5 Feb 2012

"Exes and Sevens": excerpt (yes, lucky you!)

So here's another excerpt from that novel I'm writing, Exes and Sevens. I've been unable to do any writing these last few days because life has been fairly kind to yours truly. Isn't that silly? Writing is the only thing that makes me happy, and I can only write when I'm this close to reaching for the exit-pills. For those who didn't know, I'm writing another novel because the first one was such a roaring success. Not. You can read more excerpts here and here. Go on, you know you want to. 

We took a train to Upton Park as directed by Hafiz, the landlord. We had arrived in London over a week ago and were staying at a hotel in Westminister at the time, overlooking Hyde park. The sun was out and the streets overflowed with bicyclists and tourists and cameras and mini-skirts and beautiful people. It wasn't ideal preparation for East London. It was altogether a different country, a different culture. The station was only a few metres from Boleyn Ground, home of West Ham Football Club. We could see the flags and hoardings from where we stood. The ticket-checker advised us that we would find taxis by the stadium if we didn't fancy walking the quarter-mile to what we soon come to call home.

The streets were filled with supporters of the club, but it wasn't their maroon jerseys or their alcohol-fueled outbursts that caught our attention. It was the shops. The shops were all little stand-alone stalls, selling vegetables and mobile phones and nick-knacks, all run by people of Asian or African origin. They stood outside their shopfronts, on the pavement, inviting us to go in, offering us bargains and discounts, in foreign tongues and stranger accents. The air was a mixture of smells and sounds- spices and laments, fried chicken wings and motor oil and running engines and urine. “This is like walking around in Egypt,” said well-traveled, semi-amused Leni. I thought to myself that it wasn't much unlike Anna Bazaar or Parys in Chennai.

The difference, I thought, was in the tone, the texture of poverty. The duty-free shops in Parys for instance sold pirated DVD's and contraband deodorants much like these shops. But in Chennai, there was a clear demarcation between the casual shopper and the people who lived and died on those streets, the men and women who cleaned toilets and stole from shop windows and sold their bodies. You could always make out who belonged where – the rich kids who swung by in their air-conditioned hatchbacks to rifle through stacks of ten rupee-pornography would leave as soon as it was dark. They weren't from there and they never would be. Even the locals -the poor bastards who lived there- had a tangible urgency. They weren't defeated, resigned-to-their-lot ghosts of their pasts; they believed they were fighting a class-war, one they would win by hook or by crook, if not for themselves then at least for their children. 

In Upton Park however, there was no way to make such differentiations simply because they all belonged just where they were. This was the best it would ever be for them, this was better than anything they had ever had before. It wasn't so much the dirty, unplanned outskirts of a metropolitan city as it was a township, an area and law all unto itself, much like the forsaken rural blindspots in India where everybody knew everybody and nobody had ever ventured farther than the next village or gone to college. This was not the London I had dreamed of. This, I worried, was another third world ghetto in a white man's country where my degree or intellectual pretensions  would be drowned out by the  parenthetical, unifying echo of the colour of my skin. To Them, I thought, I may as well be another political refugee or economic immigrant from Bangladesh or Ethiopia or Pakistan or Sudan, somebody who had come to their country to escape the impossible misery of where I was from. This, to Them, these streets, this jamboree of sights and smells, was their gift to me, my redemption. And I wanted so much more. 


Jenny Woolf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenny Woolf said...

Right, deleted that comment cause I hit the button too soon, and I will try again. I thought this extract was interesting, because it shows London through an unfamiliar lens.

It's well written too in the sense that it brings the scene to life, and also I can already feel what the protagonist is like.

If you want a negative comment (and actually - hm - you didn't say you did, so if you don't, stop reading here) I would suggest that you look at the flow and phrasing of your writing as the sentences are somewhat abrupt. )

Anyway, it is good stuff, and you should definitely keep writing... I agree the process of writing is healthier than taking exit pills (mind you, not much sometimes) :)

icyhighs said...

Thank you Ms. Woolf. I agree about the abruptness - I like to think there's a bit more flow when I'm in the 'zone'. But these last few days have been pretty dry -in terms of output- and I thought if I just put something out there, it might help. Fingers crossed!

red dirt girl said...

I agree with Jenny (who btw is an author and writer) regarding the lens with which the reader gets to see your world. Your perspective is unique and one of the strengths of your writing.

As for flow, well I'm a poet so what do I know about flow?? Seriously, I'd have to read an entire chapter before I could comment intelligently upon it. Hemingway wrote in staccato sentences. Faulkner's sentences never seem to end! Not that I'm being cheesy and comparing you to great writers of the 20th century. My point mainly is that between the two lie many variations and all are valid.

I do understand the need for sturm and angst to fuel the muse ...

As for the personal questions you left at my blog - no they aren't too personal, I'd just rather not answer them on my blog. I prefer maintaining the little bit of anonymity that I have over there. I'd be happy to answer any and all questions if you would like to leave me a comment with your email address.


JOutlaw said...

I have absolutely no writing talent whatsoever (which you can clearly see from my own blog) so I won't comment on style or technique or anything, but I will say that I thought that the exert was a good read and conveyed the scene really well!

icyhighs said...

Hiyya Red, I'd love for you to read a whole chapter! I agree with what you said about there being no real rules about how something should be written. Just that I fancy a more rambling (dare I say it:"literary") style than this piece (for myself) so I'm not going to be happy till I edit and re-edit. Though now I kinda recognize a very contemporary Indian fiction vibe to it: functional, non-showy, zero flourishes. Wonder if that says anything about me.

I was talking to an agent a few days ago and he asked me who I thought would be my target audience. And I couldn't think of any one bracket, you know? I mean I hate bracketing things in general.He wasn't impressed. So anyway, I'm glad 3/3 people said my shit is readable. Happy days!

icyhighs said...

Cheers Joutlaw. I don't know about talent, but I've always enjoyed reading your blog (and I'm not the only one, as you can see from the amount of readers you have!)so I hope you'll keep writing even after you leave UK.

goatman said...

It must be comforting to belong just where you are. I hope to achieve that myself.

red dirt girl said...

Target audience ??? oh geessshh! Certainly your peers, but i'm also seeing a bit of the 'everyman' in your writing - what you coined as the human experience. With that skill, you'll appeal to all types of readers - oops, maybe I should call them target markets .....ha.

Tell the agent he's a fuckwit and get a new one. You deserve better.


icyhighs said...

Hey Goatman, you always seem so extremely comfortable in your skin anyway. That's admittedly based on our rather fleeting acquaintance but you must be doing something right! As for me, I found my spot and I fucked it up royally. Though it can't have been right if I needed somebody else to make me feel that way. Live and learn, eh?

icyhighs said...

Ha cheers Red, the agent's alright really, just doing his job. Serves me right for not doing my homework. Never realized how much of a 'sell' this all is. Its almost demoralizing.