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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Training For A Debut Novel

Murakami likens novel-writing to long-distance running. But I've tried long-distance running and my mind and body rejected the activity. I experienced no physical injury or intense strain but I grew increasingly intolerant of the tedium.

 Perhaps in bouts this very tedium is reassuring but it is not really applicable to compare all instances of writing to long-distance running.
To me, short stories are like choreographed dance or gymnastics routines: 90% preparation and 10% execution. Poetry is akin to fire-eating- pulling the flames out in dazzling displays and playwriting is coaching a team of players into a cohesive whole.

I am three-quarters of a way through two novels now. It has been like fencing for a long series of  bouts- just me on the piste and up against opponents I cannot make out. In the beginning I had to sit on the sides a lot and just train until I could step back in again. Now I am a pro but I am still learning.
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Monday, 16 August 2010


I blame my degree in Postmodernity for my delay in reading Kwaidan. Lafcadio Hearn's translation and retelling of Japanese ghost tales for a Western audience, was to me at the time, an example of 19th century Orientalism- another woodcut landscape of cherry blossoms, bamboo, monks and wandering lovely kimonoed ladies, seen through the spooky mist of a supernatural story.

But what have recent Japanese horror movies shown a global audience? A unique way of generating fear by taking on the mundane. I dare you to watch Dark Water (1999) and not get a chill every time the plughole is clogged. Or rent the DVD of The Ring and not jump if the house phone rings during the movie.

Hearn demonstrates in this engaging book that transforming everyday objects into unlikely conduits for supernatural activity appears to reach far back into Japanese literature and folklore. In Kwaidan, mirrors, bells, wells and even insects are supernaturally suspect; cherry blossoms can be inhabited by spirits of dead mid-wives, a monk encounters a corpse-eating demon that is later revealed to be the troubled spirit of another *monk* and those beautiful kimonoed ladies are really snow demons wandering around in human guise.
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