This writing thing

Sasha Abramsky

Well hello, I haven’t been here for a while, huh? Life has been strange and hectic, and I’m still waiting for things to settle down to a normal routine – or at least to a new normal routine, in a new country. And after staying away from the blog for a while, it does tend to feel like the posts I publish here get thrown out into thin air, sort of like I’m talking to myself. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, I suppose.

Anyway, I did want to share a few things, one of which is a talk I went to this week at my new university: De Montfort University. This talk was arranged by my colleagues and it was absolutely fascinating.

The talk was by Sasha Abramsky on his latest book, The House of Twenty Thousand Books. In his own words, the book is “a family memoir about my grandparents, Chimen and Miriam Abramsky, and of their unique home at 5 Hillway. In their semi-detached house, so deceptively ordinary from the outside, they created a remarkable House of Books. It became the repository for Chimen’s collection of thousands upon thousands of books, manuscripts and other printed, handwritten and painted documents, representing his journey through the great political, philosophical, religious and ethical debates that have shaped the western world.”

I was struck by many things as he talked – mostly by the similarities between his family history and my own, even within the differences. It’s a type of commonality of Jewish experience; the kind of commonality that explains why I still call myself Jewish while being ambivalent about the existence of god, or basically, while being an atheist. When you are Jewish, you are Jewish for life, it doesn’t leave you, even if you may question the concept of religion itself. This makes sense – we human beings, we create our own little worlds and communities, and no matter how many times people tell me that we are born alone and die alone, I still believe there are things that tie us together just as much as there are things that set us apart.

The other thing that struck me was the best advice Ambrasky said he received from his mentor about writing: “you have to learn to kill your beauties”. I’m still too infautuated with those beauties, with insecurely hanging on to them. This is why my writing is still, in a sense, immature. But that’s okay, I’ll grow into it perhaps, there’s time. And I think I’m allowed to suck for the time being.

I also read this interview with Meanjin’s editor, Zora Sanders, this week. I urge all writers to read it, but also, all editors.

I had an email conversation with an editor of mine where she said that the pitches and submissions she receives fall into a gender line: women tend to be more self-deprecating and apologetic, men tend to be more confident, direct and self-assured in their pitching style.

Now, I don’t think this is because men are naturally more confident than women; rather, I think this is because women have been conditioned to be apologetic about occupying space on this earth, and that includes the space taken up by their voice as writers. I’m guilty of this, too many times when I pitch a story or submit something to an editor, I am apologetic and self-deprecating. I’ve had to consciously stop myself from doing this.

But the onus does also fall onto editors to encourage women, to recognise the disparities that still exist, and to actively work against them. This is why there should be more editors like Zora Sanders, who from personal experience, is great – this should tell you why:

“If you’re consistently getting good pitches and submissions, it’s easy as an editor to just run those, even if they’re all from men. It can require more work to get gender parity in your publication, and editors are often stressed and overworked as it is. But that isn’t an excuse. Actively commissioning work that isn’t all written by middle aged white men is simply part of the job as an editor. If you aren’t doing it, you’re failing your authors, your readers and your publication.”

It is such a good interview, do read it in full.

This writing thing, I feel like the more I do it, the more I talk about it with people, and the more I read about it, the less I know. It’s still worth doing, though.

Lastly, I want to share this call for papers for a conference I’m co-organising. Please spread the word and send the CFP to anyone who would be interested:

CFP: Biopic Adaptations
Centre for Adaptations
De Montfort University
Leicester LE1 9BH
24 February 2015

Although ‘biopics’, or film biographies, have been around since the beginning of cinema, scholarly interest in the subject is only beginning to develop. This one day conference hosted by the Centre for Adaptations will bring together scholars and practitioners in a range of topics, such as the evolution of the biopic from the silent to the contemporary period, biopics of writers, sporting heroes, politicians, royalty and gangsters, and debates concerning gender, sexuality, race and historical integrity. Proposals (between 50-100 words) and a brief biographical note should be sent to Deborah Cartmell (djc@dmu.ac.uk) and Hila Shachar (hila.shachar@dmu.ac.uk) by 27 November 2014. Papers will be selected for publication.

Image credit: Photo of Sasha Abramsky by Ambrose Musiyiwa, used here with permission.