Sham Jolimie is a photographer featured in this Fstoppers article. Her haunting animal portraits are a thing of beauty. Jolimie is an advocate for animal welfare and social justice and her portraits of animals, particularly wild animals, shine a light on their humanity (for lack of a better word) and ask us to see them differently.
Her shot of an owl in the rain has captured many hearts for its raw emotion.
“I shot this precious moment on a rainy monsoon day. I stood in ankle deep rainwater and shared a silent conversation with this shivering wet owl. We stared at each other for a long while. Its deep intelligent eyes and sad demeanour changed my perception of birds forever. They are more sentient and self-aware than I ever imagined. Owls have tiny facial muscles that allow them to show their feelings on their faces, just like humans.”
Jolimie’s Instagram is filled with shots like this and more. Without doubt you’ll find creative inspiration and beautiful photography.
I found Emma Howells’ photography after reading a PetaPixel article entitled Dear Men: Stop Disrespecting Women Photographers in the Field. In the article Howells shares her experience of women having to prove themselves on a daily basis to their male counterparts.
“Ever since my initial post, I’ve received an abundance of comments and messages from other women photographers with their own similar experiences. I assumed this was happening to all of the female photographers I knew, even the ones so madly talented that I felt too starstruck to approach. But in this case, talent isn’t even relevant, is it? Whether or not you know of our work when you first meet us, why not treat us with respect? Part of what kept me quiet at first was self-doubt in my own work — maybe I wasn’t deserving of their respect. But in this case, the work itself isn’t the problem.”
Howells is a visual journalist and after reading her article I went over to her Instagram. Just as you would expect from a talented photo journalist, her images are bursting with story. I loved looking through her beautiful images and I’m sure you’ll enjoy them too.
I also loved this upbeat and supportive quote which is good for street photographers and life in general. The sentiments of it are echoed in his photography.
“Be patient, optimistic; remember to smile, both for others, and for yourself. Don’t get depressed when you miss the shot; there’s just another around the corner if you keep your eyes open.”
This is why I really enjoyed his instagram feed – it is filled with great street photography that will make you smile and appreciate the quirky, humorous world we live in. He has such a great eye for street photography and I’m sure you’ll enjoy scrolling through his work.
I found Ng Weijiang (@orhganic) through an article on Exposure Guide where you can see some of his incredibly cool collages made by taking advantage of the Instagram layout to create larger art pieces composed of individual posts.
His feed is a beautiful blockwork of monochromatic photography. Most of his work is street photography and architecture in subject – always well composed with interesting perspectives. Every now and then you see the beginnings of one of his collages starting to take shape one square at a time. It’s magnificent!
I’m positive you’ll enjoy following him as he journeys through the urban world and occasionally turns it on its head one square at a time.
Two years ago I packed up my entire home into boxes for a move to a new house. Ultimately, we didn’t move to that new house and I was stuck with all my stuff in boxes. While it was disappointing at the time, I look back with gratitude because it enabled me to do something very important.
I didn’t have the energy to immediately unpack everything because I was still quite disappointed with how things had turned out so I just unpacked what I really needed for that week. After that first week there were certain special items I missed having around me so I unpacked those. Within the first month I had unpacked what I really needed and what was very important to me and nothing more.
Months passed and what I came to realise was that I had been harbouring a LOT of stuff that I thought I needed, wanted, or would one day use that was just cluttering up my space and my mind. The really important result of not having all that extra stuff out is that I had the space both physically and mentally to re-evaluate my life a bit and see what I wanted to do next and how I wanted to live.
“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.”
It seems that when you have all the stuff from your past still cluttering your home it becomes difficult to see the changes you actually want to make. Your stuff holds you back. I highly recommend clearing out the clutter to make space for the new to come in. Once I had everything out of the way I began to see how I could make my home’s style a better reflection of who I am now and what I’m aiming for.
“The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”
I don’t expect you to go and pack up your whole house as I did to figure out what is worth your space and what is not (although if you can it works well) but I do have a strategy that I think can help you reach the same results in increments. Instead, pack up room by room.
- Go into a room of your house and pack everything up. Take this opportunity to clean the room top to bottom.
- Leave this room over night or as long as it takes for you to go into the room to do something.
- Then unpack only what you need for the task or for a week.
- After a week unpack the things you really miss having around you but be strict about this. Only the stuff that truly means something to you like photos, special gifts or ornaments, etc. Do not riffle through boxes and pull out stuff just because it has a memory attached to it because that’s all your stuff. Just those things that can’t be replaced.
- Throughout the first month only unpack those things that you need, those special things that you enjoy having around you and which are in line with your current mindset and home style. Leave everything else in the boxes.
- After that first month anything that remains in those boxes you should consider donating, selling, or throwing away.
Move from room to room in this way and if you are honest and strict with yourself you should have cleared out plenty of clutter and maybe even made a bit of money from it. When it comes to clothes the one month rule won’t apply to seasonal clothes so you may have to revisit your wardrobe each season and cull those pieces that don’t get worn within one month. Give it a try and see how you do. Do it every year if you want to. Like everything the more often you do it the better at it you’ll get.
If you find yourself needing a real push to help you declutter you might want to read famous Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. It is jam packed with quote-worthy motivation and revelations.
What’s your take on clutter, love it or hate it?
Beat The Grind is a travel blogger with an amazing eye for capturing a place and its people.
You can read about his travels on the Beat The Grind blog in a bit more detail but if you’re not into reading, no problem! His Instagram feed is stunning and you’ll see the world as if you were travelling by his side.
What I really enjoy is Beat The Grind is not just about the sights; it’s about the people who live there, their way of life, their street art, food, and what happens to be going on there at the time. It’s the full story.
A great feed to follow for some awesome visual storytelling.
I discovered Brice Portolano through a Lens Culture article; Arctic Love: Way, Way Out in the Wilderness in which Portolano talks about the beginnings of his No Signal series of photo essays. The photos in the Lens Culture article are from his Arctic Love photo essay which is one of four in his No Signal series.
“With over half of the world’s population living in urban areas, man has never been so disconnected from nature and the open spaces. Through the photography project ‘No Signal’ started in 2013, Brice Portolano documents the return of man to nature in the western world and the reflections surrounding this issue.”
The hauntingly beautiful images from Arctic Love led me to his website where you can see the rest of this project and his other work. Ultimately I ended up on his Instagram feed to follow him and his work and you will not be disappointed. The beauty continues there and I believe you will enjoy following him as he continues to share images of his projects and travels creating a captivating Instagram feed.
I sat down and read this book cover to cover in an hour. It is a fabulous, thought-provoking, and inspiring book filled with drawings, word art, and great advice. In the way it is written and designed it gets you thinking practically and creatively. I found it part inspiration and part workbook which was very helpful.
The GoodReads blurb: “Who hasn’t asked the question “How can I find and follow my true calling?” Elle Luna frames this moment as “standing at the crossroads of Should and Must.” “Should” is what we feel we ought to be doing, or what is expected of us. “Must” is the thing we dream of doing, our heart’s desire. And it was her own personal journey that inspired Elle Luna to write a brief online manifesto that, in a few short months, has touched hundreds of thousands of people who’ve read it or heard Elle speak on the topic. Now Ms. Luna expands her ideas into an inspirational, highly visual gift book for every recent graduate, every artist, every seeker, every career changer. The Crossroads of Should and Must has a universal message—we get to choose the path between Should and Must. And it gives every reader permission to embrace this message. It’s about the difference between jobs, careers, and callings. The difference between going to work and becoming one with your work. Why knowing what you want is often the hardest part. It gives eye-opening techniques for reconnecting with one’s inner voice, like writing your own obituary (talk about putting life in perspective). It talks about the most common fears of choosing Must over Should—money, time, space, and the ultimate fear: total vulnerability—and shores up our hesitation with inspiring stories of and quotes from the artists and writers and thinkers who’ve faced their own crossroads of Should and Must and taken the leap. It explains the importance of mistakes, of “unlearning,” of solitude, of keeping moving, of following a soul path. Presented in four chapters—The Crossroads, The Origin of Should, Must, and The Return—inspired by the hero’s journey outlined by Joseph Campbell, The Crossroads of Should and Must guides us from the small moment, discovering our Must, to the big moment—actually doing something about it, and returning to share our new gifts with the world.”
As the title suggests this book is great for people seeking their life calling and for people who are at a crossroad in their life and not sure what to do next. This short book will guide you through sorting through the basic questions you need to answer to get to the root of you and begin to formulate small actions you can take to move forward. Luna’s idea isn’t about making a decision and making an overnight transformation. It is about the process or journey to your ‘Must’ which is far more achievable and sustainable for us all.
I loved the quotes throughout and I especially liked the questions Luna asks you to ask yourself and the suggestions she gives for what you can do. I made a few notes along the way and brainstormed my answers to the questions she poses in the book. Reading this book was a great exercise in working out my direction. This isn’t a book about abandoning your job to pursue your passion without a plan. This is about helping you work out how you can live your passion and pay your bills. But at the same time it proposes that you not be afraid of a path which has no easy answers or no set guidelines.
For no other reason than to know yourself better I recommend this book; from its questions which get you to examine your Shoulds so you can know your prison, its prompt for you to define your must-have money vs. your nice-to-have money, to creating your ‘what-are-you-so-afraid-of’ list, you are bound to learn something about where you’re at and where to next.
A lovely book to boost your life and creativity for anybody and everybody.
Instagram is one of my favourite creative outlets. The opportunities for creative expression with Instagram are endless and one of the main reasons is because you are free to experiment.
A couple of shells, take some photos, a bit of playing around in Snapseed and you’ve made a lovely image for Instagram.
Your photos don’t need to be perfect shots or your portfolio best. You can be creative with perspective, colour, composition, and editing and get feedback from your followers. You can just practise and play.
Instagram is a wonderful community; everything goes, anything is possible, and everyone can just let go and create. You don’t need to agonise over what to upload; you can be free, try new things, and keep your creative juices flowing. There are also thousands of other highly creative people out there to follow and inspire you!
If you’re interested in still life photography, 10 Tips to Get Started with Still Life Photography will help you on your way to creating beautiful still lifes easily at home that’ll have you busting out your creative moves. And what will you do with these images? Instagram them of course!
Lilolia will soon be expanding to include new topics and content. For the readers who have come to know Lilolia, rest assured that all the current content related to reading will continue as normal. Lilolia will remain dedicated to reading and books. I have always had a vision for this blog that included more topics and different kinds of content though and I now have a much better idea of what I would like to expand into.
Learning, creativity, inspiration, expression.
Some of the areas I would like to blog about are self education and continued learning, creativity, photography, other forms of creative expression, and topics related to how we can live creatively, express that creativity, and continue to learn and expand throughout life.
Just as I have tried to give you all some reading inspiration, I hope to provide you with inspiration for other creative endeavours.
I’m on a journey.
Lilolia began as a personal journey through the world of literature to learn more and be more engaged. The new topics and content are part of my personal journey too and the perspective will be the same. I will share what I learn, what I think is interesting and helpful, and hopefully help others on similar journeys.
I hope you enjoy what’s to come!
We are two weeks into the new year. By now many people have already defined their new year’s resolutions and a few may already have given up on them. I like the idea of resolutions but I tend to prefer goal setting at the beginning of the year. Rather than focus on things I want to stop doing I like to focus on what I want to achieve during the year, where I want to be by the end of the year, and what I need to do to get there. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
I think what’s important is not so much the goal (although achieving it would definitely be wonderful) but rather the mindset we get into by thinking carefully about what we want and how we will get there. Getting your head into the right gear at the beginning of the year is a powerful way to let go of the year just ended and prepare to be open for the new.
I’m not sure that looking back over a year and judging it as either good or bad is the right strategy for life. There is no doubt that some years leave us drained or depressed while others have filled us with joy and hope.
“And just as he who, with exhausted breath, having escaped from the sea to shore, turns to the perilous waters and gazes.” – Canto 1, lines 22-24, The Inferno of The Divine Comedy by Dante
The quote above is how I see looking back at a tough year. You got out alive and there’s much to be grateful for in the lessons we learn in tough times. These make us stronger and prepare us for greater challenges. This, too, is important as is happiness and prosperity. Another quote I like that often helps me see what I initially perceive as a tough year as part of the greater picture of my life is from Zora Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God:
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
If last year wasn’t the year you hoped it would be, don’t worry. Everything is preparation. Get out a fresh, blank piece of paper and think about what you want to achieve and what kind of life you want to have. Then write down the things you need to do to get there. Be specific. Each day you can work a little more on completing task after task until you get closer and closer to where you want to be.
Last year I asked questions about where I am and where I wanted to be. It was about coming to a realisation that I wanted a drastic change and that I needed to take risks to get it. This year I have a better and clearer idea of what I want and the steps I will take to get there. Among the many changes I will try to bring about this year the main one is focus on developing skills that will better help me to express the creative side of myself. I will be taking courses in Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, focusing on developing my photography, and working towards creating better content for digital publication. Doing these things will bring me joy and satisfaction because essentially my goal is to do more of what makes me happy and not put any more time into doing stuff that doesn’t fascinate and inspire me.
What are your goals for this year?
I finished Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon a few days ago and I enjoyed it so much that I just went right to the next one, Show Your Work. Both have been very helpful to me personally and I’m sure if you are creating anything at all you’ll find this book, Show Your Work, very beneficial. There may be some things that you already know but Kleon has a great way of putting things so that you’ll feel reaffirmed in your strategy.
“In his New York Times bestseller Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon showed readers how to unlock their creativity by stealing from the community of other movers and shakers. Now, in an even more forward-thinking and necessary book, he shows how to take that critical next step on a creative journey getting known. Show Your Work! is about why generosity trumps genius. It s about getting findable, about using the network instead of wasting time networking. It s not self-promotion, it s self-discovery let others into your process, then let them steal from you. Filled with illustrations, quotes, stories, and examples, Show Your Work! offers ten transformative rules for being open, generous, brave, productive. In chapters such as You Don t Have to Be a Genius; Share Something Small Every Day; and Stick Around, Kleon creates a user s manual for embracing the communal nature of creativity what he calls the ecology of talent. From broader life lessons about work (you can t find your voice if you don t use it) to the etiquette of sharing and the dangers of oversharing to the practicalities of Internet life (build a good domain name; give credit when credit is due), it s an inspiring manifesto for succeeding as any kind of artist or entrepreneur in the digital age.” (GoodReads)
I really enjoy Kleon’s voice and he has a great sense of humour which makes for great reading. This book really expands on a point (the main takeaway for me) that he touched on in Steal Like An Artist. “Share the dots but don’t connect.” In other words, share your process, share snippets of how you do what you do. Don’t give everything away but don’t just share the end product. Share your process, inspire others, teach others, create a conversation, and thereby connect more deeply with people. The internet has changed the game and connecting with people by letting them into your world is the best way to get people to care about what you do/create.
I highly recommend this concise book. There’s great advice and I’m sure you’ll be left feeling inspired or recharged. I think Steal Like An Artist and Share Your Work are best read together in that order and at 200 pages combined you’ll be through them in no time. I know I’ll be going back to these books because there were such great quotes throughout and the advice really is great.
This is another book about creativity and how to get on living a life in the creative industry. I thoroughly enjoyed it as it is concise, very cool, and full of good advice structured under 10 main points. It’s really a quick and easy read. It has lovely drawings and really great quotes. I jotted down a few notes while reading this. Kleon has a great writing voice too so all in all a must read for anyway working in any creative field or anyone who pursues creative endeavours of all kinds. It’s actually a book for us all because we’re all creative in some way and this little book will help you get back into it or dive deeper into it.
“You don’t need to be a genius, you just need to be yourself. That’s the message from Austin Kleon, a young writer and artist who knows that creativity is everywhere, creativity is for everyone. A manifesto for the digital age, Steal Like an Artist is a guide whose positive message, graphic look and illustrations, exercises, and examples will put readers directly in touch with their artistic side.“ (GoodReads)
I especially liked that there’s a recommended reading list at the end. I love further reading lists! I particularly liked this line in the book: “…you are a mashup of what you choose to let into your life…” This book left me feeling full of energy to pursue my projects with zest and joy and I’m sure it’ll do the same for you if you have a creative project or hobby.
I know of Elizabeth Gilbert from her Eat, Pray, Love success. The cover of her latest book Big Magic completely drew me in and then the “Creative Living Beyond Fear” subtitle really spoke to me too.
I consider myself a creative person (but really we all are) and I always have my hand in some kind of creative pursuit but since I am a self taught creative (my tertiary education is in the social sciences) there tends to be a bit of fear or anxiety surrounding my freedom to create without feeling like a complete fraud. Just like when I began this blog years ago I felt I had no right to do so because I knew nothing about the world of blogging. But it has turned out to be a wonderful creative outlet.
If you recognise yourself then this book is for you. It is just as much for anyone working professionally in the creative arts as anyone enjoying working on creative arts in a non professional way. I really enjoyed this book and it is chock full of great lines that you will no doubt see as affirmation style images on Pinterest. It is inspiring and realistic. More importantly it is a guide to just how we should be treating our creativity to enjoy it more fully as well as foster it.
This is not about being successful in the creative arts; this book is about creative living for the sheer love of it. No doubt there will be those that dislike this book but I am not one of them. I have a number of creative passions that I love working on and this book has given me the boost to keep on keeping on. My biggest take away from this book is a personal one. Your creativity (and ability) is no less legitimate than the next person’s regardless of education or any other external factor. Your experience is unique so get stuck in.
I really enjoyed this book, it’s a quick read and if you’re intrigued by it go ahead and read it. If you’ve read it what did you think?
Over the last two weeks or so I have spent some time reading some of the online Paris Review Interviews and many ofthem have been very interesting to read. Some of them have inspired me to read certain, possibly lesser known, novels from great and well loved authors. If you enjoy the interviews as much as I did you may be interested in the Four Volume Boxed Set of The Paris Review Interviews full of many more of these wonderful in depth interviews with leading novelists, poets, and playwrights.
Here are 9 pieces of writer wisdom put together from some of my favourites of the interviews.
1. Write as if you are writing in secret.
How does your father feel about your books?
He gave me those nickels, remember? It didn’t occur to me that my books would be widely read at all, and that enabled me to write anything I wanted to. And even once I realized that they were being read, I still wrote as if I were writing in secret. That’s how one has to write anyway—in secret. At a certain point, you have to not please your parents, although for me that’s painful because I’m close to my parents and of course I want them to be happy.”
2. You don’t need to go to college to learn to write.
You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.
3. Don’t overwrite.
I’d started by working for months and months on the first chapter, which was about Probst walking his dog and thinking with culpably extreme satisfaction about his accomplishments. I poured countless hours into very purple sentences describing the beauty of the light in Webster Groves, my hometown, on a late weekday afternoon. It was a chapter that ended with the death of the dog. It was terribly overwritten.
What do you mean by overwritten?
Trying to do too much with a sentence. I was very much still under the spell of the Germans. You can do things in German with sentence structure that are less advisable in English—pack in all sorts of syntactical elements before the final verb. I was playing with language and with the possibilities of sound, although not so much with alliteration. I’d read Rabbit, Run at a certain point and spent a couple of weeks being highly alliterative before coming to my senses and realizing that not only was my alliteration bad, Updike’s was, too.
I was doing a lot of punning, though. I was very attached at that young age to pure linguistic play, and blissfully unaware of how it might all read. I thought the concept of my book, the unfolding of a conspiracy, ought to be strong enough to drag the reader through any amount of linguistic playfulness.
I was reaching; I was writing about stuff I didn’t really know anything about and trying to incorporate every scrap of information and interesting observation I’d ever had. I would write as many pages as I could in a day. I once wrote seventeen pages in a day. And those seventeen pages are in the finished book. When I got rolling, my determination to get the book done and have it be good and get it published was so strong that I had limitless energy. The finished manuscript was thirteen hundred pages. I was twenty-five.
4. A character’s choice of words or dialogue is a powerful tool because it is so revealing.
Dialogue is a halfway house. I heard the British crime writer David Peace speak last year. David’s a second-person narrative specialist, and a member of the audience asked what it is about the second person that appeals to him. David’s deadpan reply was, Well, it’s halfway between the first person and the third. Dialogue-driven narrative is a more conventional means of having first-person connection with third-person detachment from you, the writer. It’s an elastic-tether way for people with first-person dependency issues—like me—to range further than the “I” form usually allows. Dialogue can be a revealing tool—you can smuggle in a lot about your characters simply by their choice of words. On seeing a snapshot of my infant son, an elderly and somewhat racist relative exclaimed, But he doesn’t even look Japanese! Rather than get angry, I thanked her, inwardly, for reminding me how revealing a person’s choice of words can be. I also thought, I’ll use that line one day.
5. Give your first draft time to breathe before you go back to it to rewrite.
What do you do once you finish a first draft?
It’s good to give the thing at least six weeks to sit and breathe. But I don’t always have that luxury. I didn’t have it with Cell. The publisher had two manuscripts of mine. One of them was Lisey’s Story, which I had been working on exclusively for a long time, and the other was Cell, which I had been thinking about for a long time, and it just sort of announced itself: It’s time, you have to do it now. When that happens, you have to do it or let it go, so Cell was like my unplanned pregnancy.
You mean you wrote Cell in the middle of writing Lisey’s Story?
I was carrying both of them at the same time for a while. I had finished a first draft ofLisey, so I revised it at night and worked on Cell during the day. I used to work that way when I was drinking. During the day I would work on whatever was fresh and new, and I was pretty much straight as an arrow. Hung over a lot of the time, but straight. At night I’d be looped, and that’s when I would revise. It was fun, it was great, and it seemed to work for me for a long time, but I can’t sustain that anymore.
I wanted to publish Lisey first, but Susan Moldow, Scribner’s publisher, wanted to lead with Cell because she thought the attention it would receive would benefit the sale of Lisey. So they put Cell on a fast track, and I had to go right to work on the rewrite. This is one thing publishers can do now, which isn’t always necessarily good for the book.
Can’t you tell them no?
Yes, but in this case it was actually the right thing to do, and it was a huge success. Cell was an unusual case though. You know, Graham Greene used to talk about books that were novels and books that were entertainments. Cell was an entertainment. I don’t want to say I didn’t care, because I did—I care about anything that goes out with my name on it. If you’re going to do the work and if someone is going to pay you for it, I think you ought to do the best job that you can. But after I finished the first draft of Lisey, I gave myself six weeks. When you return to a novel after that amount of time, it seems almost as if a different person wrote it. You’re not quite as wedded to it. You find all sorts of horrible errors, but you also find passages that make you say, Jesus, that’s good!
6. Don’t worry about getting the story perfect in the first draft because you can go back to it and tweak it once it has revealed itself to you.
You say that you don’t know who the killer is as you’re writing, but a possible exception occurs to me: the character of Gotanda in Dance Dance Dance. There’s a certain deliberate buildup in that novel toward the moment at which Gotanda makes his confession—in classic crime-novel style, he’s presented to us as the last person to suspect. Did you not perhaps know that Gotanda was guilty in advance?
In the first draft I didn’t know it was Gotanda. Closer to the end—two-thirds in or so—I knew. When I wrote the second draft I rewrote the Gotanda scenes, knowing it was him.
Is that one of the main purposes of revision, then—to take what you’ve learned from the end of the first draft and rework the earlier sections to give a certain feeling of inevitability?
That’s right. The first draft is messy; I have to revise and revise.
How many drafts do you generally go through?
Four or five. I spend six months writing the first draft and then spend seven or eight months rewriting.
7. Experiment with narration points of view until the character comes through you and leads you through the story.
What was it about Saleem Sinai that released you?
I’d always wanted to write something that would come out of my experience as a child in Bombay. I’d been away from India for a while and began to fear that the connection was eroding. Childhood—that was the impetus long before I knew what the story was and how big it would become. But if you’re going to have the child born at the same time as the country, so that they’re twins in a way, you have to tell the story of both twins. So it forced me to take on history. One of the reasons it took five years to write is that I didn’t know how to write it. One early version opened with the line, “Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence.” I meant that children don’t come naked into the world, they come burdened with the accumulated history of their family and their world. But it was too Tolstoyan. I thought, If there’s one thing this book is not, it’s Anna Karenina. The sentence is still there in the book somewhere, but I buried it.
The third-person narration wasn’t working, so I decided to try a first-person narrative, and there was a day when I sat down and I wrote more or less exactly what is now the first page of Midnight’s Children. It just arrived, this voice of Saleem’s: quite savvy, full of all kinds of arcana, funny but sort of ridiculous. I was electrified by what was coming out of my typewriter. It was one of those moments when you believe that the writing comes through you rather than from you. I saw how to drag in everything from the ancient traditions of India to the oral narrative form to, above all, the noise and the music of the Indian city. That first paragraph showed me the book. I held onto Saleem’s coattails and let him run. As the book developed, as Saleem grew up, there were moments where I felt frustrated by him. As he got older, he became more and more passive. I kept trying to force him to be more active, to take charge of events—and it just didn’t work. Afterwards, people assumed the book was autobiographical, but to me Saleem always felt very unlike me, because I had a kind of wrestling match with him, which I lost.
8. To create genuine characters, good and bad, we have to identify with them but there must be areas where they don’t represent you.
One of the great women characters you have created, I think, is Beatrice in Anthills of the Savannah. Do you identify with her? Do you see any part of yourself in that character? She’s sort of a savior, I think.
Yes, yes, I identify with her. Actually, I identify with all my characters, good and bad. I have to do that in order to make them genuine. I have to understand them even if I don’t approve of them. Not completely—it’s impossible; complete identification is, in fact, not desirable. There must be areas in which a particular character does not represent you. At times, though, the characters—like Beatrice—do contain, I think, elements of my own self and my systems of beliefs and hopes and aspirations. Beatrice is the first major woman character in my fiction. Those who do not read me as carefully as they ought have suggested that this is the only woman character I have ever written about and that I probably created her out of pressure from the feminists. Actually, the character of Beatrice has been there in virtually all my fiction, certainly from No Longer at Ease, A Man of the People, right down to Anthills of the Savannah. There is a certain increase in the importance I assign to women in getting us out of the mess that we are in, which is a reflection of the role of women in my traditional culture—that they do not interfere in politics until men really make such a mess that the society is unable to go backward or forward. Then women will move in . . . this is the way the stories have been constructed, and this is what I have tried to say. In one of Sembene Ousmane’s films he portrays that same kind of situation where the men struggle, are beaten and cannot defend their rights against French colonial rule. They surrender their rice harvest, which is an abomination. They dance one last time in the village arena and leave their spears where they danced and go away—this is the final humiliation. The women then emerge, pick up the spears, and begin their own dance. So it’s not just in the Igbo culture. It seems to be something that other African peoples also taught us.
9. There is no right or wrong way to write a novel. Whether you write it linearly from beginning to end or write it in segments as scenes come to you what matters is that you write it how you are comfortable.
Do you write a novel from page one through to the end?
No. Scenes present themselves. Sometimes it proceeds in a linear fashion, but sometimes it’s all over the place. I wrote two parts of Surfacing five years before I wrote the rest of the novel—the scene in which the mother’s soul appears as a bird and the first drive to the lake. They are the two anchors for that novel.
Yes, I do. I’ve never done it any other way. If you write in bits, you lose some kind of very valuable continuity of form. It is an invisible inner continuity. Sometimes you only discover it is there if you are trying to reshape.