Neil Gaiman Posts

Literati: Diversity in books (6 September 2014)

Literati: Diversity in books (6 September 2014)

Jaya BhattacharjiMy monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 6 September 2014) and in print ( 7 September 2014). Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/literati/article6386263.ece. I am also c&p the text below.  The post from Malorie Blackman’s Facebook wall has been used with her permission. 

The 10-book challenge

There is a 10-book challenge circulating on Facebook. The idea is to put together ten books that have stayed with you as a reader. Reading the lists circulating on posts is an interesting exercise. There were the expected names such as Enid Blyton, P. G. Wodehouse, Jane Austen, William Golding, Graham Greene, Sue Townsend, Gerald Durrell, Ogden Nash, Ayn Rand, Henry Miller, Mary Stewart, L. M. Montgomery, Coetzee, Julian Barnes, J D Salinger, Harper Lee, Toni Morrison, Charles Dickens, Seamus Heaney, Douglas Adams and Michael Ondaatje. Those from or of South Asian origin included familiar names such as  Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy, Upmanyu Chatterjee , Rokeya S. Hossain, Rohinton Mistry, Khaled Hosseini, Mohsin Hamid, Khushwant Singh, Amitav Ghosh,  Salman Rushdie, Jamil Ahmed, Arun Kolatkar, Kiran Nagarkar and Qurrulatain Hyder. In translation there were a handful, many repeated often–Sukumar Ray, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, Haruku Murakami, Franz Kafka, Umberto Eco, Marjane Satrapi, Nikos Kazantzakis, Fyodr Dostoevsky, Orhan Pamuk, Mario Vargas Llosa, Leo Tolstoy, and Roberto Calasso.  Surprisingly Shakespeare, Valmiki’s Ramayana, The Bible, Hermann Hesse, Khalil Gibran, C. S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, Agatha Christie, A. A. Milne, Hemingway, Neil Gaiman, Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix and Obelix series, Herge, Bill Watterson, J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, J. R. R. Tolkein, Henry James, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Paulo Coelho and J. M. Barrie were not mentioned as often as I expected them to be.  ( The names have not been listed in any particular order.) These catalogues are useful since they remind us of what makes “classic” literature. Yet there are deafening silences. I scoured lists from different regions, hoping to discover authors and books popular in those cultures—these could be in translation or different categories, titles that are rarely heard of overseas; it was not to be. Majority of the titles mentioned were of internationally established household names.

These games have their uses. Many authors are discovered through conversations. At the same time vast amounts of literature are not easily recalled. For instance, literature in other languages apart from English was rarely acknowledged and women writers continued to be in a minority. Children’s literature too was not often referred to all though many lists consisted of books read as children. Hence it is not surprising that there has been a call by many international writers to discuss diversity in books–a campaign started in May ( http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/ ). The hashtag –#WeNeedDiverseBooks and #diversityinbooks—on Twitter is worth reading for examples from around the world, across genres, languages and regions. An unfortunate fallout of this campaign was the racial abuse Malorie Blackman, Children’s Laureate ( 2013-15) faced in UK. As she wrote in a Facebook post “I talked about diversity in literature walking hand in hand with inclusion. I talked about the books for our children being more diverse so that we see more stories featuring children/YA with disabilities, travellers, LGBT, protagonists of colour, diverse religions, classes and cultures. Not once did the phrase in the banner headline pass my lips because I don’t think in those terms.” This was misrepresented in a banner headline as “Children’s books have ‘too many white faces’”. Since then the news corporation responsible for this story has apologized to her on Twitter.

Discovering authors

Nury Vittachi, author and keynote speaker at the recently concluded JumpStart pointed out that three out of four people are Asian or African.  So to find the young adult title The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a bestseller, selling more than 5.7 million copies, is curious. In fact it contributed to the success of Penguin Random House worldwide generating revenues of €1.5bn (£1.2bn) in the six months to June 2014. Surely there are other titles that have been equally well-received by readers, but not so prominent?

Discovering an author is a riddle, paradoxically not easily resolved even in the age of information. Altaf Tyrewala writes “How miserable it must be to want only what one wants. I don’t remember people being so disinterested in the unfamiliar. Folks these days seem annoyed when they encounter something that they haven’t already cross-checked, as if the perpetually connected sizzle of their web-wired lives precludes the possibility of anything still remaining unknown.” (“New and Second-hand”, Engglishhh: Fictional Dispatches from a Hyperreal Nation)

Last week while speaking in a panel discussion to celebrate “Kitaabnama: Books and Beyond” completing one year of programming on Doordarshan television, it struck me this series addresses many of these challenges that affect publishers—diversity, discoverability, and accessing new markets. Kitaabnama’s format of having a conversation in the first half, followed by an author reading in the second half, and allowing it to be multilingual, immediately opens a new world of literature to the viewers.

Today it is possible to discover books in many ways. For instance, Martin Amis’s new novel—The Zone of Interest–a holocaust comedy, set in fictional Auschwitz, failed to interest his regular German and French publishers and it may struggle to find readers overseas. Yet the buzz about it on the internet suggests otherwise. So discoverability and diversity in books is possibly easily overcome with multiple formats to disseminate information about books and access authors.

6 September 2014

YouTube links with authors, worth watching.

YouTube links with authors, worth watching.

In the past week, I have seen a few clips that are worth sharing. I am posting them in one blog post. On diverse topics such as freedom of speech ( Salman Rushdie), feminism and women writers ( Rachel Holmes), on bullying and the magic of being different ( Neil Gaiman) and a conversation between two creative people — Art Spiegelman and Neil Gaiman. 

Published by Leigha Cohen Video Production. Here is the text printed with the YouTube film.

Salman-Rushdie_1507797c“Salman Rushdie speaks passionately about present Indian Elections and how the Indian Government is failing to protect free speech, religious freedom and personal safety in India.

The PEN World Voices is a week-long literary festival in New York City. The Festival was founded by Esther Allen and Michael Roberts under then PEN President for the last ten years Salman Rushdie who retired from his position at the event.

Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie is an Indian British novelist and essayist. His second novel, Midnight’s Children (1981), won the Booker Prize in 1981. Much of his fiction is set on the Indian subcontinent. He is said to combine magical realism with historical fiction; his work is concerned with the many connections, disruptions and migrations between East and West.
His fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), was the center of a major controversy, provoking protests from Muslims in several countries. Death threats were made against him, including a fatwā issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989.

Filmed in The Great Hall, The Cooper Union 7 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003 on April 28, 2014 at the 2014 PEN World Voices Festival. Some of the globe’s most prominent thinkers each, in turn, brought their enthusiasm for societal improvement to the stage for a short oration http://worldvoices.pen.org/event/2014/03/11/opening-night-edge”

Rachel Holmes at International Women’s Day, Niniti International Literature Festival, Kurdistan. 8 March 2014. Holmes is also the author of Eleanor MarxThe Hottentot Venus: The life and death of Saartjie Baartman (Bloomsbury) and The Secret Life of Dr James Barry (Viking & Tempus Books).

Neil Gaiman on bullying. “Different is Good”.

Neil Gaiman in conversation with Art Spiegelman

6 May 2014 

Fun and fantastic reads!

Fun and fantastic reads!

Steampunk-An-Anthology-of-FaThree collection of short stories by three different publishers — Walker Books, Hot Key Books and Bloomsbury —  that I have thoroughly enjoyed in recent weeks are on steampunk fiction, the fantastic and unnatural creatures and witch stories. I have absolutely loved the collections. Taken my own sweet time to read them, dip into them and enjoyed the stories tremendously. Read them if you can. Under my Hate, Tales from the Cauldron, Hot Key Books

Unnatural Creatures, short stories chosen by Neil Gaiman

 

 

 

 

 

Ed. by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant Welcome to Steampunk! Fun anthology of fantastically rich and strange stories Walker Books, London, 2012. Pb. pp. 420 £7.99

Ed. Jonathan Strahan Under my Hat: Tales from the Cauldron Hot Key Books, London, 2012. Pb. pp. 420 Rs 350 

Neil Gaiman, stories chosen by Unnatural Creatures Bloomsbury, London, 2013. Hb. pp. 465. Rs. 499

Samantha Shannon, “The Bone Season”

Samantha Shannon, “The Bone Season”

Bone Season

It is a complicated world that Samanatha Shannon has created in The Bone Season. The heroine is nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney. She has been working in the criminal underworld of Scion ( pronounced as “Sigh-on”) for three years. She was recruited directly from school and made a member of the Seven Dials, a group that is in the central circle of the city. They consist of the White Binder, the Red Vision, the Black Diamond, the Pale Dreamer, the Martyred Muse, the Chained Fury and the Silent Bell. She is employed by Jaxon Hall and is considered to be a rare clairvoyant, since she is a Dreamwalker, and can break into people’s minds to gain information.

Scion is London of 2059. It consists of clairvoyants ( “voyants”, as they are popularly referred to). Voyants can be identified by their aura, mostly coloured dreamscapes. Jaxon Hall has identified seven orders of clairvoyance: soothsayers, augurs, mediums, sensors, furies, guardians and jumpers. Paige Mahoney or the Pale Dreamer she is known on the streets falls into the last category, a Dreamwalker. This is a category that is rarely to be found. It is an oligarchy, with a very strict social pecking order.

There is a dark side to this society. A netherworld, if you wish, based in Oxford. It has been in existence for nearly two centuries. It is actually a penal colony where stray voyants and/or criminals are sent. Sheol I is governed by six and a half feet tall Nashira Sargas, the blood-sovereign of the Race of Rephaim. Every decade they “harvest” as many voyants they can to co-opt them into their own society. Depending upon the abilities of the voyants selected, they are introduced into different levels of society. Those deemed worthless are relegated to being slaves or entertainers (“harlies”).

Paige Mahoney is sent off to Sheol I after she kills two people. But she is considered to be fortunate since she is spotted by the blood-consort or fiance of Nashira, Arcturus Mesarthim, known as The Warden. He decides he will be responsible for Paige’s training, a fact that makes her very special ( and causes some envy) in the society. This is Bone Season XX, but everyone refers to Bone Season XVIII as being exceptional, since it was when a rebellion was quelled. But little details emerge, save what is mentioned in hushed whispers on the streets.

Without giving out to many spoilers it is a classic story of good vs evil, familiar adventures and experiences of a young adult, albeit in a newly fashioned dystopian landscape. Irrespective of the fantastic world that she inhabits and the exceptional talents she possesses, Paige comes across as a normal girl, with the usual ups and downs of life and emotions ( including getting a flutter about Arcturus). Bone Season is a book that once you get into whisks you off on a jolly ride.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon is to be released on 20 Aug 2013. It is the first of a planned seven-volume series, all though Bloomsbury has signed the twenty-one-year old author for only a three-book deal. ( Apparently it is a six figure advance against royalty that the young Oxonian has been given, negotiated on her behalf by legendary literary agent, David Godwin.) Well before the book has been released the film rights were optioned by The Imaginarium Studios. It is London-based performance capture studio led by Andy Serkis ( The Lord of the Rings ) and Jonathan Cavendish ( produced of Bridget Jone’s Diary).

A newspaper claimed that Samantha Shannon was the next big writer after J. K. Rowling, presumably based on the advance figures. The story that Shannon tells in The Bone Season is imaginative, but not exceptional. It is a story well told, by a talented novelist who in time to come (as her writing skills mature) will be influential on the literary landscape. Where most debut novels tend to be semi-autobiographical, in Shannon’s case the autobiographical elements are literary, existing in the atmosphere, the plot and the story details. Shannon was born in 1991, on the eve of an era, when there was a burst of fabulous literature for children and young adults. (Notably, Rowling published her first Harry Potter book in 1997.) Some of the international writers who came to dominate the period from the early 1990s were Lois Lowry, J. K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctrow, Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer etc. The stories that they told were unusual for the time, they focused on what were termed as dark topics, but obviously struck a chord with many young readers. Details of nineteenth century England is a characteristic of Steampunk fiction and shades of which are visible in the slang used by the Scion, Voyants and Rephaim. The idea of toying with memories has been explored before in literature and films such as by Aldous Huxley, Men in Black, Lois Lowry’s Giver etc. Even the relationship that Paige has with the Warden has shades of Darcy ( Pride and Prejudice), Charles ( The Grand Sophy ) and George Knightley ( Emma). So entire generations of readers have been brought up on exciting and imaginative literature. It is bound to be influential. This is not really a space for a literary deconstruction of a tale well told. As T.S. Eliot said in his essay, “Tradition and the individual talent”, “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the …poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison…. I mean this as a principle of æsthetic, not merely historical, criticism.” The fact is Samantha Shannon has carved a niche for herself as a writer to be watched.

SAMANTHA SHANNON:
Twitter: http://twitter.com/say_shannon
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Samantha-Shannon/391393244245437?fref=ts

THE FOURTH ORDER (Art by Leiana Leatutufu): http://thefourthorder.tumblr.com/

THE BONE SEASON
https://twitter.com/TheBoneSeason
http://www.boneseasonbooks.com/
https://www.facebook.com/TheBoneSeason

15 July 2013 ( Updated 16 July 2013)

Neil Gaiman, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”

Neil Gaiman, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”

Neil Gaiman

I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.

Adult stories never made sense, and they were to slow to start. They made me feel like there were secrets, masonic, mythic secrets, to adulthood. Why didn’t adults want to read about Narnia, about secret islands and smugglers and dangerous fairies?
p.71-72

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Neil Gaiman’s latest offering. A delight for Gaiman devotees, and a treat for those who are yet to discover this fantabulous storyteller. He tells a story about a few days in the life of a seven-year-old boy, being recounted by the adult version, forty years later. Gaiman so casually pushes the limits of conventional storytelling. Visiting a farm, watching a garden patch with overgrown foliage or visiting a placid lake, will probably never be the same experience once you are done with this story!

It is worth remarking upon how Gaiman seems to write for a young reader just discovering fantasy and the magical world of literature, while at the same time giving an adult, a seasoned reader, the same pleasure of reveling in a good story. Gaiman retains a child-like, illogical wonder of the world around. His imagination is stupendous, combined with the wisdom of age and maturity makes the text so rich and memorable. At the same time he is able to weave in very pertinent issues of child abuse, death, adults “ganging” up against children, age, discussing family structures– the conventional and the unconventional.

Read. You will be disappointed that the story ends as quickly as it does.

Neil Gaiman The Ocean at the End of the Lane Headline Publishing Group, Hachette, London. Pb. pp. 250 Rs. 399
( An e-book and an audio book are also available. Price not mentioned.)