive no.

What about the word count?

I know it’s ambitious and I will not make the 50,000 word count in 30 days because that would be writing 1,667 words per day. I am too busy working, looking after children and the house, exercising, cooking to be able to churn out the required amount. In my opinion you either have to be very young or very old to be able to afford the luxury of time, where you would wake up every day and wonder what to do – “oh yes, I know, I will write! Yes I have so much time to write until bedtime! Why not write?”

Writing is pain: if it don’t hurt it ain’t true
As I am no longer a novice(!) I am quite capable of writing every day but I really want to make them count so I don’t want to and can’t write rubbish. I would rather sit and think for an hour than to put rubbish down. I find it very hard to just let rip. There is no correct way to do a first draft but for me, if I let rip and have verbal diarrhoea, it will be very depressing to mop up the mess later and the editing will kill me. So I am going with my slow and steady way of doing things, it will be right in the end, I know it will. Each word I am squeezing out is like a drop of blood. I am having to take paracetamol on word sprint days because my head wants to explode. On average I have been doing 893 words a day as a result of this way of writing.

Here is my screen shot from today, you may have noticed I  have written zero words (as I am doing this blog, which does not count as a novel, of course):

day21nnwm

What I like about NNWM:

The masochistic aspect. This is all a self-imposed middle-class deadline, don’t forget. I am not a factory worker in Bangladesh who has to write all day and all night and if I didn’t I would be killed or my fingers taken off. If my suffering means I have to take paracetamol or glass of wine, then I feel that I have achieved something, and it wasn’t easy. I also enjoyed the company and the posts from fellow writers I have met on the FB group Ninja Writers. For someone who has always known that writing is a solitary profession, for someone who enjoys being alone, the discovery that there are so many people out there enjoying being alone is insanely wonderful! I did not think this was possible! They have been encouraging and helpful, generous with their wit and humour. Everybody offers, accepts, gives, takes advice and tips. In writing there is no right or wrong. (write or wrong).

What time and place is best for my writing

I tried every technique to test out writing time. Times include: I tried waking up at 6 am to do it before the children are up, in the morning after coffee or after vigorous exercise, at night after the children go to sleep. Places include: on my lap, in Caffe Nero, in the library, at home, in bed, on the floor. All are fine as long as there are no children around If children are around, you can’t even sit for a second let alone write.

I have my special lucky pen and my notebook.

In my old age I am very superstitious, I can only write with one pen and I am lucky if it’s pumped already. I can only write on an unlined ringbound notebook. Nothing else works.

It’s called routine. If you do it every day, it does not matter what time or place. This is called the vintage life or some kind of madness. Cutting off the world and entering your own. The words will come. Anyway wish me luck, after all there are 9 days left.

CBBC interview with Children’s Author Phil Earle

Phil Earle is a very prolific and engaging writer whose ideas, thoughts and humour filled the space that was the Children’s Library at Southfields Library. Listening to him speak was very inspiring. Of course, his Liverpool accent helps. It’s like listening to a Beatles interview.

Here he explains where ideas come from. 

Essentially, they come from switching your phone off. Once you have no phone, you will be forced to look around you, think and absorb your environment wherever it may be.

img_3978 img_3979 img_3980 img_3981 img_3982

The Sadomasochistic Art of Writing: you know what I’m talking about yes you do


When the thing is virtual, digital, electronic, unreal:
Through the years I must have received more than a hundred rejections or several hundred (if you count the electronic ones). Yet I seemed to have somehow ignored, shrugged off, be cheered by, be angered by, rejuvenated by, devastated by, thwarted by, enriched by, encouraged by, empowered by or simply unaffected by them. 

Many times I wanted to drag the document into the trashcan icon on my computer. No one stopped me and at any point I could have done this especially when I was drunk, pig-headed, feeling strong or all three, and I am often all three.

Writing is sadomasochistic because…

…nobody cares. Many times I said I should just GIVE UP. Even though Winston Churchill said never ever to do such a thing. Did I mention I am a true artist? I will probably cut off my ear soon. You don’t write because of self-belief. You can’t. No fiction writer truly believes fiction unless they are only five. I don’t believe anything. I have to write because otherwise drops of blood would appear on my desk. That’s why it is sadomasochistic.

Nobody likes it, nobody even reads this sh1t. Yet stuff I wrote did not end up in the trashcan icon. How easily one’s life’s work is dumped by computer. Friends have told me to keep this sh1t no matter what. 

When printed out, real, physical:
Now I am terrified. This is the first novel I wrote. I have a second one. They are both unpublished. But I have printed out just the first one. This is because I had to send it off for a competition. 

This thing that I wrote for so many years exists. It can even sit on a table or a floor and look at me. I really did spend sh1tload5 of time, years and years, forming words, forming sentences, making it, carving, whittling, planning, thinking, typing, reading, re-writing, cutting, adding, cutting, adding, and breathing it to life. This thing! This monster. It is real. It is 281 pages, can cause paper cuts, and has serious weight. It is 3D, it has thwack factor. (That means you can thwack someone with it and they will end up in A&E). It may even move me. That is what has changed today.

Apart from being laughed at in the print shop and having to carry out a conversation involving an elevator pitch to ‘so what’s it about? what’s it about?’ I had my three-word reply because I have rehearsed this so many times during my hundred or so rejections. Followed by: Sheep-faced, I even managed to read out the first page to a room full of printer guys. My first audience and interview. This is the audience feedback: ‘Hey you wrote a book. Man! She wrote a book guys! Hey guys! Everybody. She wrote a book. She. Wrote. A. Book’.

And here it is.


And that is why I carried on putting myself out there: for the sadomasochistic art of writing. And now wish me luck for this competition!

“Hungry in Ipoh” makes it to National Library of Singapore

NLB1HIP in SG NLB

Thanks to my Uncle Siow Wah in Singapore who recommended “Hungry in Ipoh”, it has made it to the National Library of Singapore.

Dear Reader,

Thank you for your recommendation.

Recommended Title Details:-
—————————————-

Title: Hungry in Ipoh /
Author/Composer/Conductor: edited by Hadi M. Nor.
Publisher:
ISBN/ISSN: 9789670954059

We have received your recommended title and it should be available in our libraries within a week.

You may wish to use our catalogue at http://catalogue.nlb.gov.sg/ to check the availability of the title.
Thank you and have a nice day!

 

 

 

 

photo credit: Deichmanske bibliotek via photopin (license)

REVIEW: Stefan Zweig’s “Fantastic Night and Other Stories – Tales of Longing and Liberation”

GBH

“Fantastic Night and Other Stories”

was written in 1922. Zweig was born in Vienna in 1881 to a wealthy Austrian Jewish family. He moved everywhere after he was a student in Berlin, he ended in London and New York and finally Brazil. He died in a double suicide with his wife in Brazil in 1942. These are “Tales of Longing and Liberation” says the inside of the front cover. These are loose terms and indeed I did not have any idea or want to have any idea what they meant. Zweig was an inspiration for Wes Anderson‘s Grand Budapest Hotel. You are probably thinking the same thing. Yep. Moustache.

Inside Cover

Inside Cover

Front cover

Front cover

The titular story

is the first and the longest (54 pages) of the collection. The main character, unnamed, tells his story through the narrator being given the text of the story that is to be told. This was quite a modern psychological concept of the time, which also means that it is dated and contextual. “Fantastic Night” (I love the title BTW, I really think the writer has totally captured our hearts and our imagination because you straightaway want to know what is it about the night that was fantastic?) is about man’s spiritual awakening. That night, became

the pivot on which my whole existence turns.

Turning is always a good theme for a story, that is the transformation for which the reader is looking. And before that night, the main character was a wealthy, seemingly worry-free, successful yet vacuous 36 year old man, someone who was trite and childish. Money does do that to people. Therefore the universal themes did apply then. How many successful vacuous people do you know?

I did not lack for success with women, and here too, with the secret collector’s urge which in a way indicates a lack of real involvement, I chalked up many memorable and precious hours of varied experience. In this field I gradually moved from being a mere sensualist to the status of a knowledgeable connoisseur. … But nothing stirred, I felt as if I were made of glass, with the world outside shining through me and never lingering within…

The scene at the races which was his so -called pivot, took a tad too long. I really wanted to know why Zweig could not get the story told quicker. Maybe it is that archaic suspenseful literary technique of storytelling which grates on me. The character experiences and toys with a minor indiscretion (well, basically, overt flirting with a married lady), leading to

the pull of criminality

Where the “criminality” referred to is how he managed to pull wool over the woman’s husband’s eyes, cheated the stupid bloke of his winnings, in order to impress the woman he was flirting with (who was BTW not pretty but fat and red-faced yet someone he found attractive because of her raucous, dirty laugh), and then to return the cheated money in an over-the-top overpayment secret gesture.

I felt myself, desiccated as I was, suddenly flowering again.

The word desiccated was very evocative of a decadent period, decaying morals, old money, despair, coconut. Although it was predictable but open conclusion, I think the darkness, moral nature and long-windedness of the story actually contributed to its power and I found it satisfyingly morbid.

Once a man has found himself, there is nothing in this world that he can lose.

I think that is really beautifully said. This is a metaphysical story that actually brings about ideas, a story that makes you think. You cannot read this without thinking: you won’t be able to enjoy its richness. This is where the universal themes come into play. A rich man must start from scratch in order to live. That is the moral of the story.

“The Governess”

was quite a brief old-fashioned story. Very simply it was about a nanny that got pregnant by Otto the lodger (a university student) of the household and she was so vehemently berated by her employer that she did something terrible to herself. The parents are supposedly on the moral high ground, they are cold, unfeeling and needless to say, wealthy (or wealthy enough to afford the nanny). The Frau of the house refers to the Fraulein’s condition:

“Excuses, excuses! Every promiscuous girl will offer that excuse! She’ll blame the first man who comes to mind and thinking nothing of it, hoping the good Lord will come to her aid. And a woman like that claims to be a governess and fit to educate girls. It’s outrageous. You sure don’t imagine that, in your condition, I shall keep you in my household any longer?”

This story was actually told in the third person, but from the children’s POV.  I was very sad and frightened for the children she cared for, for truly they cared for her and thought she was very ill. They took the trouble to take their own money and buy white roses for her because they knew that she loved them. But it was too late. In this story, it was clear that the children were severely affected and upset because they were so attached to the nanny and the nanny to them.

“Letter from an Unknown Woman”

was the most powerful story in the colleciton, IMHO. I could not stop reading it. It was totally gripping and unsettling. The story spans a woman’s entire lifetime, from childhood to her early demise. The character that the story is about is not this woman, that is why this is such a clever story. That main character is a successful writer, who never speaks, to whom the entire story is addressed in second person, who receives a letter from a woman who is dying who turns out to have known and devoted herself to him all her life, from childhood onwards.

However, I did not guess that at the time age of thirteen, still a child, it was as it I had been immersed in fire. I though the tenderness was only for me, for me alone, and in that one second, the woman latent in my adolescent self awoke, and she in thrall to you for ever.

At first I thought this must be a stalker story. How foolish and modern I am. Turns out I am wrong.

The woman returns, becomes his lover, becomes mother to his child, becomes a prostitute and therefore making the writer her client in order to raise the child with middle-class luxuries, and all the time dedicated to him. She gave him so many chances to recognise her, as the little girl in the hallway of the apartment building they all lived in, who looked at him through the keyhole who grew up and left the apartment block and came back to become his lover. He never recognised her in more than twenty years despite having met her, fancied her, shagged her so many times. This story was about this character who was truly so solipsistic and narcissistic that he became blind and deaf to someone else, anyone else. They might as well not exist. And now they did not. It was too late, the letter said the son, their son, was ill and had died, and now she was dying too. Quite a depressing story and there is no light coming in from the window at any point. It was a dark, moving and disturbing story. Nuff said.

Conclusion

This is a fine glittering collection, will suit anybody who is a fan of that period of literature, the Viennese tradition, the Grand Budapest Hotel, the deepest, darkest moments of human emotions, loss, gripping passions, intense encounters. Very very excellent reading. It will transform your one evening into a “Fantastic Night”.

SZ

SZ

photo credit: LOBBY BOY / The Grand Budapest Hotel via photopin (license)
photo credit: via photopin (license)