Monday, March 2, 2015

Simple by Marie-Aude Murail

I decided to give the 7 Continents Reading Challenge another try. I didn't finish it two years ago because study literature took up too much of my reading time. I hope this time around I'll manage.

If you're interested, you can read the details about the challenge here.

For my first country/book, I chose France as one of the countries with the most immigrants. Simple (Marie-Aude Murail) is a young adult book about a seventeen-year-old who takes care of his mentally challenged older brother.

There's unrequited love, lust (lots of it), bad romantic poetry, too many essays, and plenty of crisps. But the seventeen-year-old boy in this story has something extra to contend with. His older brother has learning difficulties and is languishing in a care home. Listening to his heart rather than his head, the boy knows he must get his brother, nicknamed Simple, out. But as their father is entirely preoccupied with his new wife, it's up to the boy to liberate Simple, and that means finding somewhere for them to live in the city. Funny, thought-provoking and clever, this French bestseller won the Prix SNCF du Livre de Jeunesse and was dramatised for French television; in Germany it won the prestigious Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis.

I wouldn't say Simple has the potential to cross over into the adult sphere and attract older readers, but I think it has the potential to teach us a lot about 'foreigness' or being 'alien'. I think in this respect, it was the perfect book to read under the immigrant topic. Because in the end, as the story unfolded, it became quite obvious that the weirdest things or people are not necessarily the least 'normal'. Simple, as simple as he was, taught each and everyone of the roommates a lesson or two. And the tale was a lovely mixture of bitter and sweet moments that gave a great insight into Simple's brother, his caretaker, and the conflicts raging in his teenage mind. This was a very fulfilling read.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Dream dinner destination

Choosing a dream destination is very difficult. There are so many wonderful places I’ve visited and so many more that I haven’t seen yet. But ultimately, I chose Australia.

Australia has always been my dream destination. So obviously I was thrilled when my dreams came true and I spent a month Down Under a few years back. But there’s so much to see in Australia that a month is much too short a time to visit everything worth seeing. Besides, I don't have a favourite city in Australia, the whole continent is my favourite.

Sydney from a ferry

I didn’t want to over-schedule so that I’d have to run from one place to another without having the time to enjoy myself and relax. I’m a total foodie and my favourite way to enjoy vacation time is eating and having a drink with friends. So obviously, my time in Australia was spent at many a dinner and party, including sharing a meal with some Aussie friends.


 I’ve been working as a translator from English for about a decade now. My English is pretty decent, if I say so myself (my mother tongue is Slovenian). Travelling to Australia, I didn’t think I’d encounter many language barriers or have trouble understanding Australians. I realized their English has some peculiarities that I was not familiar with because I mostly translate from American English, but I didn’t expect any major problems.

Melbourne by night

While visiting with friends in Melbourne, we put together a dinner of fish and a bottle (or two) of amazing Australian white wine. I realized during that visit that languages have a way of surprising you. I was suddenly invited to help prepare the tucker, and was told that in the arvo, I’d have to take a smoko without a cuppa because the coffee machine was cactus and is going into the garbo ... Say, what?!? I guess you can crash against a language barrier even when you speak the language. Regional dialects can be confusing but they’re also what makes languages so beautiful and unique.

Australia has great seafood ...

... and terrific wines. (Yering winery)

 So rather than being scared off by Aussie slang, I grabbed the chance to learn a few new phrases. Mostly, I asked the locals to explain the meanings of some words. Language is a living thing, so it’s always best to have an expression explained by a native speaker, and slang expressions are far more reliably explained by people than by translation apps.

It’s different when travelling to countries where the official language is not English. Planning a trip is much easier when the websites are translated into English. Sometimes it happens that a website is not translated in its entirety or at all. In such cases, software to translate websites can be very useful and it makes planning more enjoyable and quicker.

I'm more of a city girl ...

...but Australian landscape is breathtaking.
Translation tools are especially important when you're dealing with a language that is very different from the language you speak. Learning a few polite phrases is always a plus when travelling, but having a reliable app that gets you through the rest of the trip is a must.

Friday, November 7, 2014

November Rain

Well, hello there November. Where did you come from?

Here's an overdue update with the (short) list of my latest publications.

Becoming in Touch: The Journal of Healing
Autumn Garden in Bukker Tillibul
Don't Mocha Me in Litro Magazine

I hope you'll find something enjoyable amongst the pieces.

I've been working on longer works lately, hence the lack of shorts and poems. I'm also procrastinating watching YouTube and Pinterest. Oh, the hardships of being a writer. ;-)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Blue by Lisa Glass

Blue by Lisa Glass
Quercus Books, May 2014
Surfing is sixteen-year-old Iris’s world, and when the ultra-talented Zeke walks into her life, it soon becomes her passion.

Over one amazing summer, as she is drawn into his sphere, she experiences love, new friendships, but also loss, with an intensity she never dreamed of.

But is Zeke all he seems? What hides beneath his glamorous and mysterious past? When Iris decides to try for her own surfing success, just as her ex-boyfriend comes back into her life, she will test her talent, and her feelings for Zeke, to the limit…

I wanted to read this book the moment I saw the cover, then I read the blurb and I pre-ordered it right away. The sun, the sea and talented surfers - who could want more? The best thing is that with Blue you also get a wonderful story about growing up, love, commitment and the art of surfing.

Iris is still shattered because of how things ended with her ex boyfriend and she's so sad and confused about that and other life problems that she doesn't realize that she is far from being as damaged as she feels; in truth, she's immensely talented, and once she gets in touch with her inner strength, she rocks those waves. The way Iris grew and developped through the story made this a compelling read, because she felt as real as the girl next door.

Now Zeke, well, let's just say there's no boy like him next door to me. Sadly. Zeke is a force of nature. His strength, his connection with the ocean and nature as such was so well-written that I had no problems imagining him. I could feel how he influenced Iris and her way of seeing herself, the world, him. His characterization made him a believable surfing champion, he felt almost too real for fiction. That is another great thing about Blue: Lisa Glass knows what she's taking about. Her knowledge of the surfing world could be seen on every single page of the novel.

This is an inspiring read that will show you not just what competitive surfing looks like and the risks surfers are willing to take in order to win, but also what it feels like to find something so true and good in a relationship that it turns your world upside down.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


I haven't written any poetry in a very long time. So here's a memory of a time when I was still feeling inspired. 'Soldier', nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2010.

Staring at the darkened sky
I can almost keep up the pretense
of being home, but the stray dogs
and the men’s snores keep me awake
in my rocky grave, thinking
of the many times I kissed women
I shouldn’t have but never feeling
as unfaithful to you as when I hug
my heavy gun close to my chest.

The shadow of death trails behind us
even on overcast days, it dims
the image of home until I can barely
recall the memory of you. I’m not alone,
just lonely as a sky without birds.

Explosions outshine the stars
night after night, the thunder
brings bloody rain. Amid the hot fumes
of oil and tire I dream — sometimes awake —
of new-mown grass, cicadas and homemade cakes.
Is it springtime back home? I forget.

Staring at the clouds, I begin to see
camels and minarets, rarely any
familiar shapes. There may be something
to Rorschach, after all. It feels like I inhabit
the life of a stranger, like my breath
powers a force that isn’t entirely me.

Days old, sun-dried sweat begins
to sting on the parched skin,
the shamal whips up the sand
lashing us with vicious shower until
my mouth becomes a desert too.

I’m not afraid, just doubtful sometimes.
They say this is for real, the generals,
and that we are going to win,
but when I feel that rush I never
expected to feel, it’s all less real,
like a game on my home console
where the enemy is just a machine,
a faceless algorithm that can only
lose or win. Out here, it feels
like there’s so much more in between.

Monday, March 10, 2014


Last night, I was returning home from a visit to my folks. It was late, dark, with only the milky headlights flashing by and red break lights pulsating around road curves ahead. The radio was off because the kid was asleep in his car seat in the back. It was a murky, heavy sort of evening with Monday looming just the other side of darkness. And it got me thinking about True Detective.

It is the best series I've seen in  a long while, perhaps ever. I love the dialogue, Rusty's philosophical bits, the atmospheric shots, the phenomenal acting, the music, the complex and yet simple characters. Everything. And to think that it was all written by a single person - Chapeau, Mr. Pizzolatto!

Out of that tangle of thoughts and the anticipation of the season finale, a stray thought appeared and it solved the ending of my short story in progress. Just like that. I didn't think of the story once the entire day. In fact, I'd deserted the story two weeks ago in order for me to forget about it, to cleanse my mind, and return to it with fresh eyes at a later date.

It's a story in the thriller mode of Daphne du Maurier. I have a good conflict and compelling characters, but the ending was ineffective and just blah. I'd struggled with it for a while, before I decided to leave it until I find a better solution. Last night I found it. I searched for my phone and quickly typed the idea in my notebook app (I wasn't driving!). With one unexpected stroke, it solved the entire problem. It gave me a wrap up that actually doesn't wrap anything up (I know it sounds confusing, but it's oh so perfect), and it retains the tension between the characters.

Out of the darkness, ideas emerge.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

American Gothic

Remember my piece on Damon's search for meaning and why that makes him such a bastard? That was back in April. April 2010, that is. The following essay was supposed to be written right after that one. Well, at least, an essay on the Gothic elements in TVD. Of course, over the course of three years and three additional seasons, the plot developped far beyond the scope of that originally planned essay. So this is (I hope) a better version of it.

This time I'm focusing on Elena as the Gothic heroine and what it is about her that compels us to watch every new episode. If you're in the mood for some talk on TVD during the hiatus, here's my two cents. Voice your opinions in the comments. Do you agree or not, do you think I'm way off? I'd love to hear your thoughts. And if you just want to say hi, you're welcome too. :-)

American Gothic

There are many Gothic films and TV shows being made these days. And yet, their appeal doesn’t pale. Week after week thousands of viewers tune in to their favourite vampire/witch/werewolf/other-supernatural-creatures show on TV. Mostly, these spectators are teenagers or, like in my case, adults who refuse to grow up. My choice of poison is The Vampire Diaries which is a textbook case of a Gothic TV show. It has everything, from Gothic settings (the old house where Stefan hides the coffins, the secret tunnel beneath the Lockwood mansion, the cemetery where Stefan first meets Elena, the Salvatore mansion etc.) to Gothic characters and monsters (ghosts, witches, vampires, need I go on?). These features add extra suspense and drama for the viewers, but what truly draws us to TVD functions on a more psychological level and through our identification with the protagonist of the show. Elena experiences a profound transformation, not only in terms of her becoming a vampire, but also as a teenager trying to find her identity in the world of grown-ups. 

© CW
The main driving force of Gothic fiction is fear – fear of the unknown, of the less than decent desires and urges in us, of the anger festering in our wounds. As spectators, we (are invited to) project such vile emotions onto the on-screen monsters, we stick our worst features on them and then we watch their ugliness with satisfaction (well, not in Damon’s case, there’s no ugliness to speak of there). The human protagonists of Gothic shows have to bear the brunt of the violence and abuse from the monsters because Gothic “confronts the principal characters with the gross violence of physical or psychological dissolution, explicitly shattering the assumed norms (...) of everyday life with wildly shocking, and even revolting, consequences.” (Hogle 3) Remember Elena’s shock when she realizes that Stefan is a vampire? Or how sickened she is by Damon’s brutality and mercilessness? The evil and carnage that the brothers attract and dole out changes her view of life; post-brothers nothing is safe or sacred – the things she took for granted are now endangered and threatened. 

But on the psychological level, what Damon and Stefan signify is merely “the unconscious as a deep repository of very old, infantile, and repressed memories or impulses, the archaic underworld of the self.” (Hogle 3) In TVD, we get to see the two opposite poles of this. While Damon is acting the infantile impulses out, Stefan is trying to repress them at all cost. With the brothers representing each a different extreme, they create a sense of hopelessness – they seem to be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. It seems that being a vampire is a lot like being human and especially a teenager. The struggle is never over. “The longevity and power of Gothic fiction unquestionably stem from the way it helps us address and disguise some of the most important desires, quandaries, and sources of anxiety, from the most internal and mental to the widely social and cultural, throughout the history of western culture since the eighteenth century.” (Hogle 4)

This is where Elena comes in. At the beginning of the first season, her life is turned upside down. In the opening scenes, we see her mourning her parents who died in a car accident that she miraculously survived (it is later revealed that Stefan saved her). Although her aunt Jenna steps in as their guardian, Elena nonetheless feels responsible for Jeremy and takes up the role not only of the older sibling, but that of a parent. She is forced to mourn her parents and to become a parent by a single traumatic event. This is typical of contemporary Gothic which “markedly registers a crisis in personal history: in the world depicted in such works, one is forced simultaneously to mourn the lost object (a parent, God, social order, lasting fulfilment through knowledge or sexual pleasure) and to become the object lost through identification or imitation. This history of repetition, (...), constitutes a sense of trauma, and it is finally through trauma that we can best understand the contemporary Gothic and why we crave it.” (Bruhm 268) 

It is at this point in her life that Elena meets Stefan. “He came into my life at a time when I needed someone,” she says to Damon in 3x23. Again, on the psychological level, her meeting Stefan is a coping strategy in which she needs a monster to blame it for everything bad that’s happened to her.  The threat of the supernatural echoes the dangers of growing up, of taking on new responsibilities. Damon’s killing sprees and Stefan’s fear of his own darker self mirror Elena’s insecurities and her fear of losing control. Her very earthly problems have been transformed into supernatural nightmares. Elena becomes a “traumatized (heroine) who (has) lost the very psychic structures that allow (her) access to (her) own experiences. (...) such narratives emphasize a lost object, that object being the self.” (Bruhm 269) But Elena’s development hasn’t stopped yet, and I’ll touch upon that later on.
Elena is a Gothic heroine, and one of their characteristics is that they “seek both to appease and to free themselves from the excesses of male and patriarchal dominance.” (Hogle 5) The first Gothic heroine in TVD is Katherine who had an unconventional affair with both Salvatore brothers back in the 18th century. She and her friend Pearl were strong women who weren’t afraid of the despots of Mystic Falls. They took care of themselves and they resisted the societal norms of the day, they represented the “journey of women coming into some power and property by their own and other feminine agency” (Hogle 10). Put quite plainly – they kicked ass. Elena is steadfastly following their steps by tirelessly fighting her battles.

On the other hand, “women are the figures most fearfully trapped between contradictory pressures and impulses.” (Hogle 9) Elena as the main character has been put through more than any other character on the show, but she’s remained steadfast, compassionate, empathetic, and loving. She takes care of herself and her loved ones. She never gives up or relies on anyone to solve a problem instead of her. When Stefan is captured by the tomb vampires (1x17), she insists she go with Alaric and Damon to save him. Again, when Stefan is missing in season four, she keeps searching for him, never giving up or losing hope. She saves Jeremy’s ass a gazillion times and even saves Damon when Lexi’s boyfriend tries to turn him into a living torch (1x11, this even before they became all cuddly and friendly). But all the pain that her burdens bring, the grief, the strain and stress, leave a mark on her. She is torn, she is broken in ways even she doesn’t know. There’s just as much drama going on in her soul as there is in her life. She is constantly on the edge, waiting for the next calamity to hit and cause more pain, more irreversible damage. She is not only a teenager, she is a bereaved, hurting teenager prone to attracting monsters of every sort imaginable. Her life sucks.

As if that is not enough, “the female Gothic involves the haunting of a woman by another woman (usually a rival, a Doppelganger, or a mother).” (Kavka 219) Elena has to put up with all of the above as she is simultaneously haunted by Katherine, her scheming Doppelganger and rival, and Elena’s even more scheming biological mother, Isobel, who was turned into a vampire by Damon. The latter one shows up when Elena discovers that she was adopted and “the recovery of a lost or hidden maternal origin” (Hogle 10) ensues.[1] But Isobel is no mummy dearest, she was a vampire groupie who left her husband Alaric in order to become a vampire. Now she comes back to haunt Elena. Get in line, mommy!

Life as such can be challenging, but when we lose a loved one it is even more difficult to find ourselves. Our families shape a part of our identity and with someone’s death, we lose that little part of ourselves. “Through the Gothic, we remind ourselves, albeit in disguise, that something like a return to the confusion and loss of identity in being half-inside and half-outside the mother, and thus not entirely dead nor clearly alive, may await us behind any old foundation, paternal or otherwise, on which we try, by breaking it up, to build a brave new world.” (Hogle 5) What are vampires if not “not entirely dead nor clearly alive”? And what is more confusing and causes a more important search for identity than being on the cusps of becoming an adult? Building a brave new world is something we all aspire to when growing up, but no one more so than Elena who’s lost too many family members and friends due to the evil walking the streets of Mystic Falls. She’s struggling to push the past (symbolized by the undead vamps, ghosts etc.) back where it belongs and to look forward into a brighter future (starting college this season, y’all!). But the stakes are raised when she falls in love with the past (first Stefan, then Damon), and then becomes part of it by being turned into a vampire herself. 

The game is being played on a whole new level now that she’s fighting something that is part of her; the battlefield has been internalized. She despairs in season four, telling Damon that, “Jeremy can’t live with me, Stefan wants to fix me, and Caroline flat out admitted that she doesn’t like me this way.” (4x07) She’s not welcome anywhere, she can’t find her place. She’s voicing the trauma not only of being a new vampire, but also, metaphorically, of being a new adult. She is neither here, nor there. Her identity is slipping – can she be humane if she’s a vampire? Can she be a true vampire if she’s too caring? Who is she? Are her friends afraid of her? Is she a failure? Is she still Elena? Why does she feel so dead? Why does it all have to be so complicated? Why don’t all the feelings just STOP?!?

In contrast, Damon, being his usual selfish (but also not so selfish) self, tells her he’s never seen her more alive. He loves her and he gives in to his desire (as vampires are wont to do), and Elena more than welcomes his advances. She begins to see herself in him, she finds it easier to accept herself by accepting him, her “monstrous (counterpart) that (seems) “uncanny” in their unfamiliar familiarity while also conveying overtones of the archaic and the alien in their grotesque mixture of elements viewed as incompatible by established standards of normality.” (Hogle 7) Damon was the ultimate evil when she first met him. It was unthinkable that she could ever begin to care for him. But now, for Elena, loving him is the metaphorical acceptance of herself. She’s come to terms with who she is. Damon was (is?) a throat-ripping, mindlessly violent beast. And yet, there is something in him that Elena can love. He is sick, perverted and broken, but redeemable. This makes her believe that she is too, despite becoming a monster.

This is where we get back to the importance of Elena’s role with the Salvatore brothers and the viewers. Because becoming a vampire is not all bunnies and sunshine (especially not the latter, and the former is only good for Stefan anyhow). The transformation at first doesn’t help Elena re-focus her identity. She doesn’t become fully monstrous because she doesn’t discard her humanity (apart from the short period when she turns off her emotions). But she’s also not human. Becoming a vampire adds another item to her ‘failure’ list. Her sense of self is being shattered further, into even smaller pieces. “(The) loss of wholeness, that destruction of the thing in favour of many things, so obsesses Gothic fiction in the later twentieth century that many such narratives are about the impossibility of narrative.” (Bruhm 269) At the beginning of the series, this “impossibility of narrative” is shown through the consequences of compulsion. Elena can’t remember meeting Damon on the night her parents die because he compels her. Similarly, she has no recollection of him telling her that he loves her. The narrative of her life is interrupted; there are parts of her, in her, that she has no access to. This ties in with the idea of one’s identity being the “lost object” of the Gothic tale. It is only when she becomes a vampire that she regains access to these hidden corners of her soul, and then slowly, when she accepts her new fate, she starts joining all the pieces into one whole personality again. As a vampire, she is powerful and this gives her the strength to be afraid, to be frail, to recognize her weak points. 

© CW

 But before this happens, a change is needed in her life. Stefan is no longer the right person for her. He is too much like her. Elena needs someone to pull her out of her miserable corner where she’s hiding her shame and insecurities. Damon is the ideal candidate for this because he’s accepted his monstrous side. With his help, Elena can retain her humanity and accept with her vampire cravings, finding her place in the middle. In doing this, she could also help both brothers by pulling them towards the middle and away from the extremes that they’ve been occupying for over a century. Additionally, as the most grounded character, Elena is the one that viewers can identify with most easily. She’s the character that – despite not having all the answers, or any at all – shows us that that is okay, that it is acceptable to be confused and lost because that is most often the natural state of humans. “No other form of writing or theatre is as insistent as Gothic on juxtaposing potential revolution and possible reaction (...) and leaving both extremes sharply before us and far less resolved than conventional endings in most of these works claim them to be.” Such Gothic narratives “enact and reflect the most intense and important ambivalences in modern western culture.” (Hogel 11-12) 

With Elena’s help “monstrous figures (are no longer) terrifying objects of animosity expelled in the return of social and symbolic equilibrium. Instead, they retain a fascinating, attractive appeal: no longer object of hate or fear, monstrous others become sites of identification, sympathy, desire, and self-recognition. Excluded figures once represented as malevolent, disturbed, or deviant monsters are rendered more humane (...) Transgression becomes just another permitted social activity.” (Botting 286) This all starts when Elena accepts Stefan despite his vampirism. Then, she convinces her friends that he is one of the good guys. This in turn fuels what at the beginning seems impossible – the acceptance of Damon, a veritable monster. Caroline turning is just another stepping stone towards making Elena’s transformation possible so that when she, as the heroine of the show, becomes a vampire, the act of transgression is already accepted and acceptable. We are slowly being convinced that being a vampire is not in itself an evil thing. “In Gothic times margins may become the norm and occupy a more central cultural place.” (Botting 286)

So, why is The Vampire Diaries so popular with viewers? There are some obvious reasons, such as Damon, good cast, excellent writing, the older Salvatore brother, intriguing plot lines, the kickass action ... did I mention Damon? I did? Hm. Anyhow, there’s also the Gothic aspect of things. Modern life has become so messy that we need to channel our fears and insecurities through on-screen monsters. “We need (Gothic) because the twentieth century has so forcefully taken away from us that which we once thought constituted us – a coherent psyche, a social order to which we can pledge allegiance in good faith, a sense of justice in the universe – and that wrenching withdrawal, that traumatic experience, is vividly dramatized in the Gothic.” (Bruhm 273) And the key word here is ‘dramatized’ because, as Walter Benjamin says, “such horror narratives confirm for us that we are spectators, safely distanced onlookers whose integrity is guaranteed by the dissolution of another.” (quoted in Bruhm 272) We are neither the haunted protagonists, nor the despicable monsters doing the haunting. We are safely removed, on the other side of the screen.

This process of ‘venting through Gothic’ is particularly welcome in the vulnerable teenage period because it mirrors the search for identity, the lostness and all that godawful hurting. Teens can identify with the on-screen protagonists because they seem to be going through similar horrors (albeit supernatural) as themselves. Elena’s perfect life was shattered and we follow her struggle to reclaim a sense of normalcy and peace again. She’s just like us (except for, you know ... the looks, the line of boys vying for her heart, the perfect hair ...). Gothic offers us relief because “it allows us in ghostly disguises of blatantly counterfeit fictionality to confront the roots of our beings in sliding multiplicities (from life becoming death to genders mixing to fear becoming pleasure and more) and to define ourselves against these uncanny abjections, while also feeling attracted to them.” (Hogle 17)


Botting, F. 2002. “Aftergothic: consumption, machines, and black holes.” Hogle, J. E. (ed). The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 277-300.

Bruhm, S. 2002. “Contemporary Gothic: why we need it.” Hogle, J. E. (ed). The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 259-76.

Hogle, J.E. 2002. “Introduction: the Gothic in western culture.” Hogle, J. E. (ed). The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 1-20.

Kavka, M. 2002. “Gothic on screen.” Hogle, J. E. (ed). The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 209-28.

The Vampire Diaries. CW. 2009-2013. Television.

[1] As an aside, this Gothic characteristic of a “recovery of a lost or hidden maternal origin” offers a nice opportunity to TPTB to explore the origins of the Salvatore brothers. We know nothing about their mother, and perhaps there’s a whole new storyline in there. It could add another dimension to the brothers and their upbringing.