Death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I have read ‘100 Years of Solitude’. It’s meant to be one of the great classics of our times but I found it really hard going. Perhaps I might have appreciated it better if I had read it in Spanish? Will I try and read it in Spanish…probably not. There can be no doubt, however, that Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez made a huge impact on the world of literature and brought Latin American writers out into the open.

It seems appropriate therefore to allow a Chilean writer friend to talk about the author’s life in more detail. Follow the link here


Doris Lessing: The Real Jewel of Africa

English: Doris Lessing, British writer, at lit...

English: Doris Lessing, British writer, at, Cologne literature festival 2006, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Nobel Prize winning author Doris Lessing has died aged 94 in London. Born in what is now Iran in 1919 to British parents, Doris and her family moved to what was then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1925. Doris and her brother, Harry, enjoyed the bush life whilst their parents struggled to make a life for themselves in Africa.They spent their days exploring the countryside and learning about the flora and fauna.

However, Doris’s mother was determined that her daughter should be brought up as a lady and she was sent firstly to a convent school and then later to an all girls school in Harare. She loved to read and this helped her to escape from her unhappy childhood into the worlds of Rudyard Kipling, Dickens, Scott et al.

Doris Lessing left school aged fifteen to get away from her mother and that was when she began writing, selling two stories to South African magazines. Aged 19, she married Frank Wisdom and went on to have two children with him. She again felt trapped and escaped her family but continued to live in Salisbury (Harare). She became interested in the Communist movement and through a group known as the Left Book Club, she met and married Gottfried Lessing and had a son. Following the Second World War, she became disillusioned with Communism and took her son to London, leaving her second husband behind. Her first novel ‘The Grass is Singing‘ , set in Africa, was published in 1949.

She went on to write many novels such as ‘The Golden Notebook’ and ‘The Good Terrorist’, short stories, poetry and plays. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007. She was 88 and the oldest woman to receive the prestigious award.

Doris Lessing was outspoken on a number of subjects, not least the land that was her home for so many years and what has become of it since Robert Mugabe came to power in 1982. In 2003, she wrote an article that appeared in the New York Review of Books in the April edition entitled “The Jewel of Africa”, castigating Mugabe for his cowardice and his greed. She wrote: “For a while I wondered if the word “tragedy” could be applied here, greatness brought low, but Mugabe, despite his early reputation, was never great; he was always a frightened little man. There is a tragedy, all right, but it is Zimbabwe’s.”

Doris Lessing was an inspiration to many writers (and of course readers),especially women, including many in Zimbabwe itself such as NoViolet Bulawayo who was this year shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for her novel ‘We Need New Names’.

She is quoted as having said “I’ll be pleased when I’m dead. That will let me off worrying about all these wars.” Having passed quietly in her sleep, she can indeed stop worrying about the world but her legacy will last long into the future.

Amnesty International at the Edinburgh Festival

English: Amnesty International Español: Aminis...

English: Amnesty International Español: Aministía Internacional (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last weekend, I went through to Edinburgh to enjoy some of the sights and sounds of the Fringe Festival. Whilst there, I went along to the Book Festival and attended a fascinating session organised by Amnesty International. This year’s theme was “Imprisoned Writers”. As the leaflet explained “every year people are imprisoned for writing critically about their government or country. Today we pay tribute to writers who have been persecuted for their words, thoughts and opinions.”

It so happened that the session I attended was particularly topical, entitled “Syria:Paved With Death”. Four well-known authors read works by or about Syrians in these terrible times. First was Francesca Simon, best known for her children’s books especially the ‘Horrid Henry’ series. Ms Simon movingly read the last dispatch sent by journalist Marie Colvin very shortly before she was killed. Most poignant was the fact that Francesca had been a friend and colleague of Marie Colvin. She described how Ms Colvin, famous for the black eye patch she wore following a previous incident, had always been determined to get into the most difficult places to make sure that the world was aware of what was going on inside countries where most journalists fear to tread. The dispatch was filled with horrifying stories of the bombing of Homs and how it had affected the people. Written in a city were the bombs were constantly falling, it told the stories of people who had watched their children die, who had lost everything and who felt abandoned by the rest of the world.

Following Francesca Simon came Lauren Beukes, a best-selling author of novels, comics, screen plays and TV shows who was born in South Africa and young Australian writer Hannah Kent who has just completed her first novel, ‘Burial Rites’. The two young women each read works by Syrian authors, one named Samar Yazbek and the other Dia’a Al-Abdullah. Both works powerfully described how it feels to be persecuted for your words and to live in a country torn apart by civil war.

Finally,writer  Colin McAdam, who was born in Hong Kong and has lived in Denmark, England, Barbados and Canada, read out a series of letters written by refugees caught in terrible conditions in camps in the countries surrounding Syria. The letters were short but all expressed the same basic wish…that the writer and their family could return home to Syria and go back to the life they had known.

No-one who listened to the readings could fail to be moved, especially with the crisis in Syria escalating on a daily basis. Whilst Presidents and Prime Ministers discuss war, let us all remember that there are ordinary people just like us whose sole wish is for life to go back to normal. To be able to go about their daily business whether as journalist, writer, baker, housewife, school pupil is all that they ask.

For more information about Amnesty International and the work they do, visit their website here.

Iain Banks Dies

Iain Banks - Cambridge - April 2012

Iain Banks – Cambridge – April 2012 . Photo by Chris Boland

Just two months after announcing that he was suffering from terminal cancer of the gall bladder, Iain Banks has died aged just 59. The Scottish author of works such as ‘The Wasp Factory‘ and ‘The Crow Road‘ sadly didn’t live long enough to see his last work ‘The Quarry’ on the book shelves, despite his publishers bringing the publication date forward to June 20.

Scotland has lost a great writer. R.I.P


Photo by Chris Boland at

Carlos Ruiz Zafón: Spanish author with a worldwide appeal

Spanish writer: Carlos Ruiz Zafón in Barcelona...

Spanish writer: Carlos Ruiz Zafón in Barcelona Español: Escritor español: Carlos Ruiz Zafón en Barcelona (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Born in Barcelona in 1964, Carlos Ruiz Zafón is fast becoming one of the best known Spanish novelists outside of Spain. Starting out as a writer of fiction for young adults, he turned to adult novels in 2001 with the publication of ‘The Shadow of the Wind‘ (La sombra del viento), followed by ‘The Angel’s Game‘ (El juego del ángel) in 2008. In 2012, the third of what is to be a four book series, ‘The Prisoner of Heaven’ was published in English.

The books are based in Barcelona and are wonderfully evocative of the city in the early twentieth century, around the time that Gaudí was building his fabulous buildings and later. Each centres round a hidden library, called the cemetery of lost books, where long forgotten books are kept. Each novel’s main character is caught up in suspense and intrigue surrounding a particular book that they find there. There is a strong sense of good versus evil and some excellent plot twists

The books are suspense novels reminiscent of film noir, which Ruiz Zafón says are one of his main influences. He has said in interviews that he thinks of scenes in his novels as they might appear on the silver screen. The books also pay homage to the great gothic classics such as those of Wilkie Collins or ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier. The writer lists authors such as Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo and Raymond Chandler among those he considers should be read by everyone.

They have been very beautifully translated so that none of the suspense, darkness or atmosphere has been lost in translation. Although I am fairly fluent in Spanish, I have cheated and read them in English as they are, if I may use a dreadful cliché, real page turners and I would not have the patience to read them with a dictionary by my side. The novels have been translated into forty different languages in total

If you are looking for something with a difference, with strong characters, excellent storylines that really make you think, then pick up ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ and head into the streets of Barcelona with Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s body exhumed

Pablo Neruda (1904–1973)

Pablo Neruda (1904–1973) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Nobel Prize winning poet died aged 69 in 1973, just days after General Pinochet’s coup in Chile. Rumours have abounded ever since that he was murdered.

Now forensic experts have exhumed his remains to carry out tests to establish whether he died of cancer, as was thought at the time or whether he had been poisoned.

Allegations of poisoning were made by the poet’s driver and personal assistant, Manuel Araya. In 2011, the Chilean authorities began to investigate. Neruda was a staunch supporter of Salvador Allende, the president ousted by Pinochet.

Manuel Araya told a Mexican magazine ‘Proceso’ that he was convinced Neruda had been murdered. Interviewed by El Pais newspaper, he said, “After the September 11 coup, he was planning to go into exile with his wife Matilde. The plan was to try to overthrow the dictator within three months from abroad. He was going to ask the world to help overthrow Pinochet, but before he could board a plane the plotters took advantage of the fact that he had been admitted to a hospital, and that’s where they injected him in his stomach with poison.”

Investigations are also ongoing to investigate the death of Salvador Allende who apparently committed suicide during the coup.

Pablo Neruda was buried originally in the General Cemetery in the Chilean capital, Santiago. His body was moved at the request of his family to Isla Negra, his favourite home, in 1992.

It is known that Neruda had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and was being treated in the hospital. Patricio Bustos, director of Legal Medical Services (SML) who are assisting in the identification of the remains said, “Fortunately, this isn’t a case of someone who was arrested and disappeared so there are photographic and video records that document the moment of the burial. We know his identify.But we will also try to answer some of the questions that Judge Carroza has asked: Was the illness the only cause of his death? Did someone inject him with any toxic substance or chemicals? This is why we are working with toxicologists, genetic experts, biochemists and doctors.”

Pablo Neruda was born Ricardo Eliezer Neftali Reyes y Basoalto in Temuco, a small town in southern Chile in 1904. He started using his pseudonym as a teenager.In 1921, he moved to Santiago where the publication of his poems ‘Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada’ (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair) marked him out as a great poet. He travelled widely ending up as the Chilean Consul in Spain in 1935. He supported the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War which led to him being forced to leave Spain.

He became devoted to the Communist cause, which is evident in his poetry.He returned to Chile in 1953. In 1971 he was nominated for president of the Chilean Communist Party but turned it down as he had become friends with the Socialist Allende. He was sent to Paris in a diplomatic role by Allende and it was there he received his Nobel Prize for Literature. His health forced him to return to Chile and his sudden death in 1973.

Time will tell whether Pablo Neruda died of cancer or was poisoned but his words live on in the hearts of poetry lovers everywhere.


Death Alone by Pablo Neruda

There are lone cemeteries,
tombs full of soundless bones,
the heart threading a tunnel,
a dark, dark tunnel :
like a wreck we die to the very core,
as if drowning at the heart
or collapsing inwards from skin to soul.

There are corpses,
clammy slabs for feet,
there is death in the bones,
like a pure sound,
a bark without its dog,
out of certain bells, certain tombs
swelling in this humidity like lament or rain.

I see, when alone at times,
coffins under sail
setting out with the pale dead, women in their dead braids,
bakers as white as angels,
thoughtful girls married to notaries,
coffins ascending the vertical river of the dead,
the wine-dark river to its source,
with their sails swollen with the sound of death,
filled with the silent noise of death.

Death is drawn to sound
like a slipper without a foot, a suit without its wearer,
comes to knock with a ring, stoneless and fingerless,
comes to shout without a mouth, a tongue, without a throat.
Nevertheless its footsteps sound
and its clothes echo, hushed like a tree.

I do not know, I am ignorant, I hardly see
but it seems to me that its song has the colour of wet violets,
violets well used to the earth,
since the face of death is green,
and the gaze of death green
with the etched moisture of a violet’s leaf
and its grave colour of exasperated winter.

But death goes about the earth also, riding a broom
lapping the ground in search of the dead –
death is in the broom,
it is the tongue of death looking for the dead,
the needle of death looking for the thread.

Death lies in our beds :
in the lazy mattresses, the black blankets,
lives a full stretch and then suddenly blows,
blows sound unknown filling out the sheets
and there are beds sailing into a harbour
where death is waiting, dressed as an admiral.

Iain Banks has terminal cancer

English: Iain Banks, author, at the Edinburgh ...

English: Iain Banks, author, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Iain Banks has terminal cancer

The Wasp Factory may have been one of the weirder books I have read, but am sad to hear that it’s author Iain Banks, one of Scotland’s best known writers, has announced that he is dying of cancer. He has less than a year to live. Wishing him and his new wife Adele the best that is possible in the circumstances.

Easter message from Kyle Colona

Hurricane Sandy 2012

Hurricane Sandy 2012 (Photo credit: charliekwalker)

Easter message from Kyle Colona

Kyle is a friend who lives on Long Island in the USA. He and his family lost virtually everything in Hurricane Sandy. He is a great poet and writer but surviving that disaster has made his words more powerful. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, or even if you don’t have any religious beliefs, read what he has written about Easter.

Nigerian Author Chinua Achebe Dead

English: Chinua Achebe speaking at Asbury Hall...

English: Chinua Achebe speaking at Asbury Hall, Buffalo, as part of the “Babel: Season 2” series by Just Buffalo Literary Center, Hallwalls, & the International Institute. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sad news today. The 82 year old author of ‘Things Fall Apart’ died today in Boston. He was one of the best known African authors who spoke out against the government of his native Nigeria. ‘Things Fall Apart’ has sold more than ten million copies and if you haven’t read it yet, put it on your ‘must read’ list. Nelson Mandela has said of Achebe that he was a writer “in whose company the prison walls fell down.”

Like Scot’s poet, Robert Burns? Then this may tickle your funny bone.

Most often, when I get sent all those ‘hilarious’ emails or FB messages, I either delete them or just glance at them whilst passing. But every so often one makes me laugh out loud and so, in the spirit of Comic Relief day, I share with you a joke sent by a good friend:

Prince Charles is visiting an Edinburgh hospital. He enters a ward full of patients with no obvious sign of injury or illness and greets one. The patient replies:

“Fair fa your honest sonsie face, Great chieftain o the puddin race, Aboon them a ye take yer place, Painch, tripe or thairm, As langs my airm.”

HRH is confused, so he just smiles and moves on to the next patient.

The patient responds:
“Some hae meat an canna eat, And some wad eat that want it, But we hae meat an we can eat, So let the Lord be thankit.”

Even more confused, the Prince moves on to the next patient, who immediately begins to chant:
“Wee sleekit, cowerin, timrous beasty, O the panic in thy breasty, Thou needna start awa sae hastie, Wi bickering brattle.”

Now seriously troubled, Charles turns to the accompanying doctor and asks, “Is this a psychiatric ward?”

“No,” replies the doctor, “This is the serious Burns unit.”