Archive for October, 2009

An afternoon with Marina Lewycka

October 20, 2009
An afternoon with Marina Lewycka

An afternoon with Marina Lewycka

‘It had always been my dream to be a writer, and obviously having your dream come true is fantastic. But there is something a bit terrible about it as well, because once your dream has come true, what else is there? It was your dream and it becomes your job, and then it’s not a dream any more.’ — Marina Lewycka

Guildford Book Festival is now a major event on the literary and book scene. It caters for all tastes, which means there is of little of interest to me or it clashes, but I can usually find one or two events to attend. One such event was Marina Lewycka at the Electric Theatre on the banks of the River Wey in Guildford.

Marina Lewycka is the author of three books: her debut novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Two Caravans and her recently published We Are All Made of Glue. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian would make a brilliant and witty short story, but there is insufficient material for a novel. Two Caravans is brilliant and does for illegal immigration and the food industry what Charles Dickens did for child labour and the Victorian underclass and more recently Paulo Coelho has done with The Winner Stands Alone for the cult of celebrity and the fashion and film industry.

Last year I recommended that Guildford Book Festival invited Marina Lewycka, therefore the least I could do was turn up. This I did, with a pile of books for signing.

The event took place in the Electric Theatre in Guildford. My eye was caught by books on the tables. At first I thought, aha BookCrossing my leaving books has been followed up, well almost. Guildford Book Festival had left books lying around for people to take away, read and pass on. A nice gesture I thought, and I suggested they took this one step further and registered the books on BookCrossing. I picked up a couple I liked the look of with the promise I would register and pass on.

Guildford Book Festival had also arranged a nice display of books for sale. I was pleased that the books were at a discount. This I am used to when I go to events with an author. It is an extra incentive, buy a book and get it signed by the author.

Last year I was appalled that the books were not at a discount, an opportunity missed I thought. But that was down to Waterstone’s. This year, Guildford Book Festival are the booksellers. Later I was to walk past the two large Waterstone’s bookstores in town. No mention of the book festival, no window display. As an insider confided to me: ‘it’s embarrassing.’

Marina Lewycka talked about her recently published third novel, We Are All Made of Glue. A dotty old woman whose house is collapsing, greedy estate agents trying to muscle in, flashbacks to the founding of the state of Israel and the occupation of Palestine.

Marina Lewycka read a moving account of Israel soldiers emptying a Palestinian village, atrocities and terror, to ensure everyone fled to neighbouring Arab countries. Based as she said on a real incident. I talked to her about this afterwards. I was impressed when she said she had been to occupied Palestine to research her book. If through a novel, it can lead more people to know the truth of Israeli occupation it can only be for the betterment of the occupied. I suggested she read The Fateful Triangle by Noam Chomsky and the relevant chapter in Freedom Next Time by John Pilger. Maybe when the paperback edition of We Are All Made of Glue comes out next March she adds these in a bibliography.

Where do novels come from? Marina Lewycka was asked this indirectly. She said the characters write themselves, they have a life of their own and tell their own story. I have heard much the same from other writers. In her case, drawn from real life. This can have a downside, as she found with A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. She drew heavily upon her own family, only expecting the book to be circulated within the family and a small readership beyond. Little did she expect to have a best seller on her hands. The quirky old lady in We Are All Made of Glue is based upon an old lady who lived opposite. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian has not gone down too well in Ukraine!

In researching A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian Marina Lewycka had posted a note on the net. To her great surprise she learnt she had family in Ukraine. Her own mother and father had left Ukraine for England in the aftermath of the Second World War.

A brief mention was made of her fourth book, but no details.

Later, whilst signing books, I asked her about creative writing courses. She had done Masters Degree in Creative Writing and it was through the course she had met her agent. The advice of Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho is that you do not need these courses, that you do as he did, knock on doors until you find a publisher, as that was what he did with The Alchemist, which twenty years after first publication has recently celebrated two years in the New York Times best seller list. Marina Lewycka disagreed. She said without the contacts you get through a creative writing course it is these days impossible to get published.

Marina Lewycka demonstrates, and to this list could be added Alexander McCall Smith and Paulo Coelho, you do not need a massive marketing budget or be an empty headed celebrity with nothing worthwhile to say to sell books. If your writing is good enough, you will spread by word of mouth. Paulo Coelho has taken this one step further with Pirate Coelho, he puts copies of his books on-line for readers to download for free!

Wish list for next year: Paulo Coelho, Orhan Pamuk, Arundhati Roy, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Pascal Mercier, Alyson Hallet, William Brodrick, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Steve Galloway, Mark Slouka …

The Devil Wears Prada

October 19, 2009

A couple of years ago I read The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger. For the first few pages it is witty and amusing, but after the first 50 or so pages so incredibly boring. How can anyone write such trash, even worse read it? Did I really want to know what everyone was wearing? Her second book, virtually a re-write of the first only now the PR industry not the fashion industry, is marginally better.

When I read the book, I thought maybe a short story, but not a novel. I also thought it would make a good film.

A few weeks back I picked up the DVD of The Devil Wears Prada and finally got around to watching it last night. I quite enjoyed it. A rare example of the film being better than the book.

The film is absolutely brilliant. Surprisingly it captures the essence of the book far better than does the book itself. Very clever is the opening sequence where you see the people heading to work but what you see is what is on their feet, their shoes, their boots. The performance by Meryl Streep is worthy of an Oscar. That by Anne Hathaway as the girl from the sticks is also good.

Far, far better than The Devil Wears Prada is the latest novel from Paulo Coelho, The Winner Stands Alone, published this spring. A damning indictment of the fashion and film industry and the cult of celebrity and how easily women are exploited in the name of fashion.

The Winner Stands Alone in a way compliments the film, you get more out of the film, the inner world of fashion after having read The Winner Stands Alone, and the film in turn compliments The Winner Stands Alone. One is set in New York, the other in Cannes at the International Film Festival.

In the syrupy saccharine mini-feature that accompanies the film, the producer praises the director, the director the producer, everyone heaps praise on the screenwriter and trashes the previous screenwriters. Curiously Lauren Weisberger, who did after all write the novel, gets not a mention! Although the novel is rubbish, ironically Lauren Weisberger can write. She does though get a mention in the opening credits.

From what I remember of the book, the ending of the film is different to the book. I only got about halfway through the book and gave it to a Polish friend. She wished to see if the book was as bad in the original English as it was in the Polish translation. What was unforgivable I went out and bought another copy as I wished to see was it really this bad, did it not improve. Sadly no, it didn’t. Now, having watched the film and enjoyed it, I want to read the book again. How sad can you get?

I had originally bought The Devil Wears Prada for a Czech friend. I tried to find her books that were well written, not too difficult and interesting. Not easy to satisfy all three. She has absolutely no interest in fashion. Has a knack though to pick clothes she looks good in. No way, I thought, she will not like this book, a big mistake. Surprisingly she did.

Maybe I am missing something, like why do my Bulgarian friends post pictures of the shoes they are wearing?

The Witch of Portobello, based upon the novel of the same name by Paulo Coelho, has its world premier at the Rome International Film Festival evening Tuesday 20 October 2009.

God is

October 15, 2009

‘Since 1989, when I did my second pilgrimage, I discovered the feminine face of God. But for most religions, God is a man.’ — Paulo Coelho

On his blog Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho invited a discussion of the feminine face of God.

God is. God is neither male nor female. We attempt to know the unknowable, think the unthinkable, make finite what is infinite.

A cell consists of the component parts, these make the cell, the cell provides the environment for the component parts. Our bodies consists of many systems, these systems maintain the body, the body defines their existence. An ecosystem is made up of its various parts, the ecosystem provides the environment for their existence. Gaia, the living systems, the geophysical processes, maintain and stabilise the environment suitable for life on earth.

Christianity has had difficulty understanding this relationship.

God did not create creation, God is creation. Our thoughts, the consciousness of everything around us, is God.

Ancient religions tend towards the feminine. The Temple of Aphrodite on the Greek island of Cyprus.

The Hymn to Isis venerates the female.

Jesus had a feminine side, or what we attribute as feminine characteristics. One of his key disciples was Mary Magdalene. When the men deserted him, the women remained at his side.

When Detelina Petkova gave us the Warrior of Light, the warrior was neither male nor female.

How we view a religion and thus God is through the norms of society, religion then fossilises those norms. The authoritarian, rigid male hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. The abuse of women by fundamentalist Islam.

The feminine side of religion, of a Mother God, are themes Paulo Coelho explores in Brida, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept and The Witch of Portobello and during conversations he had with Juan Arias.

To portray a feminine side, is to readdress 2,000 years of prejudice and bigotry, but it is not what God is. God is.


October 15, 2009

I first came across Portland in Triangle, a Christian bookshop cum teashop. Not in person but listened on one of those CD stations that give appalling sound quality.

My next exposure was on Whispering Bob Harris show on BBC Radio 2 in the grave yard shift in the early hours of the morning Sunday 11 October 2009. I did not catch it all and only caught it at all when I found a message on facebook telling me to listen. Their live performance was brilliant, far better than their studio tracks and I hope one day they release a live album. Their taste in music awful.

After hearing Portland on Bob Harris I went back to Triangle and picked up a copy of These Broken Hands, their debut album. It was worth the trip.

Portland, formerly Shoa, a rock-folk fusion trio.

And stones move silently across the world

October 15, 2009


And stones move silently across the world

And stones move silently across the world

‘And if a stone could speak, poetry would be its words.’ — Galway Kinnell

Why are stones so special to us? Why do they fascinate us?

We go to a beach and pick up a stone. We may keep that stone for years.

Blood diamonds fuel bloody conflicts in Africa.

Paulo Coelho touches upon blood diamonds in his novel The Winner Stands Alone.

Michelangelo breathed life into stone.

Blue stones were carried from Wales, erected on Salisbury Plain to form Stonehenge, an ancient astrological clock.

Stones were dragged across the desert, carved into blocks to form the pyramids.

Shells drop to the ocean floor, get compressed, millions of years later appear as limestone mountain ranges.

In Castleton, water trickles down from the moors above. On its way dissolves the limestone rock as it seeps through the cracks. In the caves and caverns as the water drips, drips, drips, it leaves behind a fairy grotto of unimaginable shapes.

Carved out of limestone, sitting atop a limestone escarpment, Lincoln Cathedral glows in the evening sun.

 I have pieces of amethyst from mine tailings in Cornwall. Fool’s gold from I know not where. Fossils embedded in stone found at the foot of cliffs on the Dorset coast.

I have pieces of volcanic rock, picked up from a beach, spewed out not so long ago by El Teide.

In The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Andalusian shepherd Santiago is given two stones by a wise man he meets. If he is unsure, they help him make a decision.

I have two spherical Chinese ‘stones’. One is the moon, the other the sun. Quite what to do with them other than rotate around my fingers I do not know.

We find huge slabs of stone dotted around the landscape. Erratics deposited far from home by retreating glaciers.

A block of limestone has travelled from England to somewhere outside Sydney in Australia. It was a dream. The third such stone to be so transported. Four more stones to be transported who knows where.

Poet Alyson Hallett has established The Stone Library, where poetry and stones come together.

If a stone could speak then poetry would be its language.

The Witch of Portobello

October 9, 2009
Paulo Coelho's World Premier of 'The Witch of Portobello'

Paulo Coelho's World Premier of 'The Witch of Portobello'

‘The unifying trait of all Tadeh’s projects is the fact that they make the audience think and to look deeper into the meaning of the philosophical and humanitarian questions posed by their creator.’ — Lianna Zakharian of YEREVAN magazine

‘Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.’ — Tadeh Daschi

‘I relate to her quest for truth and spirituality. At a young age, my story was similar to hers. She was interested in God and had these powers to see things. I had a lot of interest in God and why we’re here and questions that can’t be answered. But I wanted to search for it and find a meaning in life.’ — Carolena Sabah

‘I’m learning to combine two things, movement and stillness, joy and concentration.’ — Athena

‘I believe @keithpp explains better than my page “The Experimental Witch”.’ — Paulo Coelho on twitter 24 hours before Rome premier

The Witch of Portobello is a novel by Paulo Coelho. It is not like his earlier works, it is not like The Alchemist. For that reason many did not like it.

Maybe that was the intention, to jolt one out of ones complacency, to create a different reality as Athena does with her dance and music.

I could not get into The Witch of Portobello when I first tried, mainly because of this difference. I have since read it twice. I enjoyed it even more at the second reading.

The Witch of Portobello is a film based upon an idea by Paulo Coelho. Instead of handing over the film rights to a film company who completely mangle your work and what comes out the other end bears no resemblance to your original work which begs the question why they acquired the film rights in the first place, Paulo Coelho took a completely different approach. He invited via his blog, to each film the story from the perspective of one of the characters. Not as difficult as it sounds as each character has a different voice and  we piece together the story of Athena from the perspective of these different characters. This was whittled down to a shortlist who were to produce the final feature length film.

The Witch of Portobello has its world premier at the Rome International Film Festival 9pm Tuesday 20 October 2009. But do not go rushing to the film festival because as I write, tickets were all sold out a couple of days ago.

As I write I have just received a copy of the first chapter. I thought it was the entire film, but Carolena Sabah who plays Athena has kindly corrected me, first chapter, Athena only, others have produced other characters, other chapters, to have its first international showing at the Rome premier.

The sound track with music by Visa is amazing! I am intrigued to see how the following characters capture the soul of the book as well as  Carolena Sabah and her co-stars have done under the direction of Tadeh Daschi who also composed the haunting music performed by Visa. The haunting music by Visa blows your mind away. Soonest an album release. 

Visa lead singer K’noup makes a cameo appearance in the The Witch of Portobello together with Soseh Keshishyan lead singer from the band Element whose vocals are on the film soundtrack.

Athena’s world is a world of ritual, trance, magic. I cannot now read The Witch of Portobello without the image of Athena portrayed by Carolena Sabah. Strange, when I read a novel I rarely have an image of any of the characters, and yet when I see them portrayed on screen they are not as I imagined. I did not have this problem with the portrayal of Athena.

It is rare for filmmakers to capture the essence of a book and yet Carolena Sabah and Tedeh Daschi have somehow managed that impossible feat.

The DVD needs a mini-documentary. Not the usual sugar-coated gush that makes the stomach churn. Five to ten minutes of Carolena Sabah and  Tadeh Daschi explaining how the film came about, where it was filmed, with an introduction by Paulo Coelho. Maybe this can be added after the Rome premier, maybe with the address by Paulo Coelho, plus question and answer session with the audience.

Scribes had an important role in early Judaism, theirs was the task to copy out ancient scriptures. They had to be in the correct frame of mind. The same was true for illustrators of early Muslim texts. It does matter what you do, be it write a book, paint, draw, compose music or carve a piece of wood. Robert Pirsig captured the essence of this in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Only then do you cross the transition zone.

The Witch of Portobello, aka Athena, is on a spiritual quest, a quest for love, a quest for truth. But was the world ready for her revelations?

Two other Paulo Coelho novels have been turned into films: Veronika Decides to Die and The Alchemist.

The Winner Stands Alone, the latest novel by Paulo Coelho, is a damning indictment of the film and fashion industry and the cult of celebrity.

Mango has launched a second range of exclusive, Paulo Coelho limited edition solidarity t-shirts. Monies raised goes to support needy children at the Paulo Coelho Institute in Brazil.

Paulo Coelho was part of the Rio 2016 team in Copenhagen.

Tadeh Daschi is featured in YEREVAN magazine (Fall 2009), an English language quarterly Armenian magazine.

The 28-minute film by Carolena Sabah and Tedeh Daschi was first shown at the Arpa International Film Festival in Hollywood October 2008. The film festival was sponsored by the Arpa Foundation for Film Music and Art, Arpa is named after the river of the same name in Armenia. Founded in 1995, the foundation promotes the arts.

The 28-minute film cost $7,000 to produce, loose change to Hollywood.

Rio 2016

October 5, 2009
Rio 2016 press conference

Rio 2016 press conference

Rio 2016 Pele y Paulo

Rio 2016 Pele y Paulo

‘I confess to you if I die right now my life would have been worth it.’ — Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazilian president

‘Read Brazilian pundits on Rio 2016: MBA in stupidity!’ — Paul Coelho, Rio 2016 team

‘Just told my Brazilian friends that I will fulfill my promise: To be upside down on the eve of the Olympics in Rio.’ — Paul Coelho, Rio 2016 team

London got the 2012 Olympics, but many Londoners did not want it. Chicago wanted 2016, but despite or maybe because of the intervention by President Obama, did not get it.

Rio wanted it and got it.

The winning team at Copenhagen included footballer Pele and writer Paulo Coelho.

I have never been to Rio. My only ‘experience’ is therefore through the films Favela Rising and City of God. Favela Rising I saw at the Beyond TV film festival a couple of years ago. City of God I have seen more recently. Both feature the violence of the favelas.

And through the music of AfroReggae, a group that has its roots in the violence of the favelas. A few years ago,  AfroReggae were the act that opened the Rolling Stones concert in Rio, the start of a world tour by the Stones

Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho starts with a girl being picked up on Rio’s famous Copacabana beach. The action then quickly moves to Europe. The only novel by Paulo Coelho that has any setting in Brazil.

After Rio was awarded the 2016 Olympics, Paulo Coelho told his Brazilian friends that he will fulfill his promise to be upside down on the eve of the Olympics in Brazil. He will then be aged 70. Some weird Brazilian tradition?

The Olympics leaves behind a toxic legacy to all the cities that host it. More a curse than a blessing. Two weeks of glory, decades of counting the cost.  London 2012 has already destroyed many small businesses and wildlife habitats. Let us hope Rio fares better.

Brazil will now host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics two years later.

World attention will now be focused on Brazil. The world has given Brazil the Olympics, it is now time for Brazil to give something to the world, to protect the Amazon rainforest.

Many thanks to Paulo Coelho for sending me the pictures of the Rio 2016 team in Copenhagen.

Note this is a repost of same article from 3 October 2009, which for reasons unknown will not let me add tags, nor does it appear on main blog! Rio 2016

The Song Remains the Same

October 5, 2009

The Song Remains the Same is a concert Led Zeppelin gave in Madison Square Gardens in New York in 1973. Probably the same lineup I saw in 1972. Songs to send shivers down the spine – ‘Rock and Roll’, ‘Black Dog’, ‘Stairway to Heaven’, ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’.

When I saw Led Zeppelin it was possibly the first time they played ‘Stairway to Heaven’. I remember they arrived in a Rolls-Royce, maybe more than one. I had their autographs, or did have, until a Czech friend stayed a couple of years ago and kindly tidied up for me, her idea of tidying up being to throw everything away.

We were lucky, we had a choice of Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones. I never at the time realised how lucky. We had The Who not long after their performance at Woodstock. To me at the time it seemed the norm, Genesis, Fleetwood Mac, and so I could go on. It was only later I appreciated this was anything but the norm.

Watching The Song Remains the Same, which I had picked up from Ben’s Records in Guildford, thus brought back happy memories. It also made me think of my lovely Russian friend Polina. She likes the Stones, who I was to later see in London, but was not familiar with Led Zeppelin. She would definitely like Led Zeppelin.

I was surprised how small their set was. Especially compared with the classic Queen performance at Wembley a decade later.

The beginning is surreal. I will not say how as it would spoil it for anyone who has not seen. The raw vocals of Robert Plant cuts through you. Amazing drum solo by John Bonham. Equally amazing guitar work by Jimmy Page. When I saw Led Zeppelin a year or so before this concert, this drum solo seemed to go on for half an hour or more, maybe it did!

Interspersed with the concert is the New York skyline. It is eerie to see the Twin Towers still standing.

It is interesting to muse on influences. Watching this concert I can see the influence of The Who. I can see how Led Zeppelin were to influence Queen a decade later. How in turn Freddie Mercury was to influence Robbie Williams.

Led Zeppelin spawned a load of clones, but what they did not seem to understand was that Led Zeppelin were more than noise. They had talent.

Where is this talent today?

It says its all really when Paulo Coelho poses a question on twitter how many people were at the Woodstock performance by Jimi Hendrix, and the response he gets is to be asked who was Jimi Hendrix!

Gucci handbags

October 5, 2009

On BBC Radio 4 ‘The Bottom Line’, the head of Gucci was asked why if it costs £300 to make a Gucci handbag does it sell at £1,000?

The implied question being why are you ripping people off?

The answer was we are not selling handbags, nor for that matter shoes, we are selling dreams. The head honcho then went on to say that if it was a handbag you wanted, there were hundreds of companies he could recommend.

In many ways this was worse than saying he ripped people off, he was conning them.

That is why, he went on to say, we employ good looking women in our shops, spend large amounts of money on fashions shoots and fashion shows.

The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho is a damning indictment of the fashion and film business and the cult of celebrity.

To a lesser extent The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger. The film is far better than the book.

The Alchemist as a film

October 1, 2009

‘I feel like the luckiest man on the planet. It’s a dream come true for me, to be able to direct and star and bring Coelho’s book to the screen.’ —  Laurence Fishburne

I have my doubts of The Alchemist as a film. I am not the only one, Brazilian author Paulo Coelho tried unsuccessfully to buy back the film rights.

Nothing ruins a good book than a bad film. Something I have never understood, is buying the rights to a book, then producing a film that has no resemblance to the film other than the title.

If The Alchemist is to be turned into a film, I would have seen it directed by a Chinese director, say the director of House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower, as I am sure they would have done a better job, especially the desert scene.

The problem with American directors is that they are more interested in American bums on seat and their limited attention span, than producing a good film. To them a film is a product, not an artistic creation.

Two other Paulo Coelho novels have been turned into films: Veronika Decides to Die and The Witch of Portobello.

Veronika Decides to Die has been shown in Brazil, but as far as I am aware has not been released elsewhere. A key moment of Veronika Decides to Die  is as Veronika lies dying, she is annoyed by a supposedly witty comment of a journalist who does not know where Slovenia is. The film is set in New York!

The Witch of Portobello is as I write on its way to me on DVD.  Directed by Los Angeles filmmaker Tadeh Daschi, the film stars Carolena Sabah as the enigmatic Athena. The film was the result of a competition organised by Paulo Coelho. The original music featured in the film was composed by  Tadeh Daschi and showcases world music group Visa.

The Witch of Portobello will be premiered at the Rome Film Festival October 2009.

The Winner Stands Alone, the latest novel by Paulo Coelho, is a damning indictment of the film and fashion industry and the cult of celebrity.

At $60 million (a Harvey Weinstein production), a big budget film for a very simple story. In announcing his production on the beach at the Cannes film Festival in 2008, it was a parody of The Winner Stands Alone or what it the other way around? Do we have life imitating art or  art imitating life?

The Alchemist is a $60 million Harvey Weinstein production, staring and directed by Laurence Fishburne.  Following the announcement at Cannes, filming was scheduled to start spring last year at various locations in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

The Alchemist recently celebrated two years in The New York Times best seller list. Not bad for a book that was first published twenty years ago.