Category Archives: Quotations

Don’t Fear the Reaper

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‘You could say to the universe, this is not fair. And the universe would say: Oh, isn’t it? Sorry.’
(Soul Music, 347)

Terry Pratchett died today, at the age of 66, at over 70 books, at eight years of struggle with his Embuggerance, at home.

You can find multiple obituaries all over the internet as I type this, and I am not about to attempt another. No, this post is a way for me to process my own thoughts about Terry Pratchett and his writing, his world, and his impact on me as a reader. And to say thank you.

I never met him in person. I always managed to miss events close-by, and was unable to make the further away ones. The closest I ever got was researching his life and works for my first contributions to the Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. Daniel Hahn – the author/editor – was, in fact, the person who told me the news.

I only met his books, and some of my favourite people through of them. Almost all of his books, at this point.
Starting with a badly received The Carpet People in Italian translation (by Angela Ragusa) at the age of 8, in primary school.
Ignoring them for a long while after that – only to discover Peter Gabriel’s Genesis The Carpet Crawlers, and thinking they were linked.
Being handed the English copy of Pyramids by ‘Auntie Penny’ for the length of a read around the age of 12, and falling, inevitably with a Thud!, into Pratchett’s books and the Discworld , and the world of reading, in English, harder than before. Or at least, that is how I remember it.
Rediscovering the series as I arrived in the UK at the age of 19, staying with Penny and Allan and Pen’s collection, via Reaper Man.
Re-rediscovering Lords and Ladies and Carpe Jugulum at the University of Leeds, with now Japan-bound Maria, who shared my raised eyebrow at the live-action adaptations of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic.
Seeing the first theatrical adaptation of The Truth, a book that I never thought could be adapted, in Oxford, at the age of 20.
Retracing the pineapple on pizza footnote from The Last Continent for a seminar in my first year of teaching, at the age of 24, while also developing the idea of the T-Space for the British Centre of Literary Translation; an obvious rip-off and homage to the L-Space and its genteel Black Holes.

Softly, silently crumbling, at the age of 26, at the news of Terry Pratchett’s passing.

My enabler, Penny, told me to ‘remember what a legacy he left us all. He wasn’t afraid of dying, just very pissed off. A very sad day indeed, but for all the right reasons.’ She is right. As Neil Gaiman pointed out, he was angry. He was spurred on by fury, in his writing as in his living. And we should learn from that. We should channel that.

Given the equation (that camels also know):

Knowledge = Power = Energy = Matter = Mass

we all carry part of the L-Space and of its ideator’s fierce, furious power within us.

Time to also pick up our pens, and start to write.

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140story – Star Wars edition

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If you’re even slightly into film, media, popular culture and geek culture, you’ll have noticed that there is something stirring in the Star Wars universe right now. With that in mind, I thought I’d drop in to 140story and contribute a themed tiny Twitter tale.

If you’re anywhere around Norwich this Thursday, make sure to drop by The Forum at 7.15 for UEA Live! with Tash Aw, and a host of 140story writers!

Tens of books

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There is a current trend on social media, mostly Facebook, that challenges people to come up with a list of ten books that have somehow influenced, stuck and hold a special place with them. A friend of mine, Hazel, included me in it, but as I am not usually willing to adhere to ‘chains’, I decided to update the lonely, dusty blog instead.

To actually force myself to provide something meatier, however, I’ve tried to track down the origin of the books too, and therefore to whom I am grateful for the suggestion or gift. So thank you, various people who enabled my reading. It paid off, a bit.

In no particular order:

The Giver (1993), by Lois Lowry. Given to me by my mum, part of a postal reading subscription. Fairly simple, heavily criticised, still to the point (and I am dreading the film adaptation). What if we all were the same, and the price was that we forget our past, for better or worse? And what if you and you alone were forced to remember for everyone?

Blankets (2003), by Craig Thompson. Part of an Italian series that came with a newspaper, introducing to graphic novels from around the world; this version was by Elena Fattoretto (2004). Growing up in a not-officially-Catholic-but-who-are-we-kidding country, the book screamed at me with Craig’s struggle with his belief, relationship to his family, and absolutely stunning artwork. The first book that I remember making me cry.

Comme un Roman (1992), by Daniel Pennac. First read in Yasmina Melaouah’s (1993) Italian translation. A gift from my dad, after I stole most of his Pennac books. A non-fictional essay by a reader for readers about reading, and the source of the excellent Rights of the Reader (also the title of Sarah Adams’ translation), made into a poster by Quentin Blake.

A Monster Calls (2011), by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay, based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd. Suggested by BJ Epstein, my academic supervisor, for a reading group. I fell in love with it, I cried, I was terrified of going to sleep, I found my displaced anger in the boy and the monster, and felt ashamed of it all, and loved it even more.

The Incredible Hulk #377 (1991), by Peter David, Dale Keown, Bob McLeod, Glynis Oliver. No idea where I first read this one, but I’ve been searching a copy as far as I can remember, and finally obtained one this year. How to control and convert multiple angry, out-of-control personalities into one complete (green) being.

Baol. Una tranquilla notte di regime (1990), by Stefano Benni. Probably also a gift from my dad, as I also stole all his Benni books. One of the most surreal, caustic, irreverent, profane, political works by Benni, and a really short read that has yet to make it into English. But it travels with me whenever I move house, and I have been compared to the main character by some of my friends in the past. For yet unexplained reasons.

Hyperion (1989), by Dan Simmons. Recommended by an Italian writer friend, who specifically asked me not to read the translation. I devoured this one and its three sequels over a summer, and I was brought back into sci-fi literature, reminded of what it can really do with notions of genre, canon and technology. And the horror of the Shrike.

L’Allegria (1931), by Giuseppe Ungaretti. Cultural baggage, Ungaretti permeates Italian literary education. One of my favourite collections of Italian poetry, and the first venture into literary translation as part of my undergraduate dissertation. War poetry, but not quite. Hermetic poetry, but not quite. Resonant poetry – quite.

Written on the Body (1993), by Jeanette Winterson. My first purchase in English that was not via my mum or aunt. I cried on the plane back to Italy during a school trip reading it. Poetry based on medical language, my introduction to queer literature and a tagline that still makes me shiver: why is the measure of love loss?

W;t (1995), by Margaret Edson. Part of a module about teachers and teaching I took at the University of Leeds, by Denis Flannery. A one-act play dealing with words, language, poetry, literature, life, death and punctuation, as Professor Vivian Bearing deals with ovarian cancer and the joys of healthcare and John Donne. Emma Thompson’s TV movie rendition is devastating, too.

Honourable mentions: Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Mike Carey, Peter Gross et al’s Lucifer and The Unwritten, Deborah Levy’s Things I don’t want to know, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bà’s Daytripper, Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses.

Now, what does this tell me? I wasn’t exposed to or sought out enough diversity (gender, ethnicity, you name it) growing up, and much of what I did read then did not make as big an impact as what I was immersed in during my university years. I have been addressing the issue, especially of recent with the ReadWomen2014 and WomenInTranslation initiatives, and several translations I read of some of the books above were indeed by women. I am part of the Readers Circle in Norwich, which seeks out the best new books available over the course of a year, and pushes us beyond our comfort reading zones. I am translating a series of poems by Italian women poets for The Norwich Radical, to bring more of their writing into English, and research the field more myself. I am following Malorie Blackman’s work on diversity in YA, and wholeheartedly support it.

But those are the ten books so far. Any further recommendations, as always, are more than welcome.

NaPoWriMo Day 29 – Captions

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You are not our readers
but you need
to know this.
We need more stories
we need different stories
a healthy and vital evolution.

If we can change perceptions
relate to and see each other
when we draw pictures,
sometimes teach others
the community it represents.
Keep our pencils moving
trying to be an ally.

You are not our readers.
The true faces, true fans
“I would not–
I didn’t just–
had no idea–“,
have become obscure
now in the minority.

You’ve probably met
the Pretty Deadly
voracious reader
you’ve probably met
people that
recognize that
conversations like this
have finally started to build
people that
reject fandom gatekeeping.

It does not matter
where we’re reading it from
that doesn’t matter much
to comics as a whole
to many who work
to stand in solidarity
make the world a better place.

You are not our readers
but we
we are comics.

NaPoWriMo Day 7 – Sweet Child

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How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
my hand can reach, when feeling to the right
and left of the box, as just a trace
of sweet clings to my fingers like glaze.
I feel the need to take a little bite.
I love thee sweetly and thy coat of white
I love thy insides soft, held by maize
starch – and yes, that is the British use.
I love thee, sweet child, and mourn your death
at my hands, tongue and teeth; and I mmfl mng
I luvmnmm thmm hgmnmngnnn nomnomnomnom.

(Sorry, Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

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NaPoWriMo Day 2 – Variant

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Comics are the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the literature and make a frame of it
and from the frame build a page. Thus,
our reading is converted into seeing
like bleeding brushes, sighing for sequence.
Do we agree, in principle? Is it clear? But take
the visual art and make a blank gutter
and from the gutter project a reading
beyond the pages. Thus, our knowing
unbound by words, indulged at last
is equally converted into seeing
girning like growlixes. And seeing for seeing
reading for reading, madame,
our origin story unfolds.

(After Wallace Stevens)

Duemilafourteen

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Because it’s 2014, because I loathe the rhetoric building up again in the UK (and beyond), because I cannot believe some people can be so devious and twisted, because Kitchener was chosen for coins.

San Martino del Carso

Di queste case
non è rimasto
che qualche
brandello di muro

Di tanti
che mi corrispondevano
non è rimasto
neppure tanto

Ma nel cuore
nessuna croce manca

E’ il mio cuore
il paese più straziato

(G. Ungaretti – 1916)



Perché è il 2014, e in parti d’Europa si iniziano a ‘celebrare’ i 100 anni dell’inizio della prima guerra mondiale. Perché c’è una retorica in Europa che mette i brividi. Perché non si dimentichi.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

(W. Owen – 1917)

Lady sings the blues

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Black? Can’t you see?
Singer? Listen and you’ll see
Whore? Yes, I did that too
And I drink like four men
You don’t scare me, I’ve played in worse places than this
Southern cowboy bars where they spat on me
A city where a black man was lynched that same day
New Orleans where a fashionable devil
Brought me drug bouquets each night
Chicago I fell for a syphilitic trumpeter
And as I left the club they smashed my teeth
In the rain between one station and the next
Lady sings the blues

Black? Yes, but I’m used to it
Singer? Like a birdcage
Low and high notes, the whole range
I can flutter like those celluloid beauties
And then strike you with a ballad to the heart
You want strange fruit? You want midnight train?
I can sing it drunk
or with a knife in my back
or full of whisky and what else, I’m a saint
And my altar is here, this smoke, this stage
where lady sings the blues

Black? Yes, and beautiful, man
Singer? All I know how to do
Whore? Yeah, I did that too
And I drink like four men
Don’t touch me or I’ll rip that white face off you
Put down your drink, open what little heart you have
Shut up and listen – I sing
as though it was the last time
Shut up, bastards, and kneel
lady sings the blues

And as you go home say it
I heard an angel sing
wings of marble and satin
stench of whisky, sick black whore
Tell everyone my name, don’t forget
I am the ruler of a rag realm
I am the sun voice on the cottonfields
I am the black voice of light
I am the lady who sings the blues
Oh, and one more thing… I’m Billie
Billie Holiday

(Original Italian by Stefano Benni – Lady sings the blues)

Drifting

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Time and space don’t matter
here, as she walks along the brink
cautiously slipping into
and onto the shimmering page.

Time and space don’t bother
her, she looks upon the spine
slicing through light and beams
as the universe supports her.

Time does not envelop her
as she finds her space
an innermost inch, a room
to call her own, at last.

Space does not contain her
for yes, there will be time
reflected and refracted through
the chapters in her life.

Time flows and space constricts
but she, modern Promethea,
is unbound, the fallen chains
spark on weatherworn rock.

Space is fluid and time congealed
as an ice-cube washed ashore
that she may or may not pick up
take home and place on a pile

of unread pages, unfinished sketches
of a blind seer’s book.
As she steps out back into the cold
she’ll forget about it. It will melt.
Become one with the books
bleed into pages, blur the images
blend the lines, push the boundaries
and time and space won’t matter.

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NaPoWriMo Day 30 – Recipes

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250 grams of your finest minced beef
Argentine or Scottish, either really is fine.
From the Mediterranean, 600 grams of onions
but yes, we can pretend they’re French.
400 grams of potatoes, brought over by the Spanish.
One single solitary egg, as long as it’s free range.
A pinch of guilt, for not visiting as often.
50 grams of Dutch, Turkish, English
bread left to dry and harden for days.
100 grams of Italian Parmigiano,
only the good stuff, finely grated.
Add a grandmother, telling you the story
of how they all met and mixed.
Boil the onions and potatoes,
drain them, sieve them, smooth and thick.
Soak the bread in clear water, mix it all together,
ask your dad for yesterday’s loaf,
there should be some in the drawer.
Add nutmeg, salt, pepper and oregano
a lot of it, make sure there’s a lot of it.
Knead the mixture of seamstresses and diplomats
migrants, mechanics and an emir’s daughter,
make sure everything blends together.
Now take some each
and roll it into smaller balls,
pass them in flour, turn on the flame,
douse them in virgin olive oil,
into the pan, turn up the heat, fry.
Let her know you’re visiting soon
as you wait for them to cook.