Friday, 30 July 2010

Pork belly

I'm off to Georgia (Caucasus) for a couple of weeks, but before I enter yet another phase of dodgy Internet connections I thought I'd share my latest findings:

1. You can now pre-order my book on Amazon!
(Though I can understand if you'd rather not. It's a bare-bones entry without any cover or blurb, and even if you order now you'll still have to wait until the official release next April.)

2. Speaking of cover design: if you want to recreate the effect of slashed human flesh, use pork belly for best results.

I learned this interesting fact last week, when I had my picture taken for the back flap of my book. Johnny, the friendly photographer at Simon&Schuster, shoots crime fiction covers as well as author photos and shared some of his tricks for producing exactly the right kind of gore. He works with a summary of the novel and the killer's signature move (eg, carving initials into people's bodies) and creates the props to match.
After many visits to the local butcher (picture the scene - "Excuse me sir, which meat most resembles human flesh?"), Johnny decided that pork belly was best.
Without the bristles, of course.

Here's an example.

In case all this is making you wonder about the cover of my book - don't worry, it will have an illustrated cover. Swirly waves, apparently.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

"Banditry enhanced my life."

At least for now.
Yesterday I sent the final version of the manuscript to my editor, accompanied by a style sheet (got the idea for a style sheet from Kate Mosse's blog - it's a handy way of keeping track of names, places and foreign words, especially in a novel full of Kurds, Turks, Germans and French people).

I'm a bit worded out now, so let me just share this wonderful passage by Yashar Kemal, author of "Memed, my Hawk".
The book, which traces Memed's journey from a harsh childhood in the thistle-covered mountains of eastern Anatolia to life as a feared and loved outlaw, became a global bestseller when it was first published in 1953. It doesn't seem to be that widely read these days - at least not in Western Europe. The introduction, in which Kemal explains why he became a writer, may offer some comfort to those of us who feel that writing is a bit like banditry. My friend Wendy has written a non-fiction book on Georgia called "Stories I Stole", and even as a fiction writer, I sometimes feel like a thief, stealing mannerisms, anecdotes, phrases I overheard on the bus.

However, after reading about Kemal's rather unusual family history, I wondered if being a bandit writer might not be such a bad thing:

"Back in eastern Anatolia, my mother's father, uncles, and brother were local bandits. I heard of their adventures from my mother and I listened to the songs the town bards composed about them. One is enhanced by what life brings," Kemal writes. "Banditry enhanced my life."

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Romeo and Juliet with Turbans

At last! Here's the Turkish-Indonesian fusion project you've all been waiting for: a duet by a Turkish musician and Fithrie, a singer from Indonesia's rebellious Aceh province. Visit her site to watch the video:

I met Fithrie at the Kurdish Institute, one of my favourite places in Paris - part library, part literary salon, part backpacking lounge. Yesterday, I visited the library to do some research on "Mem u Zin", a kind of Kurdish Romeo and Juliet with sheikhs, emirs and ruby-red wine. It's probably the most famous epic in the Kurdish language, written by the wine-loving 17th century poet Ehmede Xani (also known as Ahmede Khani, pictured above) and is a great read, very Shakespearean, with lots of cross-dressing, political intrigue, bawdy humour and, of course, tragic love.

The epic begins with Xani explaining why he decided to write in kurmanji, the Kurdish language, rather than Turkish or Persian: "So that wise men cannot say: The Kurds did not choose love as one of their aims..."
Xani, a Sufi poet, was not just referring to romantic love but to divine or spiritual love, the love that encompasses wisdom, knowledge, understanding. He wanted to show that the Kurds, often portrayed as savage, plundering horsemen, weren't just grunting robbers but had their own culture, spirituality and beautiful language.

I learned all this from Sandrine Alexie, the incredibly helpful and knowledgeable librarian at the Institute, who has produced a beautiful French translation of "Mem u Zin" and written some excellent essays on Xani.

Which brings me back to Fithrie. She was at the Kurdish Institute to research parallels between the separatist conflict in Aceh and the Kurdish struggle. It made me think of a short story I once wrote about a guerrilla consultant who travels from conflict to conflict, advising rebel armies. The character of the itinerant guerrilla consultant came to me as I was thinking about the strange similarities of separatist movements around the world - all those people fighting not just for land, but for the right to speak and teach their own language and write their own stories. As Xani said ca. 1700:

"Unwise and ignorant they are not,
Just deprived and dispossessed."

(Translated by Eziz Bawermend, in Fire, Snow and Honey: Voices from Kurdistan, Gina Lennox, Halstead Press 2001)