Congratulations, Kazuo Ishiguro

My favourite day

Today is one of my favourite days of the year: when the Nobel Laureate in Literature is announced by the Swedish Academy. Last year, I was extremely disappointed with their choice of Bob Dylan. For me, he was not really worthy of being bestowed with the honour of being a Nobel laureate and his indifference regarding acknowledging the honour and coming to Stockholm to accept it seemed to verify that even he didn’t think he should have received it.

“… a writer of great integrity.”

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Kazuo Ishiguro (Source: Paris Review)

This year is a different story. Kazuo Ishiguro, the author of The Buried Giant, The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go (just to name a few) is the 2017 Nobel Laureate in Literature.

Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, described Ishiguro as a writer of great integrity and said of his writing style that it was a mix of Jane Austen and Franz Kafka, with a touch of Marcel Proust stirred in. I think that sums it up perfectly. His writing is elegant, sometimes deceptively uncomplicated, and full of resonance.

I first stumbled upon Kazuo Ishiguro’s work during my last year of grad school. I needed something to distract me while I was finishing my MFA thesis. I borrowed a copy of The Remains of the Day from the library and fell in love with Ishiguro’s beautiful sense of language and storytelling. I promised myself I would read more of his work, but that didn’t happen again until many years later, when I picked up a copy of Never Let Me Go while on my way to the US. I read the entire novel while in transit, then began re-reading it once I’d arrived in Philadelphia just for the sheer pleasure of re-immersing myself in the world he’d created.

Today, to celebrate the announcement, I treated myself to a Kindle copy of Nocturnes, Ishiguro’s short story collection published in 2009. I’m looking forward to being captivated by his way with words and rich character depiction.

If you haven’t read any of Kazuo Ishiguro’s work, check out this list of his titles and see if anything strikes your fancy:

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 20.35.34A Pale View of Hills

An Artist of the Floating World

The Remains of the Day

The Unconsoled

When We Were Orphans

Never Let Me Go

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

The Buried Giant

Review: The Case of the Missing Boyfriend had me hooked!

Image Every now and then you read a book featuring a character who feels like someone you already know or you should know. That’s how I felt when I was reading The Case of the Missing Boyfriend by Nick Alexander. CC, the main character, has a great job, an enviable flat in London (even if there is too much shade from her neighbor’s tree) and a group of friends she adores. But there’s something–someone– missing from her life, and that’s the boyfriend she wishes she could share her life with. So where is he? Like a lot of us, CC hasn’t had the best of luck on the romance front. She’s had the cad ex-boyfriend (who didn’t want to have a baby with CC but got someone else pregnant within two months of breaking up with her), she’s tried speed-dating but it hasn’t yielded any results. So CC’s wondering where is the elusive missing boyfriend–the Mr. Right   is because she’s ready to settle down.We follow CC as she journeys through the the emotional minefield of searching for that special someone–not an easy task since CC isn’t interested in casual sex and she hates the dating scene. Through it all, you’re firmly in her corner, rooting for her and hoping she finds the person who will make her feel complete.

What I love about this book is that it feels like CC is sitting beside you, confiding in you as she recounts these highs and lows of her personal and professional life. You could be sitting in your favorite wine bar, pub or café commiserating with her over a glass of rosé or a huge mug of coffee. I love the honesty of CC’s character. She isn’t shy about sharing her likes and dislikes, her foibles and her secrets. There’s a rawness to her that pulls you in and makes you care all the more about her, especially in the second half of the book, which has a darker feel to it. And CC’s spot-on humor made me laugh out loud on enough occasions that people on the subway gave me strange looks. 🙂

Nick Alexander has crafted a fabulous book that traverses so well the ups and downs of women’s lives, especially single women on the cusp of 40 who are caught in that limbo where their married-with-children friends aren’t so comfortable with their single friend and their single friends are too busy looking for love themselves. The Case of the Missing Boyfriend is a fun read that isn’t afraid to tackle serious topic, so if you like your women’s fiction to have an edge, then this is the book for you. I loved CC and her story, and I can’t wait to read the continuation of CC’s story, The French House, which is coming out in April. 

My rating? Image

 

 

Getting to know Nick Alexander

ImageA few weeks ago, I found out about Nick Alexander through some of his fans on Twitter. I was curious, so I picked up two of his books–The Half-Life of Hannah and The Case of the Missing Boyfriend–for my beloved Kindle. I wasn’t disappointed. Both books are great reads (get thee to Amazon or your fave bookstore and buy his books ASAP). I tracked down Nick and asked him if I could interview him for kimtalksbooks. Nick is a British writer who is nowadays based in Nice, France (lucky guy!), though he spends a lot of time in London, which he says is his favorite city in the world. 
 
Q: What inspired the story of The Half-Life of Hannah?
 
A: The initial idea came from an acquaintance who is married. At forty, though he has never slept with a man, he is beginning to have doubts that he might be gay, and talking with him about it, about his love for his wife and his children, about the effects it would have on everyone’s lives if he did take that leap, got me to thinking about his wife and how she would be affected. Because I wanted a certain balance (and because I like happy endings) I invented a long lost love from her past, and the more I worked on the book plan, the more it became about her and her lost love, and the less it became about him. But I intend to remedy that in the sequel.

Q: Your earlier novels have featured male protagonists. What prompted the  switch to female protagonists? Was it a conscious decision or did the characters decide for themselves?
 
In fact only my Fifty Reasons series of novels have a male protagonist. 
My short story collection 13:55 Eastern Standard Time has both men and women, and my last two novels, The Case Of The Missing Boyfriend, and The Half-Life of Hannah feature female leads, as does The French House (out in April).
I think there are a huge number of similarities in the lives and loves of women and gay men which is probably why they tend to get on so well.
In the end, I think it’s also simply easier for me to write a story from the point of view of a woman living in a male dominated environment than it would be for me to write it from the point of view of her a football loving, Top-Gear watching husband. I think if women are from Venus, then most gay guys must be too. Certainly anyone who can bear Jeremy Clarkson must be from a different planet to me.
 

ImageQ: I loved The Case of the Missing Boyfriend. I think a lot of people can relate to the idea of going through life knowing that the person you should be with is not the person you are with. Or holding out until they meet the right person instead of settling for the right-now person. Was this a story you’d wanted to write for a while? How did it come to you?

 
A: The idea for The Case of the Missing Boyfriend first came to me whilst on a train journey from Manchester to London with my best friend Rosemary. She was reading one of my Fifty Reasons novels and commented how universal the experience of dating hell is in these dreadful days of internet chatting. She told me about a friend of hers who had been going to speed dating, and the story made me laugh so much. My brain simply wouldn’t leave that anecdote alone, and by the time the train pulled into London the arc of the story had already taken shape in my mind.

 
 

Q: Have you got a playlist for writing? Or do you compile a soundtrack for each of your novels when you write? 

 

A: Though I listen to music pretty constantly outside work, I write in total silence. Only once, when I was writing Better Than Easydid a song become an essential part of the story. The denouement of the novel was inspired by a single song, Holcombe Waller’s Take Me With You. It was so important to the book that I got in touch with him to ask him if I could include the lyrics in full. In exchange for a first edition copy he agreed, which was a huge relief as the book had been written by then!
 
Q:  Where do you do most of your writing? Do you have a dedicated space in 
your home where you always write, or are you the sort of writer who can write anywhere?
 
A: I write in a shed at the bottom of my garden. I take my daily commute across the grass every morning and work from ten till one and from two till five every day though if the writing’s going really well then I may work until eight or nine in the evening. I have occasionally managed to write elsewhere when circumstances dictated, but I find it twice as difficult to concentrate if I’m not in my little shed with my cats beside me. Routine makes anything that’s arduous that much easier whether it’s going to the gym or getting one hundred thousand words down, so I like to make everything about my working day as organised and predictable as possible to avoid distractions.
 
Many thanks to Nick for taking time out of his very busy day to chat with us! Later this week I’ll be posting a review of both The Half-Life of Hannah and The Case of the Missing Boyfriend. Until then, if you’d like to find out more about Nick, head over to his website/blog–don’t forget to check out his novels. 🙂
 
 

Getting to know Jeffrey Blount

ImageOn this cold, snowy day in Stockholm, when the streets are slick with ice and you just want to curl up with a good book, it seems fitting that you should meet the author of the beautifully-written Hating Heidi Foster, Jeffrey Blount. Jeffrey and I have a lot in common: we both have roots in historic Smithfield, Virginia; his grandmother and my grandmother were sisters; and we’re both writers. 

Jeffrey is an Emmy-winning director of Meet the Press, the Chris Matthews Show and other NBC programs. He’s also an award-winning scriptwriter for several documentaries. 

If you haven’t yet discovered Jeffrey’s young adult novel, Hating Heidi Foster, then get thee to your favorite bookstore (or Amazon) and buy it immediately. You won’t be disappointed. 

When did you first realize you wanted to write a novel?

Many, many years ago!  I can remember very well the moment I knew I wanted to write.  I was in a high school English Literature class and we were given the assignment of writing a descriptive paragraph.  I don’t remember why I made this particular choice, but I chose to write about a homeless man and his environment.  After reading my paragraph to the class, I noticed that everyone was silent.  The teacher smiled and nodded at me.  I had always loved reading and realized at that moment if I could emotionally touch very smart and very cynical teenagers with my own words, then maybe I could be a writer as well as a reader.  That day, I decided that I wanted to write short stories and novels.  In college, I wrote my way out of my freshman English class and  then met one on one with my professor for the rest of that year as she guided me through the process of writing my first real novel.  It was called Freshman Year.

ImageWhat inspired you to write Hating Heidi Foster? How did the story grow?

Hating Heidi Foster was inspired by the friendship between my daughter, Julia and her best friend, Emily.  They had been friends since early elementary school.  On weekend night, in the fall of their senior year of high school, Julia had a gathering of friends at our home.  At one point, she and Emily passed each other and I saw them speak and laugh briefly as they quickly crossed paths. But it was a special moment, shared in the way that only best friends could share it. I recognized an amazing connection. In a few months they would be graduating and probably not going to college together and maybe even studying a full country apart. And I wondered what would happen to this friendship once life got in the way.  Would they drift apart like so many old high school friends? It made me sad to think that this was a possibility. So, I decided to write them a story about the importance of friendship with the hope that in the years to come, just a glance at this book would remind them of the wonderful and powerful friendship they had.

The story grew out of the selection of a major event, which was the death of Mae’s father.  I wanted an event that would test the relationship of the best friends, but that would also highlight the depth of the connection between them. Their struggle, as painful as it is, brings to light how much they’ve meant to each other. If they didn’t care so much, couldn’t they easily let go and move on? Didn’t they need to find that out?  After finding the big event to hold the center of the story, I had to find a way to provide some closure for many characters in the book, but mainly the two girls. I used a device based on a favorite pastime of my daughter’s as she grew up. The rest of the story grew easily around those two events.  I had a story synopsis in mind, but not an outline and every time that I sat down to write, I allowed Mae to take the story in new directions.

Is Hating Heidi Foster your first novel?

No, it isn’t. The first was in 1991 and it was called Almost Snow White. It was an exploration of race relations in the 1940’s United States. One day I listened to my father and my grandmother, also named Julia, discuss African-American people who had passed as white. They wondered what would happen if those people were found out.  How would they survive? Could they come back home after turning their backs on the community that raised them? Almost Snow White follows Precious Sprately, a young Virginia woman, on such a journey of discovery.

Has your background in broadcast journalism influenced your writing style?

No, because I wouldn’t let it. The style of writing I learned in my college journalism school was extremely fact based, with little room for personal style or expression. I was able to do both.  At the same time I was writing for media, I was in creative writing classes.

I really like the immediacy of the first person narrative. Did you know from the very beginning that you would tell Mae and Heidi’s story in first person? 

Yes, because I wanted it to be a very, very intimate story.  For me, novels written in the first person allow the reader to go deeper into the personality of the main character.  I needed the readers to be totally invested in the character in order to feel her pain in the way I wanted them to. Creating an emotional attachment was critical to the story’s success.  Being inside Mae’s head and heart was the best way to achieve that.

How long did it take to complete the first draft of Hating Heidi Foster? How long did it take to reach the point when you were satisfied with your final draft? 

It took about six months. I had a deadline. The moment of inspiration occurred in the fall of their senior year and I had to have it ready to deliver as a graduation present by late May of the following spring. I was satisfied with my final draft about three years later after I decided to move forward with the book and after a very helpful editing process.

What’s a typical writing day like for you? Do you have a special place that you feel is most conducive to writing?

I write in the mornings and late at night. After taking my son to school and my wife leaves for work, I hit the office. Then after everyone is in bed, I hit the office. I can write anywhere really, but I love my office and I like to write mostly at night.

What books would you say are on your must-read list? What book are you currently reading?

The Round House by Louise Erdrich, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, The Cove by Ron Rash and Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. I am currently reading The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge by Christine Nolfi.

Have you already begun working on your next novel? Could you tell us a little about your new project?

I have two ideas and I am in the process of deciding which one I’m more prepared to write.  Emotionally and intellectually. That’s all I’m really prepared to say right now.

What was the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? What was the best?  The worst piece of advice is in order to find success, you need to consider the market and write to it.  The best piece of advice was to write, first and foremost, for yourself.

Thanks to Jeffrey for taking the time for this interview. I look forward to reading your next novel and meeting the next time I am in the US so we can talk books and writing. 🙂 And for those of you who are curious–a review of Hating Heidi Foster will be online later this week! 

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! And now it’s time for me to get back to the revision process.