Monday, February 21, 2005

Of Novels and Kebabs

Writing a novel is an arduous exercise. Reading about the process of writing a novel is so fascinating. I am a sucker for such details. Here's the latest one by Justin Cartwright:

"The other day an Argentinian woman asked me how I get my inspiration. The implication of the question was that basically all you need to write a book is some inspiration, by which she meant a marketable idea. It was impossible to say that actually the process of writing a book is similar to what goes on in a kebab shop: you carve bits of yourself away and present them in envelopes of pitta. The lettuce and the tomato and the hot sauce are style. This simile is - clearly - not going very far, but the point is that writing is not about a Great Idea which writes itself. Writing is, as Philip Roth put it, self mining."

A very novel way of looking at the process, isn't it?

15 comments:

Susan Abraham said...

Hi Zafar,

Just to say I really enjoy reading your posts as well and was concerned that you hadn't written for so long. I'm sure you'll be a fine author. Its noon in London. Just woken up, haven't had lunch. A little later, I'll answer your question on my post about the literary agent bit; we're 8 hours behind you. Check the reply, your time very late night. cheers
cheers, susan

Susan Abraham said...

Hi again Zafar,
also just to let you know that the Man International Booker Prizer deliberately concentrates on a living author who has already made a profound and significant contribution to world literature in some way. Held on the same platform as the Nobel award except that it pleads not to be "as politically correct." It is likely to feature new or first-time novelists. The place for newer as well as all the usual established writers to win the Booker label is still the usual Man Booker prize held in London each october for any novels published in England. "The Purple Hibiscus" was on the shortlist of the Orange Prize last year but its Nigerian author didn't win. Still, she is held as one of the promising ones annd is constantly (no exaggeration) in the literary "newsy" bits here in England. cheers now!

Susan Abraham said...

Correction: Sorry Zafar, a mistake in my second comment. I mean _ The Man Booker International Prize is unlikely to feature new or first-time novelists and not 'likely'. Oops!!

Zafar Anjum said...

Hi Susan,

Thanks for all your kind words. I am looking forward to reading you post on the business of finding an agent.

As of Chimamanda, I believe that is true. I saw her name in one of the panel of authors who will read in an Australian literary conference. The girl is going places! I guess she was working for Coppola's Zoetrope All Story. Her first important stories were published there, and then she debuted with her novel. I have not read it yet.

I am still confused about the Booker prize thingie. Are there two awards now: the old one and the newly announced international one?

bibliobibuli said...

Yes, Zafar - there are two Booker awards now - the annual one and the "Super Booker" which is international and seems to focus on the greatest of greats ...

I'd love to see an annual international award where all writers were in with a chance.

I loved the kebab image ... that is such a great quote - am going to keep it.

Susan Abraham said...

Hi Zafar, Yes, the international one was just created late last year when I was still here in England. It is in all bluntness, for the heavyweights from anywhere around the world who in the opinion of the panel of judges selected at the time; have written with a stroke of enduring genius.
The other Man Booker is still currently applicable only for books from anywhere in the world, published in England for that current year of the Booker. In this respect, you have to be published by a publisher who has paid you advances and later, royalties - the new form of payment now. Books in England that are self-published, or have succumbed to vanity or subsidy press or where the author has hard to fork out money in some way to buy copies or whatever, are clearely disqualified from the Booker.

Zafar Anjum said...

Yes, Susan. Self-published books or books from vanity press don't get respect anywhere in the world. It is strange though that writers like James Joyce, Virgina Woolf, Margaret Atwood, and many others had to resort to self-publishing at one point of time in their career. Today's publishing industry very much functions like the Hollywood studio system-- churning out pop trash week after week.

Susan Abraham said...

HiZafar, You have a very interesting point. I cannot speak for self-published books in the rest of the world. I do know though, that as an unspoken rule of thumb, such books are not even reviwed by national newspapers/magazines here in Britain. It appears from hindsight that many of these publications lack an acceptable quality and that definitely is sad. I may publish a small book of poems myself just for friends. But I do know that if I can get enough out in literary magazines, I stand a chance for a publisher paying for the lot.
I like this attitude in the sense that if we want a stranger to believe in our work, we aim to make our art the best it possibly can. And no amount of absorbing research, information or insights could possibly hurt it. For me, that's an exciting challenge.
I also stay away from many self-published books in Malaysia. I can't even explain except that I pay a lot of money for local only to absorb the numerous incorrectly written lines, mistakes and I also find myself reading old-fashioned ways of constucting something. Perhaps its just me that I have got so used to the newer ways of writing styles in Britain and Australia. cheers.
P.S. Also it may help that because the world has become so hungry for books and there are enough monumental publishers to feed this hunger, there is no necessity for a talented writer eager to publish his/her works to resot to self-publishing. Besides, not everything is pop-trash, is it Zahar.

Susan Abraham said...

Sorry Zafar, for my errors in the above comment. I'm always rushing about these days. susan

Susan Abraham said...

My corrections to the very sorry comment No.8 above as follows:
a)Hi Zafar and not 'HiZafar'
b)I cannot speak for self-published books from around the world... and not 'in' the rest of the world.
c)such books are not even reviewed by national....and not 'reviwed'
d) 2nd para. ...I can't even explain why except that I pay and not 'I can't even explain except...
e)..and I also find myself reading old-fashioned ways of constructing something and not 'constucting..'
f) ...publish his/her works to resort to self-publishing... and not 'resot'
EXCUSES??? Running about too much in the snow, that's what!

Zafar Anjum said...

Hi Susan,

Thanks for the rebuttal. No, I don't think that everything the publishers are putting out is pop-trash, but majority of it is in that league only. You may completely disagree with me. If you take fiction alone, most titles fall belong to genre fiction. And out of literary fiction titles, how many books are of enduring value? This was what I was trying to say. Please correct me if I am wrong...

Hey, never mind the typos.

bibliobibuli said...

Just to put a twopennnies worth into the very interesting and important debate about self-publishing... the winner of last year's Somerset Maugham Award, Mark Blaney, self-published his novel Two Kinds of Silence.

There was an excellent article in StarMag about him and last November.

Self-publishing is a valid path to getting your work out there ... but the challenge (and here I agree totally with Susan) is to ensure quality - and that means working with a good editor. The local market needs its local literature and much of it will be self-published - so how do we put the quality-control into place??

Issues that need to be thought through and debated up and down - and I'm grateful that Susan keeps reminding us of the larger publishing picture.

bibliobibuli said...

Sorry - his name is spelt Blayney and you can read about him here:

Zafar Anjum said...

Hi Sharon,

Really appreciate your post on Blayney. Then I read the article following the link. Very interesting and courageous.

It is extremely difficult to get a decent break in the Western publishing industry. I am reminded of an incident. Once, a writer, tired of getting rejections from publishers, sent a typed copy of a classic to a publisher. Not to his surprise, he got a rejection slip this time too!

Barney Teed said...

Quite agreed.