Anakana Schofield – Award Winning Author of Bina, Martin John and Malarky

May 12, 2008

Iraqi cultural books article

Here’s a link to an article I wrote about Iraqi cultural books…

Given that Iraq is so topical, it’s remarkable we hear so little about Iraqi writers or aspects of Iraqi life beyond dictator, war, and occupation. We are becoming increasingly fluent on Iraq only in sectarian language and ideas. Words like Shia, Sunni, Moqtada, IED, roll off our tongues but we know little of Iraq’s rivers, soccer players, musicians, visual artists or food.

For those who protested or opposed the invasion of Iraq, a logical follow up could be to support some ongoing cultural life amidst the mayhem that prevails in Iraq. One way to do this is to actively purchase Iraqi books and thus create more publishing opportunities for Iraqi writers.

Click here for the rest.

April 14, 2008

Hairy Relief

In these orchestra slashing (poor beleagured CBC radio orchestra), and writer shafting times, it’s rare enough to find a moment of advantage (once you don’t include obvious improvements in cholera, polio, public hanging etc) but today I chanced upon an advantaged moment to being a writer in this century, at this most inhospitable of writerly times …

“A hairy face was required of writers in the mid nineteenth century…”

From Claire Tomalin’s Thomas Hardy The Time-Torn Man. (p92 Penguin).

I have been reading Tomalin’s very enjoyable biography of Hardy in tandem with an equally intriguing history of Iraqi football. Perhaps an unusual pairing, but I wonder of other such pairings, where folks read distinctly different books at that same time.

Post your pairings.


January 9, 2008

Taking a stand link

Dr Saad Eskander, director of Iraq’s National Library, explains why he decided to return from exile in Britain in an attempt to preserve his country’s rich cultural heritage in the face of extremists and corruption. He describes what it is like to live with the threat of assassination in a city where sectarian gangs have killed thousands.

Listen to the interview here

August 5, 2007


Could this be why it’s so damn hard for writers to make a living:

Living Modestly Despite a Nice Nest Egg

He seems to derive a kind of Zen pleasure through living modestly. He takes books out of his local public library rather than buying them at a store. He rents a one-bedroom apartment in Palo Alto, Calif., although he can afford a larger place.

 The, he, in question is: “By Silicon Valley standards, Brian Wilson is not rich. But despite a nest egg of roughly $1.5 million…”

Article on rich folk in Silicon Valley in today’s NY Times who have financial anxiety.

 With respect to the folks of Silicon Valley, who are sitting on a million and a half, but proudly wandering with brillopads on their feet instead of shoes because of “wealth anxiety” I say that by the time you come to retire and take your wads out of the bank and lie on your arses on distant beaches on misshapen spines, you’ll have nowt to read because the poor writers your miserly ways are depriving of a living will be forced to procure a life of software piracy instead to feed their chickens.

For God’s sake would they ever buy a sodding book, painting, if they want to really live dangerously they could shell out for a poetry collection, or the much maligned no one wants to publish them anymore short story collection … share the damn wealth and stop being such stingy gits.  

To all those who do buy books un grand merci beaucoup. The simple fact is if people don’t buy books writers cannot make even the paltry living most of them actually make.

February 23, 2007

Sack race

Japes they are gibbering on over on the Guardian ’bout the GLA (not to be confused with Ransome’s GA or the Great Aunt lest any 7 yr olds be reading) Britain’s greatest living author. Would there be any difference in this question and lining up six different varieties of puppies, lying down on the pavement, and trying to assess which was the best tail wagger. I think not.

 I have a much more cavalier solution to the quest. Stick the writers into sacks and instigate a race, preferably down a traffic congestion charge street to add challenge as they locate change. Or make them trot the railway tracks to Dundee. If there’s no track due to the Tory assault on British Rail, then make them lay one, pick axe and bucket provided. Finally take all tomes dump them in deep bucket of water and then sling them at various heads of candidates or volunteers to be entirely democratic, and let them decide which title makes the most violent impact. Eh voila.

The World’s Greatest Reader is certainly the Puffin who I noted kissing a book the other day and murmuring to himself “it’s so beautiful.” I doubt even the edgy — voice of a blah blah generation, I can describe a traffic light like no other, verbally plumb in a sink before you’ll find the plug and get to literary grips with the arse of end of donkey … Monsieur Amis can top that.

Mr A is however my best hope for a novel about teeth and dodgy jaws.

February 13, 2007

On a similar theme of risky endeavours…

Here’s a link to a video of a skydiver whose parachute failed to open, as he jumped from some insane height, but fortunately he was saved by a bunch of thicket bushes. He’d a camera on the front of his helmet which captured his descent:

February 13, 2007

Crane brain?

Which part of the brain is responsible for insisting one must scale a crane? Is there a polar opposite to fear of heights in the brain? Some part that improves the higher you put your head up into the air?

A new craze for climbing Britain’s highest cranes, taking a picture of yourself and posting it on websites is seizing self-styled ‘urban explorers’.

Example of a man parachuting off one can be found on the reliable video source for much human lunacy youtube.

 I once witnessed a young man ride a small bicycle down the very steep side wall of a set of stairs. I spied him at the top, ready to attempt this urban devilment and felt if he was about to risk his cranium someone ought to bear witness to it, so put down my shopping and settled in. Another man stopped and we debated whether or not he’d do it. Several other mutterers stopped and expelled how stupid he was. Whether or not he was stupid was unlikely to change his mind as he was perched up there on that bicycle and appeared to be a few stages beyond weighing up the risks involved.

Eventually he not only rode down the skinny, mad steep wall but performed this exceptional jump when he took off. The stranger beside me was so overcome at the sight of it, he grabbed my arm and we both shouted in surprise when he got to the bottom that what he’d managed was incredible. Beside us a confused mutterer shrieked he should stop wasting tax payers money.

 Not that I’d be heartily recommend people drive bicycles down walls, but the young fella had as much chance as making it to the bottom as not and yet we were exclusively fixated on the likelihood he might not.

February 13, 2007

Medical school in the front room anybody?

Can’t be the only one out there with medical envy… not sure if it’s the white coats, the strolling about with pencils in the pocket, the pulling across of those unfortunate curtains or just the ability to stare into someone ear with intrigue on its top setting. I fancy the most likely envy is the ability of doctors to stay awake as long as they do.

 The only time I had television channels I spent the entire televisual time on Channel 42 watching those three pronged fork yokes puncturing dodgy gall bladders. I had to cut it out when one day the much younger Puffin climbed up beside me and clunked me on the nose with his plastic hammer and announced he was giving me a Rhinoplasty. Should add that I was constantly dizzy watching those procedures, but reminded myself to stick with it, since medical students pay thousands of dollars for such information and here it was gratis thanks to the TV channel trial offer on a postcard.

 It’s a grateful day when one finds handy medicine with no pictures: Andrew Cunningham writes and narrates a major new 30 part narrative history series charting the development of western medicine. Six weeks of radio programmes in this series.

Unlikely you’ll actually get any directions on how to deal surgically with bursitis, but who can miss episode 7 about fever. TV adaptions of books owe so much to the flannel patting rituals fever requires at the side of the four poster beds as the husband/ wife watches their loved one pass on from the doorway.  Even today with a packet of tylanol extra in the cupboard fever still has that threatening quality that drags you back and forth to the forehead, esp if presenting in a small Puffin. It’s rather like a politician you can’t trust exactly how it presents itself.

February 6, 2007

O’Neuro: the insula

Curious bit of the brain that could come in handy if you’re trying to say give up the smokes or interior decorating magazines..

From today’s NY Times:

According to neuroscientists who study it, the insula is a long-neglected brain region that has emerged as crucial to understanding what it feels like to be human.

They say it is the wellspring of social emotions, things like lust and disgust, pride and humiliation, guilt and atonement. It helps give rise to moral intuition, empathy and the capacity to respond emotionally to music.

The rest is here

Based on that last sentence all my mutterings about Dvorak and human despair may only be apparent if you’ve got the same insula. At the risk of repeating myself it would be very helpful for everyone to carry a diagram of their particular brain, thus in a moment of intense conflict people could whip out their various diagrams (rather than usual left hook style reaction) and compare and contrast instead of creating new patients for maxillo-facial surgery on a Monday morning.

February 4, 2007

Alphabetical inferiority complex

Glory be, glory be, L’alphabet, L’alphabet.

10.20am, during one of our peut-etre more seismically challenged days, myself and the Arabic language face a trial separation as I declare to bloke beside me I think I’ve reached the end of the road. We are being dunked into the pan of the alphabet and let’s just say there’s more carrots in there than I bargained for. Each letter has 4 different ways of being written depending if it’s at the beginning of a word, medial or final. Many of them look remarkable similar to begin with, so having felt a little faint at the sight of them all as singles, it’s unfathomable that there are now three different other versions that do not look a great deal like the isolated version. The purpose of the isolated version is still a mystery. Perhaps they are only used on tie pins or for decor purposes?

Every-time the teacher asks me a question she erupts in an affectionate set of giggles in anticipation of my answer because my attempts sounds a little more yodelling than the others. I do have the best arm waving though. But by the time I conquer ‘this traffic bollard is bothering me and can I have a shampoo and set’  arm waving may be out of vogue.

 Generally I feel I’ve been raised in an inferior language when I contemplate the complexity of this script and all it’s variations.

 I’m certainly overwhelmed but afterwards sunk in the library in literary ventures I find myself imagining writing that script and then begin to copy and practise the first six letters and find it surprisingly comforting like knitting or swimming must be if you’re good at it. I cannot understand why I am so compatible with it until it all makes sense. It’s written right to left, so it’s got to be in the left brain, which is where all my pigeons roost.

January 22, 2007

Peg’s ma

Here’s a link to a Writers and Co interview with Margaret Atwood, in which she describes her mother taking up figure skating (ice dancing) at 45 and retiring at 75. I’m assuming she didn’t have the comfortable benefit of hockey skates, which made my second painfully uncomfortable attempt at ice skating a little more optimistic but not yet convincing over Christmas. The assumption can also be drawn that the Atwood gene is one that includes sensible behaviour by the inner ear. All very important literary insights of course, the sort you’ve come to expect from this blog.

January 19, 2007

Reading the score

For a while I’ve been musing on which piece of classical music perfectly replicates/interprets the narrative of human despair.  Now obviously that’s some indication of the cheery types of things I think about, but every time I hear certain pieces of music I hear the elements of the novel. Or perhaps more accurately I hear the elements that are missing from my own novel. It may seem absurd to try reduce human despair to one single narrative, but heck I have to start somewhere, so I’m settling on one for now.

 My present contender is the Dvorak – Cello Concerto in B minor Op. 104 – II. Adagio ma non troppo played by Jacqueline du pre in the recording I have.

 In an effort to explore this duality I find between music and narrative I got this barmy idea to try to read musical scores, which, given that my knowledge of the treble clef is v limited and all early experiences with violin were severely detrimental, was a little optimistic.

 The other day at the library negotiating the difficulty of a man hogging the shelfs of the section I was trying to reach I was excited to see the Bach cello suites. Ha, I think, I’ll start there because I can throw on Pablo Casals CD and try to follow him as a first step.

Naturally forgot about it til the small Puffin chanced upon  it.. what’s this? Starts singing out the numbers above the notes. So I tell him my plan about reading it with music on.  Sling on the CD, dart to sofa. It’s suite 1 playing, and suite one open on the knees. Think I am fathoming it, point out to Puffin looks it going up, he rightly asserts it’s going down on the CD. Perplexed hit track one again. Repeat dart to sofa. Five further attempts. Dismal failure. Declare to Puffin reading music is impossible task. Turn off Pablo. Return to sofa defeated. Close musical score. Catch sight of words: double bass on inside cover. It’s bloody double bass music we’re looking at.

We turn to something we really can understand Pippi Longstocking in relief.

It was an excellent exercise in knocking on the head another barmy notion from the increasing list of barmy notions. Actually I’d like to know which part of the brain is responsible for barmy notions because that might explain why a I, who cannot follow an omlette recipe, thought my chances might be higher trying to read a cello concerto.

December 20, 2006

Where is the Iraqi War Literature?

Damascus, Asharq Al Awsat – With a few exceptions of Iraqi writers and artists, the continuous bloodshed in Iraq has failed to elicit any poetry or prose from the Arab men of letters. While political writers expounded and analyzed, the literary writers and artists did not channel this harrowing Arab tragedy into creativity, and neither did they attempt to engage with it.

(interesting article worth reading.)

 I’ve been wondering about this for a long while, from a slightly different perspective, why are there so few fiction writers translated into English? The foremost Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifeh has one of her seven novels available in English according to Words Without Borders. Surely publishers have a significant role to play in it.

Last year I tried to write a piece about Iraqi writers still living in Iraq, it was difficult to get any newspaper to bite on it and even harder to find writers because of communication problems. (ie. no electricity etc) and because I am a complete neophyte on the topic. Then I intended to turn it into a radio essay, but John McGahern died and his passing bumped the beleagured Iraqi writer and the essay turned to him.

I did talk to a number of exiled writers and academics who all had various takes on it, including in one opinion that there was an avoidance of Arabic literature by publishers (Western). I should dig out what I gathered and upload it to a page. At the time I felt rather out of my depth and couldn’t understand why the New York Times had not commissioned some arts journalist to go on the trail of the Iraqi writer. I remember being convinced that if everyone who marched in a protest  actually went out and purchased a translated, small press, novel, as a political gesture, it could kick start some kind of financial injection into Iraqi lit or just translated literature generally that would result in more writers having opportunities to publish. But it would have to be novels that people bought, not tomes with angry titles.

One press who had published a significant novel reviewed favourably in the NY Times admitted they had yet to raise the cash to even pay the translation bill and could barely afford to send out review copies. I realized at that point the scale of what they were up against.

Here’s a link to the Baghdad supplement that Al-Ahram did back in 2003.

The list of blue titles on the right hand side link to different essays and pieces.