Thursday, 4 June 2020

Gypsy Boy

This is an absolutely stellar biography. 

Extremely brave, engaging, heartfelt... unforgettable. 

MIKEY WAS BORN into a Romany Gypsy family. They live in a closeted community, and little is known about their way of life. After centuries of persecution Gypsies are wary of outsiders and if you choose to leave you can never come back. This is something Mikey knows only too well. Growing up, he rarely went to school, and seldom mixed with non-Gypsies. The caravan and camp were his world.

But although Mikey inherited a vibrant and loyal culture, his family's legacy was bittersweet with a hidden history of grief and abuse. Eventually Mikey was forced to make an agonising decision - to stay and keep secrets, or escape and find somewhere he could truly belong.

Apparently, it was "...the first commercial memoir written by someone on the inside of the notoriously secretive culture of the Romany Gypsies." If you get the audiobook he narrates it himself and I was impressed he managed to remain so steady whilst reading parts.

I recently watched the Netflix documentary One of Us about the Hasidic Jewish community, and there were some similar undertones, especially when it comes to male control, domestic violence and extreme homophobia.

Of course, I was curious about the mystical side of things. Massive Peaky Blinders fan and have a close friend who occasionally used to talk about his grandfather being Romany. It was interesting to read that many Romanies don't believe in an afterlife nowadays and that:

Gypsy women were not allowed to work outside the home, the only exceptions being the handful that occasionally sold trinkets and told fortunes. Gypsies are very superstitious people. Black cats are often seen as a good sign, as are horseshoes, and even Dalmatian dogs, as long as you can spit on both hands and rub them together before you lose sight of one. They are also certain that if a bird flies into your home, someone is about to die. But, contrary to popular belief, they don't believe in magic, and the Gypsy curse is no more than an age-old way of scaring non-gypsies into buying something. I have run into many people who have asked me to remove a curse placed on them by a Gypsy, because tradition says that it can only be removed by another Gypsy. Of course, I oblige. I may not believe in curses, but the poor people who have suffered at the hands of some old Gypsy woman often do.

And there were some interesting rules relating to women, such as being expected to marry before the age of eighteen, allowed to date from the age of fourteen, but no more than four suitors before choosing a husband, and that they are not supposed to wash their hair or speak to men whilst menstruating. So many cultures around the world get squeamish about women's menstruation. You can't step into a Jain temple if you're bleeding, some places in India make women sleep in a hut in the garden during that time of the month, and so on.

He also goes on to speak a lot about the sexual, mental and physical abuse he suffered growing up and it was fairly horrifying at times to realise how easily this sort of abuse goes undetected or covered up and wasn't addressed within the school system. You just want to pull him out of the pages and give him a big hug.

He's written a follow-up called Gypsy Boy on the Run, which I've just bought. Highly recommended reading.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Musical Interlude: Erin McKeown

Love this lady.

Though watching the one bellow makes me desperately wish I could step into a live music venue for a quick pint. Going to be a while before we can all do that again.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Happy PhD

Massive shout out to my fabulous friend Doctor Doctor Harris, who, as well as being an MD is also now a PhD. It was a huge privilege to watch him defend his thesis yesterday at the University of Luxembourg, via video conference.

Totally proud of him. It's been a hell of a few years. A pleasure to hang out with him in Kigali when he was here researching, and sort of a pleasure (mostly terrifying) to do a TEDx talk because of him - yes, that was his fault!

Know how hard he's worked on this and it was an honour to be part of the journey.

There was a huge amount of Mutzig involved along the way. 

Very much looking forward to seeing him and his partner once COVID is under control. Somewhere with good food, wine and ice-cream.

Friday, 29 May 2020

Ranty Post: How Authors in Developing Countries are Disadvantaged


Today I'm having a bit of a rant about something that's irritated me for a couple of years now. I'm looking at the way PayPal, Adobe and Amazon KDP work differently for people in developing countries than they do for westerners, and the impact that has on artists.

Love to know your thoughts.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Home Studio

Hi everyone.

Well, I promised I'd talk about something other than book reviews for a change. So, here it is... audibook creation.

Said I had some exciting news about Children of Lir - I have. I'm working with some very talented people to turn that into an audiobook.

In the meantime, I'm also working on a slightly home-produced version of The Tangled Forest. Partly because someone once asked for it:

And partly because it's the only one of my books without any silly accents, so relatively straightforward to read out loud.

However, audiobook production is really hard. It isn't simply a case of sitting in front of a mic and reading your book. There's a world of pronunciation, equipment, software and editing that needs to go into it. Living in a country where equipment is hard to obtain and houses aren't soundproofed, that can get complicated fast, so I've had to do a bit of improvisation...

So, you can hear the sample here, which was recorded in the booth and thrown through Audacity for good measure.

I think it's passable.

When I started out, I did think 'oh, this is something I can do in a couple of weeks, just sit down and read.' I've since revised that to 'possibly three months' as the editing is intense, especially for me - someone who suffers from sibilance and a narrow (and therefore rather clicky) bite. 

I am keeping track of the number of chapters I've recorded, the number I've given a first pass edit and the number I've fully edited - I'll explain all this in another post - and so far I'm about to record chapter seven. There is a high likelihood I will lose patience with this in about five chapters' time, but for now I'm pressing ahead. 

It is tough going. Recording here you have to work around cicadas, which have a very high, repetitive noise that cuts through glass, crows, who never shut the fuck up, and hadadas, a form of ibis so named because they scream HADADA HADADA HADADA on their way home to roost.

All in all, it's a recording nightmare. 

But I'm still feeling fairly determined.

So, let's see where we end up.

Monday, 25 May 2020

Traditional Rwandan Dance Lessons

Shout out to Bijoux who is running traditional Rwandan dance sessions online during the lockdown. £36 for a six-week course, book through Hilde Cannoodt's site. They assure me there's no two-way video required, so you don't even have to get dressed, though you can video in if you want some extra support. Truly missing swimming during the lockdown so I really need this. I've already put on at least one box of Winnaz and a tub of Nutella. The course starts 4th June, so sign on up to support Bijoux and learn something new.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

The Adventures of English

Right, this is the last book review for a little while as I'm going back to read The Binding again and have caught up on all the titles I got through between #IndieApril and now. 

This was just one that looked interesting. As I started to listen, I realised that it is basically this video in long form, with a bit more depth.

I really enjoyed it. Stretching all the way from the end of the Roman Empire through to today's internet English and modern divergence. English certainly has had some fascinating adventures. 

I took a hundred-and-one notes, so won't go through everything, but some of the parts I found particularly interesting included the influence that nannies have had on language throughout history. The nobility are often held up as the  standard to which a language aspires, yet the children of rich families are rarely raised entirely by their mothers. So, the French nobility in England worried that their darling children would pick up English from their English nannies - which they did - and the rich whites in America worried that their darling children would pick up African Krio or slang from their black nannies - which they did. I never thought about that before, and it was interesting.

I recently read Les Misérables, and Victor Hugo was fairly obsessed with slang. For a writer, he seemed halfway horrified by it, and then gave it a grudging nod of acknowledgement as an expressive form. Turns out, this was an issue on everybody's minds back then. Loads of English linguists also went about trying to tame the language and prevent it from slipping into slang, which was considered the language of convicts and ne'er-do-wells. It kind of explains why Hugo devoted so much of Les Mis to that issue. 

It touched on the origins of some words, perhaps the most distasteful of which I never knew was that 'bulldozer' apparently comes from a 'bull dose,' a round of whipping so harsh it could kill a slave. Not going to look at that in the same way again.

It really is a very entertaining book and highly recommended. The history of language is often seen as a rather dry subject, but Melvyn Bragg really brings it to life with astonishing vigour. Very much in the same vein as Bill Bryson on Shakespeare. 

Right, as I said, I'm going to start talking about something other than book reviews now.

Happy reading.