Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Meanwhile, in Hollywood...

...the writers are going on strike. Go, chaps, go! Tell it like it is! Because today's world doesn't know that without writers there would be nothing. No lines for those billion-dollar celebrities to mouth; nothing to make us think, reflect, laugh, cry, question the way we spend our time, deepen our understanding of the human condition, identify with in Grecian catharsis. No theatre, no books, no films, no philosophy, no politics, no poetry, no newspapers, no magazines and not much worthwhile stuff on the internet. Oh, and no TV. Yet individuals who would never steal a handbag or pirate a CD still can't imagine it's not OK to steal a writer's hard graft. The majority of writers are lumping along at the bottom of the heap, constantly exploited by everything from juggernaut studios to the all-powerful extortions that control chain store promotions, right down to small-time performers who think it's OK to palm them off without payment and sometimes without acknowledgment, let alone a fee that is proportional to the service they provide.

'Hollywood shakes', says the Indy's headline. I should think so too.

Here is 'Texts don't grow on trees': the Authors' Rights Awareness Campaign.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Commodities market

In other words, the London International Book Fair. I was going to write a long, philosophical post about how one grows up studying literature at school and revering the great authors past and present, then goes into the seething mass of languages and deals that make up the event in (this year) Earl's Court only to find that a book isn't seen as a work of art but as a commodity and how, as a writer, one suddenly understands that one is a commodity too, and how one does technically know this already but actually experiencing it is different..... But it's quite fun being a commodity, and I had some excellent meetings. So, fine.

Meanwhile, a big 'Indy-panic' the last couple of days, which has been even more fun than being a commodity! Watch this #.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

'Too Much Mozart'

Too Much Mozart, a short story I've written to accompany a new CD of the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante, is now available to read online at my permawebsite: follow the link from the news page. The recording will be released on the Avie label later in the spring and features Philippe Graffin (violin and director), Nobuko Imai (viola) and Het Brabants Orkest; the story will be published in the CD booklet.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Having a break...

I've done my hand in through excessive hattogate surfing. Not a good idea, especially with lots of deadlines to meet. So I need to stop all unnecessary typing for a while and make sure I don't end up with RSI. I'll be taking a week or so off blogging as from now... it seems like a good time to show you the following: a good example of the utterly staggering piano genius that is Grigory Sokolov!

Friday, February 09, 2007

ALICIA'S GIFT has arrived!

It's here: the first copy of my new book! As you can see, it's about a little girl with a precocious talent for the piano... Aged three, Alicia sits down at her dad's battered old upright and begins to play by ear, and in the right key, a piece she'd heard at nursery. Her Derbyshire-dwelling parents, Kate and Guy, have to decide what on earth to do with her. Kate wants her to develop her talent to the maximum, but she also wants her to be at home. Guy wants her to be a normal kid. Alicia just wants to play her piano and walk her dog on the moors. Alicia's motorbike-fixated brother, Adrian, sees through them all. As Alicia grows up and her fame spreads, everyone wants a piece of the Peak District prodigy. But life, naturally, has ideas of its own...

ALICIA'S GIFT is available for preordering at here: beautiful quality, limited edition hardback! Release date is 8 March. The paperback will be out later in the year.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

No more January!

1 February is my favourite day of the year, because it's the furthest point away from the next time it's January. I'm one of those people who needs light in order to feel OK about life, and now the days are getting longer, the daffodils are growing in the garden and the hellebores are in bloom under the apple tree.

I've taken the plunge and declared the first draft of Novel No.3 ready for my advisory panel to read, although the book is still a structural nightmare and needs to shed at least 20,000 words. The Tomcat is in the middle of chapter 2 and says he loves the characters, which is encouraging; copies are going out to my agent, my editor and a select expert or two. Not long ago 'Janos' asked to know more about it. If you cross 'An Equal Music' with 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian', throw in a dose of Symbolisme, a teaspoon of Trollope (Joanna), Philippe Graffin's CD of bohemian-influenced violin works 'In the shades of forests', Bartok's Cantata Profana and a large dollop of goulash, then you might start to get some idea.... Well, you did ask!

Meanwhile, the first finished copies of ALICIA'S GIFT are due in on Monday! Five weeks to go til publication day.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

On 'dumbing down'

I've been basically mute on the matter of dumbing-down in the British media (and elsewhere), because the topic is so huge and so miserable - besides, everyone's written such reams about it, including much dross, that I don't want to add to the heap. But today in The Independent, Howard Jacobson says everything I'd like to say, only better, so here it is.

After the Revolution, the Terror. This - the invariable consequence of filling the heads of the uneducated with grandiosity - is what we are seeing on Celebrity Big Brother. In the days when she sweetly knew herself to be pig ignorant, Jade Goody had neither the reason nor the confidence to launch the sort of terrifying tirades to which poor little rich girl Shilpa Shetty has been subjected - never mind with what provocation - this last week.

But then television made Jade a star. Television rewarded her with renown for all the things she didn't know...

Read the rest here.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A bit of self-promotion

I've got a double page spread in The Independent today, a quick look back at 60 years of the Royal Opera. Odd to think that the organisation is exactly the same age as David Bowie.

Also, in case anyone still fancies a look at my first novel, Rites of Spring, is currently offering it at a 32 per cent discount. :-)

The next one, Alicia's Gift, will be out in hardback on 8 March...

Thursday, December 21, 2006


An unusual commission, perhaps, but I've written a short story in two parts for Classical Music Magazine's Christmas and New Year editions...

The Singewood Symphony Orchestra's future is already hanging in the balance when violinist Paul Brown accidentally discovers a new threat to its home venue: mice in the artists' bar. But does the beautiful Polish cellist 'Jackie Duprewski' possess a secret weapon? What exactly is the connection between her and the fierce music director Stefan Bach? Can Paul win Jackie's heart? Can Lenny save the day? Don't miss 'Lenny - the cat that shook an orchestra'!

Part 1 is out now (you have to buy the magazine to read it because there's no online version).

Meanwhule, don't forget Rustem Hayroudinoff's recital at the Wigmore Hall tonight!

Monday, December 11, 2006

It's my birthday...

...and this year my special present is seeing in print in The Independent something I've been wanting to write for 20 years. Voila.

Please excuse me for a couple of days while I push off to Paris.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


...I've just finished the first draft of my third novel. I thought I'd never get there. Crikey. 540 pages, 145,000 words of...oh dear... well, if I get rid of 25,000 words, ie the length of three and a half reasonable dissertations on Hungarian music, Gypsy fiddlers and why one really shouldn't fall in love with violinists, then maybe I'll have something decent to work with. It's been agony. But now is when the real slog begins.

How weird is this?

A sleepless night found me surfing the internet around 3am [sad, I know]. I was startled to find a classical music forum in which a bunch of gentlemen were having yet another dig at my opinions about Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, expressed on this blog so long ago that I can't even locate it in my archive.

Those opinions were written in the way that blogs tend to be: rapidly and with the occasional strong view [oh, we're not meant to have those, are we?] emphasised in capitals - back then, I was using a browser that wasn't compatible with Blogger's editing features, and I hadn't yet learned how to do bold, italics etc with html code. Neither that post nor anything else in JDCMB was ever intended to be taken as academic gospel and I can't think why anyone would consider it suitable for quotation. Nevertheless, fellow blogger Steve Hicken saw fit to quote it extensively in a lengthy article about the work, twisting my words to make his point (the opposite of mine, of course). That sparked the discussion on the forum, where someone also took me to task about 'laying it on a bit thick' with said capital letters. Hey, chaps, I could throw some of my favourite Hungarian swear words at you, but I'll keep it simple instead: haven't you got anything better to do? I'm not trying to write the New Grove here. And if you have to quote daft stuff like mine, couldn't you have the courtesy to spell my name right? You'll find it at the top of this blog in, oh dear, big letters.

The declaration of love from another gentleman on the same forum was marginally more welcome. Dear sir, thank you, but I'm a married woman.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sheffield Saturday

What do 13-year-old Liffy Levy (heroine of 'Rites of Spring'), a rare stuffed bird, a missing baby, a Liverpool detective and a small boy in Glasgow in the 1940s have in common? They were the stars of the five books featured in the Readers' Day in Sheffield last Saturday.

Hodder & Stoughton sponsored the day, so the five of us were all Hodder authors. I spent the train journey up on Friday afternoon feeling distinctly jittery at the prospect of sharing a platform with writers I respect as much as Sophie Hannah (whose psychological thriller 'Little Face' is absolutely brilliant, as is her poetry) and Martin Davies (his first novel 'The Conjuror's Bird' was a Richard and Judy choice and is very beautiful, an expert interweaving of past and present). The others, whom I hadn't read before but am now enjoying very much, were the superb crime writer Margaret Murphy and Robert Douglas, whose memoirs of growing up in Glasgow are completely riveting.

All was well, though, after a curry and a few beers on Friday evening, and we kicked off bright and early on Saturday with a panel discussion, hosted by the fabulous James Nash - a performance poet and ex-boxer - about what books had been important to us as kids. A huge groundswell declared Enid Blyton a top favourite among writers and readers alike, but I was happy to get in a plug for my favourite book of all time, Dodie Smith's 'I Capture the Castle', which I must have read at least 250 times in the last 25 years. It turned out it was Martin Davies's favourite as well, so we had a good laugh about that. The hardest question, though, was 'Which book would you send to Room 101?' and my mind went a bit blank, mainly through deep upset when everyone else said 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin', which I adored... How on earth could I have forgotten about Jeffrey Archer?

Next, we were each put in a room on our own with ten to fifteen audience members who had read our book to discuss it for an hour. My group was lovely, with an age range from late twenties to mid eighties and some interesting opinions to offer. I asked them questions like 'How long do you give Adam and Sasha's marriage after the end of the book?' and they asked me questions like 'How did you think up the Earth Prince?' - and the hour flew by!

A splendid buffet lunch, then a talk between James and an expert editor from Hodder, Alex, who spoke very entertainingly about the whole business. Last but not least, we each talked a bit about our working processes and gave short readings from the books. Performing without having to play a piano - phew! I did the bit where the football goes through the seemed to be enjoyed...

It's wonderful to know that in the 21st century people still love books. The enthusiasm of the audience, the brilliant organisation, the care and attention and love of good writing and fascination about how it's done, all of this was incredibly encouraging. Even in this age of laptops, blogs, Blackberries, instant messaging and iPods, nobody has invented a better entertainment system than the paperback book: cheap, portable, practical, light, no battery, no troubleshooting helpline, no monthly charges and it doesn't disturb anyone else on the train unless you laugh or cry too loudly over the contents.

Friday, October 27, 2006


Eh-oop, I'm about to leave for Sheffield, where tomorrow I'm taking part in the Readers' Day at the Off the Shelf Festival of Writing and Reading. Hodder & Stoughton is sending five of its authors (Sophie Hannah, Martin Davies, Margaret Murphy, Robert Douglas & yours truly) and one of its editors and we're going to spend the day talking about books! The day includes lunch, fun and bookwormish goody-bags for all.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


... is now available to pre-order from Treat the blurb there with a little caution - Ali is only three (not four) when the story begins, and the plot traces her development from talented child to young woman and professional musician by way of some distinctly thorny relations with those close to her - most notably, her complex and repressed mother, Kate, who perhaps loves her not wisely but too well...

A lot has gone into this book. I was never a child prodigy, but I've experienced that pressure to some degree, the Russian scales, the need to please, the weight of expectation, the conflicts over schooling, the magic of making music at intense and overwhelming summer courses, the longing for a mentor, the loneliness until you finally meet your soulmates... The book represents, simultaneously, none of my own experiences and all of them.

The hardback will be out from Hodder & Stoughton on 8 March and the paperback sometime in the summer. A Dutch edition is also to be published by De Kern in the Netherlands in due course and we're keeping fingers crossed for sales of rights to publishers in Germany, Denmark and the States, among others.....

Friday, October 13, 2006

Some very, very brave writers

If the pen is mightier than the sword and those that wield ink more intelligent than those with their fingers on the red button, one has to stand back and take a long, hard look at the world.

From today's press:

Orhan Pamuk wins the Nobel Prize for Literature (The Guardian)

Salman Rushdie speaks frankly to Johann Hari (The Independent)

Anna Politkovskaya's last, unfinished article is available to read here (The Independent), interrupted by her murder for telling the truth.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Funny how things turn out

When I was around 14, a few cultural bits & bobs expanded my mental horizons. Or, more accurately, exploded them.

1. Half way up the music block stairs at school, I heard heaven incarnate. It was the Ernest Reid Choir (our school contributed to the RFH children's concerts) rehearsing the Faure Requiem. Somehow - goodness knows how, because I can't sing to save my life - I got a place in that choir and found myself participating in the performance. I've been hooked on Faure ever since.

2. Being a ballet addict, I happened to see a one-acter by Frederick Ashton called 'A Month in the Country' - music by Chopin, dancers including Anthony Dowell (angelic dance hero) and Lynn Seymour. Story by a Russian chap with a long name. Soon afterwards, my mother gave me a slender book and said "You might like this." It was a black Penguin called 'First Love', by the same Russian writer: Ivan Turgenev. She was right.

I sensed even then that what I loved in Turgenev & what I loved in Faure was essentially the same: a particular sensibility, a slightly despairing yet more than usually acute sensitivity to the condition of the human soul. Of course, I had no idea they'd known each other.

3. Birthday treat: a trip to the cinema to see a French masterpiece from the 1940s entitled 'Les enfants du paradis', starring the genius mime actor Jean-Louis Barrault. It blew my mind. Still does.

4. Same cinema (Hampstead Everyman), which used to have this kind of thing all the time: Jacques Tati. 'Les vacances de M. Hulot'. Have I ever laughed so much, before or since? (hmm, maybe at 'The Producers'......)

Now, 26 years on, I couldn't help noticing that my script for St Nazaire involved the whole lot. 'Le chant de l'amour triomphant', after the story by Turgenev on which the Chausson Poeme is based. Turgenev is ever-present in the script. Faure, who sat at his feet for 4 years while courting Marianne Viardot, daughter of Turgenev's beloved Pauline, formed the climax of the first half. The actress performing it was Marie-Christine Barrault, niece of Jean-Louis. The town turned out to be virtually next door to Saint-Marc, the home ville of 'Les vacances de M. Hulot' (read more about it here).

None of that was intentional: it's been pure coincidence the whole way. To the extent that I could start wondering whether any of it was coincidental. Funny how things turn out....

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The agony and ecstasy...

... No. Just agony. In other words, proof-reading. ALICIA'S GIFT is done, packaged up & ready to go back to Hodder, covered in pen, pencil and, I'm afraid, paw-marks. But to the inevitable question from my pals, "Are you pleased with it now?", all I can say is that the more I go through my own work, the more agonising the whole business becomes. I've tidied up some crucial moments, spiced up others, neatened a sentence or two here and there, but the fact remains that when I finished writing the thing I was pleased with it, whereas now I'm finding holes of many varieties all over the ruddy place. Comforting words from publisher and agent, impatient words from husband ("Just send it off!") and get-this-in-perspective-cos-it's-suppertime miouws from Solti all do their bit to ensure that the pages will wing their way back to the Euston Road rather than hitting the shredder.

If you're giving a concert, you play the music and it's gone for good, unless you're fortunate enough to have a CD company present to record your every move. But if you're writing a book, that book is going to be on the shelves for ever. It'll be there - somewhere - long after you're taking harp lessons in the great conservatoire in the sky (or violin lessons in the other place). If you think about this too much, you can start going bananas. The manuscript stage is fine: it's your new book, it's real, you've done it, hooray! Even copy-editing is fine: you can change anything and everything, phew! But proofs...this is when you see the thing in print, laid out on its pages, and it's your last chance to change anything. And when you are still waking up at 2am thinking "Oh my God, is ABC what really happens when XYZ is starting?" and "How many instances do I have of W saying, 'HCHRTYSVDYE'? and should there be any at all?" and "Oh heck, can a dog can live that long?" gradually becomes clear that some of us are simply incapable of ever being happy with our own work, whether for a good reason or not. And then you have to "just send it off".

Waiting for the courier to arrive now.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


A quick reminder that this afternoon, Saturday, from 2pm I'll be at Waterstones in Richmond (2-6 Hill Street), Surrey, signing copies of RITES OF SPRING.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Reflets dans le blog

A little idle surfing yesterday produced some information that gave me a pleasant surprise: a Google search on 'classical music blog' produces (!drumroll!) JDCMB at the top of the pile. I have no fond illusions of grandeur, though: I reckon it's simply because my title includes the words 'classical music blog'. I can assure everyone that there was nothing 'clever' about the way I chose the name in March 04.

JDCMB came into being almost by accident. Blogs weren't as much of a global phenomenon then as they are now and I'd never thought of looking for any devoted to classical music. In a quiet patch following some intensive work on Ravel, after which I felt a little flat, I thought I'd investigate Something New and logged on to Blogger to see how these funny things called blogs worked. Next thing I knew, a prompt was asking me to choose a name for my blog. I didn't know that other similar sites might have poetic, meaningful titles, so I typed in the first thing that came into my head: Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog, which seemed to say everything anybody needed to know. Bingo: one blog. Nobody could have been more surprised than I was. And here we are.