Palestinian Walks: Notes On A Vanishing Landscape – A Review

Palestinian Walks (Shehadeh; 2008) was the winner of the Orwell Prize for political writing in 2008.

Shehadeh takes us the the tumultuous political landscape in Palestine and Israel by discussing a series of walks that he took with his wife or friends over a 30 year period. The book is beautiful, poetic and tragic at the same time. Initially the walks are full of beauty, but as the Israeli government increasingly makes life hard for Palestinian Arabs by expropriating Palestinian land and building internationally defined illegal settlements, the landscape gets ripped apart.

The walks become more difficult as the Israeli government annexes land for Israelis only and Palestinians are not allowed to enter these areas. Property and land is expropriated for Israeli use, with little or no compensation for the Palestinians. The Israeli government often claimd that the land was not occupied by the Palestinian owner because it wasn’t on a land registry and no one was in the accommodation at the time of survey. From the Palestinian perspective land ownership and property boundaries were often never formalised, they didn’t need to be, neighbours knew where  property boundaries were, and these were respected.

The walks are so descriptive of the land that I felt that I was seeing the picturesque landscape in my mind as Shehadeh walked, I could see the terraced walls and the cultivated lands, discover the primitive but loved architecture, and feel the tension between two proud nations who are trying to exist alongside each other.

However, what becomes apparent is that one nation becomes aggressive and dominant, controlling the movement, and restricting the movement and freedoms of the other. Settlements get built inside the boundaries of the 1967 Greenline Borders, making a two state solution impossible. The settlements become a blight on the land and roads, which Palestinians cannot use, scar the landscape and become defactor borders that prevent some walks from being undertaken without breaking Israeli law.

Shehadeh also explores the Oslo Accord of 1993 and 1995 between the PLO and Israel. He is scathing of both the PLO and Israeli negotiators and how both sides made it possible for Israel to further erode Palestinian rights and freedoms. Britain and its role in the Palestinian story and oppression is also discussed, as is the failure of the West to intervene to prevent the ongoing and continuous human rights abuses which Palestinians have suffered.

Overall the book kept up my interest and I enjoyed the balance between the walks and the politics, and it was nice to hear about the troubles between Israel and Palestine from a Palestinian perspective, which is often lacking in Western media.

Raja Shehadeh is the founder of Al Haq, a Palestinian Human Rights Organisation, and he is also a land and property lawyer.

Reference

Shehadeh, R; 2008; Palestinian Walks: Notes On A Vanishing Landscape; London; Profile Books Ltd

Developing Sophie Lives

Although I started to write Sophie Lives for a peice of coursework from Foundations in Creative writing with the Open College of the Arts, I am going to make the use of social isolation to continue with writing this novel. I’m not concerned about making rapid progress, just little steps. There’s no need to rush.

It’s not easy to develop the initial idea, but I have added more to the first chapter, which begins with the link to Sophie Lives above. However, saying it’s not easy doesn’t mean to say that I havent been able to continue writing, because I have, and further possible developments have come into my mind. Although I am currently adding to the day that Sophie comes round from her overdose, her sister has come into the frame, although we haven’t met her as yet. This has opened the pathway towards Sophie getting to A and E, and then how she ends up in a psychiatric hospital.  I have already written a very small part of that scene, which can then  move me into the second chapter.

I’m pretty sure that I am not following the best plan for writing a novel.  I have previously read that people develop a plan for the novel before they begin to write; ideas for structure and how the  book progresses. All I know is that I am going to write of Sophie’s journey through her pain and into recovery, intersperced with flash backs from the abuse that she suffered at Mar’s hands.

It’s quite intense to write about at the moment to be honest, and I am writing this reflective commentary for my diary, which allows my thoughts to crystalise. It also means that I can have a break form the mental and emotional intensity.

The Crucible – Review

16/03/20

Im about a third of the way through the play and I’m struggling a bit. Although I can follow the story line, I keep losing track of the people. It feels like there are too many characters introduced at the same time. (This is unlike the first few chapters of a book in which people are slowly introduced). It’s hard to remember who is who and what their role is. I do like the stage directions though and can see how the basis of a play pans out with this style of writing.

I’ve only just realised that the narration is set in the 20th century, looking back in on Salem in 1692/3. It’s taken me 40 pages to realise this. This review highlights how little I have read plays over the years. In fact, the only other play I remember reading was Death of a Salesman by the same author, when I was at school.

17/03/20

It is 5.40 am and I have been up since four. I started reading The Crucible about an hour ago and I cannot put it down. I find myself enthralled by the pace of the book. I’m gripped by the drama, and the characterisation. People are ill and cursed from witchcraft, others are cursed as witches and are being rounded up and taken to court. Naturally I have heard of the Salem witch trials, but I have never read of them before in either fiction or historical accounts. The Crucible reveals how easily an accuser can lay claim, whether this be from suspicion or a falsehood which is decried from a resentment against those whom they accuse. I’m finding it easier to follow the conversations today and am becoming more accustomed to the way in which Miller writes.

The book is too short, it’s only roughly 130 pages long. I feel that if a play follows the script exactly then it must be very short.

The pace of act three is incredible, there are twists and turns with accusations and denial. Conversation makes the flow so incredibly real. I was a witness to the proceedings of arrest and court. I saw the people and places in my mind.

The key here is the conversation. There were two environments, Proctors home before and during the court summons and arrest, and in a side room of the courts. My learning point here is conversation. People do not need to say long speeches, just brief sentences keeps the action quick. Because this is a play there are also directions into how the characters present themselves, such as anger, disbelief, how they are standing, who the are facing or addressing. The directions are a huge contribution to the rhythm of the story. I’ve certainly never given consideration to play writing, but it deeply interests me now.

The fourth act was short and rounded up the tale. The Severn women who refused to admit they were witches were to be hanged. Procter signed a confession that he had done the work of the devil and tore it up, refusing to give it to the judge. He did this because a signed confession on the church door would be interpreted as the Severn being witches. Proctor knew they were innocent, and their lack of confession was one of purity and honour. Despite the judge witnessing proctors confession he condemned him to be hanged because he tore up the confession. To my mind this makes the judge guilt of murder before God, the work of the devil itself, and judge himself should have gone to the rope.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this play, I’m surprised at just how much. When I go back to the library I will loan another play.

Reference

Millar, A; 2000; The Crucible; London; Penguin Classics

Freewriting In Response To My Book Review

I just wrote a book review, one which I found incredibly difficult to write. The book was confusing for me because it was so heady, and I lacked an emotional connection with it. How would I write a book which is dynamic, gripping and with emotional connection from the beginning? I’m not sure, I cannot answer that at this stage of my writing career, but I expect I would need to write from a place of passion and emotional involvement myself. I can see that writing a novel is hard work, and that developing a writing style isn’t easy. At the moment I’m writing short pieces of a story, and I have no idea as to how to develop and connect these so that a book appears. Beaumont has done this, but it was bloody hard going. I’m relieved that I’ve managed to cobbke together some kind of book review, although I’m displeased with what and how I wrote. I have two pieces of non-fiction to read next, books that I would not normally read; this has been suggested in the coursework. I’m certainly looking forward to the Arthur Miller play.

Reference

Beaumont, S; 2008; Thirteen; Newcastle Upon Tyne; Myrmidon

Thirteen – Book Review

Oh my gosh, I haven’t a clue how to write this review. Thirteen (Beaumont; 2008) is a very complicated book. The bizzare thing is I’ve enjoyed the book, and also felt a repulsion to it at the same time, I’ve felt gripped by the story, and yet put the book down on several occasions not wanting to read anymore. This is a duality that I’ve never experienced with a book before. I’ve continued to read it so that I could write a review for the benefit of my own creative writing (reading for writers).

The first half of the book is written in a heady or perhaps overtly interlectual manner in which I didn’t have an emotion connection, but the suspense kept me going. By the second half of the novel I was connecting more emotionally and the narrative came to light.

I believe that the author was revealing his own story, his life experience, perhaps not the same circumstances, but the same feeling as the main character, Stephen, who also had the same initials. Beaumont was definitely writing ‘what he knew’. He was a taxi driver before taking up writing as is Stephen.

The story begins with Stephen being depressed, and it appears that is because the business which he inherited from his father has collapsed. His life has lost its meaning and he has become increasing depressed and isolated. Having lost the business he finds himself unemployed. He has no idea what do for employment, and he is broke.

An old school friend Graham, who has moved to the United States is on holiday in Brighton and Stephen bumps into him. They share some of their experiences with each other, and Graham asks Stephen if he would commit to taking the work as a taxi driver for one year.

Stephen takes up the suggestion and drives all the hours he can. Taxi driving ultimately brings in the money, as Stephen is working night shifts most nights of the week.

Exhaustion creeps upon him, and he begins to have bizzare experiences. Picking up Valerie and taking her to a group she attends at a day centre. Valerie is sick with cancer. He wants to meet her again, and asks the taxi controller about the house he picked Valerie up from. She says it doesn’t exist. Stephen drives around, and sure enough it doesn’t.

Stephen comes to realise that he is zoning out when he’s exhausted at work, and when he does this Thirteen appears, and he has other strange experiences whilst he is doing so. He comes around from these experiences by being parked in a car park that’s locked, and away from where he last remembers driving.

(This review is dull and heady just like the initial part of the book.)

He continues to take Valerie to her social event when he’s zoned, but also meets a couple of  other people, Helena and Seymore, who become main characters of the novel.

These people, along with Valerie, begin to take him on a journey of self exploration, although they pop up at unexpected times, and Stephen cannot bump into them when he wishes. However, driving to number 13, he sometimes finds it there, and at other times it doesn’t exist.

On one of these occasions he knocks on the door and gets beaten up and told not to go back, and another time he seeks up to the window and witnesses a man being stabbed. He builds up the courage to return to and enter the house and he himself gets tied up and stabbed in the same manner as the witnessed stabbing.

During all of this he continues to build up a relationship with Helena. She introduces him to others, however, all but Seymour are bit part players that add dimension to the story.

Ultimately, the relationships between Stephen, Helena, Seymour and Valerie lead Stephen to a series of self realisations.

Valerie gets younger as the story unfolds and the emotional strength of the novel develops. Neither of the main characters will answer Stephens questions and he has to work out what is going on for himself.

When Valerie becomes nine years old the book has a major twist, and Stephens childhood memories begin to unfold. He and Graham had started a fire at the same age, and it turns out that the fire had killed a child called Lisa and her aunty. Valerie represents Lisa, but isn’t Lisa either.

Discussing these revealed memories with Helena, Valerie and Seymour becomes an expression of and relief from Stephen’s shame and guilt which he had blocked out throughout his life.

There is certainly a credible moral message within the book about the need to face, accept and move on from the past so that a happy life can proceed.

Am I glad that I continued to read the book? Yes. Would I read it again? Definitely not. It was hard going, hard to get into and I felt that the ending was rushed. I couldn’t even give a rating out of 10 for this book. Not because it doesn’t deserve one, but because the writing style felt inconsistent. To be gripped by a book that I put down for a werk and not wanting to read anymore is highly confusing for me.

Reference.

Beaumont, S; 2008; Thirteen; Newcastle Upon Tyne; Myrmidon

Sophie Lives – Exercise 1.13

Here are two sentences taken randomly from The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2013, p97) :

“In life there are milestones. Events that mark out certain days as being special from the other days.” 

Write these at the top of the page then fill the rest of the page with your own writing. Use Filer’s words to kick start the process of writing about your own milestones. 

In life there are milestones. Events that mark out certain days as being special from the other days.

It was August or September 2018. I woke up dizzy and found myself struggling to move. Visiting London was a positive experience in many ways, and I was due to change my Airbnb accommodation. I headed to King’s Cross with both of my back packs to catch the train towards where I would be staying for the next few days. As I got off the tube I felt sick, light headed and light heades. Taking my back packs off I leaned against the wall, almost in tears I felt hopeless. My thoughts were flickering between going home or staying on my holiday.

As I looked up I could see a young woman, who I presumed was homeless, going up to passers by and asking for money. As she approached me I figured that she was going to ask me for money. She looked at me in a kindly way and said “you look ill, is there something wrong? can I help you?”

This act of concern and kindness was just what I needed on that particular day. A thought crystallised in my mind “If this young woman who is so vulnerable and in desperate need herself, who didn’t ask me for money and wants to help me, then I need to accept that I’m ill, my Anorexia has me beat.” With that thought I decided that I would go home and accept treatment for my anorexia. That women’s generosity was my turning point and helped me to move into recovery from my eating disorder. It’s been a long journey and my life has changed in many ways. I still struggle with my eating disorder, and it has morphed into compulsive over-eating, but my eating disorder has improved and so has the quality of my life. Whoever you were I thank you and wish you the kindest of blessings which the universe can bestow.

Now try this with a book of your choice. Open it at a random page and read the first sentence that catches your eye. Once again, write it down at the top of the page and fill the rest of the page with your own writing. Make the page your own, although it doesn’t matter whether you write with that authors style, or in a style of your own.

Make notes in your writing diary about how well this went. Did you find the first part of the exercise easier because you hadn’t read the book?

There are two levels of social welfare protection – trusteeship and guardianship.” (Larsson; 2008; p209)

Sophie was horrified with the reality that she was in A and E and having to wait for a psychiatric assessment, she felt ashamed of herself and guilty for wasting so much of the doctors and nurses time. She had thoughts that other people were seriously ill and that they needed the medical attention that she had taken away from them. Waiting for the psychiatrist was daunting, seconds seemed to drag by. All she could do was think. She had never tried to end her life before, despite thoughts of this being a constant companion for many years. How could she explain what she had done, or the harm that she had suffered at the hands of Mark. Initially she hadn’t considered it to be domestic abuse, like thousands of other women she had always believed Mark’s words about how useless and pathetic she was, and how he had to put up with her failings. Deep in her core she knew he was right, and these beliefs were so intense tonight. Only a failure of a human being would try to end their own life. She knew the psychiatrist would judge her and believe it was all her fault. 

Make notes in your writing diary about how well this went. Did you find the first part of the exercise easier because you hadn’t read the book?

You can repeat this exercise countless times, using all your favourite books.

Rather than write my reflections in my writing diary I am going to add them here.

Two prompts, two pieces of writing and both of them felt easy. The prompt from Filer took me straight back to that fateful day in London during which I knew that my anorexia had taken over my life and left me unable to function. I’ve written a lot about my eating disorder over the past two years. I find it relatively straight forward to be authentic about this illness. I haven’t read The Shock of the Fall so I had no idea of Filers writing style, this gave me the freedom to write in my own authentic way. Auto-biography is most certainly therapeutic for me and has helped me to develop an online community, and readers who connect with and value what I have to say.

I have read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo previously, and was a book that I felt gripped by and the people and action was intense and believable.

There is less narration and more first person portrayal in Larsson’s writing style than there is in the buds of my potential novel Sophie Lives. I’m finding that I’m writing snippets of a book; ideas that can be built upon at a later date. Writing a novel is something completely new for me, and it’s hard to write more than little excerpts at the moment, but I’m sure that in time I will be able to take this further. I find the little passages are free-flowing and they come to me relatively easily, and I guess that’s because Sophie and I have had similar experiences; Sophie as an adult and me as a child. I’m really enjoying the process. What will help is for me to conduct research and read about domestic abuse and recovering from it; survivor stories. Although I’ve experienced many psychiatric assessments I don’t know how to describe these for the novel, nor how to write them in ‘first person’ speech rather than narration. I found the exercise to be quite enjoyable though.

References

Filer, N; 2013; The Shock of the fall; New York; Harper Collins Publishers; p97)

Larsson, S; 2008; The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo; london; MacLehose Press; p209

 

Exercise 1.10

This exercise combines three aspects we’ve covered in Part One: freewriting, the writing diary and reflective commentary.

  • Freewriting. Consider this quote, which is said to come from the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg: “Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” Think about this quote for a minute or two, then complete a five-minute free write about these thoughts.

My passion is where my source, light and strengths will come as a writer. I’m very open about my life and experiences, both positive and negative. This authentic writing style has helped me to develop an online community and to build relationships. I do not hide my madness. I can also see that this authenticity will be a huge bonus in writing short stories or a novel. Writing about what I know. My opening idea for Sophie Lives comes from my experience of being abused and from my understanding of domestic violence and the tragedy that in the UK 2 women are murdered every week by their current or ex partner. This is something that I feel angry about. Writing from Sophie’s perspective of abuse and recovery is something that has the potential to be powerful.

  • Writing Diary. Read your freewrite through and think about your writing journey – the good and the difficult parts to this exercise. Make notes in your writing diary about the experience. Be as open as you like – only you will read this account.

Firstly, other people will read through my account. I don’t mind this. My community matters to me and I welcome feedback and interaction with others. However, there are some pieces of writing that will remain behind closed doors until they are complete and ready to be seen. For example, I will only reveal one more small passage from Sophie Lives, and then I’ll develop the rest of the novel in private.

Writing from a prompt has been easier than I have expected it to be. It’s a very good way to approach and develop writing. I can see why the notebook is so important, it will become a source of my own ideas and prompts, which are far better than the prompts from others. Having a starting point that comes from the heart will be the driving force of successful creative writing.

  • Reflective commentary. Read through the notes you’ve just made on the original exercise and start to think how much of this you’d want to share with your tutor. Also think why you’d want to share this. (Check the ‘two-fold purpose’ above.)

I have absolutely no problem with sharing anything I write with my tutor. I feel no shame about my writing, I don’t fear critique; the opposite is true, I value feedback from my tutor, she’s an experienced author and can guide me on my journey. Yes my reflection is self-critique and this is highly valuable in developing myself, I get that, it will be a source of strength, but I’m open to my tutor reading anything I write.

Freewriting will also be a source of overcoming writers block, which all writers experience from time to time. I had creative blocks while I was studying photography, and getting out and taking photos for enjoyment and developing personal practice helped me to move forward. It’s no different with writing. It troubles me that creative writers on the course are not expected to have a blog and are encouraged to secrecy. Why should creative writers be treated differently than other students? Yes we do need to keep personal projects behind closed doors until they are complete and ready to be published, but coursework doesn’t need secrecy.

Reflective Commentary – Exercise 1.9

Open your writing diary and make an entry. It’s up to you how much you write; write anything from one paragraph to a couple of pages. 

Choose one or more of the following to write about:

  • A book I read and loved
  • How I felt when I first wrote something for pleasure
  • What I fear most about starting to write creatively
  • The sort of writer I would like to be
  • Something I have noticed about the way I write
  • My thoughts on freewriting so far
  • My plans for notebooks and note booking. 

Be sure to complete this exercise before moving on. 

Something I’ve noticed about the way I write

Writing in the mornings is such a pleasure for me. It’s not that I can’t write at other times of the day, but I wake up early, have nothing else to do other than Instagram and Ebay, so writing is filling a void. I’m enjoying the freewriting and this has become an important part of my morning routine.

Freewriting is a skill that I haven’t used before, and I feared that I would write poorly, something unstructured and random, but this hasn’t been the case at all. Mostly, I like to undertake my freewriting with pen and paper, and the time flies by. This morning I’ve written about my athiesm and god, or more to the point that there is no god.

hdrpl

I’m finding that I’m writing a lot of auto-biographical snippets. A year or so of this and I’d be able to collate these snippets into a book.

Writing about myself, my life and my beliefs is really enjoyable, and I find the structure flows easily. I invest a lot of myself into this style of writing, and I write authentically, but I don’t want to limit myself to this form of writing. I’d like to explore poetry in my freewriting as well.

I have managed to write a couple of poems, as well as a couple of passages for a potential novel or short story.

All in all I am enjoying the course, and being able to write freely. I’m doing far better than I thought I would, and my practice has brought around better results than I expected.

Freewriting Is A Blessing

I’m surprised by freewriting and how it has been such a positive experience. My initial response to reading about the freewriting exercise was dread and anxiety, with thoughts that I would be writing random words without a clue about what to write.

However, this has not been the case. I generally start with a word or two in my mind as a prompt for my writing, and I have found this to be helpful. From this the words have flowed from my pen, and as I produce sentences more thoughts begin to coalesce.

The coursework asked us not to consider structure, but this had also been a natural part of the exercises for me. I’ve managed to write prose, snippets of auto-biography and a nonsense poem. I particularly like the nonsense and the poem that I produced.

This morning I wrote for over 20 minutes, which is quite a long time, especially as I originally thought that 5 minutes would be too long.

I can see how freewriting can help people overcome blocks that can surface with writing. I don’t expect this form of writing to be so natural all of the time, but it has been a positive experience so far.

Sophie Lives – Character Development

This is a page in which I will update ideas for Sophie Lives.

28/02/20

Sophie is going to have flashbacks of the domestic abuse that she suffered, and I wrote part of one of the flashbacks. Three o’clock in the morning is as good a time to write as any other.

03/03/20

Sophie is going to wear clothing which is black, or that is not feminine in any way as she does not wish to attract attention to herself.

She can learn boxing or a martial art so that she builds confidence and a means of defending her self. I want her to get help with coming off of methadone, and for her mental health, but not an inpatient admission. Maybe even at some point on her journey into recovering from domestic abuse sexuality could be explored. An existential crisis that leads her into a same sex relationship.

Research points

  • Martial arts
  • Lesbian sexual identity in response to violence for a previously heterosexual woman
  • IDAS
  • Refuge