You are not alone: Write in the language you want!

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Some people ask me why I write in English, when I know it’s going to be twice as difficult to have a writing career in a language that – I don’t have a problem to admit this – I’m still learning and ‘conquering’.

Well… There are many reasons and none at all, but summarising:

  1. I love travelling and I wanted to get out of my country (and English is a lingua franca).
  2. Publishing/getting a writing career in Spain was getting too complicated and depressing.

Truth is, sometimes I feel alone, as if I was a painter using some colours that just I can see – so for other people they are invisible, and artists have to live for their audience as well, so that’s a problem.

Thousands of times I’ve been told that my setences are awckward or that I’m not using grammar in the conventional way. Those are the moments when I feel that writing in another language has challenges I won´t ever overcome because I cannot see these kind of things unless someone (a native, usually) points them out for me.

But… I’m happy, because I’m not alone. When I was doing a Creative Writing MA I used to feel I was the only one struggling in this second tongue to tell stories, and it was pretty frustrating. Thank God, I met other people along the way who were in my same position and inspired me. I seem to be the only one who feels so apologetic (and even an impostor sometimes) because I write in a second language. Whenever I meet other ‘wandering writers’ they seem to be proud of choosing this path and – what is more – usually they maintain they feel more confident writing in English than in their mother togue, something that doesn’t happen to me (so far).

For those of you struggling (or enjoying) writing in English even if it’s not the first language you learned I wanted to bring a compilation of all the interviews we made so far in our radio programme to wandering writers from all over the world. There are tons of valuable advice… Enjoy!

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Yamuna Venugopal

She’s a very intense writer who always manages to reach your heart with her simple – yet powerful – prose. She was born in India but came to Lancaster to study Creative Writing. She was my writing pal there and taught me a lot of things about writing. People liked a lot the way she blended Indian English with her writing – in dialogues and descriptions – as well as words from different Indian languages. Reading her stories was like having a free plane ticket for one of the most fascinating countries in the world. I think from her I learned to bring things from my own culture into my writing.

 

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Leonor Macedo

She’s a Portuguese writer who likes fantasy and YA. She grew up reading English writers such as Neil Gaiman, so that´s why she finds natural to write her dystopian novel in this language. Also, she points out the publishing sector in Portugal is very small. If English is going to give you more chances to write and live doing what you love, go for it!

 

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Monica Guerrasio

What I loved about Monica it’s how easily she talked about writing in both languages, English and Italian (her mother tongue). Since I started writing in English (almost two years ago now) I had felt the need to surround myslef with English books, English cinema, English friends… you could almost say I’m afraid of Spanish as if it was going to ‘pollute’ my English! But sometimes I feel sad about it (hey, Spanish is also cool…) Monica made me think that perhaps switching between different languages just depending the country you’re in can be done. She was also very convinced about translating her own stuff from English to Italian and vice versa. Definitely, something that inspired me a lot, because I can stop seeing languages as ‘enemies’ and start using them in a more complementary way in my art, just as I (try to) do in this blog.

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Oscar Delgado Chinchilla.

Oscar was my other writing pal from the MA. What can I see? He’s an amazing Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Steam-punk writer. Check out his stuff there and you’ll get what I mean. He said that writing in English he felt he could be more honest. I also feel I approach writing in different ways depending on the language I write in. Perhaps in English I can be more distant from what I write so I can see the picture and its mechanics better so the final result it’s better (or I feel so). Oscar is also a model to follow because he’s a uni professor (my current goal) and he has this easy way to explain and transmit things in a way that is useful but honest, so you can trust each piece of advice he gives.

We are not alone! These four people really inspired me to continue this journey. They might be the next big name out there, but in any case I’d say that someone who’s so brave as to try writing in another language and sometimes travelling thousand of miles leaving families and friends behind just for the sake of a dream it’s pretty serious about it… Go you!

Have you ever tried to write in a second language? Can you be creative in English? Let’s share experiences!

 

 

 

‘Elk Tongue’ and The Revenant

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“The main character, his name was Elk Tongue. I went to the director and said, ‘What parent in their right mind would name their kid Elk Tongue? It’s like naming your kid ‘dumb ass’ (…)”

Leonardo DiCabrio has earned his Oscar. Not only because he ate raw bison liver but he also learned two new languages for his role: Pawnee and Arikara – spoken by Native Americans in Oklahoma and Dakota.

This was something I liked a lot in The Revenant – apart from the beautiful landscapes and its intensity. I think the reason behind it is that Alejandro Iñárritu is its director. He’s not American, but Mexican, so he had to learn English first to be where he’s now – in one of the highest postions in Hollywood, I’d say.

Iñárritu is a multilingual director – yey, we’re an increasing number! He has made films both in Spanish – Amores Perros, Biutiful – and English – Birdman and Babel, a film that has much to do with languages and communication.

We’ve lots of languages in this film, including French and Hardy’s own personal dialect – seriously, I could barely understand his character, John Figtzerald.

In The Revenant   US is no man’s land, where invasors – French and English – figh their way, massacring the Native American’s tribes, who in turn attack back the best they can. In this not very welcoming place Hugh Glass – who apparently existed back in the time – stands out as a man who married a  Pawnee woman and is taking care of their son – although nothing of this seems to be historically accurated.

At the beginning he’s attacked my a bear protecting her two cubs – wonderful CGI, for a change. To me this violent attack was a metaphor of the North American’s invasion. Can be blame the bear that is trying to protect her offsprings? Native Americans were protrayed as the bad guys in so many US Westerns – I think it’s outrageous. At least Iñárritu is giving them a much decent role in his story.

Coming back to Hugh Glass, he’s a very literate man: he speaks Pawnee, and it’s this language precisely – and not his native English – the one that  brings him encouragement in his darkest moments – he imagines his wife talking to him. He also speaks Arikara which, arguibly, brings him his much desired revenge.

Alejandro Iñárritu took special care of the accuracy of Native American languages in the film. Here it is an interview made to one of his advisors, who explained to him why calling his main character ‘Elk Tongue’ was not the brightest idea.

So there you go. If you go to a foreign, dangerous land, bring with yourself a conversational phrase book. You never know when you have to scream for help or ask permision to share a raw bison recently hunted…

Have you watched The Revenant? Could you understand Tom Hardy?

 

 

The story of a return – Persepolis

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I read Persepolis when I was 14. I lived in Spain and I went to my first Comic-Con – after begging my parents during days. Finally my father agreed to take my sister, my best friend and I to the place of the event. To be fair, it was quite far away from home, and he thought we wouldn’t  be safe in a place full of thousands of friquis – that’s how we call in Spain the people who like reading comics and manga, play videogames and watch Japanese animation.

We arrived and all that I wanted was merchandasing from Naruto or Death Note – back then, my favourite mangas. My dad picked Persepolis for me and bought it as a present thinking that if I wanted to read comincs at least should read a true graphic novel – the fancy word for comics for adults who don’t like to say they read comics.

I read it and loved. But I hadn’t understood it properly until last week, when I got the English translation – I bought the paperback version for 3 pounds in a charity shop.

This is the story of a young girl who recieves a liberal education – because educations one can have many, and some of them intend to send the brain to sleep instead of awake it – and lives in Iran after the Islamic Revoluti0n. What is this? Well, basically consists in closing universities, separating boys and girls in schools, making the veil compulsory… to sum up, applying all the –human interpreted – religious principles of Islam to the every day lives of Iran citizens.

Majarne – that is the name of the author and the main character, because Persepolis is a memoir – grows up reading Simone de Beauvoir, so you can imagine it’s very hard for her to accept the principles from the Islamic Revolution. Because she’s bilingual in French she can move out from the country during the war against Iraq to study her secondary education in the Licée Français in Vienna. Afterwards, she moves to Strasbourg at 23 to study graphic design. She never comes back to Iran.

French saved Majarne and allowed her to find a home in a place where her values and beliefs were not questioned. But, how many languages can one find in Persepolis?

Persian: A very ancient and unique language. It’s spoken in Iran and it’s Majarne’s first language. We can just find it when the characters curse each other. It’s as if she was suggesting that the visceral feelings of anger they are experienced cannot be translated – these feelings that are indeed a consequence of war and discrimination.

For instance, in a chapter called Pasta, a nun in the Catholic student accomodation where Majarne is staying suggests that she’s a thief as every other Iranian. She replies something in Persian – and for the way she’s screaming at the nun we can be sure it’s not something nice.

French: Majarne goes to a bilingual school as a child until the government shuts them all down saying that they promote a decadent education. Later she goes to the Licée Français is Vienna where she studies French culture. She currently lives in France and sometimes call herself a French artist.

German: In her years in Vienna – from 14 to 18 – Majarne has to learn German to communicate in her every day life. When she goes on holidays to the Tyrol – her roomate is from there – she encounters a special difficult accent.

English: Majarne’s teenage idols are all from the English speaking world – from Bruce Lee to Kim Wilde. As many of us, she cannot detach herself from the English speaking culture – music, cinema and so on. I feel English is a lingua franca because one can gain much more freedom by speaking it. English brings you access to a wider culture while allows you to communicate with people from all over the world. How could a language like this be out from Persepolis, which is indeed a story about gaining freedom?

Arabic: Iranian people have to study the religious texts in Arabic instead of in Persian. This is very demanding, and I guess not everyone undertands the prayers if they haven’t had time to study the language. It reminded me to those times when  mass was given in Latin in Spain. People had to seat in church for a long time – this was at the beginning to the 20th century, they listened to something that they knew it was important yet they couldn’t understand it. Is this a hidden form of opression? For some people, getting the bread home each day is a full-time task – they don’t necessarily have time to educate themselves. And learning a new language – as you probably now – is not easy. Acquiring another tongue is like planting a very rare kind of flower. Unless you take proper care of it it’s going to die. Almost everything can kill this flower so you’ve to make sure you are there to prevent it – everyday. Also, religion is suppose to create a sense of communion and bring people together. But a language one cannot understand can be the strongest barrier. Then, teaching people religion in another language might be a contradiction in itself…

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Persepolis is a very good graphic novel. If you have left your home pursuing more freedom in life and choices, then you’re going to be identified with it. It’s also an iteresting story if you actually want to know more about Iran and its culture. And even if nothing of these specially appeals to you still go and read it, because this is a piece that will make you laugh even if talks about really dark stuff. I think it should be a classic…

Have you read it? Or watched the film? What do you think about it? Have you ever felt like a foreigner – even in your own country?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Droog’s language in A Clockwork Orange

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‘What’s going to be then, eh?’

There was me, tht is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus pesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skhorry these days and everybody were quick to forget, newspapaers not being read much neither.

Some of you will recognise these opening sentences – Stanley Kubric made them inmortal, although they were first written in a novella by Arthur Burges, A Clockwork Orange.

Burges wanted his teenage narrator to speak like real teenagers do. I’m sure you will remember that your rebel years came with a fancy and special way to communicate. The abbreviations we used to write to each other texts, emails, chats… At the time I thought it was the coolest thing, and they were million of them, so  you ended up with this line that didn’t look like Spanish or English any more, and that was the best thing of all. Nowadays, of course, I stopped using them because I care about language. I’m a writer.

Why was Burges so interested in language? Well, because he had to convince his readers that  A Clockwork Orange is set in the future. World-building is the key to get  readers’ attention… But, how to make a city from the future believable? You describe the landscape, the buildings… but with globalisation is getting quite challenging. Think about cities you know, are not they almost the same? Cities copy things from one another – Tokyo has an Eiffel Tower, Madrid an Egiptian Temple… – and are often built in a similar way and with similar spaces. How can you know you are in a foreign city?

That’s easy, Close your eyes and open your ears.

Language. Cities might look the same, but as soon as we see different people speaking in different languages we know we are in another country.

Burges knew that language was an indispensable feature of his futuristic world. He could have copied the way teenagers talked around him, but that would have outdated in a few years – or even months. And believe me, you don’t want to put anything that goes off quickly in a novella. Literature is all about making things that matter last, not the opposite. So he decided to invent his own dialect based in Russian – a language non-related to English and he called  it Nadsat. Why Russian? Burges had gone on holidays to the URSS and perhaps he decided to give further use to his Russian-English dictionary…

It’s true that for the first few pages I was completely lost because of this particular vocabulary. But I already knew the majority of the terms by  heart when I finished. Sometimes it’s by context, other by repetition. The system Burges invented to insert these weird terms into his character’s speech is good, because the novella is still a classic.

Inventing a complet new language? That’s way more difficult, although it has already been done, you can ask Tolkien about it…

Have you read A Clockwork Orange? Or watched the film? Did you ever wanted to create your own language for your character?

Writing in… Glencoe Café

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There’s nothing more inspiring than the Highlands because, I promise you, they’re the best cure for the Artist’s Ego disease. Don’t you know what I’m talking about? Let’s be honest, we all want to be the next Shakespeare and/or write the next Fifty Shades of Grey

But when you are in Glencoe – West Highlands – and find yourself completely soaked in icy rain, with your body shaking under the wind and the sky is black and threatens to fall on the ancient mountains so they break and devour you… Then you feel the smallest and humblest creature on Earth. And I tell you, you might be even an atheist but you will pray to come back alive. The Highlands are like an old dragon. Terrible and fascinating.

I first went to Glencoe on April 2013, when I was living in Edinburgh. Because I was a poor student without a car I took the train to the furthest place I could find – Fort William – and booked a room in the cheapest hostal – Ossian Hotel. Now I woudln’t recommend this place to stay unless…

A) You’re a fan of The Shinning – the red carpetted corridors are smelly and equally creepy!

B) You want to get involved in Fort William’s local life – they were many of local aracnids in the toilet.

C) You have a fetish with vouyerism. The toilet window was a large one facing Fort William’s main street. And it didn’t have curtains – or anything – to cover it. Yep, I’m saying that every time you wanted to take a sh* or a shower virtually anyone could see you.

Nevertheless, what I do recommend is the trip I made by train from Edinburgh to Fort William. This is one of the most inspiring train trips ever – I love trains – and I won’t talk more about it because it deserves a whole new post.

Let’s come back to Glencoe now, whose name actually means ‘hell of never ending hard rain’ in Gaelic*. A bus from Fort William can take you to Glencoe village in half an hour. You will enjoy an impressive scenery – Loch Linnhe surrounded by dark woods. Glencoe village is a holiday place, which means that if you go on Summer the colorful cottages would be full of flowers and little dogs barking in the backyards – there is also a special cottage whose backyard is crowded with tiny china figures, quite spooky. If you go on November – as I did once – is a ghost village. But still pretty.

Glencoe Village’s main – and sole – attraction is Glencoe Folk Museum. Although I would like to, I haven’t visited it yet because you have to pay three pounds. Yes, I know, it’s not that much. But if you go to Glencoe you go to suffer – I don’t own any lovely cottage there, I go for hiking. So it seems a bit too much to spend, because if you have money believe me you want to save it to have one, two or three super warm coffes/teas/hot chocolates when your bones are frozen and you cannot stand Glencoe’s weather any more. Which takes me to the purpose of this post…

Glencoe Cafe is the coziest Highland’s cafe I’ve never been to. My perception might be biased because I always come to this place feeling miserable after a long hiking in Glencoe – and I have more in common with a smelly wet dog than a human being. Yet when I leave I always feel myself again. And warmer.

The best thing about this place is that it opens all year around. Even in Winter, when Glencoe is dead, it will be open. I cannot explain with enough words the happiness I experienced when I realised I could have a hot coffe here in November.

The local is small but very clean – and it has free Wi Fi. You’ve a few tables and a big sofa by the window – wher you can enjoy Glencoe’s beauty from a safe place. In Winter they even have tartan blankets – I just love them – in each of the chairs. There’s always music – pop-rock songs – and the smell of soup and home baked scones. The prices are alright – If I had the only Cafe in Glencoe I would be selling my coffes for ten pounds at least, but oh well… If you ask for a large cup  of mocca – I did so in November, obviously – you’re going to recieve a big pool of the sweetest coffe mixed with chocolate. Totally worth it.

Everytime I go they have cakes and they look awesome, but in the end I always go for the scone – I like scones because they’re not too sweet. Their scones are just delicious and you can tell they are home made. You also have colorful postcards with original drawings from the Highlands and things like soaps and pictures to buy. They’re a bit expensive though.

The owners are always friendly. Last time I was there – August 2015 – they even gave me paper and a pen to draw. And you can stay there forever – well, until they close. I remember nursing my gigantic mocca, reading The French Lieutenant’s Woman and imagining the characters of Mrs McLean’s Cabinet of Curiosities (my last novella) wondering around the Highlands…

Glencoe Café is the perfect place to write Gothic Horror.

*Not really… but it would have made a lot of sense…

Raisin, raisin please…

Instructions Not Included

Bilingualism… Good or bad? Have you had the chance to speak two languages since you were born? Would you have liked to?

Bilingualism keeps being a controversial issue. Some people say the more languages you speak, the better… others say that raising a child in more than one language is  going to confuse him so in the end he won’t be able to speak any.

Who knows… what it’s clear is that Loreto Peralta, the main actress in the Mexican ‘Comedy’ Instructions Not Included gained this role for being the only child in Mexico able to speak fluent English and Spanish. In fact, the role was originally made for a male child but they couldn’t find a bilingual one…

Instructions Not Included tells the story of a Mexican stunt man, Valentín, who raises her child, Maggie, in Los Angeles. The kid speaks Spanish in the house but English outside, so she is a bilingual child.

On the other hand, Valentín just speaks Spanish. He has lived in US for seven years, yet he refuses to learn English because as a stunt man he doesn’t need it for his job. This is a very common attitude. I’ve met a lot of people both in UK and Spain who do not care about learning the language of the place they live in. Usually it’s because they don’t need it for survival so they cannot be bothered. Personally, I wouldn’t do that. I love travelling, and I’ve noticed it makes a great difference when you know – or not – the language of the country you’re in. In my experience, knowing the language allows you to have real connection with the culture and the people that probably you cannot get otherwise. For instance, now that I’m living UK, speaking fluent English is what has allowed me to look at the Lancastrian countryside feeling that it’s my home… – although I should also learn how to speak Cow and Sheep to feel fully integrated in Lancaster, to be honest.

Maggie knows her dad cannot undertsand English and, of course, as any kid of seven would do, she uses it to her advantage. Therefore, when Valentín uses her as an interpreter she’s not always accurate.

What I enjoyed about this movie is that many of the comedy gags are based on linguistic misunderstandings. However, I couldn’t help noticing that you must speak English and Spanish to get the most of them. I wonder if this is a common situation in Mexico – where the film was made. In any case, Instructions Not Included  has been the most profitable Spanish speaking movie in US, and it’s been also incredibly successful in Mexico. So it seems people like multilingualism!

Here you have short video where Loreto and Eugenio (actors from the film) talk about bilingualism.

Valentín finally considers learning English when Maggie’s mother intends to take the sole custody of the child alleging that he’s not a good father because he cannot even speak English when he’s raising his child in LA. Maggie turns to be an exigent teacher and Valentín quite a dumb student.

There is a funny scene in which Valentín asks her daughter how to say ‘pasa’ – ‘come in’ – in English. In Spanish ‘pasa’ is the same word for both, the verb and the noun for ‘raisin’. So Maggie assumes his dad is asking about the fruit. In the next scene Valentín welcomes a very surprised guest by saying ‘raisin, raisin‘.

Considering that nowadays more and more people speak English, I think it could be good to watch more movies that, like this one, use several languages that we all can understand. Perhaps we bilingual writers should start writing the scripts!

Have you watched Instructions Not Included? Do you know any other comedy that uses language for fun?

Writing in… 34 Golgotha Rd

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As a writer, it’s very important for me to change environment when I work. I don’t necessarily need a quiet place like a library, although I often go there because they allow you to drink coffee, they have toilets and you can stay there as long as you want. The only forbidden place to write for me – personally – it’s my room or – even worse! – my bed – although I know that two of my favourite writers like doing so, Patricia Highsmith and Gabriella Campbell. Gabriella said that there’s nothing  like a beautiful notebook and a cup of tea to let her imagination flow on the paper. I also read that Patricia spent the days in bed, leaning on fluffy pillows and eating sweets while she wrote her amazing dark short stories – like the ones in her collection The Snail-Watcher and other stories. But I cannot concentrate in my room, because I consider it a place to relax and sleep  – and perhaps do some funny stuff, but that doesn’t include writing.

So I would like to introduce in the blog a record of places that I have found inspiring for my art. And I will start talking about Yamuna’s kitchen. Yamuna is my writing pal – we met in our MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University. She recently moved houses and because she knows I am a nomadic writer, she offered me her place whenever I might need it.

She lived on 34 Golgotha road in Lancaster*if you want to pay her a visit it’s too late, by the time I will be publishing this she would have returned to India, sadly. Her house has a cute little kitchen with a big ‘welcome’ written in wooden letters on the wall. There is a circular table besides a window from where you can see the green from the back yard. I love green and open spaces, so for me it is ideal.

Also, one of the advantages of writing inside a kitchen is that it is very easy to reach for coffee and food when your stomach starts growling but you don’t want to stop writing. Plus every time I go and visit Yamuna she makes for me coffee in the Indian style. This means she adds to water two spoons of coffee and two spoons of sugar and then boils it slowly. After a while she filters the dark liquid and… voilà! I always drink my coffee without sugar, but I like Yamuna’s version because it’s not just caffeine, it’s also a treat.

We usually eat chocolate cakes – she buys them for me, she knows I am more of the sweet kind – and the spiciest crackers I can possibly find – I know she needs spices as she needs to breathe oxygen.What you can see in the photo, Hot Chili Chips is my latest discovery in the Spar next to her place. I just could eat a few before my lips and tongue started burning. As always, she maintains it’s not even closer to the spicy level you can find in India… I don’t know if she really means this  or if she’s just mocking me – in any case, I had to stop eating those because of survival.

Writing with Yamuna is fun. We listen to vibrant Indian music when she helps me with grammar and gives me interesting ideas. I usually see her staring at the white page of the computer or burying her head in her arms and sleeping over the table. Yet I cannot call this laziness because she’s an amazing writer… – want to check one of her stories?

Do you have any writing pals?

Do you invade their places to write?

Check this sophisticated Indian Coffee recipe in any case, it might strengthen your inspiration!

*This is the coolest name for a road ever.