Introducing: The Murakami Experience

Haruki Murakami STP editing

Reading has always been my greatest solace, and my most solaceful reads have been from Haruki Murakami.

I read Kafka on the Shore soon after its publication in 2002, during my university years, and soon devoured his entire back catalogue and have snapped up every one of his novels since.

Known for his elegant prose and surrealist narratives, Murakami always reminds me that there is beauty in the mundane, and that it’s normal to feel pain and confusion.

Recently overlooked for the Nobel Prize in Literature again, this year in favour of lesser-but-still-OK Japanese writer Kazuo Ishiguro, Murakami’s disappointed fans have been remorseful in typical style, with whiskey and jazz, both hallmarks of Murakami’s stories (along with lonesome male protagonists, quietly sad women, and cats).

I took great pleasure in reading his latest book, the collection of short stories Men Without Women. Inspired to revisit his previous works, I’ve also decided to embark on fun project that I’ll share with my dear readers between more useful posts on editing and writing.

Whenever I encounter mentions of a specific whiskey or jazz piece as I read a Murakami novel, I’ll spend a relaxed evening listening to that very piece and sipping that very dram whilst reading a favourite chapter or two, and then writing about the experience that comes from that unique combination of Murakamiist things. Perhaps I’ll get sucked into a dadaist Murakami mindspace, or find myself able to talk to cats…? Or maybe I’ll just enjoy myself.

Join me in a week or two for my first Murakami Dram – reading Men Without Women.

—db



Update: 28 July 2018

The first three ‘Murakami Dram’ posts have been taken down from the site indefinitely. I don’t feel that they’re contributing much to the site so I’ll keep my Murakami experiences private for now. If you’re a Murakami fan and would like to read my posts please feel free to leave a comment below or drop me an email, and I’d be happy to email the posts to you as PDFs. Thanks.

— db

Why fiction might need “white saviours”

In fiction, the “white saviour” trope is the unfavourable use of a white (typically Western) protagonist who saves a group of non-white (typically non-Western) characters from a situation from which they have been unable to free themselves.

Wikipedia puts it better:

“The narrative trope of the white savior is how the mass communications medium of cinema represents the sociology of race and ethnic relations, by presenting abstract concepts—such as morality—as innate characteristics (racial and cultural) of white people, rather than as characteristics innate to people of color.”

In almost any sense, this is not cool. It frames the person of colour as being too weak, incompetent or ignorant to solve their own problems, and it takes a outsider to ride in on a white horse (sometimes literally) to show them the light. This has appeared in a great many novels, films and TV series and continues to happen (Marvel’s ‘Iron Fist’ (2017) and HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ (2011-present) come to mind.

Iron Fist

Finn Jones in “Marvel’s Iron Fist” (2017)

Game of Thrones

Emelia Clarke in “Game of Thrones” Season 3 (2013)

As a young reader I was frequently irritated by novels set in other countries but which had a Western protagonist. I now see the advantage of this: the writer gets to show the exotic setting through the eyes of a newcomer, highlighting things of interest to an unfamiliar reader that would be ignored by a native protagonist as being too boring or too normal to be worth mentioning. But since the protagonist is (should) usually be important enough to the story to warrant having a novel written about them, they are typically the hero of the story, and this almost inevitably puts them in the position of a ‘white saviour’ type.

Personally, I would rather have the novel steeped in the local culture entirely; and besides, wouldn’t I be more fascinated by a protagonist who thinks and acts like a native? I’m smart enough to work out the differences myself, you know. Some of my favourite novels dropped me right into the thick of it, such as Salmon Rushdie’s masterpiece ‘Midnight’s Children’.

The problem with the current publishing industry (in the West) is that although exotic people and locations sell, naturally enough, today’s floundering publisher wants to flog as many books as they can, and that means alienating as few readers as possible. According to the industry, the weary commuter on a bus doesn’t want to go to the trouble of understanding a ‘foreign-minded’ protagonist. They don’t want to be challenged and have to look up unfamiliar words. It should be made as easy as possible for the reader, since most books sold are lowest-common-denominator fiction in the romance or crime genres found in Tesco, which I generally think of as formulaic fiction for dum-dums (sorry).

The Last Samurai

Tom Cruise in ‘The Last Samurai’ (2003)

Temple of Doom

Harrison Ford and Kate Capshaw in ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ (1984)

I ran aground in this respect with my last novel, ‘Cycles of Udaipur‘ (2016). ‘Cycles’ is set in Rajasthan and deals with a group of lost teenagers struggling to find their place in modern India. Knowing what I (thought I) know, I chose to include one character who is an outsider who could introduce the glorious, frantic, artistic beauty of Udaipur to the reader in the opening section. This came in the form of Bindya, a young woman of Indian descent who was born in Udaipur but emigrated with her parents to Birmingham, England as a teenager. Years later she returned to this strange but familiar land, where she set up a youth centre. Although the main characters look to Bindya for advice, since she is older, she is actually just as lost as they are and is of little help.

I had hoped that this slight Westernisation of a character would be enough for the literary agents to whom I submitted the novel for representation. Actually it didn’t help at all. One agent said that no-one was interested in a book set in India written by a non-Indian (Isn’t that a bit–? Never mind). Another said that Bindya’s first chapter, in which she returns to Udaipur after a short trip away, read like travel writing (i.e. she was too much of an outsider). It seemed that I wasn’t going native enough – but did I have a right to go further, since I myself am an outsider? I was self-conscious enough about that when I set out to write ‘Cycles’.

Recently, whilst doing a lot of enjoyable reading and pretending it’s research for my current novel, I returned to the vibrant graphic novel ‘The White Lama’ by Alexandro Jodorowsky (writer) and Georges Bess (artist). The story is full-blown fantasy (unless you happen to believe in reincarnation, shamanistic magic and demons), but I love the mystic melodrama of it. The story is set in 19th Century Tibet, where two white missionaries are killed soon after they arrive, and their orphaned baby is raised by local Tibetans, who believe him to be the reincarnation of a revered lama. He grows up to reach a high level of enlightenment, develops a set of fierce magical powers, and then saves his adopted people from tyrants and dark sorcerers.

The White Lama

Isn’t this just another example of a white saviour? I thought (secretly loving pretty much everything about it). The book is even called ‘The White Lama’…! Why couldn’t it have been about a Tibetan baby? Fair enough, he is a reborn Tibetan ‘soul’….

This was agonising for me, at a time when I had completed the first 70,000 words of an epic novel set in India, this time focussing on Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala. At first I imagined my Tibetan protagonist having a Heinrich Harrer-type confidante, but wasn’t that equally shabby of me? Eventually I settled on having the protagonist’s mother, who is the main focus of much of Part One, being the daughter of Tibetan exiles raised in Switzerland, where there are 4,000+. Like Bindya in ‘Cycles’, Padma Pema temporarily allows the reader to see the growing drama that surrounds her through the eyes of an outsider, though this time in a way that is far more significant to the plot.

Neither Bindya nor Padma Pema are saviours in their stories, but they do their jobs. It seems a fair compromise between a white hero in an exotic land and a ‘totally native’ novel written by an outsider.

What do my readers think? Are there any warranted examples of ‘white saviour’ types? Should writers only write about their own cultures?

—db

Buy ‘Cycles of Udaipur’ here.

 

Interfacing with the Future: An interview with author Lucy Mihajlich

I was lucky enough to work with Lucy Mihajlich on her new novel Interface, which is released this month. You should check out the novel here, which was successfully funded Lucy’s great Kickstarter campaign.

Lucy was kind enough to do a Q&A with me for STP Editing, where she answers questions about the technological, sexual and satirical themes of the excellent Interface:

INTERFACE:

The future always seemed bright, but it turns out
that was just global warming. Meals don’t come in pills,
shoes don’t lace themselves, and there are flying cars,
but the gas mileage sucks. There is one difference.
People have always searched the internet for answers.
Now they actually worship it.

Pen Nowen’s father was the founder of Interface,
a computer company so big and powerful that people
began praying to it. Especially when his death almost
tanked the economy.

Seven years later, Pen’s just finished her junior year of
high school. For their summer vacations, all of her friends
are going to Disneyland, Tijuana, or Disneyland Tijuana,
but Pen’s going on a pilgrimage to pray for what’s left
of her family. She’s on her way to the Interface flagship store
when she gets kidnapped.

It’s the second time this year. She’s about to begin the
ransom negotiations when the kidnapper says that he
doesn’t want money. He wants something else from her.
Before Pen can text 911, he says something even creepier.

He knows the truth about her dad’s death.


INTERVIEW WITH LUCY MIHAJLICH

author-photo

DB: Interface is set in the near future. How do you envisage the future – as it’s depicted in the novel, or something different?

LM: I sincerely hope the future isn’t like the one in Interface, although I did a lot of research on the future to write it. The scariest prediction I read:  Chocolate decline by 2020. I’m not even touching that one. I don’t write horror.

DB: The novel is a satire, particularly of social media. How do you feel about the current online world?

LM: I’ll preface this by saying I love the internet and may have to marry it just to make it an honest network, considering how much time I spend on it. Interface is not a critique of social media or the people who use it. That said, Facebook scares the hell out of me.

Social media adds a level of performance to our lives, and there have been a lot of studies done on the psychological effects of celebrity. I read about a study about how often people like Kurt Cobain used the first-person pronoun before and after they became famous. Their use of the word “I” increased dramatically. So did their struggles with substance abuse and depression.

I don’t think social media is the only reason my generation is struggling with what some people are calling an anxiety epidemic (student loans and Donald Trump are definitely a factor for me), but I think it’s a contributing factor.

DB: You have described Penny as an asexual character. What does this mean, for you and for the novel?

LM: I made my main character asexual because I wanted a character that I could identify with. I’ve known I was ace ever since I learned about asexuality. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen until I was in my twenties, because there’s very little asexual representation in the media.

When I started submitting Interface for publication, I received an offer from my first-choice literary agency. Ten months later, the agent changed her mind. She said that she believed romance was crucial to my book’s success. So I decided to try Kickstarter, where Interface was 122% funded. The response was overwhelming, especially from the asexual community. I wanted a character that I could identify with, but somehow it hadn’t occurred to me that other asexuals might want the same thing.

DB: I found the novel to be fun, fast-paced and original. What inspirations did you have, if any?

LM: I could never list all the writers who inspire me. There are some who write in completely different genres, like Oscar Wilde and Terry Pratchett. In my genres, my biggest inspirations are probably Ernest Cline, Cory Doctorow, and Andy Weir. I’m also inspired by fanfiction writers. Some of their work is better than the published fiction I’ve read. Plus where else are you going to find a Hannibal/Doctor Who crossover?

DB: Interface is the first part of a trilogy. Can you give us any (spoiler-free) hints as to what might be next?

LM: More drugs and rock ‘n’ roll (but still no sex.) If you want to know more, the first chapter of the sequel will be included with Interface!

DB: Your Kickstarter campaign got a lot of attention and there are a lot of excited people out there. Is there anything you’d like to say to them?

LM: Thank you so much! I literally could not have done it without you. I hope Interface doesn’t disappoint.

DB: What are you reading/playing/watching at the moment?

LM: My current obsession is The Martian by Andy Weir, but since you can only reread a book so many times, I just finished Stranger Things on Netflix. 10/10, would be freaked out again.

DB: What’s next for you?

LM: The sequel! Maybe a nap first.

 


front-cover

Pre-order Interface on Amazon before its November 22 release: LINK

Check out Lucy’s website: LINK

—db

 

An evolutionary basis for storytelling

tumblr_n2q6lobixx1rdetn9o1_500

A recent article by Helen Briggs of the BBC tells how the human love affair with stories might have an evolutionary basis: an almost cathartic effect that releases ‘natural painkillers’ in the form of endorphins and fosters social bonding. According to the article:

The human fascination with story telling was forged in ancient times when we began to live in hunter gatherer communities, said Prof Robin Dunbar, who led the research [into why we’re attracted to dramatic, and even upsetting, narratives such as tear-jerking films].

“Fiction is widely studied by humanities academics as it is an important feature of human society, common to all cultures,” said Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University.

“There are good social reasons: folklore enables us to pass on wisdom or ingrain community values, bringing us together. While that is important, it does not fully explain why we are willing to return again and again to be entertained.”

He thinks our affinity for emotive fiction may have evolved in the context of cohesion of social groups, as the endorphin effect has also been seen in comedy, singing and dancing.

“This is not to say that this one chemical effect alone is the only reason for dramatic fiction – there are other aspects of human psychology at work – but we believe that it is an important reason for our enjoyment of fiction,” he added.

—db

New paperback releases!

I’m thrilled to announce that my novels ‘The Gun of Our Maker’ and ‘Cycles of Udaipur’ are now available as actual, physical, smell-the-pages paperback editions!

David Brookes author

Don’t have an e-reader? Now you don’t need one to experience the literary wonders you see before you. Already have the e-book versions? Get a hard copy too and then your friends will be impressed by the taste of your bookcase!

Order your paperback of ‘The Gun of Our Maker’ by clicking here.

Order your paperback of ‘Cycles of Udaipur’ by clicking here.

You can see my original e-book release posts here (‘GOOM‘) and here (‘COU‘).

As always, if you read either version of the novels then please leave a review so that other readers can see what you thought of them. Sales are massively affected by positive reviews and, since I have no marketing clout, I rely on reviews almost exclusively to keep these novels from slipping into oblivion.

Thanks to everyone who’s given me their support over the years!

—db

Paperback for more

News!

To date my novels Cycles of Udaipur and The Gun of Our Maker have only been available for e-readers like Kindle.

Coming this Sunday, you’ll now be able to order them as actual paperbacks made of actual paper, thanks to Amazon!

If you already have the e-books, feel free to get a lovely tangible version too for your bookcase. They look real pretty.

—db

CnUZIdaWAAA7rH2.jpg large

What the Brexit EU Referendum results could mean for the arts

cBREXIT EU scrabble

Like almost half of the UK yesterday morning, I was aghast, troubled, disgusted and angry to learn that the British public, in their wisdom, has voted for the UK to leave the European Union. There will be almost endless ramifications for both Britain and Europe for decades to come – but how will this affect writers and other artists?


1. Funding for the arts will be harder to obtain
Let’s face it, the attempt to secure arts funding from nepotistic organisations like the Arts Council is a pessimistic shot in the dark in any case. For two reasons, writers and artists will now have an even tougher time.

Firstly, the economic uncertainty of leaving the EU will plunge the UK economy into another recession, which already seemed inevitable as part of a predicted “double-dip” following the horrendous austerity in the wake of the 2008/9 crash (which incidentally resulted in plans for my second novel, signed off for publication by my publisher, being scrapped). The government has always been tight when it comes to funding the arts, but when times are tough and artists are most motivated to create, those opportunities will shrivel further.

Secondly, much of the arts funding available to artists is provided by the EU. We can probably say a regretful goodbye to any real help from the likes of the European Cultural Foundation, who despite their adoration of the arts and artists from around the world may have to limit their grants and other support to EU members only. Britain is European in the geological sense, but soon no longer in the political sense, and often that is what matters. According to WelcomeEurope.com, there are 62 funding bodies available for cultural projects, but only a fraction of these include the arts, and they will likely soon be withdrawn for British artists.

One of the biggest organisations, Creative Europe from the European Commission, replaced the European Union Cultural Programme in 2013 and was intended to last until 2020, but whether British artists will be able to continue to apply after the separation remains a mystery. I have contacted them for comment.

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, has this to say: “The Art Fund is deeply concerned at the impact leaving the EU will have on culture in the UK, and particularly on its museums and galleries. At one level there is obviously now great financial uncertainty – the effect on European funding for the arts, for example – but quite as important is the potential effect on the spirit that drives a myriad of international partnerships in the arts.”

For more info on grants for writers, check out FundsForWriters.com.


2. We will lose the love of those who have helped our literature in the past
At the latest European Literature Festival, held in London April and June this year, author Kate Mosse pointed out that “the fundamental building blocks of this country you could say come from the nature of translation,” citing the Magna Carta, “written in Latin not translated into English until the middle of the 16th century”, and the King James Bible, which eventually appeared in English in 1611. “So all of us here, wherever we come from, have grown up with this sense of other voices, other languages, in our head. But sometimes we forget that.” Her 2005 bestseller, “Labyrinth”, has been translated into more than 37 languages.

It is a ridiculous stretch to think that novels written in European languages other than English might not get translated, but there are many projects that bring lesser-known non-English writers to the English audiences, and those UK citizens living and working in Europe may now have to face expensive and difficult visa processes to remain where they are if they wish to continue to work.

Source: The Guardian: “Kate Mosse speaks up for European literature in face of Brexit”.


3. Our most-loved artists and creative teams might be affected
The much-adored Game of Thrones may be in trouble, since it is partly filmed in the lovely landscapes of Northern Ireland. It has been speculated that HBO may lose its EU funding due the separation, however the studio has recently reported that this is unlikely to happen. HBO now gets funding from the UK for Game of Thrones, not from EU sources, so non-fans like me can continue to hear about that damned show for years to come.

However, Fortune states that the Referendum result could “discourage Hollywood studios and cable networks to film shows and movies in Britain, in part because the country would no longer have access to European subsidies”. The likes of Film4, which continues to make some incredible cinema, doesn’t rely on EU funding, but with austerity measures looming they may already be thinking about reducing their budget, which was only increased from £15m to £25m this February.


4. Artists will have more opportunity to build bridges – a step backwards
In a heartbreaking article from The Guardian yesterday, artists decry the sorry state of affairs that now blights the UK. Sensational pianist Stephen Hough, who has played on all the world’s greatest stages and released over 50 recordings of his classical performances, hits the nail on the head:

“Whether in or out of Europe, we will always need to be building – and repairing – bridges. Sometimes the arts can be the only way a connection can be made across turbulent waters.”

Actor and theatrical Artistic Director Barry Rutter, OBE adds, “For artists, it will only increase dynamism and creativity – hungry artists are always creative.”

Philip Pullman presented this scathing account of the causes of the Brexit separation, which at the very least evidences how trauma can inspire literary works, as well as being precisely damning and entertaining.

One of my personal reasons for voting Remain was the strong feeling that, as a global community, we should be striving for togetherness, not division, even if there are minor compromises. The pain of separation may have inspired the greatest art and literature of all time, but I would much rather that pain not be put into the world – by a vote.

–db


Added 30th June 2016 One of the Creative Europe desks kindly responded to my query with the following, which was to be expected:

“Thank you for your enquiry. Given the complexity of the issue and the number of partners involved, Creative Europe Desk UK are hoping to issue a statement later this week.”

Since there is still talk about a second referendum, and that the shambling remains of the British government have yet to initiate the ‘divorce’, there may be hope yet for creative souls across the UK and Europe.

–db


Added 3rd July 2016: I received a further replace from Creative Europe:

“You can find Creative Europe Desk UK’s statement on the Creative Europe and the impact of the UK’s EU referendum outcome on our website. The statement also contains contact details for any further enquiries you have about Creative Europe’s MEDIA and Culture sub-programmes.

You can also read Creative Scotland’s statement in response to the EU referendum result on the Creative Scotland website.”

–db


For further reading, see my follow-up from February 2017 here.

Free short stories from David Brookes!

About a year ago I chose to give up writing genre fiction, which I’d been writing since I was 13, and focus on what I considered more ‘literary’ fiction. With the exception of the re-release of ‘Half Discovered Wings’, my first novel (2009) and a fantasy, which was more for nostalgia than anything else, my efforts have been towards more meaningful (and marketable) fiction:

I also discontinued sale of some of my other material that was available on Amazon and Smashworlds, namely the science fiction short story collection ‘The Gas Giant Sequence’ and the steampunk fantasy adventure stories in my ‘Professor Arnustace’ series. Although I’m super proud of these works, which were a lot of fun to write, and despite the fact that they sold far more than my other releases, they weren’t fitting with the direction I wanted to go in. I know, how arty of me.

It’s both pleasing and distressing that I’ve had such a response from readers about this. The second ‘Professor Arnustace’ story in particular had some of my best reviews, and I still get messages asking whether there will be a third. Although I don’t have plans for the gentleman detective, as a thank-you I’ve decided to make all my discontinued stories available here for free. Yay!

You will need to connect your e-reader to your computer to copy across the files to your device.

Happy reading!

–db


The Gas Giant Sequence

Krill Split Omnibus cover

Part 1: Krill
Part 2: Split
Part 3: Tranquil Sea
Part 4: Tulpa


The Professor Arnustace Stories

Professor Arnustace

Story 1: An Account of a Curious Encounter
Story 2: Iced Tea for Professor Arnustace


 

Available for pre-order: ‘Cycles of Udaipur’ by David Brookes

I’m thrilled to announce that my new novel, ‘Cycles of Udaipur’, is currently available for pre-order! It will be published in ebook format to coincide with Maha Shivaratri, the Hindu festival in honour of the deity Shiva, occurring on Monday 7th March 2016.

You can read more about the book and pre-order your copy here on Amazon (for Kindle) or here on Smashwords (for non-Kindle e-readers).


 

Final Cover 01


 

CYCLES OF UDAIPUR
David Brookes

Rajasthan is a vivid land of colour and spice, Maharajahs
and gods. But the vibrant city of Udaipur is not the peaceful
Hindu refuge it once was, and as India races towards
modernity its youth faces a cultural identity crisis.

When young Raj hits a cow with his motorcycle, little does
he know that he has started a chain reaction that will
obliterate his close-knit group of friends. Mariam is a Muslim
artist forbidden to paint Hindu deities. Her paramour Shiv
aches to be a politician in a city ruled by gangland overlords.
And lovelorn Vansh finds himself sucked into a mystical
vortex from which his mind may not recover.

Set against the sweeping grandeur of Rajasthani history,
Cycles of Udaipur spins on the axle of tradition and
progress: a tangled web of hope, faith and enduring passion
that epitomises a new India heretofore unknown to the West.


 

Thanks again to everyone for their encouragement and support. Happy reading!

—db


 

New Release: ‘Cycles of Udaipur’ – coming soon!

I’m extremely happy to announce that my latest novel, ‘Cycles of Udaipur’, is almost ready for publication via Amazon and Smashwords!

Set in colourful Rajasthan, India, ‘Cycles of Udaipur’ has been described as a coming-of-age story for a whole country, as India rapidly modernises in the wake of Partition and globalisation.

More details to follow! Thanks to everyone whose love and support helped bring about this novel after four years of hard work.

199 Pichola Lake

Pichola Lake, Udaipur – 2012. (C) David Brookes

—db