by Rana Asfour
I am always conflicted when a book I particularly enjoyed reading is to be given the Hollywood treatment.
I have found that my reservation is rooted in selfishness. A part of me refuses to relinquish its hold on an appropriated image - and experience - that I feel is not only mine but should remain mine alone. Characters - however imaginary - are real to their readers and develop a personality that is dependent not only on what the writer tells us about the characters but also on our interpretation of what we are being told. Every reader arrives at a book with their own set of experiences, prejudices, and view of the world and if Edmund Wilson is to be believed then never will 'two persons read the same book' and never will the same person read the same book in the same way twice.
With that, I have come to appreciate that reading a book and watching an adaptation of it on screen are two separate experiences that when you think about it allows a fresh perspective on the familiar. Besides, let's face it, seeing your characters being given flesh and blood is exciting and there's a lot to be said when it comes to time out at the cinema. Isn't there?
What do you think?
Fiction nominations for 2017 National American Book Award
List of non-fiction books nominated for the 2017 American National Award:
by Rana Asfour
It's out! The much anticipated shortlist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize that is and I must say that four out of six ain't bad! that is the number of the books on that shortlist that BookFabulous has already read and also loved! so this is going to be one hell of a tight competition and calling it is going to be tough.
The Shortlist includes 'Elmet' by Fiona Mozley, 'History of Wolves' by Emily Fridlund, 'Autumn' by Ali Smith, 'Exit West' by Mohsin Hamid, 'Lincoln in the Bardo' by George Saunders, and '4321' by Paul Auster.
If you've been following the BookFabulous Instagram feed, you'll know that we've already read all but two of the shortlisted titles which are 'Elmet' and 'History of Wolves' which we will completing this week. The winner will be announced on 17 October.
'Elmet' by Fiona Mozley
Daniel is heading north. He is looking for someone. The simplicity of his early life with Daddy and Cathy has turned sour and fearful. They lived apart in the house that Daddy built for them with his bare hands. They foraged and hunted. When they were younger, Daniel and Cathy had gone to school. But they were not like the other children then, and they were even less like them now. Sometimes Daddy disappeared, and would return with a rage in his eyes. But when he was at home he was at peace. He told them that the little copse in Elmet was theirs alone. But that wasn't true. Local men, greedy and watchful, began to circle like vultures. All the while, the terrible violence in Daddy grew.
Atmospheric and unsettling, Elmet is a lyrical commentary on contemporary society and one family's precarious place in it, as well as an exploration of how deep the bond between father and child can go.
'History of Wolves' by Emily Fridlund
Fourteen-year-old Linda lives with her parents in an ex-commune beside a lake in the beautiful, austere backwoods of northern Minnesota. The other girls at school call Linda 'Freak', or 'Commie'. Her parents mostly leave her to her own devices, whilst the other inhabitants have grown up and moved on.
So when the perfect family - mother, father and their little boy, Paul - move into the cabin across the lake, Linda insinuates her way into their orbit. She begins to babysit Paul and feels welcome, that she finally has a place to belong.
Yet something isn't right. Drawn into secrets she doesn't understand, Linda must make a choice. But how can a girl with no real knowledge of the world understand what the consequences will be?
'Autumn' by Ali Smith
Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.
Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever . . .
'Exit West' by Mohsin Hamid
Nadia and Saeed are two ordinary young people, attempting to do an extraordinary thing - to fall in love - in a world turned upside down. Theirs will be a love story but also a story about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow, of a world in crisis and two human beings travelling through it.
Civil war has come to the city which Nadia and Saeed call home. Before long they will need to leave their motherland behind - when the streets are no longer useable and the unknown is safer than the known. They will join the great outpouring of people fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world . . .
'Lincoln in the Bardo' by George Saunders
The extraordinary first novel by the bestselling, Folio Prize-winning, National Book Award-shortlisted George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War
The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln's beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy's body.
From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm - called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo - and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie's soul.
Unfolding over a single night, Lincoln in the Bardo is written with George Saunders' inimitable humour, pathos and grace. Here he invents an exhilarating new form, and is confirmed as one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Deploying a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices - living and dead, historical and fictional - Lincoln in the Bardo poses a timeless question: how do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?
'4321' by Paul Auster
On March 3, 1947, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, is born. From that single beginning, Ferguson's life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. Four Fergusons made of the same genetic material, four boys who are the same boy, will go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives. Family fortunes diverge. Loves and friendships and intellectual passions contrast. Chapter by chapter, the rotating narratives evolve into an elaborate dance of inner worlds enfolded within the outer forces of history as, one by one, the intimate plot of each Ferguson's story rushes on across the tumultuous and fractured terrain of mid twentieth-century America. A boy grows up-again and again and again.
As inventive and dexterously constructed as anything Paul Auster has ever written 4 3 2 1 is an unforgettable tour de force, the crowning work of this masterful writer's extraordinary career.
by Rana Asfour
'Season of Stories' has, today, sent out the first of its three months of hand-picked short stories. The season kicks off with 'Prom' by Hasan Minhaj. Expect future stories from acclaimed authors such as Lee Child, James McBride, Jenny Zhang, Charles Yu, Denis Johnson, and Aimee Bender.
So this is how this works: Each week, you get a new short story delivered to your inbox in four instalments, sent daily from Tuesday until the conclusion on Friday. The bite-sized newsletter will give you just the right amount to read while commuting, waiting in line, or during your lunch break. And it's all free.
Check out more HERE and click HERE to see a list of all the books they featured from last season.
by Rana Asfour
The past three days have seen me struck down with a flu that has completely floored me and is turning my life into a nightmare robbing me of even my few hours of sleep as a long suffering insomniac. It feels like I'm dying.
Before you think it, I realise that my self-indulgent drama pales in the wake of current catastrophic world events such as Hurricane Harvey in Houston and now Irma on its destructive path to Miami as I type. However, with a capital H if you please, Bob Marley once said, 'A man is a universe within himself'. Some will of course argue that I've taken this quote out of all context in order to unashamedly use it (or abuse it - your choice) for my own personal exoneration from a crime that can only be described as self-indulgent - and they are most likely right. However, in defence, I ascribe my unhinged and unbalanced reasoning to a blockage in all brain ducts responsible for 'seeing the big picture' brought on by a diminished oxygen supply to the brain as a result of influenza's worst affliction on my being: a blocked nose. I have been reduced to a snotty, snivelling, barely functional human being, highly contagious and wracked with a cough that renders a twenty-a-day smoker to a fumbling amateur.
And yet, as I wallow in a sea of pity surrounded by soggy tissues and Strepsils I cast my eye around my bedroom and spot a salvation that had been there, right under my blocked and swollen-red nose all along. A few months ago, at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature I purchased a book called appropriately 'The Novel Cure' written by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin. Aiming straight for the Index of Ailments at the back of the book I scroll down until I find the word 'flu' and then it's off to page 173
These brilliant women have found a strange coincidence they write - a breakthrough I insist - 'that no medical doctor or scientific researcher has yet noticed, or even studied: the moment a flu patient begins to read an Agatha Christie novel marks the commencement of their recovery'. They recommend 'The Murder of Roger Ackroyd', the novel that confirmed Christie's genius as a writer of detective fiction.
Their reasoning? They maintain that the aches, chills, fever, sore throat, runny nose - 'all these are nothing compared to the determination to work out the guilty party before Poirot'. Deliciously, under 'Common Cold' they list other books that can help a flu sufferer and are perfect when combined with a warm blanket and a hot drink. Some include 'Memoirs of a Geisha' by Arthur Golden, 'The Devil Wears Prada' by Lauren Weisberger, and my personal favourite 'The Secret Life of Bees' by Sue Monk Kidd to name a few. They even have an entry for 'Man Flu' under which they recommend 'Les Misérables' - told you they were geniuses - as if one needed a scientist to prove that one?!
And one last word for those of you who are shaking your heads right and left believing that nothing ever really beats a cold, they've got an entry just for you: It's also under C for 'Cynicism' or frankly under K for 'Killjoy'.
Oh and I'll have you know I'm feeling much better already :)
How did I Miss This? American Actor Tom Hanks to Publish First Collection of Short Stories This October
by Rana Asfour
Not only is today 'back to school' for the son who wasn't too happy to be woken up at 5:45 this morning but I've only just found out that American actor Tom Hanks will be reading exclusive excerpts from his debut 'Uncommon Type' at the Southbank Centre's London Literature Festival on 1 November.
The book - which I still cannot believe I have missed all mention of - will be published in October (although you can pre-order on Amazon) is a collection of seventeen short stories that 'dissects, with great affection, humour, and insight, the human condition and all its foibles'. The stories all have one link in common: in each one the typewriter plays either a major or minor role.
The London Literature Festival runs from 13 October to 1 November and features live readings, performances, talks, debates, visual displays, workshops and music. Hillary Rodham Clinton will also be speaking at the festival (October 15). Also featuring will be Philip Pullman, Annie Leibovitz and a live reading of Nelson Mandela's memoirs, this year sees a specially expanded edition of the festival, exploring how literature and poetry can remind us of our shared humanity in a world on the brink.
Check out more on the festival and how to book HERE.
Wendy Leighton-Porter Author of the 'Shadows From the Past' Series for Children: 'You don't need a degree to write. Anyone Can Write!'
by Rana Asfour
Wendy Leighton-Porter spent twenty years as a teacher of French, Latin and Classical studies in the UK, before a change of career led her to writing books for children instead. She currently divides her time between homes in South West France and Abu Dhabi in the UAE. She lives with her husband and their beautiful Tonkinese cat.
I met Wendy a couple of months back on a visit to the ‘Wanna Read?’ offices in Abu Dhabi where I volunteer. 'Wanna Read?' is an NGO that believes in ‘healing through reading’ founded by Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan who is also the owner of the ‘Royal Publishing House’ in Abu Dhabi where Wendy currently volunteers to manage Sheikha Shamma’s own series of books.
Wendy is the internationally-selling author of the SHADOWS FROM THE PAST series - exciting time-travel adventure stories aimed at children over eight-years-old. The first book in the series, ‘The Shadow of Atlantis’, debuted in 2011 and since then Max, the talking Tonkinese cat (writer of his own mini-blog), and his three young friends (ten-year-old twins Jemima & Joe, and their friend Charlie) have been on various adventures travelling through different times in the world’s history. To date there have been 13 published adventures with two more scheduled for release in the very near future.
Here she talks to BookFabulous on how she began writing children's books as well as some tips for budding writers...
‘I always wanted to write a book and when I stopped teaching in the UK, I no longer had the excuse that I had no time. But then I had a moment of panic about what I wanted to write about. I knew I wanted to write for children because I had always taught children, and I still liked the idea of educating even though I was no longer in the classroom.
‘It all started when I was traveling on an airplane and had a couple of hours to think. I knew I wanted to write a series. By the time the plane landed, I’d worked out my characters and what the basic premise of the book was about and how it would happen.
‘They usually say to write about what you know. Since I was teaching Latin and Classical studies, I decided I would begin my stories set in the ancient past, in the famous of all ancient places, Atlantis. I then had the idea of a talking cat because I had a cat that I loved.
On the ‘Shadows from the Past’ series…
‘This is an ongoing series. I am probably half way through. I have published 13 in total although 9 of them are really full-length, standalone books, because occasionally I’ll write a little off-shoot story (4 mini adventures) where Max (the cat) has an adventure on his own although his adventures in a way tie in with the series. All the books in the series could be read as standalone books if one wanted to do that and not read them in order, though really they make more sense when read consecutively.
‘I probably have 9 more full length stories to write and I already know what they are going to be. I know where my series is going to end and how it’s going to end and I know each stopping point along the way and titles for these books because they are time travel stories and they started back in Ancient history in Atlantis and they’re gradually moving forward in time. So the one that I’ve just written is set in the 16th century (at the printer’s) and includes people like Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I of England.
On Max … the talking cat!
'He’s quite an extraordinary cat and he’s got quite a real character. And in fact he is the character that children love and I’m pleased about that because he’s the character that I love too. Max really has developed into a hero and with each passing story where he takes more and more of an active role he’s very funny. Thanks to a charm on his collar he’s able to talk and understand what’s being said to him so he often helps the children on their travels.
'Max is in fact my cat. Unfortunately the real cat passed away last year but he was 16. He’d had a good life. So all the descriptions of him in the book and the things people say about him in the book are things that people have in the past said about the real Max.'
On writing …
‘I always have a basic framework although I don’t stick rigidly to it. I know everyone writes in a different way. Some people have to have absolutely every detail planned. Personally, I prefer to start out with an idea of how I’d like my book to end and then I decide basic ideas on how it will go along after which I fill the missing gaps as I go along. I often get ideas as I’m writing. So often as I’m writing I’ll suddenly go off on a tangent and things will occur to me in the process of writing. And I’m fine with that. In fact as I wrote the books the characters grew in ways that I didn’t expect them to as they took on different personalities that I hadn’t necessarily planned for them’.
'The series takes the three children and their cat on time travel adventures that start in Ancient Atlantis. ‘Another,’ explains Wendy is set in Egypt in the time of Tutankhamen and there’s an ancient Pompeii one because ‘when I used to teach Latin, I taught about Pompeii. As I’ve moved into more recent history, the stories are about the [British] history that I know. Although having said that, and without giving too much away, the cast will be travelling further afield for a couple of other adventures; There is going to be one set in France during the revolution, and the last book will not end in England.
'Funnily enough, before even coming to the UAE, I set Max’s Arabian Adventure out here in the Empty Quarter (al rub al khali). It’s really a little bit like Aladdin’s tale with the magic lamp and the magician and along the way he meets a falcon and a camel who help him'.
‘It used to take me about three months to write a book. But since I came out to Abu Dhabi and got involved with all the things that I do out here, it is taking me about 18 months to complete a book because I have to try and fit in writing in quiet times when I’m not doing other things. I go through three drafts before I’m satisfied with the work mainly because I’m finicky about grammar having been a teacher. Then I normally have at least two, maybe three proofreaders go over it because you never see your own mistakes. So you need other pairs of eyes and every work does need to be edited before it goes to print.
‘My husband also edits for me and he is ruthless. He always looks at it and says ‘Adjectives, adverbs, cut them all out!’ He writes thrillers and so writes in a totally different style and I always say to him that for children you need to paint a picture so you need more description. So I slip them back in when he’s not looking. But when other people are correcting me and usually write me that this doesn’t work or that I’ve got a plot hole there or that I’m repeating myself, I do take note. Any author has to accept being edited.’
‘If English is not your first language but feel you can only write in English then make sure you get a native speaker to edit and proofread your work to make sure your writing isn’t stilted and is written in a natural flow of English. I think often when a work is translated as well, if you don’t have a good translator it can end up reading in a strange way. I was given a book to proofread that was written by a Norwegian writer who translated it into English themselves, and it was full of really literal translations of phrases and idioms that meant nothing in English’.
‘I read everything and I always have a book on the go. I love historical and detective fiction. When it comes to children’s books, every time I find that people are talking about a particular author that is current or really good, I download their book and I read it. I think it is something that is important to keep up with what’s around for kids. And there is so much good stuff out there’.
‘I have been reading on a kindle since I moved out here to Abu Dhabi because it’s practical but I still prefer the feel and of course the smell of a real book. Back at home I have a library, which is actually a very wide corridor along the length of which are books from floor to ceiling. I see bookshops as magical places; I can spend hours in them.
‘Although my books are published in the UK, they are all available in e-format on Kindle. To bring them in to the UAE is not terribly easy because I have to get them shipped over and that is the expensive bit. I am looking into though.’
On Royal Publishing House...
‘When I met Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa al Nahyan, also a children author, she had just set up the Royal Publishing House and had released her first book ‘The Lost Princess’. Gradually as I got to know her and she realized that I was involved in writing and publishing with my own books, she asked for my help. So, I am sort of running the publishing house now but on a voluntary basis. But it does take up most of my time and it’s lovely because a life filled with books is what I enjoy.’
On advice for budding writers …
‘We’ve all started at that stage with having never written and it is very daunting when you sit down for the first time in front of a blank computer screen or a blank piece of paper and think ‘can I do it?’ But you’ll never know until you do. They always say ‘Everyone’s got a book in them!’ and I think that having the idea is the most important thing and once you’ve got that just go for it. You don’t have to have a degree in writing to write. I don’t. Anyone can write. When I look back at what I first wrote, I think ‘ooh it wasn’t terribly good’ but you learn to polish as you go along.
‘Another thing is that I always keep a notebook so that when I get ideas I jot them down before I forget them.
'Back at home, before coming here I had my own nice office where I wrote but here in Abu Dhabi, I have to work anywhere although I do need to have peace and quiet although I know other writers who can only write to music. Everybody is different. So I don’t think that there is any hard and fast rule or magic formula for writing. It’s just about going with what suits you.’
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