Paris in August- 5 days of Graves, Skulls, and Red Sancerre

I didn’t know you were this packed, Paris. I mean, I know everyone loves you and everyone’s supposed to love you even if they don’t really. But seriously, the traffic? I wanted to throw myself into the Seine at one point. Instead I just collapsed on the grass in the Jardin du Luxembourg and propped myself up long enough for a photo before unlocking that elbow and having a tantrum on my back like Harry Enfield’s Kevin.

Clinging on to life in the Jardin du Luxembourg

I wanted everyone to just stop walking INTO MY FACE for five minutes so that I could see Paris for a second. But then again I’m a bit of a country bumpkin when it comes to cities and I tend to just have a strop in the middle of pavements until people move past me. Look at these folks with their back to Notre Dame. Do they know they’re facing the wrong way?


Jardin du Luxembourg

The Jardin du Luxembourg in August is an absolute godsend. Little toddling boys and girls in clothes that toddling children should wear (i.e. not jeans or clothes with words on) lean over the stone wall and place little wooden yachts into the water and gaze at them as the wind takes them on their near horizontal adventures across the lake. It is a place where you will manage to to regain some peace and be able to face the rest of Paris again.

Shakespeare & Co.

I think I was sulking at being so hemmed in at Shakespeare & Co. (If you don’t know what Shakespeare & Co. is then you’re at the wrong site and you need to go here instead).

As I was saying, I was sulking.

Continue reading

Inspiration on the doorstep

img_0990It’s that brilliant day, which arrives every quarter, where I come home drained of all my hopes and dreams (7 hours updating a spreadsheet can do that to the most hardcore of day dreamers) only to be instantly pulled up by my imaginary braces (I wish I could wear braces to work without dodgy looks) at the sight of the Mslexia writing magazine on the doormat.

It’s the sort of magazine which makes you feel like you’re ready to conquer the literary world the moment you lay it flat on its back, take both hands to the cellophane wrapper, and rip it open the way Bond girls show a crisp white shirt who’s boss.

This edition features the winners of the ‘Monsters’ theme. I wish I had ripped my writers block to shreds like I did the wrapping of this magazine but alas, it beat me. Damn it, I should’ve written about writer’s block being a monster. F*ck you, hindsight.

There is the usual showcasing of some blogs and I’ve already been sidetracked by Isabella Costello’s great Literary Sofa.

It also talks of creating your own creative writing MA. This is something I’m particularly interested in, as I often think of how fun it would be to trail the Internet for all the wonderful writing sources there are out there and piece together the most amazing home-made course and teach it to yourself. Perhaps I should undercut all the universities charging £5k+ for their attempts and start an underground university. Bit like Dead Poets Society but with cocktails and wifi.

May 2015 Meetup – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

cat tail

The book..

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

We loved…
…the style of writing in general
…the sections on the war
… learning about the minutiae of Japanese life in general


We didn’t love…
…how quickly it wound down at the end.
…how sometimes we would be reading a passage with infinitesimal detail about something then realise you we have missed that crucial sentence which explains why the character has moved from A to B.

We agreed…
…that despite the length and occasional tedium, the language was enjoyable enough to keep going. Someone said that the sentences were lovely, and they turned into good paragraphs, which turned into great chapters, and it just made you want to keep reading.
…that the surreal nature to the writing is probably something much more prevalent in Japanese culture.
We disagreed…
…about whether the bit about stroking someone’s bum to see if it is your lost cat’s tail is the best thing we have ever read or not.
We digressed….
…and talked about how it seemed to remind people of a computer game, where there are different levels to reach, and seemingly unrelated surroundings are all placed together.

Reviewed by:
Zuhal, Chris A, Judy D, Anne, Drew, Paul, Karen, Jackie, Carol, and me J

Next month…
SKyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker – White Hart, Llangybi, last Weds In June, 2015, 7:30pm.

August 2013 Meetup – The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

On the last Wednesday of August The Llangybi Literati joined forces in The White Hart once again, this time to discuss The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. We were an impressive 10, with two newcomers to the group, Jenny and Mansel, who I hope have been converted and will join us again in THE social night of the month. We also had a Whyman imposter at the end who joined us for the After Party and who we may manage to convert in the future if we all chip in for a Kindle so that he can read the book at his favourite font size.

paul kindleDespite quite a lot of cheating this month with people openly admitting that they only read the first and last chapters, most people finished it like good little students. Overall, everyone seemed to find the book incredibly unique and interesting.

For those who have not read the book (and for the cheats who only read the first and last chapter!) the book follows the ex pornstar narrator’s recovery from being burned in a car accident which is portrayed to the reader in exquisitely written detail but it is sometimes quite uncomfortable to read. Alongside this is an intricately woven 14th century love story between the narrator and the schizophrenic sculptress Marianne, in their alleged past life. Many questions are raised about the nature of God, Hell, Love and Sexuality.

The famous first chapter

There were mixed reviews among the group about the opening first chapter in which the author goes into graphic detail to describe his experience of being severely burned in a car accident. Some people found this a compelling start to a novel because of its originality, others found it off-putting and would not have ordinarily continued had it not been for the book club, and others were surprised at how much they enjoyed it because they are normally quite squeamish. Whatever your reaction to the first chapter there is no denying that it is memorable, and stunning in terms of its originality. Here is a very short section where we are invited to imagine being burnt.

I imagine, dear reader, that you’ve had some experience with heat. Perhaps you’ve tipped a boiling kettle at the wrong angle and the steam crept up your sleeve; or, in a youthful dare, you held a match between your fingers for as long as you could. Hasn’t everyone, at least once, filled the bathtub with overly hot water and forgot to dip in a toe before committing the whole foot? If you’ve only had these kinds of minor incidents, I want you to imagine something new. Imagine turning on one of the elements of your stove — let’s say it’s the electric kind with black coils on top. Don’t put a pot of water on the element, because the water only absorbs the heat and uses it to boil. Maybe some tiny tendrils of smoke curl up from a previous spill on the burner. A slight violet tinge will appear, nestled there in the black rings, and then the element assumes some reddish-purple tones, like unripe blackberries. It moves towards orange and finally — finally! — an intense glowing red. Kind of beautiful, isn’t it? Now, lower your head so that your eyes are even with the top of the stove and you can peer through the shimmering waves rising up. Think of those old movies where the hero finds himself looking across the desert at an unexpected oasis. I want you to trace the fingertips of your left hand gently across your right palm, noting the way your skin registers even the lightest touch. If someone else were doing it, you might even be turned on. Now, slam that sensitive, responsive hand directly onto that glowing element.

And hold it there. Hold it there as the element scorches Dante’s nine rings right into your palm, allowing you to grasp Hell in your hand forever. Let the heat engrave the skin, the muscles, the tendons; let it smolder down to the bone. Wait for the burn to embed itself so far into you that you don’t know if you’ll ever be able to let go of that coil. It won’t be long until the stench of your own burning flesh wafts up, grabbing your nose hairs and refusing to let go, and you smell your body burn.

I want you to keep that hand pressed down, for a slow count of sixty. No cheating. One Mis-sis-sip-pi, two Mis-sis-sip-pi, three Mis-sis-sip-pii.i.i.i At sixty Mis-sis-sip-pi, your hand will have melted so that it now surrounds the element, becoming fused with it. Now rip your flesh free.

I have another task for you: lean down, turn your head to one side, and slap your cheek on the same element. I’ll let you choose which side of your face. Again sixty Mississippis; no cheating. The convenient thing is that your ear is right there to capture the snap, crackle, and pop of your flesh.

Later in the book we are confronted with another graphic description, that of the attack against the narrator by the trackers from the condotta. I personally found this much more difficult to read, and the overall opinion of the group was that this later chapter was much more difficult to stomach for a number of reasons. Firstly, we naturally care a lot more about the narrator at this point, and so any violence towards him is going to toy with our loyalties. Secondly, an accident is by its very nature very different to being tortured. Thirdly, it is clear that there he will die as a result of the attack whereas he slowly recovers from the accident.


The Radio’s presence at last month’s meetup encouraged a step up in my hostess duties which must have spilled over into this month too as I came armed with a list of questions and felt really rather professional. One of the questions I asked was a clever one about God that I stole from the Internet.

How did Marianne’s experience of God evolve and mature throughout her life? How do you personally reconcile the concept of a loving God and the reality of human suffering.

I felt that the answer to the first part was that she kept her strong faith but that this evolved to allow for her own happiness as well, but when it came to the second part I was relying on Drew, our retired vicar. Unfortunately, as he was unable to make it to this month’s wineclub bookclub, I requested that his wife channel him in to the room and give us his answer. So as not to cause their divorce by citing Anne incorrectly I am going to keep this cowardly vague and simply say that his answer to the question (and please bear in mind Anne’s wine in-take and her powers of clairvoyancy) is that he thinks that the idea of a benevolent God is a tricky one to hold, and that one must be open-minded to the balance of love and hate within a God. This sparked up various analogies to Star Wars and the Jedi Knights, and how everything requires a balance to achieve order. The only thing I know less about that religion is Star Wars, so I smiled and nodded.


As well as being thick-skinned enough to read the uncomfortable bits in the book, whether that be his accident, his painful recovery procedures, his intricate suicide plan, or his torture in the 14th Century, an awareness of Dante’s Inferno and the nine rings of Hell wouldn’t go amiss either, as it is a central theme throughout. The 9 rings of Dante’s hell are first introduced to us in the first chapter:

Hold it there as the element scorches Dante’s nine rings right into your palm, allowing you to grasp Hell in your hand forever’

and then recur several times throughout the book in hallucinations and discussions about Hell. This themes is so underlying that we are left wondering whether the accident in the beginning of the book is actually one of his hallucinations of Hell after all. This book really challenges the reader’s notion of Hell. It is not to be considered a uniform Hell, and instead it is your own version. In the stories about Iceland, for instance, the author reveals that Hell in this country is generally considered to be an area full of ice.

‘This makes sense: having spent their entire lives hammered  down by the frigid  climate, how could they fear anything more than an eternal version of the same thing.?’

This probably means that our British view of hell should be of a below par short British summer on the cusp of having a full week’s sunshine but never quite getting there. With us all chained to cider stained beer garden tables with immortal wasps.

That Hell is tailored to the individual is hardly a new idea. It is, in fact, one of the greatest  artistic triumphs in Dante’s Inferno; the punishment for every sinner fits his sin. The Souls of the Carnal, who in life were swept away by the gusting fits of their passion, are in death doomed to be carried on the winds of a never-ending tempest. The Souls of the Simoniacs, who in life offended  ‘god by abusing the privileged of their holy offices , are doomed to burn upside down in fiery baptismal fonts. The Souls of the Flatterers spend eternity buried in excrement , a reminder of the shit they spoke on Earth.

The Ending

The overall opinion on the ending was that it was a little lacking for some of us, with the impression being given that he ran out of time and wanted it finished to get his money. Not the best impression you can get of an ending. Then again, how could this book end in way that does justice to all the different styles in the books, and that encompasses all the trials and tribulations that we have been though as readers. The writing style rapidly oscillates between surrealism and contemporary realism and readers are bound to drawn towards one more than the other and feel a sense of disappointment if the final chapter is written in their least favourite style.  A couple of readers agreed that it would have felt more fitting to leave the book with Marianne walking out into the sea. This would also have paved the way nicely for a second book, but would have stopped the narrator revealing his dilemma over whether to save her from drowning or not. This contemplation of what he should have done harks back to the earlier thoughts of the narrator (p. 328)

‘It made me wonder what my version of Hell  – if I believed in such at thing, that is – would be like. Would I be doomed to burn forever, tapped inside my car? Or would hell be a never-ending stint on the debridement table? Or would it be the discovery that when I was finally able to love, it was already too late?’

Favourite quotes:

There are too many for me to choose but I liked:

‘Everyone’s past is nothing more than the collection of memories they choose to remember.’

‘Any man who believes he can describe love understands nothing about it’

‘The cliché goes that at twenty a person has the face that God gave him, but at forty he has the face he has earned’

Nadia felt that the book was a hug love story full of sacrifices for love and a discussion of the decisions that we make for those we love, and that this passage sums up the essence of the book for her:

I remembered then that he had deliberately inhaled his wife’s plague before commanding his brother to shoot him through with an arrow. “Is this what Hell is like for you?”  “My choice to die came within hours of my inevitable death, and it was a decision made with love, not cowardice. An important distinction to remember.” He paused for a moment, then added, “Although my afterlife is not this one, there is a reason that I am your guide here.”

For Paul, the book was about a journey, which can be summed up in the following passage:

But Nietzche was wrong. I was born beautiful and lived beautifully for thirty-plus years, and during all that time I never once allowed my soul to know love. My unblemished skin was numb armor used to attract women with its shininess, while repelling any true emotion and protecting the wearer. The most erotic of actions were merely technical : sex was mechanics, conquest a hobby; my body constantly used, but rarely enjoyed. In short, I was born with all the advantages that a monster never had, and I chose to disregard them all. Now my armor had melted away and been replaced with a raw wound. The line of beauty that I had used to separate myself from people was gone, replaced by a new barrier – ugliness – that kept people away from me, whether I liked it or not. One might expect the result to be the same, but that was not entirely true. While I was now surrounded by far fewer people than before, they were far better people. When my former acquaintances took a quick glance at me in the burn ward before turning around to walk out, they left the door open for Marianne Engel. Nan Edwards, Gregor Hnatiuk, and Sayuri Mizumoto.

I’d like to end with a quote from p236 which is about how people can meet and find common ground through literature, books, and reading, no matter what their backgrounds or opinions are, and I would like to think this is something that we do at bookclub J

‘I’d read you what I had finished the night before. It felt as if we were sharing something wicked…the story took us each to a different place. The rough language and the harsh imagery brought me towards your world, but the religious ideas brought you towards my life of spirituality. Somehow we met in the middle.’

Next Month…
Join us on the 25th September at The White Hart, 7pm, where we will be discussing two books:The Warden by Anthony Trollope and The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney.

Follow on facebook and twitter for updates throughout the month:

Future Meetups:
October 30th The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
November 27th Dovetail by Jeremy Hughes
December 18th A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas
January 29th 2014 Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier


How did someone with an Arts background and no knowledge of electronics become a Technical Author in the Semiconductor Industry?

(published in the ISTC newsletter, Oct 2012)

A great deal of the literature surrounding Technical Authorship makes the career path seem out of reach to those without a strong technical background or qualifications in Science, Engineering or Information Technology. Even just a quick glance at job descriptions for the role will highlight this. As well as seeming unsuited academically for these professions, Arts students could be excused for assuming that there would be nothing of interest to them in such a role due to the emphasis on extensive industry knowledge and experience.

I write this article as someone who is more into Charlotte Bronte than Chemistry and Biology, who would prefer to read Phileas Fogg than a Physics Blog, who knows more about Alan Bennett than Alan Turing, who is more into Charles Dickens than Charles Darwin and who has read everything by Stephen Fry and not a word by Stephen Hawking.

I also write this article as a Technical Author in the Semiconductor field.

My pathway to Technical Authorship has not been conventional and I would like others to be able to see that it is not a career solely for engineers with an average of 15 years of industry knowledge.

My degree was in Italian, and I followed this with postgraduate study in Translation Studies during which time I avoided the Technical Translation options like the plague in favour of much more flowery literary translation. I then went into the Children’s Book Division in publishing.

It was a move home to Wales that resulted in me applying for a job as a Technical Author. The job description asked for a degree in engineering but I was fortunate to be offered the role based on previous experience in a publications department, good qualifications in English at ALevel, publishable English from the Translation Studies course, and my agreement and enthusiasm to study for a Diploma in Technical Authorship and to undergo product training.

Having been in the role for almost two years, upon reflection I can see how nearly all of the skills that I learned as a translator are utilised daily. My main area of postgraduate research was in the area of crossing cultural boundaries. In translation this means conveying the message from one culture to another and using appropriate language for the target audience in order to get the message from the source text across despite an assumed lack of understanding of the source culture. Transferring cultural references requires only some knowledge of the source culture, but extensive knowledge of the target culture and audience. Similarly, technical authoring requires the transference of the Subject Matter Expert’s knowledge to the target audience according to their knowledge and requirements. This also requires only some knowledge of the industry (source culture) and extensive knowledge of the target audience so as to make the end result comprehensible.

In translation, the target audience is the deciding factor in any choice of word that is translated, and we cannot simply choose the style of language that we like or think sounds nice. We as translators are the portal between the two sides. Instead of a foreign language, we are dealing with complex engineering procedures, and instead of literary English the target language is comprehensible instructions, tailored to the audience’s education and experience.

I am close to completing the second part of the Technical Authorship course and I have discovered that I enjoy many elements of commercial writing. It challenges me and I am always learning something new. My aim is to complete the course and do as much freelance commercial writing as possible. I find it varied and am enjoying the balance between creativity and fixed structure.

The specifics of the content required for technical authorship and commercial writing can be learned, and it is the communication skills, an aptitude for precision in document production, an eye for detail, and enjoyment of writing that will prove successful in this career. I am in no way disputing the fact that hands on experience in the desired field, combined with study of Technical Authorship or strong English skills, is a very appealing combination for an employer, but it is also very true and often overlooked that one can be taught how a piece of machinery is assembled but it is harder to impart an aptitude with language and experience in producing accurate publishable pieces of work.

In light of this, and my own experience, I would like Technical Authorship and Commercial Writing to be more accessible to those with an Arts background.