Sunday, 19 September 2010

Blue Skye Thinking

My my, what a month. That publishing job still evades me (can you believe it?) but the search is, as ever, ongoing. I've been lucky enough to go to some gruelling, nerve-wracking interviews recently though, and was encouraged just enough by my performance for a glimmer of hope to begin to flicker tantalisingly in my subconscious: You might get this one. You might just... Only to have it thoroughly doused by the awful, blood-freezing bucket of ice water that is the rejection e-mail. "Whilst it has been a difficult decision..." "We have had to agonise..." "It was a very close call." This time I let myself wonder just for a moment what an acceptance e-mail would look like. Presumably there's none of that "tough decision" bull, they just jubilantly welcome you into their arms like the genius you are, as if you'd consummately blown all the competition out of the water. Round no. 87 of Operation Getting into Publishing During Economic and Employment Crisis commences shortly.

All is not a simmering cauldron of despair, however - last week, when I wasn't mentally picking apart my interview performance and agonising over the outcome, I was hiking, eating, drinking, avoiding midges and generally distracting myself with family and friends on Skye (thank you, you lot, for helping me do this and for putting up with my insufferable angst). I've fallen in love with Scotland again. Even in the rain, which is in no short supply, Skye is incredible. And I hiked - even with my knees. In fact, I got a snazzy pair of bright red walking poles to help me on the downhill, and now I look like a real pro.

We stayed in a small cottage with a stepladder for stairs - anyone who ever had a bunkbed years ago will understand my childish enthusiasm when I got to choose an upstairs room. The quarters were simple but cosy, and we ate like kings and queens thanks to the hearty fare of the local establishments and, of course, Mel's skills in the kitchen, which produced such wonders as whisky bread and butter pudding with Talisker custard. The company, needless to say, was second to none, and we were complimented by a pair of delightful Yorkshire terriers - to coin a phrase, a much-needed good advert for their breed! Of course, in the cold, wet evenings with the rain lashing the windows, the coal smouldering in the grate and the dogs curled up on our laps, much, much reading was done. I practically inhaled page after page as if it were going out of fashion (which it might). Everyone read a lot - even my dad, who doesn't even read a newspaper. In fact, the only thing he reads are aeroplane manuals (he's a pilot, not a weirdo).

Before my super-scary interview, a publishing contact told me to read something on the Booker longlist, so in my naive enthusiasm I plumped simply for something that looked cool. I haven't read the entire list (which has now been reduced to a shortlist of 6), but I'm pretty sure that the title I picked (The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas) is the worst of the lot. Typical. Shit title, and the novel follows in the same vein, I'm afraid. Misogynistic, shallow waffle is the best I can say for this book. It's my own fault, really - as an aspiring editorial assistant the Booker longlist is something I should probably be familiar with inside out, every year. Maybe this is where I'm going wrong.

On the other end of the spectrum, Black Swan Green by David Mitchell is the latest addition to my current favourites. I was a first time reader of his (I'm still catching up), and am now looking forward to getting better acquainted with him. The book's narrator is a boy verging on adolescence, in that awkward place between childhood and teenagerdom, and the book expertly depicts a summer in his life. The characters are vivid and real - fickle friends, boys it'd be uncool to be seen hanging out with, a warring family, a bitchy big sister who turns out to be a gem, some of those weird recluse figures who live in dark, musty houses on the edges of forests and never venture into society, who take on a sort of mystical quality in childhood. And many more. The language is not exactly vernacular but very definitely that of a young English boy growing up in the 1980's, complete with dubious slang words.

Stasiland, by Anna Funder: I read much non-fiction since university, but after this, I'm entirely not sure why. Funder brilliantly recounts stories of ordinary people who had first-hand experience of the Berlin Wall and DDR. She relates to them on a personal level, too - for the most part these aren't just interviewees, but real people with personalities (sometimes brittle), little tics, difficult mentalities, political leanings, music taste and dress sense. She gets to know them over a long period of time - she lives in Berlin whilst researching the book - and Germany, Berlin, the Wall, the DDR, the Stasi, get right under her skin. She makes wonderfully astute observations about the German way of life, the people's psyche, and their clich├ęd yet still valid need for order, regulation and adherence. She's got a love-hate relationship with the country that I can completely relate to - more than that; some of her comments are written as if she'd pulled them straight out of my head. A writer with a real gift for mingling investigative journalism with compelling narrative.

And, against my better judgement: Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. This was the book of the summer at Bloomsbury in Berlin, but I scoffed at it because I'm too literary to read blockbuster bestseller paperbacks, oh yes. But I picked it up on Skye out of interest, and Gilbert has put me in my place and really pleasantly surprised me with her thoroughly amusing style and excavation of faith, relationships and the world. I'm not sure about its religious message (at the moment she's in an Ashram in India and I have yet to see where this section is going, mantra-wise) but it seems to be written in fairly layman terms, so as long as it doesn't get too deep into the mechanics of meditation and go over all sickly and self-improvement on me, we'll be OK.

There are more, of course, but I've run over with the word count again, and, having failed dismally to get a job writing about books, all this writing about books is making me strangely melancholy. Until next time, then.

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