Happy New Year!

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”
― Neil Gaiman

Happy Holidays!

After NaNoWriMo 2016 (National Novel Writing Month)

NaNoWriMo 2016

On November 30, I typed in ‘The End’ and finished my new novel; Bonded in Heaven as part of NaNoWriMo 2016. We celebrated with a bottle of vintage Morton.

This year, I wasn’t well prepared—just a very big research on each character and their countries, that’s all. And yet, I managed to write 60,433 words in 30 days. Well, two of those words are ‘the end’ of course and you might like to subtract them from the total word count. But if you do, I name one of my nasty characters in my next book and kill you!

Last year, I hit 50,000 words benchmark pretty much around the same time as I did this year but the story wasn’t finished. I stopped writing. I thought I would go back and finish the manuscript during January. I didn’t. Once I was out of dangerous waters and swam to safety, I simply wanted to stay there. On top of that, I had no idea about tying up the lose ends and conclude the story. The idea of the right series of events to match the ending I had planned came to me very recently. It’s scribbled on a tiny piece of paper, waiting to be inserted into the novel now. I promised myself not to make the same mistake with my second book. So, I now have a finished shitty first draft.

Even though I wasn’t at all prepared for this year’s NaNoWriMo, I had cleared my schedule properly; I cancelled my singing lessons, didn’t go out much, didn’t even shave (much), got groceries and everything else (sometimes even meals) delivered, Olly didn’t get a bath and remained in his ‘skunk’ state till the end of NaNoWriMo 2016.

The topic of Bonded in heaven was an incredibly difficult one to write. It is the kind that makes my blood boil, shreds my insides and turn them out to expose to the outside world. On top of that, I killed six ‘darlings’ in my novel while I was carrying their load all the way through November. I lived with those imaginary people who became very real for me in the end. Actually, each one is based on a true story. It was pretty hard going, Peoples.

NaNoWriMo 2016

Now that I finished my shitty first draft, I can shelve the manuscript for at least 6 weeks before I go back and edit and rewrite (you know how it works). In the meantime, I need to shave, give Olly a bath, clean the house, book a hair appointment, mail Xmas cards and put the tree up or even order my NaNoWriMo winner t-shirt. While I’m doing all of that, I will also be visiting my last year’s manuscript and finally finish it. Promise.

Getting ready for NaNoWriMo and panicking

NaNoWriMo

It is that time of the year again and I am preparing myself for another writing marathon during NaNoWriMo. This time with another story, another theme, different to what I wrote last year.

What is NaNoWriMo?
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, for those of you who don’t know. It is pronounced as “na-no-rye-moh” however, I pronounce it as “nah-no-wree-moh” because I’m me. It’s a one month challenge of writing a complete novel from start to finish. And you are expected to write 50,000 or more. Yes, in just 30 days!

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to get people writing and keep them motivated throughout the process. The NaNoWriMo website provides participants all kinds of support. At this point of novel writing, you are not expected to write well; you just need to hit the mark. So, this is the time for shitty first drafts; not literary fantabulousim.

NaNoWriMo comes around every year and asks you to write your novel. For me, last year was my first time. And I did write over 50,000 words —got the t-shirt which I am wearing now.

This year I am a little behind my preparations, to be honest. Although, I have been planning on writing a book about crimes against women in Middle East and Africa for a long time, it took me ages to come up with an idea around how I was going to structure or present the book. When I finally figured it out, I also started to panic. Because, at that time NaNoWriMo was just around the corner.

Is it easy to write 50,000 words in a month, you may ask? I’m not going to lie; it is absolutely not easy. It’s just possible with a little bit of planning, preparation and Scrivener.

Now, if you please excuse me, I have some planning to do. My Scrivener awaits…

Evening Class: The very first book I read in English

Evening Class

Evening Class by Maeve Binchy: The Very First Book I read in English.

I remember making an attempt to read The Outsiders in the 80s and after several trips to my dictionary while reading the first page, I decided to give up. Years later, I made another attempt to read Misery or Insomnia —can’t remember—by Stephen King and that didn’t get me anywhere either. The truth is, my English wasn’t good enough at the time and it wasn’t going to be good enough until year 2000. It was only then did I manage to read a book in English. And that book was Evening Class by Maeve Binchy.

Evening Class was also the first book I had read by Maeve Binchy. A friend of mine recommended and lent it to me at the same time. Of course, I didn’t know that the author actually carried several characters from her books into other novels.

The Plot
Evening Class is story about a bunch of Dubliners who come together two evenings a week to study Italian and the culture of Italy. Each chapter in the book is narrated by a different character, revealing their backstories, secrets, hopes and dreams. And the story flows like you wouldn’t believe. I couldn’t put the book down although it was written in a foreighn language.

Maeve Binchy is, without a doubt, one of the best story-tellers of our time. Her characters are so alive and well developed. Her stories have layers, richness, depth and her style wraps you up like a warm blanket.

Years later, after I had read Evening Class, I read several of Maeve Binchy books like Nights of Rain and Stars, The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club and Tara Road —the movie was a disappointment, don’t you think? But, Evening Class was my first love and will always be my favourite.

Scrivener Writing Software; using it, loving it

Scrivener

I use Scrivener and I am absolutely loving it! It is the coolest, sexiest writing software ever!

I came into this writing business late. Very late. One of the reasons why it took me ages to start writing is this: a novel is a very large piece of writing and if you’re new in this game —like me —there is a very good chance of creating a pile of “unflushable” mess. I’m Virgo Peoples; I hate clutter: I hate disorganised work or anything for that matter: I can’t even function in a cluttered environment. Just by typing these words of disorder, disarray, unorganised, I can feel that my heart is pounding, my mouth is dry, absolutely can’t breathe. And I haven’t even typed my first “once upon a time” yet!

Luckily, Scrivener came into my life at the right time. I stopped procrastinating and started writing. It helped me tidy up my research, develop my plot and characters and during NaNoWriMo last year, I even managed to write over 50,000 words. All because of Scrivener.

Yes, I know the fact that I bought Scrivener before I even started to write and it’s a bit like trying on shoes before you actually learn to walk but Scrivener was the one for me. It was love at first free trial. Especially, after trying out yWrite. Although yWrite is a free application and it is relatively easy to learn, I thought it was clunky. In the end yWrite and I didn’t gel. So I broke up with yWrite and decided to take up on a younger software. 🙂

Most writers would tell you how drastically Scrivener had changed their writing. Well, I can’t say that for myself because before Scrivener, I didn’t have a writing practice. But now, I do have one because of it.

Scrivener may look quite intimidating at first although it has many useful, cool features. Ask anyone; they will all tell you that there is a steep learning curve. However, there are books and courses. I will talk about that and more in my next post on the topic.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Exhibition

Frida Kahlo Diego Rivera

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to see Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibition at Art Gallery of New South Wales (the exhibition catalogue above). I have always been fascinated by Frida Kahlo’s work as well as her relationship to Diego Rivera. This was a rare chance to see masterpieces from them both.

The exhibition presents 33 artworks from the renowned collection of Jacques and Natasha Gelman, including Natasha Gelman’s portraits done by Diego Rivera. Alongside Kahlo’s self-portrait paintings, drawings and major examples of Diego Rivera’s canvas paintings are over 50 photographs, some videos and their letters. Here I have some of my favourite photos from the exhibition but you can view the other ones on my photo blog.

The only artist in the history of art who tore open her chest and heart to reveal the biological truth of her feelings.
Diego

Frida Kahlo Diego Rivera

Diego on my mind (Self-portrait as Tehuana) 1943

Diego was everything; my child, my lover, my universe.
Frida

Frida Kahlo Diego RiveraSelf-portrait with braid 1941 (above)
Frida Kahlo painted Self-portrait with braid shortly after she married Diego Rivera in 1940. She portrays herself covered only by a grapevine, a symbol associated with the Roman god Bacchus and often used by the artist to symbolise everlasting love. The Fantastic braid references a hairstyle worn by young women from the Chinantla region of Oaxaca. Kahlo’s exaggerated version is fashioned into the shape of a lemniscate, the symbol for infinity.

To be an artist, one must… never shirk from the truth as he understands it, never withdraw from life.
Diego Rivera

Frida Kahlo Diego Rivera

Self-portrait with monkeys 1943 oil on canvas (above)
In 1943 Frida Kahlo was appointed professor at the National School of Painting, Sculpture and Printmaking. For Kahlo, who had not received any formal art education, this was an exceptionally high honour. In Self-portrait with monkeys the viewer is caught in a stare that is at once proud and all too aware of the irony of her appointment. Her white blouse, a traditional outfit worn by Yalalag women of her mother’s native Oaxaca province, is fastened with tassle of a doctoral cap. This painting is also arguably the earliest manifestation of ‘Fridamania’, with the four adoring monkeys representing a group of students who so admired their teacher that they became known as ‘Los Fridos’.

They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.
Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo Diego RiveraCalla lily vendor by Diego Rivera 1943 (above)

I guess I’m not done yet with the exhibition. Thinking of going back during the week perhaps but definitely after I’ve read the catalogue.

Frida Kahlo Diego Rivera

Author Sightings: Rayya Elias at UWRF

October 4 2014 at The Salon in Ubud, Bali

The first time I met Rayya Elias was the time she came to Sydney with her best friend: Elizabeth Gilbert. She was part of Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things talk.

As I talked about it in one of my previous posts; I didn’t know that she was going to be there. To be honest, I didn’t know anything about her, let alone her memoir: Harley Loco. I made this little gift for Elizabeth Gilbert, at the time. It was a little hand-made pouch with beads from Turkey, hiding a personal note in it. If I had known that Rayya Elias was going to be there, I would have made one for her, too! Because I hate favouritism, I felt awful for having made something for one and not for the other.

Well, I recovered the situation in style when I went to see Rayya Elias seven months after the first encounter. It was a literary event organised by Ubud Writers’ and Readers Festival. Here’s how the event was advertised:

 

Enter the festival’s den of iniquity where stories of rock stars, drug addicts and inept gangsters will be served along with a healthy dose of Mozaic’s addictive martinis and canapes. Liam Pieper, Kate Holden, Rayya Elias, Carlos Andres Gomez and Skid More will spill the adults-only, behind-closed-doors stories that we all want to hear.

 

Rayya Elias

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival catalogue

So, I made up my mind: this time, I was going to attend the event for Rayya Elias and be fully prepared, too. First of all, I bought my ticket to Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Second, I made the exact same gift for her–with her own personal note in it. Third, I bought the Kindle version of Harley Loco and read it. And lastly, just before I travelled to Bali, I purchased an American First edition of Harley Loco for Rayya Elias to sign.

I guess, it is safe to say that I really was prepared, isn’t it?

The program started with Skid More’s introduction but it was a very short one because she was to attend another event. So, she didn’t have much time. After this quick introduction, each one of the authors took the stage and told us adult-only stories while Mozaic’s sporadic yet delicious cocktails and canapes were being served.

Here, Rayya Elias is playing one of her songs for us.

After the talks, stories, poetry and in Rayya’s case; playing the guitar and singing, I approached her and introduced myself. To my surprise, she remembered me from Sydney! I presented the little gift which I made for her. We chatted for a while and I asked her she would be kind enough to sign my book. She took one look at it and exclaimed: “American first edition!” I told her that I was a collector. After signing my book, she gave me one big, warm hug.

Rayya Elias

Here’s my personal copy of Harley Loco signed by Rayya Elias. I had to reorganise the whole shelf after I came home. This one is placed right next to Elizabeth Gilbert’s signed books I own. I just didn’t want to separate best friends.

Who was who at The Salon
Rayya Elias – USA
Rayya Elias’ debut is Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post Punk from the Middle East to Lower East Side. It charts growing up in Syria, trying to find herself in Detroit, and getting lost in New York’s underground music and drug scene of the 1980s.

Liam Pieper – Australia
According to Liam’s grandmother, he is “My grandson who writes for the internet.” His 2014 memoir, The Feelgood Hit of the Year, follows his journey from starry-eyed flower child to inept gangster. He is co-recipient of the 2014 M Literary Residency.

Kate Holden – Australia
Kate Holden is the author of the memoirs In My Skin and The Romantic. She publishes short stories, teaches writing and contributes literary criticism and features for the major papers and journals.

Carlos Andres Gomez – USA
Carlos Andres Gomez is an award-winning writer and performer from New York who starred in HBO’s Def Poetry and Spike Lee’s Inside Man. He is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir: Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood.

Skid More – Canada
Skid More worked as an art critic, columnist and alternative press editor before devoting herself to writing and performance. She has performed widely in Canada and beyond and recent works include the newly founded Bali Gong Show.

La Biblioteca del Convento de San Francisco

I had the opportunity to visit La Biblioteca del Convento de San Francisco –Spanish for library of Saint Francis Monastery—in Lima, Peru in 2007. It was my very first ancient library experience with actual books in it. I say that because when it comes to ancient libraries, I lived only 25 minutes away from Celcus Library in Ephesus, Turkey and visited the whole city several times. Library of Celcus is one ancient library –even older than the one in Lima—but it doesn’t have any books.

library

The Roman Library of Celcus in Ephesus, Turkey (above)

La Biblioteca del Convent de San Francisco is only one block away from the Plaza de Armas (photo below) which is located in the old part of Lima. The whole area was added to the UNESCO world heritage list in 1991. Although we stayed in Miraflores –the touristic part of town—we were taken there by our guide. That’s when I discovered this beautiful library and the moment I saw the books, my face lit up (so I’m told) and perhaps for a moment I forgot to breathe.

library

Museo San Francisco (below). Aside from the library it also contains a church, monastery and catacombs.

library

The Collection of La Biblioteca del Convento de San Francisco

The collection of La Biblioteca del Convento de San Francisco is world-renowned with its 25,000 antique texts in different languages like Latin, Spanish, French, Portugese, Italian and some in ancient languages, on the subjects of philosophy, theology, history, literature, music, geography, canon law, ecclesiastical law, bibles, etc.

libraryOne of the most notable works here for me is some volumes of the first dictionary published by the Academy of the Spanish language. Not that I have actually seen it. I mean, you’re not even allowed to take photos once you’re inside or pass the cordoned area where the books are.

library

For more information and photos about Peru or other places I have been to, visit our photo blog.

My Favourite Authors: Nazım Hikmet Ran

Nazım HikmetNazım Hikmet Ran –commonly known as Nazım Hikmet—was a Turkish poet, playwright, and novelist. He was recognized and revered throughout the world as one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century.

In his homeland however he was treated differently by more than one government because of his social criticism and commitment to communism. Basically, Nazim Hikmet was branded as a traitor and imprisoned for over a decade. A. Kadir, another Turkish poet who is a distant relative of mine was arrested together with Nazim Hikmet and served time in prison in 1934. My relative has a book based on his reflection of the time which is still in print. In the end, Nazim Hikmet had no choice but to leave the country. He took a small boat and went to Moscow via Romania. In his home country he left behind, his books were banned and eventually, in July 25 1951, his Turkish citizenship was cancelled. Forty-six years after his demise, he regained his citizenship. No wonder why he called poetry “the bloodiest of the arts.”

I don’t remember ever having Nazim Hikmet books on the shelves of our home library and I have a feeling that my father might have burnt them because they were considered as subversive material at the time. It was simply too dangerous to own such books. Because of that, I have never been able to keep track of which one of his books I read. Here’s the silver lining though… There was this unspoken arrangement between my parents and their communist/teacher friends. Every time we visited those “comrades,” my parents were taken into the living room, I to their home library. I was overly fond of those stolen moments spent on borrowed books. Who knows how many personal libraries I had been through…

Nazım Hikmet

Nazım Hikmet’s Work

In his poetry, the main themes of hope, his women (mainly Vera), his love and longing for his country, hope for social justice and struggles of common man frequently occur.

Many of Nazim’s work have been translated into more than fifty languages. I have put together a list of English translations. They can be purchased through Amazon or eBay.

  • Human Landscapes from My Country: An Epic Novel in Verse (2009)
  • Things I Didn’t Know I Loved: Selected Poems
  • The Day Before Tomorrow
  • The Moscow Symphony
  • Selected Poems
  • The Epic of Shayk Bedreddin

Last time I was in Turkey, his complete works, all in one volume was out. It is a leather-bound, Bible looking book –only slightly thicker—and I am so kicking myself for not buying it. Because of the recent increase in shipping charges to Australia, it is incredibly expensive to buy books from Turkey these days. Well, next time I guess.

International Peace Prize

In 1950, Nazim Hikmet received International Peace Prize and was immortalised with Neruda’s lines in his acceptance speech: “Thanks for what you were and for the fire / which your song left forever burning.” Same year, Pablo Neruda, Wanda Jacubowska, Pablo Picasso and Paul Robeson received the same prize.

Nazım Hikmet

On June 3 in 1963, Nazim Hikmet died of a heart attack in Moscow. Fifty-three years ago, today, to be precise. It is true that he had said he wished to be buried in Turkey. I recently read an article about Nazim Hikmet’s adopted son Cengiz Ferecov who stated that Nazim’s greatest wish was to be able to go back to Turkey. He had said: “If that doesn’t happen, being buried there is enough for me.” Hikmet also mentioned the very same wish in his poem called Vasiyet (Testament) which I translated for you (above). Despite his wish, he is buried in Novodevichy Cemetery today. If any consolation, he is buried in the most famous cemetery in Moscow and sharing the same graveyard with Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Bulgakov.

I mean you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you will plant olives –
and not so they’ll be left for your children either,
but because even though you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.
(from On Living, 1948)

Kız Çocuğu by Nazim Hikmet

Kız Çocuğu (translated as I Come and Stand at Every Door or The Little Girl) is a one of Nazim Hikmet’s poems. The literal translation of it is The Girl Child. The poem is about a seven-year-old girl who was killed during the bombing of Hiroshima. My primary school teacher was communist so she taught us the song  Kız Çocuğu composed by Zülfü Livaneli as part of his 1978 Nazım Türküsü album using Nazim’s poems. This particular version was sung by many international singers around the world including Joan Baez.

Later on, Fazıl Say, a Turkish pianist and composer wrote Nazım Oratorio (link below).

As you can read the English translations in the video above, the little girl who died in Hiroshima conveys a plea for peace by knocking on every door and asking people to sign a petition so that the children in the future wouldn’t be killed by bombs.

There is no doubt that Nazim Hikmet is the most-loved poet in Turkey. How do I know? Because, people celebrate Nazim’s birthday with carnations at the very spot where he took the boat to escape after receiving death threats. Because, people write his name on their walls with lights. The photo below was taken last year in Istanbul. The name of the place is Franz Kafka Bistro and Bar.

Nazım Hikmet

Additional Information About Nazim Hikmet

There is a movie about Nazim Hikmet’s life called Mavi Gözlü Dev (Blue Eyed Giant) and you can find IMBD information about the movie here.

Nazim Hikmet Poetry Festival
For those poets out there, this annual festival is for you. Nazim Hikmet Poetry Festival is organised by the American Turkish Association of North Carolina, supported by a major grant from the Turkish Cultural Foundation and hosted by Town of Cary.

Nazim Hikmet’s biography on Wikipedia
Nazim Hikmets biography on poets.org.