FIVE GREAT BOOKS ABOUT WIN­TER

The New European - - Literature Eurofile -

SNOW Marcus Sedg­wick (Lit­tle Toller, £12) One of a beau­ti­ful se­ries of small hard­back mono­graphs pub­lished by Lit­tle Toller, this is a fab­u­lous ex­am­i­na­tion of snow. It takes a truly flinty heart not to be en­thralled and cap­ti­vated by see­ing a snow flurry out­side the win­dow and this is a book that cap­tures the magic, still­ness and si­lence of the most en­chant­ing as­pects of our me­te­o­rol­ogy.

BURIAL RITES Han­nah Kent (Pan Macmillan, £8.99) Short­listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Burial Rites is a re-imag­in­ing of the true story of Agnes Mag­nus­dot­tir, the last woman to be ex­e­cuted in Ice­land in 1829. Sen­tenced to death for her role in the mur­der of her lover, Agnes en­dures a last win­ter bil­leted with a district of­fi­cial at his re­mote farm­house un­til such a time that the ground de­frosts enough to dig her grave. A bril­liantly hu­man por­trait of re­la­tion­ships, so­cial con­ven­tions and the grad­ual emer­gence of se­crets.

MAD DOGS AND AN ENGLISHWOMAN Polly Evans (Transworld, £9.99) Polly Evans is a travel writer of the old school – a born ad­ven­turer and nat­u­ral sto­ry­teller. De­cid­ing she wants to learn to drive sled dogs, she de­camps to the Yukon for be­cause I did far too much re­search which led to far too much writ­ing, mean­ing by the time I sub­mit­ted it to my edi­tor I’d writ­ten twice as much as I was sup­posed to, an ex­cess that was swiftly ex­cised and binned.

7 Jonathan Franzen is an evan­gel­i­cal ad­vo­cate of avoid­ing the in­ter­net while writ­ing. This is one thing we can agree on. Dis­trac­tion is the bane of writerly pro­duc­tiv­ity. You can tell when I’m up against a book dead­line be­cause I’m not on Twit­ter. You can also tell when I’m up against a book dead­line be­cause I’m on Twit­ter more than ever.

8 Find your writ­ing space. Whether it’s a ded­i­cated room with large win­dows look­ing out over moun­tains, sea or steppe or a cor­ner of the kitchen ta­ble near the bin, find what works for you. It doesn’t have to be fancy. If you find your­self wor­ry­ing about ta­ble heights or what in­spi­ra­tional prints to hang over your desk then you’re just try­ing to avoid the ac­tual writ­ing. He­len Simp­son says she a snow­bound win­ter and im­merses her­self in the dogsled com­mu­nity. A mix­ture of fear­less con­fi­dence and self-doubt­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity, Evans is a ter­rific guide to the land­scape, peo­ple and cul­ture of north­ern Canada, one of the least for­giv­ing land­scapes on Earth.

MID­WIN­TER Fiona Mel­rose (Cor­sair, £8.99) Fa­ther and son Lan­dyn and Vale Mid­win­ter are fac­ing a bleak win­ter on their Suf­folk farm, the harsh land­scape and grim fi­nan­cial out­look chip­ping away at their re­la­tion­ship and the hith­erto un­spo­ken tragedy of Vale’s mother’s death in Africa years ear­lier. In lan­guage as sparse and un­yield­ing as the frozen ground, Mel­rose uses win­ter as the back­drop to a heart­break­ing ex­plo­ration of grief, mas­culin­ity and how the own­er­ship of a story can be as frac­tious as the own­er­ship of a piece of land.

SPEED KINGS Andy Bull (Transworld, £8.99) The story of four young Amer­i­can men and their at­tempt to win Olympic bob­sleigh gold in 1928 and 1932, Speed Kings is a bril­liant and pacey tale of priv­i­leged young men with a thirst for dan­ger on and off the track that leads to acts of im­mense courage and hero­ism. A won­der­ful por­trait of an era when the scars of war bred a fear­less­ness bor­der­ing on the reck­less and win­ter was an ex­hil­a­rat­ing play­ground. just has a Post-it on the wall over her desk with ‘Faire et se taire’ writ­ten on it, a line from Flaubert “which I trans­late for my­self as ‘Shut up and get on with it’”. Good ad­vice.

9 Have a few care­fully-cho­sen peo­ple in mind for whom you are writ­ing. You can’t just write for your­self and you can’t write try­ing to sec­ond guess the re­ac­tions of re­view­ers, editors and read­ers. Once you’ve learned to trust your­self it’s time to write for those you trust. I have about half a dozen friends, whose opin­ions I re­spect and value, in mind when I’m writ­ing (and if any of my friends are read­ing this, you’re def­i­nitely one of them).

10 En­joy it. It’s sup­posed to be fun. In the light of this I shall leave you with my favourite quote from a writer on writ­ing and again it comes from Gene Fowler. “Writ­ing is easy,” he said. “All you have to do is stare at a blank piece of pa­per un­til drops of blood start to form on your fore­head.”

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