Categories
HM On Writing Stray Toughts

Bad Script? Good Plot?

Or both, Interchangeable

 

Five sea-battles, a lynching, a riot with attempted arson, a torture scene, practically no dialogue, and a cast of predominantly male actors. The only two females are respectively a whore and a longsuffering wife. They probably have about three lines between them. Perhaps the wife has a bit more, she scolds her husband for fifty seconds or so. Oh, she also repeatedly tells a band of rioters to ‘go home’. And I’m supposed to like this film? What a waste of time.

On top of everything else, the sea battles were 3d models, and they used the same still of the attackers before every battle scene (as seen through a folding monocular). There was too little dialogue and what was there was inept. It may have been historically correct. If so, that is a poor merit. I have nothing more to say about this.

 

A few days ago, I watched The Book Thief. It was glorious and tragic and funny and beautiful all at once. I think I cried for the better part of it. I simply couldn’t stop, but I didn’t care. It went through and through me like a knife and a caress. What a rare treat. It just fits in with what I write about. It was an inspiration, and more so than the book. I found the book impossible to finish the first time I attempted to read it. On my second try, I think I got it, but there are things in it that I can’t handle. Mostly it is a question of language. I don’t know. The mixture of German and English seems shrill in the book. In the film, it seems natural. I also had trouble with the ‘hand-written’ sections. That is one thing they’d left out in the film. It is hinted at: Liesl opens a transformed (painted over) propaganda book and starts writing. In the next frame, she sleeps resting her head on the book. Hans Hubermann finds her there and caresses her hair. These simple pictures say everything.

I’m not certain, but I believe Geoffrey Rush (Hans H) speaks death’s lines. This film shows a surprisingly gentle side of Rush. I’ve mostly seen him in hard-boiled roles, but here he shows so much more. Sensitivity, warmth, understanding, and sorrow. What a performance. Emily Watson as Rosa is his match. But the young actress who plays Liesl makes the film come alive. Her eyes are riveting. Max and Rudy are equally well presented. What’s not to love about this film?

A mixture of humour and pain can convey fundamental ideas. I knew this was an important film the moment I saw the first short clip from it. That’s several years ago. At the time, I worked in Bremen, and the first thing I did after seeing that clip was to buy the book. I was disappointed in it at first. But I overcame that. But I think this is one film that overshadows the written work.

Isn’t it strange how close beastliness is to humanity? In The Book Thief, they manage to show both sides in a devastating manner. Such works of art give me back my trust in humanity. They also underline the importance of insisting on kindness, charity, and compassion. There’s nothing worse than envy. That is a deadly sin, even if one isn’t Catholic. What more can I say? It was a significant experience.

 

© HMH, 2018

Categories
HM On Writing Stray Toughts

Foreign Languages in Literature

Recently, somebody complimented me for my English. That’s always a boost, but on the other hand, it would be a terrible idea to write in a language one doesn’t master. It gave me food for thought though. What makes any writer chose to write in a language different from his or her native tongue? For me, it was a matter of routine. I’d lived in England for several years and hardly spoke Danish with anybody. It felt natural for me to write in the language I used on a daily basis.

This is one of the issues that crop up unexpectedly when you go to live abroad. It comes slowly, the change. At first, you struggle to express the simplest thought. You have an issue with pronunciation and often feel embarrassed, when failing to convey what you want to say. You feel alienated. For me, it became an obsession to get it right. I ditched reading in any other language for a while. I practised enunciation — I found it particularly difficult to catch the difference e.g. between ‘s’ and ‘th’. It may sound strange to somebody who’s used English since they started talking. But imagine having to use a soft d or swallowing half a word, if you’re trying to pronounce Danish.

The differences don’t stop there. In every language, one must learn the idioms. Things you’d express in a certain way in one language wouldn’t make sense in another. There are loads of examples. Here I’ll resort to German: who but a German would understand the expression ‘Tomaten auf den Augen’ (‘tomatoes on the eyes’)? And it just means — you (or I) must be blind.

Should I mention that a lot of people know and speak more than one language? It is hardly a surprise in today’s multifarious society. We’re in the midst of another migration period, multiple languages abound, and you hear them on the street wherever you go. When I was a kid, living in Denmark, I hardly ever saw or heard anybody speaking anything but Danish. Hence, my first experience with foreign languages merely came out of a book. I found it lifeless and — boring. Especially because of the teaching methods.

Once I lived in London, over time, I found that I’d lost my roots in spoken Danish. I could still speak it, but I searched for words and often mixed in English words when I couldn’t think of the equivalent in Danish. It was frustrating, especially because English has words for everything. That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten my native tongue, just that it has dropped out of focus.

That was the situation when I decided to become serious about writing.

What strikes me now, is that it can be an advantage to know multiple languages. If the plot brings the protagonist to a foreign location, the benefit is that one can add local colour, using language. I don’t believe that only literary fiction can sport this feature: it’s easy to explain the meaning of a few German, Danish of French words in actions or subtexts. No need for foot-notes or fears about the readers’ language skills.

 

 

© HMH, 2018

Categories
HM Stray Toughts

Blogs — Are They a Headache?

 

Struggling to find a balance

I just had a pleasant encounter with somebody who writes speculative fiction, probably with a hint of fantasy. Nice guy too. It was fun — and nobody can convince me that conversations between writers aren’t productive, as well as educational. I believe that it is time to do some serious thinking about my next blog post. It would be great to develop some nifty idea tonight. I have some drafts to work on, but they may be too close to other writing themed blogs I’ve published recently.

What does weigh on my mind at present? Is there anything that makes me mad, or anything I have strong feelings about? Social injustice is always on my mind, but I don’t have any specific ideas. I can always look at my list: it is long, but I rarely consult it. Why is that? Could it be because I tend to rely on sudden inspiration, although I like the idea of planning ahead? Sometimes the themes I suggest pale the moment I’ve written down the idea. That is stupid. Can one blog about blogging? It seems to be a personal issue this moment.

I rarely write history blogs: the problem with those are that I’m a fiction writer. If I research and put together a blog post from my research, my writing tends to get so dry that dust clouds arise when I read it. And I don’t want to inflict sneezing on my unsuspecting readers. So, how could I improve my history blogs and make them interesting to anybody, myself included? Aye, there’s the rub. I love reading historical fiction, if its well-researched. On the other hand, if the book is laden with footnotes that tend to show off the author’s impeccable research, I get impatient.

In other words, the secret to a good educational blog is to integrate the information in the text. It must be done subtly though, and that isn’t easy. I suppose it is a bit like long passages of backstory in a novel. Boredom lurks, unless the author is magnificent. If that isn’t the case, any reader ends up wondering why the past is included in the book.

Basically, readers want to hear what the author has to tell. If it is vital to the plot, backstory must be sidled in sideways: it shouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Writing about historical events naturally involves past times, but it is up to the author to make them palatable. What strikes me, now that I think about it, is that undiluted facts are as hard to digest as a diet stones. They lie heavily in the stomach, according to a reliable source. You surely heard about that victimized wolf? Poor thing, wanting tender flesh and sweet bones of a certain red-bonneted girl, he must’ve been disappointed. I digress.

Back to history. How to write well on history. How to bring facts to life and avoid being hampered by too much knowledge. Or worse, hampering the reader with too much information. Mind you, it won’t do to dismiss facts altogether. Why is it that everything always comes down to balance? There is no avoiding it. You have to eat a balanced diet. It is vital to drink enough water and — not too much wine. If you sing, you must find the perfect balance between breathing, muscular activity, text and sound. And I’ve not even mentioned rhythm and melody. It takes years to learn to bring all the elements together. Also, a perfect technique doesn’t touch anybody, if it isn’t enhanced through the singer’s personality. Ballet dancers, especially when using point shoes — it goes without saying. Get the balance wrong: you’ll find yourself on the floor. Come to think of it, there’s nothing more hilarious than a bird losing its balance. Think albatross and try to take off or land.

All of this doesn’t really encircle my initial problem, but maybe there are a few pointers. It is up to the individual artist to make it work. Make what work? In this case, this blog. For others (singers, dancers, actors, musicians, designers, scientists, and perhaps even presidents): the possibilities are endless. My word: it is never simple.

 

© HMH, 2018

Categories
HM Stray Toughts

Uncomfortable Questions

A few days ago, I watched an interesting film about the Vatican State during WWII. It gave a good sense of the times, even if it was a narrow view. Narrow only, because it played out in the Vatican, and the actors mostly portrayed the Pontifex and his staff (nuns and clericals of various rank). It gave some intriguing facts, perhaps the most important was that the papers from the time still are locked away. The more I learn about this period, the clearer it becomes that there was nobody who didn’t contribute to this disastrous war. I say disastrous, because of the mass murders and the atomic bomb. That alone sets this war, and the period leading up to it apart, as one of the biggest humanitarian failures. Nobody came out of this war innocent, or with ‘clean hands’. Why do people insist that anything can be resolved with weapons? Weapons do one thing and one thing only: they kill. And it doesn’t matter whether they kill one person or millions. Weapons are destructive. War is destructive. And there the argument should stop.

While I’m at it, it is time to ensure that we treat animals humanely too. I don’t advocate that we should all turn vegan, but we must remember the pact between humans and animals. The least we can do, if we want to ‘harvest’ and eat meat, is to ensure that the animals live a healthy and pleasant life until the end.

Am I mixing issues together here? I don’t care. If we kill humans, we’ll kill animals too, and perhaps with less remorse. If we decide against killing animals, how come we still insist on making wars? Just look about: is there any place on earth where people don’t cause murder and mayhem? Exactly. We’re as bad as wild animals. No, indeed, we’re worse. We know what we do.

There are few lust murderers among animals. Perhaps the odd tiger gets a taste for human flesh. Perhaps whales or crocodiles or piranhas kill indiscriminately. But that is nothing against the murder of six million Jews. It is nothing against the murders committed by Pol Pot, or Mao Tse Tung, or against the bombs falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We’re worse than animals. No animal race is worse than the human animal. And that brings me back to the Papal action or should I say inaction during WWII.

Ask yourself: is there a religion that turns away from murder? Buddhism perhaps. Most religions concern themselves with death. From the Egyptian and Tibetan books of death to the Aztec murder priests. All the Middle Eastern religions have the same theme: Jihad or war against Philistines? The Christian religion condones cannibalism. . .

How dare I say that? Simple: it says so in the bible. Eat this bread and drink this wine: it is my body and my blood that I give to save you from your sins.

Sometimes there’s nothing left, other than despairing over the mess we humans create. And I haven’t even started on the damage we’ve done to the environment. The animal species we’ve destroyed, the milliards we’ve killed. The water we polluted, the air we poisoned. There is no end to the destruction we’ve caused. And we still think we’re better than animals? We’re red in tooth and claw. It is shameful.

I’m not a political creature, but I have a conscience. When did we lose our inbred etic? It was never innate: it was something we had to learn. But did we ever truly comprehend? There may have been some lights in the world, but they are few and far between. After Mother Theresa and Gandhi: who have truly done something towards making this world a better place?

© HMH, 2018

Categories
HM Stray Toughts

Snakes and Symbols

 

And there the snake throws her enamelled skin. . .
(Shakespeare)

A few days ago, I watched Grimm’s fairy tale The White Snake. It made me think. Perhaps, because the film version was beautiful and went beyond the original narrative, adding new psychological levels. I must add that the subconscious plays a huge part in any fairy-tale, but the adaption made this point beautifully.

Why present snakes such a powerful image of the subconscious?

This is what I want to find out. One thing is clear: snakes appear in almost every religion from Old Norse to Christianity. A snake protects the Buddha from a storm, while he meditates. Lord Vishnu sleeps safely on the serpent Shesha, floating on the cosmic waters. In other words, the snake belongs to a universal language.

It is no wonder that Koronis killed his son Asclepius when one considers he learned to renew life from a snake. Therefore, snakes became a symbol of healing as well as for death and rebirth. Modern medicine has adopted the emblem, but maybe it is no wonder that Asclepius’ rod sometimes gets confused with the Caduceus. Both are powerful images, but Asclepius had only one snake entwining his rod. Is it the wit of our ancestors that let Hermes, the messenger of the gods, guide of the dead and protector of merchants, shepherds, gamblers, liars, and thieves carry the Caduceus? It seems to put medicine and commerce too close for comfort.

 

 

Also, it seems that both myths are entwined:  Asclepius killed a snake and observed its partner bringing it back to life, whereas the Greek mythology tells us that the Caduceus is part of Tiresias story. He found two snakes copulating and killed one of them. As a result, Tiresias was transformed into a woman and remained female until he killed the other, the male snake. Later his staff went to Hermes, along with its transformative powers.

The Ouroboros, the snake that eats itself is a symbol of eternity and continual renewal of life. It isn’t difficult to link rebirth and transformation to the fact that snakes shed their skins through sloughing. They renew themselves and that fascinates us to this day.

And I haven’t even touched upon the sexual issue. Snakes represent fertility and sexual desire. A powerful example of that is the Kundalini, a coiled serpent placed at the bottom of our spines. It raises and empowers pure desire.

 

The world’s great age begins anew,
The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn;
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam,
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream

(Shelley)

 

© HMH, 2018

Categories
HM Stray Toughts

An Unjust Society

A few days ago, they grabbed a shoplifter in the local supermarket. That made me think, not because of his so-called crime, but it suddenly struck me that many people are driven to crime through the way this society works.

This particular guy is probably a junk-addict and alcoholic, but that doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t have anything. In this town, a fragment of the homeless people hangs out in the small park across from the supermarket. Recently their shelter, which is just a couple of bushes and a rundown shack, has been torn down. In other words, they don’t have anywhere to go.

I believe this guy was desperate, hungry, and half crazed. He tried to run for it, but the shop assistants ran him down without trouble. Then they forced him back inside and, more or less, pulled him apart to get at the things he’d taken. I noticed that some of his clothes was on the floor when they’d finished with him. He said, you can stop now, I haven’t got anything left.

Of course, it’s wrong to shoplift, but something doesn’t add up. We live in an unfair society. This person never had a chance. That much is clear. He has nothing, he may or may not have an education. Maybe he hadn’t much resistance and common sense from the beginning, but he is a victim nonetheless.

It was a hurtful experience. I can’t help thinking that people, who have hit rock bottom, shouldn’t be carted away by the police. They need help. They don’t need to be almost strip-searched by shop assistants.

So many people fall through the safety net these days. No wonder, when one considers that one percent of the world’s inhabitants have a staggering wealth. The middle classes find it increasingly difficult to get by, and there’s a vast majority of luckless people who become misfits or outcasts. The cardboard cities, the rough sleepers, the beggars, alcoholics, mentally disturbed, and the drug addicts, clearly show that something is rotten in the state of . . .  you can fill in the appropriate country. This is a problem anywhere in the world.

Charity doesn’t help. It is merely a comfort for those who have too much. Once they’ve given something — and enjoyed the tax-relief — they sit back and tell themselves that they’ve done everything possible to sort out the trouble. It‘s easy to say that people don’t get to this state without reason. It’s easy to say that destitute people are lazy, so why should we worry. We’ve given enough.

I don’t mean to say that there aren’t people does what they can to help. There are people who ‘give’ a lot. The problem is that it’s all wrong. We need a living wage and that’s just the beginning. We live in an unjust society and it’s time to do something.

 

©HMH, 2018

Categories
HM Stray Toughts

Questions to Ask

I don’t think one can be too cautious in choice of language these days. It is too easy to misunderstand. If somebody constantly pulls Muslims into focus in rants about radicalism and criminality, I find it difficult to see this person as anything but bigoted. It isn’t easy to talk about these issues, but it doesn’t clarify anything to accuse one group or people. Yes, there are radical Muslims, but there are also radical Germans, Jews, Koreans, right wings, left wings, Christians, Catholics, and Americans. Without a doubt, some of them are worse than the others, but there’s no excuse for blaming one group over all the others. Making a single group appear as the enemy results in holocausts.

We must question popular newspapers, we must scrutinize the background for every issue presented as fact. There’s no way around sifting information, and questioning if it could be biased in any way. I can’t stress it enough that this is the duty of any citizen of the world.

People come in all colours, but they’re human beings no matter if they’re white males, black transgender, brown lesbians, yellow homosexuals, green vegans, blue women, or something else. Every human being has a navel, and every human being was born by a woman, whether naturally or by a caesarean. We all have a mother and, if not a father, at least a sperm donor somewhere.

The biggest question facing us may be the inequality that always divided humans. It doesn’t matter if this comes through as class differences, caste, or rich versus poor. This is something we can work to clear away. A small step in the right direction would be a living wage. But it doesn’t end there.

Perhaps the worst part of this lies in hidden racism.  No doubt, the white middle class dominates the world, and this is not a good thing. We, even the poorest of us, get born with privileges and have advantages we often don’t even realize we have.

How can we overcome this? I wish I knew. I acknowledge that I’m a white middleclass woman. I was born in a small country and grew up with no idea of racial differences. I think of myself as feminist, left wing, and tolerant, but what have I done to make the world a better place to live? On the personal plan I may have done reasonably well, but is that enough? What can I do to bridge the gap between me and people, who had less opportunity from the beginning?

We need to ask these questions over and over. If we can’t do much on a global plane, we can work towards heightening the consciousness regarding these issues, at least in our small sphere. We can write and talk. And we can include people around us, being open to communication and showing it. It isn’t much, but it is a start.

 

© HMH, 2018

Categories
HM Promotion Stray Toughts

Thoughts at the End of the Year

 

2017 was the year I decided to publish independently. So far, it is exciting but there’s also much to learn.

I must learn to balance social media involvement with writing time. I must learn how to make sales and get reviews, something I never thought of before I published.

Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t do this earlier. But maybe I’d just have made a mess of it. It’s true that I didn’t know about blog-tours, promotions, or (online) launch parties. Next time I’ll know more and plan before I jump.

Still, it was the right decision to let fly.

What made me decide to go independent?

It was the agents, who encouraged me to believe in my writing, but didn’t snap me up.

While there are aspects of your work that I admire. . .

We have read your query with true interest. . .

You have an interesting story to tell and there’s a lot to like about your approach. . .

I am sure that this could be very intriguing but. . .

I enjoyed reading your work; you write with conviction and your plot promises plenty of action. Unfortunately, as a small agency. . .

You write well, and have some intriguing ideas, but in this harsh climate, when editors (and agents) are being even more cautious than usual, I just don’t think we’d succeed in placing a novel as complex and ambitious as yours. . .

These were mostly well-known agencies. I took up the gauntlet and spent some hectic weeks preparing my manuscript, deciding on a book-cover, etc. On the eleventh of October my book appeared on Amazon.

Of course, I need to sell my book, and I’m pleased with every purchase clocked in by Amazon. It was a milestone getting the first royalties, but I want to do better. Who doesn’t?

Paperback UK:



Paperback US:


Paperback DE:

© HMH, 2017

Categories
HM Stray Toughts

Christmas Thoughts

This morning I listened to Danish Christmas songs. I started to cry. And asked myself why.

It wasn’t difficult to figure out, the pure voices stirred up emotions and memories, but the obvious answer didn’t satisfy me. There had to be more to it than that. Over the last days, social media has been filled with greetings, expressions of love, and Christmas or Hanukkah thoughts. Even pagan and Saturnalia greetings took up not a small measure of space. The pages almost burst with seasonal cheer, although there were jesting and sarcastic comments, mixed up with the more serious or, sometimes sentimental, thoughts.

On the surface I enjoyed the banter just as much as the pictures. I listened to all sorts of seasonal songs and marvelled at the variety and the inventiveness that went into all these posts.

So, what was it that urged me to think? Also, that wasn’t difficult to answer, not on the surface. Collectively, we love seasonal cheer. We want to leave everyday bleakness to the side, even if only for a few hours. Some of us can’t help thinking bah humbug, but we mostly succumb to the flashing lights and the dream of warm and fuzzy merriment.

There’s no doubt that commercialism has done much to distort our reactions to everything, from Halloween to Christmas, from Easter to Valentine’s etc. On the other hand, I believe that many of these holidays express something that lies deeper. It isn’t easy to define, but is it possible that we long for lost innocence?

There was a time when I thought the world was basically good. I believed in Christmas. Not only that: I thought that life was just, and people got what they wanted and needed. I had no idea that race and religion place barriers between people, at least, I thought that it couldn’t be a big problem. I saw people as a big family. I was hopelessly naïve.

I read about other cultures, about Egypt, about China, about the Middle east and Africa, but I didn’t understand, what seems obvious. To me, we were all the same: human beings, with needs and wishes, which would be granted one way or another. I had no awareness about gender or race. When did it change? I hardly know, but it changed, and it was a long and painful journey.

© HMH, 2017

Categories
Stray Toughts

Romance: Treat or Trick?

Like the next person, I do love a good romance, but if, and when, I get a romance overload, I start to question the idea of the whole thing. If girls, or women, always get portrayed as suckers for love, isn’t there something to worry about? Even when the (female) protagonist is successful, it seems that fulfilled love makes the success fade away. Sometimes the promise of love is enough. Of course, it also happens that work fades away, or goes up in smoke with a big bang. Then the romantic, and mostly male, lead appears on stage.

Why is a wedding gown apparently more important than an inspiring work situation? Admittedly, there are many jobs, I would happily ditch for a full-blown knight-in-shining-armour whirlwind romance. I don’t think that there are many women who doesn’t get weak in the knees, when their dream man appears, but. . .

What if the dream job gives more excitement, fulfilment, fun, and creative challenges, than a single man could ever produce? Would the woman, or girl, never stop to think: do I want this? Do I really want to forego the sense of achievement that my job gives me? If it is possible to have both: fine, but mostly it turns out that the perfect job, the artistical ambition, the will to succeed fades away, when the proverbial string-orchestra strikes up a swelling hymnus amoris (hymn of love).

The next big question is: does this all-encompassing love last? What strikes me is that the romantic love stories mostly end when the couple declare their love. The way to this conclusion is hard work, full of misunderstandings, intrigues, sometimes danger. The result is rarely that the hopeful girl, or woman, stays alone. There’s seldom space for private reflection at the end of such stories. No hopeful love-bird rides off in the sunset, searching new challenges or, probably worse, a new love. Life ends where marriage begins, and the observer, aka the reader, must seek another story to complete the picture. That is, if she or, perhaps rarely, he wants to grapple with other realities. Finding love, and saying your ‘I do’s, transforms the setting. And even in a successful marriage, love slowly transforms from romantic infatuation to something else. The ancient Greeks made the distinction, calling erotic and romantic love Eros, naming married bliss Agape.

To me it’s clear that romance-fiction seldom looks further than the proverbial white gown. There’s nothing romantic about marriage, unless the husband is a jerk, and the wife needs another romantic lead to take over and – rescue her.

My question is: do we still buy this, and why? Women can achieve, they often perform better than men. Girls are brighter in school and education but, at a certain point, it looks like their will to succeed dims. Is it the biological clock ticking? Does it all boil down to instinct? Are our genes programmed to carry us into motherhood whether we want it or not?

These questions can’t be answered with a single kiss. Is the problem that we get confused about gender? And what is gender at the end of the day? In the current climate, it becomes increasingly clear that there aren’t just two sexes. In my opinion, the strong divide: female/male is obsolete. Maybe there is a gliding slide from the absolute female to the absolute male principle, and in between every possible variety. It is nothing new. But our focus on this has increased, especially in a time where people must develop courage to see, and accept, diversity.

 

© HMH, 2017