Reader, I married him…

…and here’s a picture of the greatest vegan wedding cake of all time to prove it 😉

CathyGandMarcB wedding cakeIt’s been a crazy few months – a lot of things happening at once, not least of which finishing up wedding preparations and then escaping the realities of work for a blissful month of honeymoon. As a result the blog has been sidelined, and I have a huge backlog of reviews to get written up and share with you. Apologies to the publishers and authors waiting on me – I hope to get caught up and re-open for submissions soon.

In the meantime here’s one of my favourite poems about love and marriage – many reviews to follow shortly!

‘A Marriage’ – Michael Blumenthal

You are holding up a ceiling
with both arms. It is very heavy,
but you must hold it up, or else
it will fall down on you. Your arms
are tired, terribly tired,
and, as the day goes on, it feels
as if either your arms or the ceiling
will soon collapse.

But then,
unexpectedly,
something wonderful happens:
Someone,
a man or a woman,
walks into the room
and holds their arms up
to the ceiling beside you.

So you finally get
to take down your arms.
You feel the relief of respite,
the blood flowing back
to your fingers and arms.
And when your partner’s arms tire,
you hold up your own
to relieve him again.

And it can go on like this
for many years
without the house falling.

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On the Run- interview with Izai Amorim

img_1656I am delighted to welcome Izai Amorim to the blog today to discuss his newest novel On the Run. I really enjoyed this darkly humorous fast-paced tale, set in the USA in the early 1990s. We follow the sardonic anti-hero Pablo, a young, rich, and well-educated Central American man accused of crimes he didn’t commit, as he flees from the police and Colombian drug dealers due to a case of mistaken identity. Ready to do whatever it takes to survive, Pablo ironically embraces the very drug trade that threatened his life in the first place. The reader descends with Pablo down a slippery moral slope from someone who shares his mother’s mortal terror of being discovered wearing dirty underpants to someone capable of… well, I’ll leave it for you to read and find out! Occasionally un-PC, this might not be one for the sensitive souls, but Pablo’s merciless asides on society were one of my favourite parts of the book.
It’s always great to get to speak to authors about their influences and process, so I’ll get straight to the main show – an interview with Izai Amorim!

Izai thanks so much for taking the time to chat about On the Run… First things first – why do you write?

Because it’s fun and liberating. I’ve done architecture, and still do sculpture and photography. But writing beats them all. There are no limits whatsoever in storytelling: You can move in space and time, you can create virtual worlds, you can do pretty much anything and get away with it.

What books have influenced you the most?

You mean as a reader or as a writer? Every book leaves an impression on the reader, sometimes positive, sometimes negative. It depends a lot on your state of mind at the time you read it. Sometimes you reread a book a few years later and ask yourself why you liked it the first time. The writer in me pays attention to what works and what doesn’t work in a book, which is a matter of personal opinion. Even good books have some flaws and even bad books have some good points. With time you accumulate a lot of do’s and don’ts and that does influence your writing more than the individual books.

You were born and raised in Brazil but have lived most of your adult life in Germany – do you think this has any impact on your writing?

Yes. When you are a foreigner, in the beginning you don’t know all the rules so you have to watch your environment, observe people, look for clues, read between the lines. With time you see patterns that even the natives ignore. These are good skills for a writer. When I tell a story, I tell from an angle readers are not familiar with, so it surprises them.

Pablo is wryly humorous even in the most extreme of circumstances – why is humour important to your writing?

Humour is very important not only to my writing but to all aspects of my life. I have trouble relating to people without a sense of humour. It’s hard and takes a lot of control to repress a good joke when working in a corporate environment. So it’s natural that I tend to add humor to my writing. Humor is a very useful tool, especially when talking about very serious issues. I have the impression that people can process serious information much better if it’s delivered in a funny way.

What phrase/passage in the book are you most proud of?

I like the opening a lot, the first two paragraphs. I think that it draws you in very quickly. And it really sets the tone for the story. The rational-esoteric conflict between Pablo and Douglas is already built into it, as well as Pablo’s childhood problems.

Near the start of the book it is suggested that the shooting in the fast food joint is the perfect culmination of the three American obsessions: guns, dieting, and TV. It made me wonder – what would Pablo have to say about the current US presidential candidates?

He would probably saw that the candidates are doing what they are expected to do: to use all means at hand to destroy the opponent. In America violence is a legitimate way to solve problems. Worse, many times it’s the method of first choice: shoot first, ask later. Election campaigns are very violent affairs with no place for civilized discourse. Candidates try to destroy each other with all possible means, using what we could call “metaphorical guns.” And it’s all done on TV. Only the dieting is missing. The 2016 campaign has been particularly nasty but it’s not an aberration, rather the next step down. Things have being moving downwards for a long time.

Given the subject matter of On the Run you may not wish to answer this – but how much of the book is based on your real experiences?

Anything you write is somehow autobiographical. It’s either stuff you’ve done or that happened to you or stuff you’ve seen other people do. You basically have two choices: to tell exactly what happened or to create a kind of metaphor where fictive story A is told as a proxy for real story B. That’s the case with On the Run. It’s a metaphor. The more literal you take it, the less real it is. Maybe one day I’ll write an autobiography and spill the beans. Concerning real experiences, a lot of snippets are true. For example, the room Pablo takes in the warehouse in Brooklyn really existed, I checked it out when I was looking for a room in the early 1990s but decided not to rent it; I was having lunch with a friend in NYC in February 1993 when the waiter told us that a bomb had gone off in the garage of the World Trade Center; I knew a Jamaican guy called Winston who had a disarming laughter; I used to buy falafels from an Egyptian street vendor in Midtown; etc.

Can you tell me about anything that you edited out of the book?

I’m a ruthless editor and I deleted about twenty thousand words from the final manuscript, mainly subplots and comments that slowed the story down. For example there was a passage I particularly liked where Pablo’s friend Winston explained that baseball was invented to combat the “Loss of Privacy Syndrome.” Any idiot can say who the fifteenth American president was. The challenge is to know who holds the record for homeruns in 1957. Americans’ weird fascination with sport statistics was described as a way to have some cultural heritage that isn’t understood by foreigners and therefore remains their own private field.

Who would you cast in a movie adaptation of On the Run?

When I was writing it, I always saw Joe as the young John Goodman, like at the time of the movie Barton Fink. But John might be too old for the role since Joe should be someone in his mid forties. I think that the most difficult role to cast would be Douglas/Mad Dog. It has to be a guy who can have cool laugh attacks. I could imagine the French actor Omar Sy (The Untouchables).

How can readers discover more about you and your work?

If they want to hear it directly from me, they can check my website izaiamorim.com. If they want to find out what others think about my work, they can check my pages on Goodreads and Amazon. Thanks a lot for having me here, Cathy. It was great fun talking to you.

 

 

 

Becoming one of them?

After over two decades of vegetarianism, I’m trying veganism for the first time this January. I’m joining over 20,000 people and counting who have signed up to Veganuary 2016 pledging to live without meat, fish, dairy and all other animal based food for thirty-one days. Pretty much the entire family got a nasty bout of gastroenteritis during the no-mans land between Christmas and New Year – and so the start of Veganuary went without a hitch. It’s very easy to be vegan when you literally aren’t eating anything! I’m writing this on Day #7, but for normal eating purposes it’s more like Day #3. So the food has yet to prove an issue but mentally it’s already taking it out of me if I’m honest.

You see, even as a vegetarian I found vegans a bit… off. Weird even. It all seemed so extreme. What on earth were they eating? How did they cope without a decent cup of tea?! I don’t get what the problem is with wool? Or with honey? Bees love honey, don’t they?! Vegucated is a highly watchable documentary currently streaming on Netflix which follows three meat and cheese loving New Yorkers as they attempt to be vegan for six weeks. I watched it for the first time last week and wholly identified with the Vegucated crazysequence where director Marisa Miller Wolfson talks about how she had always thought vegans were weird. Later Brian, one of the three subjects of the documentary, confesses the same. Yup – that’s how I felt for a long time. It didn’t help that the only vegans I met for many years were either hard-core animal activists (the animal version of the awful placarding pro-life nuns who used to terrorise O’Connell St in the 90s) or incredibly unhealthy people with skin conditions who literally cut animal produce out of their diet and subsided on pasta and other refined carbs. So an opinion formed in my mind a long time ago – veganism was not for me. It was too dogmatic, too preachy, there were too many rules and fundamentally I didn’t exactly enjoy myself around the vegans I had met. And like any opinion held for a long time, it’s calcified within me. I’m now doing Veganuary and I’m still thinking –hmmm. Vegan. Am I now one…of them? Continue reading “Becoming one of them?”

Little Miss Giles and the 1000 Novel Challenge…

Back in the day, I didn’t earn the Little Miss Giles nickname by watching tv (although I did do that too). Having a ‘real’ job instead of academia, getting a cat (that somehow became three cats), commuting sagas and living with a partner and hence losing my iron grip over sound and lighting levels in the bedroom are all factors in reading less than I used to, but I have noticed an enormous dip in volume of digested reads. I have become that creature I could never fathom – I have a build up of books I own and haven’t read! To be fair, the majority of these are Christmas gifts that I haven’t been able to read thanks to a near apocalyptic combination of swine flu/pneumonia/ear infection/trigeminal neuralgia/copious and freakishly strong amounts of medication to deal with same – but it still rankles. Literally watching television as I couldn’t hear what was going on, and too sick and drugged to read, I realised just how much I missed books. Having not really registered New Year at all thanks to the dreaded swine, I made a belated resolution to get back on the reading horse (if you will excuse me turns of phrase that don’t work on still being a pharmaceutical guinea-pig grounds).

In early 2009, The Guardian published ‘1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list’ causing the stir that only labeling something ‘definitive’ can. The Guardian website was flooded with comments demanding to know why their preferred tomes were not included, querying the selection process, and questioning the gender imbalances in terms of author selection, and the ensuing debates, justifications, articles and trivia are well worth your time. Nonetheless, I was interested to find that as formerly voracious reader I was not able to cross as many as I would like off the list, and found precious few of my own most enjoyed on there. I did find the dreaded Pamela, which makes me worried about how much I am going to enjoy this challenge… Granted, it is not the list of the most loved novels, but still… Ian Fleming novels? More McEwan than Murakami? Six PG Wodehouses? Only one volume of the Gormenghast trilogy? Continue reading “Little Miss Giles and the 1000 Novel Challenge…”