Posted by: Corri van de Stege | August 31, 2016

New fiction: For the Love of Ilsa

It’s been very quiet here, I know.  I have been so very busy:

a) I’ve just published my new book, For the Love of Ilsa

b) I’ve achieved grade two in clarinet playing and am now marching on to get grade three – so proud!

c) I’ve spent hours and hours gardening

and….

Well, no further excuses, but here it is, my third book and second novel: For the Love of Ilsa

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It’s a story about three siblings, two brothers and one sister. they live dispersed across the world in the north of England, in Germany and in Singapore. Then one discovers a secret and all three will have to reassess their relationships with each other, their parents and their partners.

I hope you will like it.

It’s available in paperback and for your kindle and the links can be found on my author page.

And yes, I will now try and reinvigorate this blog.

Posted by: Corri van de Stege | September 29, 2015

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Richard Flanagan-The Narrow Road To The Deep North coverI am aware that The Narrow Road to the Deep North has had  mixed reviews, with some awarding it a 5* out of 5 (see for example the Guardian and Daily Telegraph reviews) whilst another review by Michael Hofmann in the LRB of 18th December 2014 gives a devastating put down: ‘In construction, the book is the half-hearted retrospective of a dying old man (the life flashing before the eyes – think of something like Hermann Broch’s Death of Virgil) that forsakes it tether for the more leisurely freedom of an impersonal series of chronological flashbacks; only to leave that in turn for an account of other characters in their own personal circumstances, in Australia, in Japan, in Korea, of which Dorrigo Evans can have known little or nothing at all.

The latter, I think, points out one of the weaknesses of the book: that you are expected to live in the head of various characters, including two Japanese generals, Dorrigo’s lover Amy, a Korean soldier serving in the Japanese army, and various others, whilst his own story unfolds. By shifting from one pov to another this weakens the believability of the main character, Dorrigo. It would have been better if he had witnessed the account of the Korean soldier’s cell after the war, or if he had spoken with one of the Japanese colonels, or been witness to what happened to them. As it is, we have to believe that these seemingly unrelated chapters give us the ‘real’ characters, the persons as they played their part in Dorrigo’s life, even if he can have had little knowledge of their thoughts or behavior once the war was over.

IMG_1178Having said that, I liked reading this book. I read it for the first time on my Kindle when I was in Singapore, in September 2014. As indicated in the chapter where Dorrigo writes the introduction to the book of Guy Hendrick’s (or Rabbit Hendricks as his fellow soldiers call him) illustrations of the POW camps, the story is about the end of one empire with the fall of Singapore and another empire that then rises. In fact, I went by bus to Changi museum (and chapel), about five and a half kilometers from central Singapore, just outside Changi village and close to the airport. The Japanese occupied Singapore from 1942 to 1945 and turned the British-built barracks in Changi into a POW camp. This also, like the POW camps we encounter in ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’, was a notorious hell hole, where thousands of military and civilian prisoners were interned, enduring appalling conditions.

Read More…

Posted by: Corri van de Stege | June 14, 2015

Historical Novels – Reading

What counts as a historical novel? Good question. Coursera offer a (free) on-line course called Plaques, Witches and War: the worlds of historical fiction and the presenter, Professor Bruce Holsinger, suggests that we could start with the definition of historical fiction that it is ‘a genre of imaginative narrative set in the past whose authors make a deliberate effort to convey chronologically remote setting, cultures and personages with accuracy, plausibility and depth’. Well, that’ll do for now as far as I am concerned. I enjoy reading historical fiction, whatever definition we slam onto these books, in particular Hilary Mantel’s books on Cromwell.

This course also lists a number of books that are discussed in greater detail by their authors (in seminars) and one of these novels is Jane Alison’s ‘The Love Artist’. I read it in two days and couldn’t put it down. It’s a well written, very imaginative book about the Roman poet Ovid, which tries to fill the gap in our knowledge about the reason why Ovid was banned from Rome by the emperor Augustus in 8 BC to a remote coast on the Black Sea. No one knows why he was banned and why Augustus refused to let him return. What did he do that so upset the emperor? After all, he was a well-known poet, even if his earlier works were somewhat racy and upset the emperor’s sensibility with his poems about The Art of Love, etc.

The Love ArtistThe first chapter of the book tells us how Ovid is taken away from his house in Rome and taken to a ship that transports him to the Black Sea. We don’t understand why. The second chapter relates how a year before Ovid travelled to the Black Sea when he wants to escape Rome for a holiday, away from Augustus who so disapproved of his ‘the Art of Love’. Even in that first chapter we realise the amount of research that was done: the geography of this trip, from Rome, via Athens (with ruined statues which makes Ovid think that he wants something more pristine, more primeval) to Troy (‘the very name made him feel tired’), continuing through the Dardanelles, the Marmara, through the Bosporus to the Black Sea. Wonderful descriptions.

At the Black Sea he finds Xenia who lives up the coast from Ovid’s ship. She has ‘glassy hair’ and she his busy writing her accounts.

Very briefly, they fall in love, each having something that the other one needs, and Ovid takes her back to Rome where he sets her up in his house and ‘feeds off her’, to write his next masterpiece. It’s a terrific book that evokes the characters as real present day characters, they’re as alive now as they were then, compelling and charismatic and palpably real. There’s drama, jealousy, rage, betrayal and ultimately Ovid’s exile, as well as the exile of Augustus’ granddaughter Julia who has good reason to be an appalling character, given what she is used for by Augustus.

In an on-line seminars Jane Alison discusses the research she carried out in order to create the reality of daily life in Rome, how she walked along the Palatine to find a spot for Ovid’s house (we don’t actually know where it was) and studied furniture etc. She’s done a great job of it and I was heartened by her comments how an author can’t help but use her own background and relationships in order to help create the sense of  jealousy, of need, love and reality.

A great book to read even if you know very little about Ovid or his time – this is a historical novel with real characters and lives and you cannot help but be drawn into the drama as it unfolds and eventually paints a very believable story of what might have happened and what could have been the cause of Ovid’s banishment.

Posted by: Corri van de Stege | May 18, 2015

Forensic Science and other distractions

I’ve been brushing up on my knowledge of forensic science with a second course delivered by Future Learn, a MOOC site = Massive Online Open Courses, owned by the Open University in England. The courses are all free, and so far have led me into all kinds of research activities that are a complete distraction from my writing. The forensic science courses are a great way of polishing up on some of the background I need for my latest novel and so I console myself that I’m actually usefully occupied. This is the second forensic science course I’ve subscribed to and even if the first one was excellent in that it forces the learner into thinking about a real case study and make a decision on innocent or guilt based on the evidence available, this last one, by the University of Leicester (where they analysed the DNA for Richard III) has some very interesting articles on the CIS effect: this is the notion that members of a jury may have unrealistic expectations of what forensic science can prove or what it can provide evidence for because of the impact of films, books, tv drama series etc. Very interesting.

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Meanwhile, I’m reading my way through a couple of psychological thrillers and crime stories that I enjoy very much:

Val McDermid’s the Skeleton Road which is a fascinating story about love and betrayal as part of the Serbian and Croat massacres in eastern Europe when Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia to escape Serb domination. The forensic science aspect comes in when bones are discovered hidden at the top of a crumbling gothic building in Edinburg and these bones are eventually identified. In reality, forensic science only plays a minor but crucial role in this book and it’s an excellent read. Val McDermid has of course also written a book on Forensics, the Anatomy of Crime, which I’m reading at the same time. This is about the reality of forensic science, what it can and cannot do and how it is used in war zones, autopsy suites and fire scenes. In a way, it’s the easy version of the course material that I am working through.

And my own writing? Well, it’s progressing, but only very slowly as I my days are jammed full of activities that include reading (see above), practising my clarinet (first grade exam in June), gardening (must dig up some beds before the summer really starts) and other more mundane activities.

As far as my novel is concerned, the woman I thought was going to be my main character in the book has been overtaken by her daughter, who struggles with the idea of having memories that don’t match the reality of what she finds out. Mmmm.   I do need some forensic science to justify what has happened.

 

Posted by: Corri van de Stege | April 4, 2015

The Neapolitan trilogy by Elena Ferrante

EF My Brilliant Friend

I’ve read a number of books recently. Not just Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, but also the three so-called Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay which I’ve read in roller coaster fashion one after the other, on my kindle. This story of the friendship between  two Italian women, Elena and Lila, from their adolescence in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood of Naples in the sixties into a widely diverging adulthood, where Elena has had all the opportunities of learning and studying whereas Lila’s parents have refused to let her study beyond primary school. Nevertheless, Elena suspects that had Lila been given half the chances she has had Lila would have been so much more clever than she will ever manage to be, and that in fact she is no more than ‘the pale shadow’ of Lila’s intellect. There is this continuous conflict between hate (jealousy, suspicion) and love (admiration, helplessness) that Elena feels for Lila, and vice versa, we assume but cannot be sure. Elena is the writer of the story throughout the three books, she has become a successful writer, is married to a well-known professor, has two daughters and has left Naples, whereas Lila left primary school, works to earn money, becomes very beautiful and marries the grocer only to escape this abusive marriage and end up poverty-stricken although she subsequently picks herself up again.    EF The story of a new name

The story develops against the backdrop of Naples in the sixties and throughout the seventies, eighties etc with a changing perspective on the place of women, the gap between rich and poor, corruption, mafia and men’s abuse of women. The title of the first book is ambiguous in that it is not really clear who is supposed to be the ‘brilliant friend’, Elena or Lila. The second book relates Lila’s abusive marriage, her falling in love with a former school friend and the disastrous consequences and her eventual escape. The third book relates from a distance what happens to Lila as Elena narrates her own story and eventual marriage and the sharp contrast between the lives of Elena and Lila, which is nevertheless held together by their common background, friends and neighbourhood in Naples, where Elena’s family continue to live.

EF Those who leave and those who stayI just could not put them down, these books and am now looking forward to the fourth book in the series which is expected to be published in the autumn, I think. Really, I’d like it to be now, soon!

The books conjure up so many things about how you feel about friends, what you expect, who you trust and don’t trust, how you fight and mistrust, but how there is always a deep down understanding between friends that forgives and that nurtures  the friendship. Whilst reading, I simply wanted more, I thought, yes that’s how it is, they are real, these two women, that’s how you react to abuse, to impositions, to falling in and out of love, to having children, to wanting a job but being too tired to deal with everything, etc. Also, there is the real sense of a changing society from the fifties to the 21st century and everything related to that, ranging from student uprisings to the nouveau riche attitudes of the newly well-off working class and the pedantry of academia.

And this fourth book in the series will come out in September:

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Posted by: Corri van de Stege | March 25, 2015

D is for Dove and T is for Turtle Dove

Yesterday the weather was good, well, reasonably good. I put on my garden gear, got the rake, the hoe and a small spade and started cutting the dead wood and weeding the bed at the side of the house. Above me in the tall trees there was huge commotion, flapping of wings as if large birds were fighting, pigeons perhaps, as if something calamitous had happened. As if… I don’t know. When I walked back to the garden shed to collect some secateurs a  young turtle-dove sat calmly on the low wall, looked at me and carried on sitting there as if in a daze, or plain stupid. After all, cats scour our garden, although there wasn’t one around that time. The little dove sat there for the whole day; once in a while its mother screeched or flapped her wings or tutted a high piercing sound, agitated, to warn it as I walked up closer to take a good look and some pictures.

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At the end of the day, before sunset it disappeared and I hoped its mother had collected it, convinced it to come off that stupid wall as it wouldn’t be safe.

This morning it sat quietly on a low and budding branch at the other end of the garden, again with its mother squawking above as I walked up close. Once more, it just sat and  looked at me in a lazy kind of way but then settled down in its own cozy feathers, getting used to the world.

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Spring is just around the corner and I’ve started working on my garden book, again.

Posted by: Corri van de Stege | March 18, 2015

A Song for Wednesday – Stranger on the Shore

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Over at Ronovan’s blog, he suggests to post an uplifting story on Wednesdays, for example about a song. What a lovely thought, and how inspirational. Immediately I thought of a song that I find extremely uplifting for various reasons, just right for an #BeWoW Blogshare Wednesday.

Acker Bilk Acker Bilk’s  Stranger on the Shore is one of the most inspiring tunes I know, one that I have cherished my whole life. When Acker Bilk died last year I decided to act on one of my long-standing resolutions: to learn to play a musical instrument and in particular that this should be the clarinet, and that I would learn to play this song. Of course, the fact that my granddaughter also chose the clarinet as her music instrument at school, helped this decision.

Having given up the day job partly in order to be able to write I’m also fulfilling this pledge: I’ve bought a clarinet, subscribed to an online course with Clarinet Companion (which, by the way, is a brilliant way of learning to play the clarinet when you want to practice in your own time) and  I’m already busy practising the pieces for the Grade 1 exam.

Now something more about the song: Stranger on the Shore. Why this song? Why this tune in particular, why the clarinet? Ever since I heard it for the first time, as a teenager when we were all into the Beatles and pop, this tune was different and inspired a longing, a desire to know what else there was in the world, a kind of promise that somewhere on a stranger shore there would be adventures. At the same time the searching optimism embedded in this tune somehow convinced me that promises would be fulfilled if only I tried hard enough.

At the time I didn’t actually know the words to the tune, for me it was a melody full of melancholic promises and wish fulfilment. I learned the words much later, which were a bit sentimental really, about lost love, but at the same time they do have that sentiment of finding oneself in this world with a longing for whatever else there is beyond the horizon:

Here I stand
Watching the tide go out
So all alone and blue
Just dreaming dreams of you

I watched your ship
As it sailed out to sea
Taking all my dreams
And taking all of me

The sighing of the waves
The wailing of the wind
The tears in my eyes burn
Pleading, “My love, return”

Why, oh, why must I go on like this?
Shall I just be a lonely stranger on the shore?

Why, oh, why must I go on like this?
Shall I just be a lonely stranger on the shore

(See:  Andy Williams – Stranger On The Shore Lyrics | MetroLyrics)

Half the World eCoverEven though it’s late in life  and after I have travelled a lot of stranger shores, have written a memoir (Half the World) about the experiences of living somewhere that life took me, in a country that created havoc with the rest of my life, I have written a novel about what it is like to follow your dreams and land the hard way (Notes on Anna), I am still hitched to this tune about being a stranger on the corri bookshore and the sound of the clarinet can still fill me with wonder.

And as far as playing Stranger on the Shore is concerned, I can do one octave, but haven’t learned yet to do the higher notes. I will though. 

Posted by: Corri van de Stege | March 16, 2015

Rereading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies

Wolf Hall 3I read Wolf Hall for the first time in 2010 and wrote a glowing review whilst I was still actually reading the book. I read it on my kindle and whilst I was travelling around the country for work and couldn’t put it down. I read whilst on trains, on platforms, in hotel room or wherever I found myself with half an hour or so to spare.

Before the start of the series Wolf Hall on the BBC (with Mark Rylance as Cromwell) I wanted to reread the book, also because it is on the list for the book club. This time I bought the paperback: some books really warrant holding in your hands and being able to go back and to check on the who’s who at the beginning. I enjoyed reading it for the second time as much as that first time and being able to watch the BBC series was simply the icing on the cake. The tv series however also covered the second book, Bring Up the Bodies, which I also reread for good measure.

The books are intriguing in various aspects. There is of course the depiction of Cromwell as a fairly sympathetic and clever person who manoeuvres himself and his family and close relations through a court environment where he gains the confidence Henry VIII, even tough he is someone from a very low background and is mocked by courtiers and noblemen for that reason. This sympathetic portrayal goes against the way Thomas Cromwell has usually been depicted, as a man who is more of a villain and who persecutes Thomas More, and whose painted portrait by which we know him does him no favours at all.

Secondly, there is the risky business of making a very well-known time period and the quarrel between Henry VIII and the church into something that grabs your attention all over again, because of the way the period is now presented by Mantel.

The BBC series did all this perfectly, of course, this representation of the Mark Rylancecharacters and the era. I’ve become a great admirer of Mark Rylance, because of the way he was able to convey feelings and thoughts simply by looking and by letting his face do all the ‘talking’, without uttering a word. That was brilliant.

And of course, there is Mantel’s extraordinary writing, and her use of the present tense: Mantel invites us into the very presence of Cromwell, as if we’re there with him, referring to Cromwell as ‘he’ and sometimes, to avoid confusion as to who is actually meant to be talking or thinking or acting, ‘he, Cromwell’. This, and the use of present tense, draws us right into the room with him.

It is this writing style of Hilary Mantel’s that is so very unique and seemingly effortless, and which makes it worth reading the books again and again. As writers, we can learn a lot from her.

Posted by: Corri van de Stege | March 13, 2015

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Kate Evans at her blog Writing Ourselves Well has nominated me (and my blog) for The Very Inspiring Blogger Award, and I’m very honoured. Thank you very much Kate. You should visit her site, which is full of inspiration!

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The Award Guidelines:

1. Thank the person who has nominated you and add a link to their blog

2. Display the award in a blog entry

3. List the award guidelines so your own nominees will know what to do

4. State 7 things about yourself

5. Nominate 15 others for the Award

15! Nominees probably run into the hundreds by now! Anyway, I will comply and list my nominees below.

Seven things about me:

1. I drove a car in Isfahan with three female friends as passengers when we nearly got caught up in a sea of demonstrators during the Iranian revolution, and I had no scarf or any other item to cover myself

2. Not to worry, we got away!

3. I’ve lived and worked in three countries, The Netherlands, Iran and England

4. I’ve written a memoir about the time I lived in Iran and a novel about a Dutch girl living in a claustrophobic religious community in The Netherlands

5. I love (fiction) writing, novels and short stories, and have a number of projects on the go

6. I am fluently bi-lingual Dutch / English and speak a couple of other languages

7. When I stopped full-time work last year I decided not only to spend lots of time on writing and publishing but also to learn to play a music instrument and chose the clarinet – it’s great fun

My nominees are:

Abozdar at https://abozdar.wordpress.com

Lani at: https://lanivcox.wordpress.com

Rosie Amber at: https://rosieamber.wordpress.com

Jay Dee Archer at: https://ireadencyclopedias.wordpress.com (he has several blogs)

Bill Chance at: http://billchance.org

Cleopatra loves books at: https://cleopatralovesbooks.wordpress.com

BD Hesse at: https://bdhesse.wordpress.com

Nhi at: https://worldlittlelights.wordpress.com

Indie authors blogger: http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com

Bad Kitty at: https://badkittycreative.wordpress.com

Bookchat: http://michelleclementsjames.com

Judith at: https://leeswammes.wordpress.com

Susan Toy at: https://islandeditions.wordpress.com

Kimberly DuBoise at http://tinypoet86.blogspot.co.uk

Amanda Richer at: https://richteramanda.wordpress.com

Congratulations to all!

 

Posted by: Corri van de Stege | March 3, 2015

E-books on the decline?

There are some mixed messages about the decline or otherwise of the sale of e-books, with some publishers claiming that physical books are making a come-back. In January the Guardian reported on this, claiming a steady decline of printed books since 2009. On the other hand The Publishers Weekly noted a slight decline in e-books over the last quarter of 2014.

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I like my Kindle and I like being able read whatever I fancy while I’m on holiday, rather than having to think about the weight of my suitcase or being lumbered with a heavy bag full of books when I go somewhere by train. However, I love my bookcase full of books and I suspect that reading from a screen before going to sleep is not actually conducive to falling asleep. I’ve done some tests recently as I’ve gone through a spell of sleeping badly and I’ve realised that when I read a physical book my eyes begin to glaze over after a while and all I need to do is turn over and fall asleep, whereas I tend to remain alert and wide awake when I hold up the (lit) screen in front of me… Proof? I don’t know. I just think that I’ll be reading more physical books again, also because I like the feel and look of them! To begin with I’ve just reread Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and although I read Bring up the Bodies on my Kindle (because I had a copy) and read that as well that was part of the test. I love both books and wasn’t the BBC series splendid, with Mark Rylance as Cromwell?

As well as filling up further bookshelves, I’ve also started to take out books from the library again. I’ve ordered and just received Kasuo Ishiguro’s last novel, The Buried Giant  as Amazon have a rather nice offer, with the hardback only a few pence more than the kindle version. I love Ishiguro’s books and this one has had raving reviews of course. So, once I’ve finished reading the hard copy of Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guest I’ll curl up with Ishiguro’s take on memory and remembering in his tale of an elderly couple in search of a son in an ancient England full of trolls. Cannot wait.

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