Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The crack of dawn

It’s five in the morning, the end of June. Burdubai is not as silent as one would like, but construction crews, mercifully, are not at work. The lights at the KFC across the road have only just gone out. The sky is lightening already. I am startled to see several lit windows in the other blocks of flats. Then I remember that the school buses arrive terribly early here. Mothers must be at work on lunch boxes (breakfast boxes?), and fathers, on getting the poor sufferers out of their beds. There’s an Emirates car parked in front of my building – someone’s flying Business Class somewhere. Farther down the service road, a man lugs a giant suitcase to the kerb and stares at the parking meter as if it were a taxi genie.

A taxi pulls up and spills a lot of shiny people. Their night has clearly been hedonistic. The suitcase guy is very fortunate for someone who’s stupid enough to wait on a back road for a taxi at dawn. Maybe it is a taxi genie. I’ll try it later this morning.

At some point in the last 5 minutes, the night became morning. The wind feels suddenly cool on my face, so different from the fevered breath that it was last night when it tore my bougainvillea blooms to shreds. I suddenly smell – with a rush of pride – fresh jasmine, flowering on my own plant. It's a scent that belongs to another time and place, someone else's gentle morning routine. I touch the leaves and they’re clammy from the humidity. The coffee from my new French press tastes good. I don’t know if I should be drinking coffee before exercising, but who cares. I see a paper boy on his bicycle turn into the street. I hear the clear tones of somebody’s wind chime, then Leonard Cohen starts to sing about a famous blue raincoat. It’s five-fifteen and my trusty Linn hasn’t forgotten my wake-up call.

By the time I’ve laced up my shoes and am ready to leave, it’s bright daylight and cars are backed up at the red light. Who’d have guessed there was a secret peak hour before six?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

What’s the difference between a writer and a woman writer?

Why are they still saying things like “woman president”, “woman CEO”, “women bankers”? Why not just president, CEO, banker – the job being more important than the gender? Victory, defeat, success, failure, achievement, ambition, job satisfaction are all gender-neutral concepts.

Consider all the "fall-out" journalism surrounding the recent French elections. The news channels gushed about a possible female president. One of my local papers ran a torch-bearing, anthem-singing comparison of the female contenders for the various presidencies. Are they all relieved now that France will be led by a man after all? Who knows?

Get over it media morons. “Feminism” as a term is practically archaic. Maybe by the time the US elections come around, they would have finally moved on to the next level – to judging people as people.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Timid Frieda, who will lead her?

The writer’s going for 50,000 words at least, the copywriter is programmed to autoedit after 100. The writer wants to tell a story, the copywriter wants to know about marketability, feasibility, liability and who the target audience is. The writer knows that it takes as long as it takes, the copywriter sets impossible deadlines and worries about them. The writer wants to write a novel, the copywriter wants to write the blurb.

Between them, they’re ruining my book. And as if they were not bad enough, I now have the horrible fate of Kavya Viswanathan knocking on my window at night.

I had a momentous flash of insight yesterday, almost an epiphany – one of the reasons my book reads like shit is that I’m “channelling” whatever I’m reading. So, not only does the style drift from chapter to chapter like a homeless person, so does the plot. Worse, I can’t tell if I’m just borrowing styles or whole sentences.

John Grisham has nothing in common with Wodehouse, Sophie Kinsella is not exactly Georgette Heyer and Naipaul is emphatically different from Rushdie, but they mingle freely in my work, with the indiscriminate camaraderie exhibited on the shelves of Dubai’s bookshops.

If I have to finish my damned book, I will have to stop reading for a year. Or, at least, it will have to be restricted to certain kinds of non-fiction. I especially have to ditch my oldest and dearest friends – authors that I have read and re-read for years. I hope it’s only for a while.

Timid Frieda, Jacques Brel

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