Sunday, 24 May 2015

Book Marks: To Write Good Books, China Censors And Genre Snobbery

Working in publishing doesn't mean you'll learn how to write and publish a good book, as Patricia Park learns. Things were different when the shoe's on the other foot:

Part of the difficulty with writing is that it's an unruly, inefficient process. I'd create painstaking outlines, only to off-road the narrative. I wrote longhand in spiral notebooks—for every ten words I put down, I'd cut nine. Then I'd type up my work, print it out, and edit again by pen.

...In a misguided moment (among the many), I took the passing advice of a writing instructor who found my protagonist "distant" and rewrote half a year's work from the first-person voice to the third—only to return eventually to the first-person. It's a process that generates a lot of waste. Years' worth of work ended up on the cutting room floor.

Two things in Hong Kong: China's control over the sale of sensitive books in the island territories (which has been around for some time) and the decision to close City University's MFA programme might have something to do with Occupy Central.

Madeleine Thien, a Canadian novelist and tutor at the University, seems to think the closure could be political, and fears for her students and the youth of Hong Kong.

Recently, one of my students wrote to me: "Freedom of speech is dying in Hong Kong." In its abrupt closure of a small programme, City University has chosen to make the act of writing a political battle. For five years, we occupied a small and unique place: a learning environment in which there were no hard and fast dicta, but in which we cultivated the awareness that language is thinking. Language can diminish and language can enlarge. For our young people, to read and to be read matters.

With regards to book censorship, this report on how Chinese censors are changing the content in imported works without the authors' knowledge is ... well ... perturbing.

US novelist Paul Auster told PEN he did not discover the changes made to the translated version of his book Sunset Park until after publication in China last November. He said he felt his book was mutilated. The plight of dissident and Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo is a minor plot in the book. The publisher cut several pages, and in other places replaced the dissident's name with "L."

Oh, China. What else can I say?

Over at Salon, Rachel Kramer Bussel has problems with somebody's "cultural snobbery masquerading as concern for the impending downfall of society".

Everyone is entitled to read, watch and listen to whatever they want. Personally, I'd rather see people reading something than reading nothing. ...if you're so concerned with society being dumbed down, why not try to tackle the problem of illiteracy or education or library funding?

Life doesn't come with trigger warnings, says Lori Horvitz in The Guardian, so why should books have them? "Do we, as citizens of this uncomfortable and unpredictable world, have the luxury and privilege of receiving 'trigger warnings' before being exposed to disturbing material about subjects like the Holocaust, lynching, murder and rape?"

Horvitz is, according to her Guardian profile, a "Professor of Literature and Language at University of North Carolina at Asheville, where she teaches courses in creative writing, literature, and directs their Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program."

Find out how Terry Pratchett's Night Watch cured Sam Jordison's post-election blues.

There is some wonderful, inspiring material in this novel about the rule of law and the benefits of simple decency. There's fiery rage at the injustice of society – and yet also gentle delight in the way things keep on moving in spite of that injustice, and a determination that people can do the right thing. At a time when I've felt pretty bleak about human nature, it's been a ray of light. Come the next election, one of the first things I'll want to know from my candidate is how much Terry Pratchett he or she has read.

I think Jordison's not a fan of the Conservative Party.

"Is this the forgotten book that inspired Douglas Adams?" asks Scott Pack, who found similarities between Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Richard Cowper's Worlds Apart.

Though he doesn't feel his analysis is conclusive, he's "willing to bet that Douglas Adams was aware of this book and may well have read it before writing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Worlds Apart was published in 1974, Hitchhiker was first broadcast in 1978. Cowper, the pen name of John Middleton Murry Jr, was a popular SF writer throughout the 1970s. Never a huge bestseller, he was nonetheless well known in SF circles and I find it unlikely that Adams would not have heard of him.


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