23 October 2007

Quick Overview of Week

Hi Folks,

Last week everyone was talking about rugby and if the topic wasn't rugby then it was about James Watson. Every morning on the BBC's Today Show there was always a discussion on some aspect of Rugby. What were England's chances? Should the Springboks in the future reflect SA's demographics? Etc., etc. And on Saturday everyone in England had plans to watch the game. The morning's papers had articles on what you could do if you were not planning to watch the game. Turned out all the posh restaurants in London which were always fully booked, had plenty of seating. And all the shows and things that you normally had trouble getting tickets for, well, Saturday was your chance!!! Daryl and I watched the game at our local pub, The Dewdrop Inn. It was completely crowded, but with a very middle class nonrowdy type. We were very lucky to get space on a sofa with a woman in her 80's! She told us she came out because she wanted to be a part of the excitement. She turned out to be quite an interesting person whose late husband, a social psychologist, was highly respected in his field. After the game she invited us to have dinner with her at a nearby Indian restaurant later this week. So we had fun and because we seemed to be the only Springbok supporters we couldn't show our joy too openly.

We spent Saturday with friends outside of Chichester which is between Southampton and Brighton on the coast. Karen, Dave and their two daughters, Holly and Harriet, updated us on what they're up to over a pub lunch. Later we did a coastal walk then returned to Oxford.

We spent Sunday with our friends David and Rona Epstein at a famous estate called the Waddeston Manor in Buckinghamshire. This estate belonged to a famous banking family, the Rothschilds. The manor was designed to resemble a chateau in the Loire Valley, so it had those characteristic turrets and elaborate wall carvings. The grounds of the manor were spectacular. Acres and acres of green lawns and many, many trees and hedges and shrubs. There was an aviary with some exotic birds and also a large, very fragrant rose garden.
We had an exquisite lunch there of creamy cauliflower soup, rissoto cake, and roasted veg. tart. Later, after a tour of the house, we had a cream tea at the cafe. We talked about James Watson and whether the Science Museum in London ought to have cancelled his talk. Daryl and I had tickets to see Watson in a question/answer session with Richard Dawkins here in Oxford, but that got cancelled because Watson returned to New York thoroughly disgraced. Rona, with her legal background, thought that Watson's free speech rights might have been violated. Then again the Science Museum is a place of great prestige so should a person who thinks blacks are stupid be allowed there? Personally, I feel most people would have refused to go to his talks and so he would have been forced to cancel anyway!

Well, I'm still hard at work on my manuscript. I find it hard to exert effort on other writing (like this blog) when I'm so focused on my book!

The biggest news this week is Troy's wedding. Daryl's sister, Troy and her fiance, John, will be tying the knot this Saturday. The whole family will be together over the weekend and this will be a great way for us to end our stay in England.

Next week we will fly to Cape Town where we'll spend 6 weeks.

A quick update on my itinerary.
Nov 1 to Jan 2 - South Africa
Jan 3 - Jan 5 - Singapore
Jan 6 - Feb 6 - India
Feb 7 - Feb 27 - Australia (mostly Sydney and hopefully Brisbane)
Feb 28 - March 6 - New Zealand

March 7 - Back home in Santa Barbara.

15 October 2007

Book Release, Rugby, Writing

Well, it’s the big day! And since the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times haven’t had the sensibility to announce the news of the birth of my book, Path to my African Eyes, I have taken it upon myself to do the job. My book is published! Congratulations to me! It’s so weird to be abroad for this momentous occasion. I can’t have the usual book launch celebrations. It has to be said though, being with a small publishing house, everything about the process has been in slow motion, so delaying a launch party may be quite in order. Go out to your local bookstores and ask for Path to my African Eyes. Then after you’ve read it go to Amazon and write rave reviews. All who write a review are invited to the delayed launch party on March 8.

New topic: Rugby. You can’t be in England and not be swept by rugby fever. Especially if you’re either English (Daryl) or South African (me). So Saturday evening I was in London when the match was on. Pubs were crowded and the excitement was palpable. For most of the game it looked like France was sure to win. Then the shocker at the end and OMG the smiles everywhere. Back in Oxford on Sunday I felt compelled to go to a pub to watch the Springboks against Argentina. (Daryl was up in the Lake District with his brother, en route to Durham where he’s giving a talk on Monday). I couldn’t bear to be alone for the game which I was sure South Africa would win. So I went to our local pub in Summertown, a very clean, dignified place with a healthy ratio of men to women, and watched the game. I’d never watched a rugby game before and I have to say there was nothing enjoyable about it. No, actually, I did enjoy something. I got a kick out of watching those broadshouldered, hefty Afrikaner men singing N’kosi Sikelele’l. It was touching, tbh. But the excitement of the folks sitting around me produced a fantastic atmosphere. The English were hoping Argentina would win, and that would seal their victory in the finals. They weren’t happy about SA getting the lead early and maintaining it. And when it was over and Francois Pienaar shared his analysis of the game, I felt proud of South Africa. Sure, we have a long way to go to integrate this sport. But resentment is counterproductive.

I saw my cousins, Angie and Jay, in London on the weekend. Angie just returned from a most enjoyable trip to India – mostly the south. I will be doing pretty much the same trip in January, so I picked her brain about it. We attended an underwhelming South African Homecoming Event in London. The idea of the event was to lure South African’s abroad back into the country. I didn’t learn anything new! In the evening we went to dinner at Peking Palace in Archway – a completely vegetarian Chinese restaurant with the yummiest food in the world. On Sunday morning Angie and I went for a walk on Hampstead Heath, which is looking quite different now with the trees losing their leaves. The weather this autumn has been incredibly mild. It feels more like a continuation of this year’s lousy summer than a new season. I haven’t yet had to use my scarf and gloves and find I’m always too warmly dressed. I’m not complaining, though.

We’re still loving Oxford. Last week we saw a play called “Burial at Thebes” at the Oxford Playhouse. This was an adaptation of Antigone by Sophocles. The production was superb – accessible dialogue, fine acting, and great pacing. On another day we heard a talk a the Oxford Union by Stephen Pinker, a linguist at MIT, who has a new book out. This time his focus is on language and thought. He is a very engaging speaker and discussed the real meanings behind everyday language usage. The funny thing is, when we were in Oxford in 2002 Stephen Pinker had come to town to talk about his book The Blank Slate. We had found that talk to be more dynamic and informative. Nevertheless, it’s always fun to hear what Pinker has to say.

It’s Monday morning and time for me to get to work on my manuscript.

Peace to you all!

08 October 2007

What a Week!

Okay, I know nothing about sports. To me it's like another universe that my brain isn't wired to comprehend. But, Jesus, even I was gobsmacked this weekend with the rugby quarterfinals. Australia and New Zealand knocked out? We were in the sleepy Cotswolds on Saturday afternoon when we heard the bewildered shouts of joy from the English, and everyone was going "Really?" and shaking their heads and then laughing with sudden abandon as the news sank in. Now, of course, it's really looing good for my countryfolks, the Springboks! Go, Springboks! (I'm only pretending to be excited because I'm sure they'll win. I don't really give a shit about them! Well, that's not entirely true. I do have patriotic pride. If you think I'm sounding ditzy, it's what growing up under apartheid does.)

We're trying to make the most of Oxford, sampling its pubs and restaurants, and its cultural offerings. Went to a play on Friday night - Visiting Mr. Green - a two person play, where a young man who hit an old guy has to do community service, by visiting the old guy, helping him, etc. The two develop a bond and confide their secrets to each other. A good play, kept you engaged, and the acting topnotch. Then on Saturday evening we went to a classical concert at the Sheldonian - a very interesting venue. The orchestra is right in the middle of the room which is round and the audience is seated in tiers against the walls. Great acoustics because you're quite close to the orchestra. We heard Tchaikovsky's Patetique.

On Saturday we went into the Cotswolds close to the source of the Thames and did a river walk which was part of the Thames Path - a National Trail. Very, very enjoyable with green fields on either side and then you come to old stone churches and pretty bridges and you see lots of swans and ducks. Wow! Quite uplifting. Close to the source the iver looks like a stream and it's hard to believe it's the same river that flows through London and which is such a prominent part of the city's identity.

We spent Sunday with the Epsteins in Kenilworth. We helped them harvest their apples, had a nice big lunch and hten Rona and I went to an event in Warwick. It was an afternoon tea with the author Sophie Hannah who read exerpts from her crime fiction novels. I' never been into Warwick before and very much enjoyed the old Tudor buildings and the remains of the ancient city walls. Back at their home we made apple pies which we had for afters.

And so, it's Monday morning, and my manuscript beckons. I am working up the courage to look at Lou Lynda's comments on the next chapters!

03 October 2007

A Writer's Life

What do you think of that picture? It's the view from the room where I work on my book.

We’ve switched gears big time now. It’s work, work, work. The manuscript I’m working on is quite a challenge. I revised the first chapter, sent it off to my good friend, Lou Lynda, the world’s most finicky critiquer, and she sent it back with practically half of it highlighted! “Rewrite to capture the main character’s uniqueness,” she commanded. Voice. The hardest thing about the work. Nailing my main character’s voice. And so I roam around Oxford, weaving through the hordes of freshers that descended into the city last week, searching for Mtonya’s voice. I pop into bookstores, page through books, seeking, searching. I cycle through the parks where the trees now are increasingly taking on hues of red and wonder what she would say to me. And so the rewriting goes …

One of the wonderful features about Oxford is the many, many open spaces. A short walk or a cycle ride in just about any direction gets you to green meadows, fields, or landscaped parks with ponds, and everywhere there are trees – horsechestnut, beeches, oaks. Of course, the River Cherwell, the Thames, and the Oxford Canal are prominent too, adding to the charm. It’s fantastic to take a break in the middle of the day and wander through one of these parks, taking in the fresh air. I’m enjoying seeing autumn unfold in front of my very eyes. The air, moist, with a coolness, isn’t unpleasant yet. After a good dose of this, I retire back into my den for more brain exertion.