Hello known and unknown followers – thanks for keeping up with my somewhat patchy postings (only regarding frequency – quality is top, of course!).

Just to let you know that as per now this address won’t receive any updates anymore. The blog moved to the cooler, funkier and flat-out better location of http://www.writeinberlin.com (thanks again Ivan for all your help!)

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Last week I realized I am in deep trouble. Because I seem to hate writing. I lived a big lie all along. Or how is it possible the number one passion I state in any survey/online profile/conversation is in fact the task that I keep prancing around, putting off, procrastinating, distracting myself from the most?
So far, I had great explanations handy for not writing. Oooh, I have a 50 h work week. Aaah, friends are coming over. Hmmm, walk with hubby, we never spend enough time together. Now I have no job, my friends are far away and hubby is in office or on business trips. Which leaves me alone with my two worst enemies: notebook and pen.
Luckily, I have found new ways to outsmart them, and I am happy to share six of them with you – all tried and tested last week, when I was working on my first short story for my first short story competition. (Theme: “Die nackte Angst”/”Blind Fear”)
  1. Tell everyone what you’re doing – preferably over facebook and in a cryptic kind of way as it encourages people to comment and ask questions. Keeps distractions coming spread over a couple of hours. So under no circumstances log out of either facebook or your e-mail account. And keep refreshing regularly!
  2. Make loads of tea – but cup by cup, so you can get up more often. Triple effect as it as well trains the gluteus and makes you go to the bathroom more often.
  3. Choose a setting for your story that you are not familiar with. You will need to do extensive research on e.g. the layout of an Indian airport you’ve never been to, with loads of opportunities to trail off and get stuck in reading blogs and forum posts less related to the topic.
  4. Adopt a complicated working style (like writing long hand, then type it into the computer, before continuing with long hand) which will cost additional time.
  5. Be a perfectionist – start editing and re-editing your first paragraph and then edit it again, before you start writing the second.
  6. Maintain a blog in English so you can wonder – and research – what the writing competition’s theme in English would be. (Tip for cineasts: the literal but not entirely correct translation of “Die nackte Angst” googles you to an unmissable C-Movie about a psychopathic killer chasing naked women around New Mexico with a crossbow).
So you see, the effort to summarily avoid writing and missing the deadline for the competition was impeccable. Unfortunately, I underestimated the effect a looming deadline usually has on me. So I finished the story within 5 days, submitting on the evening before the deadline.
Great thing is though: The competition was part of a bigger plan – to avoid starting my second book. Because the only thing worse than writing a short story is writing a book. So a classic win-win situation, I’d say!
Any tips on procrastinating for me? Interest in a (German) short story about naked fear (without crossbows, though)? Let me know …

On the Rocks

February 10, 2010

Dublin, first two weeks of January 2010. Panic and mayhem. People venturing on the (deserted) roads just to escape from the frozen side walks. Those who didn’t are slipping and falling all over the place, knocking heads, chipping elbows and the likes. “Nobody could possibly expect 1/2 inch of snow in January”, shrug the city’s authorities, ” but don’t fret, we already have ordered two instead of one kilo salt for next winter. Sure you’ll be grand until then …”

Phew, me thinks. Sure I will be so much better off in my new home.

Berlin, first two weeks of February 2010. Panic and mayhem. Sidewalks are glazed over with a 10 cm crust of ice. For 10 days now. No pedestrian venturing on the main roads as the cars will knock you over. So they slip and fall all over the place, filling up surgeries and hospitals. “Nobody could expect a short thawing with another freezing spell after snow”, shrug the city’s authorities, “and we cannot use any salt on the sidewalks as it is verboten. Not good for the trees and for the doggie’s paws, you understand? Exceptions? Ha! But don’t fret, you can always stay at home as all the over-70s. And haven’t we got lovely, quick-working A&E departments? Sure you’ll be grand there.”

Hmmm, these two cities seem to have more in common than I thought. Maybe it’s the two- syllables-ending-with-“lin” after all…

High Fidelity

January 30, 2010

Loyalty, while a seemingly vanishing virtue, has found itself a bastion in Berlin. Erotic toy/fetish store “Erdbeermund” (literally “strawberry mouth”, but I would settle for the more poetic “strawberry lips”) proves that it is able to bind its customers in every sense. On this billboard announcing their re-location to a new address they express their gratitude to their faithful clients who stuck around all those 25 years. Sweet. And so much more discreet than sending you that Thank you-card home…

Video Scars

January 12, 2010

It’s easy to forget some German stereotypes in Berlin. Unless you try obtaining a membership card at the video rental place. The following dialogue is based on actual events but feel free to spot the mild exaggeration.

Me (smiling): “Hello, I would like to become a member.”
Stone-face (typing on his key-board): “Good. I need an ID.”
Me (producing drivers licence): “Here you go.”
Stone-face: “No. I need a proof of address.”
Me: “But I don’t have-“
Stone-face (frowning): “I need a proof of address. Personal ID”
Hubby (smiling through clenched teeth): “Here, my ID card.”
Stone-face: “That’s an Irish address. I need a German one. Do you have your certificate of residency with you?”
Hubby & me: “………?!”
Stone-face (sighing): “So tell me your address then.”
Minutes of data-entry later, he produces 2 meters of contract. Hubby signs.
Stone-face: “By the way, this card is only valid for one person with ID.”
Me: “What do I have to do to get on board?”
Stone-face: “We have to register you in our system. Costs 3 Euros and your first-born.”
At least no proof of address! I hastily sign another 2 meters of contract.
Stone-face (tentatively handing over the DVDs): “Enjoy.”

Go Tarek! Or Tara?

January 9, 2010

Still waiting for reactions of a handful of publishers on my submitted first manuscript. The good news – there is a fresh book idea on track. Even more good news – my lovely and hugely supportive agent likes the idea quite a bit. I suspect that me ditching Irish affairs this time in favour of German history to trigger the book’s events might have played a part in this approval. Vienna is the new Belfast. So far so good.

But. There’s always a ‘but’. Tarek. Male protagonist again? Makes it harder to convince publishers to give it a go with a yet unpublished female writer. Especially in first person perspective which means additional complications for both writing and selling. If the same thing would happen to a woman, let’s say Tara …
I see the point, I really do. But.

So my counter offer is to send some trial chapters to see how it works. I did it convincingly enough in book one, I think I could give it a shot again. She agrees, supportive as always, and I can’t help but feeling a bit bad for being the uncooperative writer, trying to fight the realities of a business called literature. Now the challenge is on. Go, Tarek. Or Tara …?

Zwiebelfisch, der

January 7, 2010

My first favourite bar in Berlin. Yes, I admit it’s the cat (because it adds majestic presence to the place, and my god, it’s cuddly). But not only. It’s got this old-school-West Berlin bohemian atmosphere that feels refreshingly outdated next to all that Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg-Prenzlauer Berg hipness. Cold-war-time theatre posters, photographs of writers filling their notepads next to their beer, tin signs with ridiculous wordplays (“Ich komm zum Glück aus Osnabrück.”) all add to the vibe.

Locals stooping over their glass of Schultheiss look like they already discussed Nietzsche and the latest production of the Theatre of the West in the 70s and still seem open to whatever the chilly Berlin winter wind blows into the door. On a Sunday night we had trouble finding a space which at least I didn’t expect.

For the linguistically interested: The term Zwiebelfisch (“onion fish”) originates from the historic book printing business, defining a font mismatch of one letter within a word. Nowadays, it’s better known as the knit picky column of the same name, a pamphlet adored by those who see the future of the German language doomed by anglicisms, the misuse of apostrophes and mixing up of genitive with dative.
Funny, yes, but I find the generosity and down-to-earth charms of the real Berlin Zwiebelfisch more inspiring. So nicely cliché. And with a cat on the window sill…