Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Things about Modern Life that drive me clean around the bend.

Today I was a reluctant witness to the death of the English Language. It
came in the shape of a phone call, and it so thoroughly unnerved me I
nearly moved to another carriage in the train.

Now there are university professors who proclaim that spelling, grammar
and language really don't matter that much. Honestly? Well I beg to

The unwitting murderer of English was a young woman. Late teens, or
possibly early twenties. Admittedly this slaughter was a social call, so
this young woman was clearly far from being alone in her inability to
articulate a complete sentence which made any kind of sense.

First of all, I will take us back in time. For all of you out there who
remember the days of vinyl... ever put a 7 inch 45 on at the wrong
speed? Say 78? This young woman spoke rather like a 45 played at 78.
Words tumbled out of her mouth like a barrel going over Niagra Falls.

Like was used a lot, like every other sentence. Incomplete sentences,
like every other statement. She said "I don't know" rather a lot too. I
was trying to decide whether this was intended as a form of apology for
her incredibly limited like vocabulary.

I started to count the "likes" there were 97 of them between Wimbledon
and Clapham Junction... at one point they were coming along at a rate of
one every three seconds.

Apparently, the modern teenager now leaves school with a vocabulary
which barely contains a thousand words.

I'm sorry, but that is incredibly poor. It would appear that our
children are being deprived of the ability to express themselves with
anything approaching coherence. Presumably as our youngsters regress,
the English will return to dwelling in caves.

I left the train feeling confused. Sad (yes), annoyed (most certainly),
and very depressed.

I decided between appointments to have a drink and a sandwich.

Can someone tell me why, if I order a nice cold bottle of mineral water,
that the accompanying glass must always arrive with a slice of lemon? If
I want lemonade, I will order lemonade. I didn't... I wanted water. A
slice of lemon always makes your nice glass of cold water taste of
toothpaste. And no. I have no idea why. So no extraneous floating fruit
or vegetables, please.

Why, oh why, must the more upmarket restaurants do chef-y things with
classic dishes? These chef-y things don't always work. And they always
double the price of the dish.

Since most of the rest of the day went brilliantly, I suppose I really
shouldn't complain, but there you have it. Modern life... not
necessarily an improvement.

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Monday, 25 October 2010

Interview with an Author: Kim Menozzi

As many people know, I am a partner in the publishing company, As we head towards our first anniversary, I thought now
would be the moment to talk to one of my author's in the run up to
publishing her new book. Ask Me If I'm Happy is launched next month, and
here we are, talking to the author, Kimberly Menozzi, about her new
book, and what makes her 'tick' as a writer.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Kim. Can you tell us what your latest
book, Ask Me If I’m Happy, is all about?

A: Oh, I should thank you for this opportunity instead. Ask Me if I'm
Happy is a modern-day love story set in Bologna, Italy, wherein two
people meet by pure chance but have much deeper and more troubling
connections than they could ever imagine. When these discoveries come to
light for both of them, they have to deal with the emotional fallout of
having hidden the truth and of dealing with lies of omission.

At the heart of this story is their need to be open and honest with each
other in ways which prove quite difficult, due to the painful prior
experiences with previous partners. Ultimately, it's a story about how
people need to be honest and up front with one another and be able to
trust their loved ones on every level, as well as how we unknowingly
sabotage ourselves in love. Being honest and truthful isn't exactly
painless, but the struggle is worth it, in the end.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

A: Okay. The main characters are Emily Miller and Davide Magnani
(Dah'-vih-day is the pronunciation of his first name, by the way). Emily
is an American in her mid-thirties, who is coming out of a bad
relationship and determined to leave Italy behind her. Davide is a
professor of literature and ancient mythology at the University of
Bologna. Both of them have been substantially wounded by past partners,
and they're both struggling with a number of trust issues as a result.

The supporting characters include both of the exes: Jacopo Spadon and
Letizia Costa. Jacopo is the sort of man accustomed to getting what he
wants when he wants it, and comes from a rather privileged background,
besides. Letizia is the sort of woman we see countless versions of here
in Italy, nowadays; she truly defines herself by the brand names she can
buy, wear and drive, etc., etc. You get the idea, I'm sure.

Other supporting characters, all of whom influence the story, include
Emily's best friend since their teen years, Jenn; Davide's best friend
(and fellow professor) with a tendency to be politically incorrect,
Michele; and Emily's rather comically overbearing mother. Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they
totally from your imagination?

A: I have to say there are elements of both in my characters. Often they
start off inspired by someone in particular, usually by how that someone
looks or speaks or behaves, but by the time the story is truly taking
shape in my mind, they've become very much themselves. Once I've written
the first draft, it's sometimes hard to pin down who it was I had in
mind in the first place – they grow that much, in my mind and hopefully
on the page as well. Their voices become distinct and clear, and from
that point onward, I just have to trust them to show me the way.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do
you discover it as you write?

A: I'm seldom aware at the start. I had a general idea with Ask Me if
I'm Happy, but up until I wrote the final pages, I wasn't completely
sure how it was going to end. There are several incidents within the
story which I didn't know would be there until I'd typed them out. When
that happens, all I can do is sit there and think "Well, huh. I didn't
see that coming." Generally speaking, I just listen to what the
characters tell me is supposed to happen and then I go from there. On
the rare occasions where I've tried to make them to do something I'd
dreamed up at the start, it just didn't work. I'd write pages – force
them out, more or less – and then, in the end, I'd end up scrapping them
because they didn't work at all. Now, I just listen to the pretty
voices. (laughs)

Q: Your book is set in Bologna, Italy. Can you tell us why you chose
this city in particular?

A: There are many, many reasons why I chose Bologna, but I'll try to
pick just a few. For one, it was the natural choice for the start of the
story, because it's the major train travel hub for northern Italy.
Another reason is that it's simply a place I love – there's fantastic
food; a youthful, creative atmosphere (thanks in part to the
university); it is, as my husband might say, characteristic of the
region where I live – what you see in Bologna, you'll see elsewhere in
Emilia Romagna; and finally, it's just a beautiful and historic city.
Most of all, I feel it's one of the unsung locations in this country.
Nearly everyone knows about Tuscany, Rome, Naples and Venice, but very
few folks, it seems, are even aware of Bologna. I wanted my area of
northern Italy to be represented, for better and for worse, and I think
I've done that in Ask Me if I'm Happy.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

A: Yes, it does. As I said before, Bologna is a major travel hub –
Bologna Centrale is the principal railway junction in all of Italy. So
it's entirely plausible that Emily and Davide would cross paths here, or
that she would be stuck there in the event of a transportation strike.
Plus, as the majority of the story takes place in winter, the foggy,
grey atmosphere of Bologna during that season really affects the mood of
the story – and perhaps, to a degree, even the actions of the characters
themselves. The fact that it's Davide's home – not hers – is also
significant, if only on a subconscious level.

Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?

A: Davide is alone, purchasing the train tickets to Milano. There are
some subtle, comic aspects to the transaction (I hope).

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

A: This small excerpt is a favorite of mine, because of the way Emily is
drawn repeatedly to watch this stranger on the train who has done
nothing more than smile in her direction.:
The broken window fell open with a soft thump and the banging and
rattling of the train’s progress drowned out the soft hum of
conversation around her. A steady, chilling wind blew inside the
carriage. Several passengers grumbled their disapproval and tugged their
scarves and coats more tightly around themselves, but none made an
effort to close the window.

After a moment or two, the man stood and pushed his glasses up the
bridge of his nose with an air of determination. Emily observed even
more openly this time as he returned to the broken window, shoved it
upward and stuffed the wedge of paper between the Plexiglas and the
frame once more.

When he turned, he saw her watching and his smile lit up his face again.
His eyes met hers fully and she looked away, her cheeks tingling as she
turned to the window and the countryside emerging in the growing
daylight beyond it.
In spite of herself, her eyes shifted to follow him yet again when he
stepped away from the row with the broken window. His hair had been tousled by the wind, and upon settling back in his
seat he ran one hand cautiously over it, taming any wild, out-of-place
waves. His dark eyes behind the oval frames of his glasses flicked in
her direction before he turned toward his own window. She thought it was
clear that he was trying not to be obvious about watching her.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Kim. We wish you much success!
A: Thank you for your time and for your interest. I hope everyone will
enjoy the story when they get a chance to read it.

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Sunday, 3 October 2010

15 Authors I can remember offhand

Okay... here goes, perhaps not as literary as some, but my measure of a
book is a darn good yarn. One that has me daydreaming about it for days
afterwards. In no particular order.
1) Jack London - I can spontaneously shiver even now. White Fang and
Call Of The Wild had a profound effect on me as a child.
2) A A Milne - nuff said!
3) M M Bennetts - If you don't know why by now... wait for her next
4) Alexander Kent - Perhaps not as good as CS Forrester or Patrick
O'Brian, but I loved his Bolitho novels, and they really opened up the
period for me.
5) Len Deighton - for all sorts of reasons, Harry Palmer, Game, Set and
Match, Hook, Line and Sinker... and a brilliant non-fiction work
6) Michael Crichton - because the despite the lame kiddie movies that
Spielberg turned Jurassic Park and The Lost World into, the books
themselves are actually thoughtful criticisms of how science sometimes
goes places it really shouldn't, just because it can. And he writes a
stonkingly good thriller.
7) Anne Rice - for The Mummy... and for bringing the Vampire genre into
8) Douglas Adams - for the Hitchhiker, The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul
and Last Chance to See - proving that he wasn't just a great comedy
writer but a concerned and interesting environmentalist too.
9) Lincoln Preston - These two guys, Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston,
wrote the book which became the film The Relic. In fact there are a
whole series of books featuring their FBI Agent, Special Agent Aloysius
Pendergast. Thoughtful and very creepy thrillers. Still Life With Crows
is one of the most genuinely frightening novels I have ever read.
10) Agatha Christie - She may have put murder in the parlour and bodies
in the library, but she wrote a great thriller, created two characters
which in their own way have entered into the legend of literature and
has kept us entertained through books, plays, radio and the medium of
television for over eighty years.
11) Dan Brown - for basically writing the same book over and over and
over again, but nevertheless getting published and being made into
movies - how the devil does he do it?
12) Janet Evanovich - for Stephanie Plum.
13) John Galsworthy - I read my way through the Forsyte Saga when I was
fifteen, something of a forgotten gem.
14) William Makepeace Thackeray - Vanity Fair, I loved this book I've
read it cover to cover many times.
15) Bram Stoker - for being the original master of gothic suspense.
Jewel Of Seven Stars beats Dracula any day of the week.
I can hear it now... why would I include an author that I really don't
like. To be frank, Dan Brown has a lot to do with why I am where I am
today. Had it not been for Dan Brown, Authonomy, Year Zero and the
realisation that there had to be something better than the mainstream
and the status quo, I would be in a very different place.

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