Category: April A to Z Challenge

Plan, prepare, perform

Plan, prepare, perform

The great annual International Blogging Festival kicks off in another few days. Bloggers across the world will be writing, reading, sharing  and encouraging each other all of April. It’s like one big happy party. And I’m not going. Obviously I’m feeling a little sorry for myself – a bit like when I was invited to a party and all my friends were going and I knew it was completely ‘my thing’ but mum said I couldn’t go. Except this time there’s no mum to blame. It’s just me. I wish I’d planned ahead and I wish I’d scheduled my posts and I wish I could have joined in the fun.
But I didn’t and I can’t.
Here’s a lesson for you dear H and N. ‘Not again,’ I hear you groan, ‘Not another ‘lesson’ mama,’ I see you making quotes in the air, but this is a lesson not just for you but for me too and has to be reiterated. I promise to keep it short.
If you want something really badly, plan for it, prepare for it. If you do not, you’ve no business to feel sorry for yourself.
Spontaneity is fun but for the important things in life, preparation is the key.
It’s a bit like cooking. Remember the time we started off making cookies assuming we had all the ingredients and then got stuck because we ran out of butter. Oh we did go ahead but the cookies weren’t half as good as they do turn out normally. You remember that?
And then, N, you remember, there was the drawing competition on Independence Day a few years back? Many of your friends came to me asking for help with ideas. And they went home and practised. You’re good at art. I know that and so do you. So certain were you of your win that you didn’t give the contest a second thought. You knew you would do well. And you lost. To a girl whose art wasn’t half as good as yours but who was better prepared. Remember how she’d woven quotes on freedom in her drawing? The judges made a mention of that, I well remember. I also remember how you’d cried, heartbroken.
Heartbreak is a great teacher.
You did not forget. Next year you did prepare and you won too. How you’d jumped around in your happiness! That, dear girl, is proof enough, if you wanted any.
It isn’t enough to be smart or good at something. Preparation marks the difference between success and failure.
I hope you always remember that. I hope you remember that feeling of losing something that was so well within your grasp. And I hope you never let that happen again.
As shall I.
For this time I will watch and enjoy the fun. I shall blog hop to my heart’s content and cheer all my friends. It’s going to be one crazy, exciting month.
Oh and while on lessons – here’s anther one. Age doesn’t insure you against making mistakes. The good part is that nothing stops you from learning from them either.
Learnings from the A to Z Challenge

Learnings from the A to Z Challenge

April might not be the next month but the sign up list for this year’s A to Z April Bolgging Challenge is open. You can take a look here. Isn’t that badge really cool? 

Last year after much coaxing and deliberation I participated in the Challenge. I shy away from everyday monthly challenges because, well because they require posting everyday for one whole month. By the end of the month you find yourself dying to get out of it and the quality of your blog posts goes down too.

However, the April A to Z Challenge turned out way more fun than I’d imagined.

Sharing some of my learnings from the experience. If you’ve done it before you know them all. If you’re a first timer you might find them useful.

1. If I were to give one single advice to a first timer at the A to Z Challenge it would be SCHEDULE YOUR POSTS. The Challenge isn’t just about writing. It is about visiting and discovering other blogs, about making friends and coming away with a wealth of reading material. If you have your posts all done beforehand you have the luxury of reading and commenting on other blogs.

2. KEEP THEM SHORT.. 300-500 words. This is a toughie for me. I found myself constantly struggling to chop my posts if they exceeded the 500 limit I’d set myself. However people are blog hopping like crazy and have many many posts to read. Keeping it short gives you a better chance of being read.

3. HAVE A THEME. It helps you focus when you’re in the ‘what to write’ phase. Contrary to what it seems, broader the canvas more confused your thoughts. What’s better, like many bloggers, it might result in a book later on. Last year I’d talked about 26 of my favourite authors. Before long people were trying to guess what the next alphabet would bring and then I started leaving clues and began to announce the names of people who’d guessed right each day. It turned out to be fun.

4. STICK TO THE CHARACTER OF YOUR BLOG. Make sure your posts resonate with the character of your blog. That’s one big mistake I made last year. I am essentially obsessivemom here. Of course I also have a passion for reading. People who dropped by only during the A to Z Challenge would assume this was a reading/book related blog. Once the challenge was over and I went back to blogging about the twins with an occasional book review thrown in they had a right to be disappointed. It would make sense not to deviate too far from the original character of your blog.

That’s it. Those are my learnings. I do hope I can push myself to take up the madness this year too. It’s fun in retrospect.

Do share your suggestions please, anything to make it easier, more fun. I could do with help.

Notes from a survivor

Notes from a survivor

It’s five days and my celebratory jig hasn’t stopped. Yeah I survived.

Oh it has been exhausting (the jig as well as the Challenge) but what a journey it’s been.

How I got caught

Blogging has, for years, been my happiness thing. I had always believed any kind of mandatory writing would take away that pleasure. However this year I discovered it needn’t. Carried along on the wave of enthusiasm of some dear friends I put up my name for the April A to Z Challenge and it’s been a blast.

..and I planned

On advice from veterans I wrote up almost 21 posts in March. Wasn’t an easy thing to do since I’m such a last minute person. Besides, I’m rarely happy when I read what I’ve written, so I end up reworking and rewriting and editing and sometimes deleting it all and starting from scratch. However I had to be satisfied with simply tweaking the finished posts before publishing them this time. Okay I redid four or five and that was it. Those that I’d left for the last minute almost endangered my challenge but did get done before noon everytime.

Oh the thrill!

Each day I woke up with such a feeling of anticipation, my head buzzing with author facts. The comments would start coming in .. Warm and encouraging and I’d flit crazily between reading, answering, visiting and posting for the next day. It’s truly the best feeling in the world. A bit like having month-long exams in your favourite subject, one you know you can handle. Oh I messed up too, scheduling a post for a Sunday then withdrawing it, like a typical amateur. Hee hee.

A bit of a regret

My only regret is I didn’t visit enough blogs. This year I was more concerned with getting my posts out in time. Maybe next year I’ll manage things better. Yes, I think I’m in for the next year. Whatever little I read I enjoyed thoroughly. What a reading feast it has been. Fellow bloggers – AditiShailaja, Shilpa, Vidya, Oven-goodies… all amazing reads.. most I’ll continue to follow faithfully. 

The Acknowledgements

Before I end I do need to thank some family members.

First my SIL, S, an avid reader, who was even more excited than me at the choice of Amazing Authors as my theme.  She made me mail her my list of authors, added suggestions and mailed it right back. Then lobbied pretty fiercely for her favourites and is still a trifle miffed because I didn’t do justice to her favourite Ha Jin.
My sister, who also lobbied, though more subtly, for her favourite Shashi Tharoor and when I couldn’t find a place for him in the S or the T suggested I go in for an Amazing Authors Dvitiya, (Amazing Authors II).
My friend J, who put up with my endless chatter about the Challenge – during our late night walks, in the gym or even during our coffee outings.
Thank you guys – you’re the bestest girl-friends I could ever ask for.
Finally a huge thank you to my co-participants. You’re the only ones who can truly understand how I’m feeling. Thanks for reading and commenting so faithfully. Suzy, Sreeja, Nabanita, Sulekha, Beloo .. it was good to have you guys around. Thank you all for making it so much fun. I’ll see you around in blogsphere.

Those then, are my Reflections on the April A to Z Challenge.

Z is for Zadie Smith

Z is for Zadie Smith

Born 1975
From the age of 5 to 15 Zadie Smith wanted to be an actress. She was pretty good at tap dancing and dreamt of starring in a musical. By the time she was in her mid teens she realised there were hardly any musicals being made and decided to part with that dream. And then writing happened.

She was born in London to a British father and Jamaican mother who migrated to Britain in 1969. She was christened Sadie Smith. At 14 she changed her name to Zadie. Interestingly a love for music runs in the family as two of her younger brothers are rappers.

Her debut

… was the stuff of fairy tales. At the University while studying English Literature she published a few short stories for a collection of new student writing called Mays Anthology. A publisher read those stories and offered her a contract for her first book, which made her go in search of a literary agent. Seems like a dream debut, doesn’t it? 
On the basis of a partial manuscript her book was auctioned among publishers. During her final year at Cambridge she finished her book, White Teeth. It was an runaway success. So overwhelmed was she that she went into a writer’s block. “I think (the success of this book is) a surprise which will last me my whole life,” she said in an interview. Her second book Autograph Man also proved to be a success.

White Teeth 

…began as a short story except it was hardly short, more of a Novella. And so she decided to expand it into a full sized novel. It spans three generations telling the story of two friends, World War II veterans Archie and Samad. It follows their lives and then of their children who pick varied paths in life. It touches upon issues of immigrants, war, religion and friendship. I liked the way the book jumps back and forth between England, Jamaica and Bangladesh bringing it all alive through vibrant descriptions.

On writing


…. Smith has rather interesting views. First, she doesn’t believe in creative writing classes. She dismisses them as ‘support groups for writers who find writing therapeutic’.  And writing’s no therapy, she feels. She advises extensive reading as the best way to become a writer. “The more people you read the better writer you become,” she says.
She likes to write in ‘any small room with no natural lighting’. She’s quite the rule breaker when it comes to a writing regime. Some days she writes all day and some days she cannot get beyond two hours. She hates being told about successful authors who follow specific regimes. 

Isn’t that heartening? Perhaps it IS okay to do things your own way and follow no one at all. So it doesn’t matter that Enid Blyton wrote 10,000 words a day in her ‘red’ room, or that Ian Fleming needed to get away to Jamaica each year to get that novel done, or that Dahl moved to his tiny shed away from the house. All one needs to do to become a writer is do things her own way and write from the heart.

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And finally that’s The End! The April A to Z Challenge ends today and I really have no idea what I’ll do with myself. Looking forward to visiting all you lovely people now.

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This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

Y is for Yiyun Li

Y is for Yiyun Li

Born 1972

Though born a Chinese, English is her chosen language of expression. Yiyun Li was born in Beijing China. As a student of Immunology she moved to America for further studies in 1996 intending to become a researcher just like her parents wanted her to. She had never written anything and writing was far from her mind. 

Writing happened quite by chance

During her days in America she attended an evening community writing class. She followed it up with more classes. Meanwhile she wrote some short stories. One of her stories, Immortality, was read by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Alen Mc Pherson. He was so excited he tracked Li down through a friend and sent a message saying she must continue too write. That made up her mind for her. A writer she did become.

Short stories and more..

Yiyun Li draws her subjects from China. Most of her stories are about small powerless people. Perhaps that’s why they are often cynical, tragic and frustrating. Her first book, which includes the story, Immortality, was a short story collection titled A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. I like her stories but more than that I like the glimpse of China she offers. Bits of history, the mood of the people, life under a dictatorship – all of that woven together in heat rending tales. Her writing is richly sprinkled with Chinese mythology and Chinese proverbs that she translates into English lending it a quaint quality.

The novel

Set in the 1970s The Vagrants is her debut novel. It opens with the gruesome hanging of a young woman and goes on to explore how different people in the city react to it. This one is no cheerful read, nor is it for those with weak stomachs. You despair as you find the eyes of dictatorship everywhere, corrupting everything and everyone, allowing for no escape. It reminded me a bit of George Orwell’s 1984. This one however is way more gruesome and graphic in gory detail. Not really my kind of book.

In China..

…Li refuses to release her books. They have been translated into over 20 languages but not in her native Mandarin. In a number if interviews she has said she feels China is not ready for her books just as much a she is not ready for them to be read in her country of birth.
Talking about whether her books represent China and its way of life she says, “It’s never my job to explain China.. We never ask an American writer to represent America or a British writer to represent Britain.” Yet it seems unavoidable that her characters are taken to depict China. Reminds me how Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth has come to represent China of another age.

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And finally it’s time for the last post tomorrow. This last author, is half British, half Jamaican and aspired to be an actress before the literary world beckoned.

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This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

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