Tag Archives: Claude Nougat

Speculative Writing: the Next Big Trend in Publishing?

The Book of Strange New ThingsOver the week-end something big happened to our culture. The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber was reviewed by Marcel Theroux for the New York Times (see here).

So what, you may ask?

First, the reviewer, Marcel Theroux is someone worth listening to. He is a successful broadcaster and author in his own right. The son of American traveler and writer Paul Theroux, he works in television (for example, in 2004, he presented on Channel 4 The End of the World as We Know It, part of the War on Terra television series about climate change). His fifth novel, Strange Bodies, won the the 2014 John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Not unsurprisingly, this is a speculative novel that explores identity and what it means to be truly human.

Two, this is not Michel Faber’s first book, but his eighth – he has written in many genres, and  his brilliant debut novel, Under the Skin, that also happens to be sci-fi like this latest one, was shortlisted for the Whitbread when it came out (in 2000). Under the Skin inspired a fascinating movie that came out in 2014, directed by Jonathan Glazer and starring Scarlett Johansson.  Here’s a video clip that highlights how profoundly different this movie is from the usual sci-fi run:

It is basically, a search for identity, and yes, you “don’t want to wake up dead!”

Reading Marcel Theroux’ s review of The Book of Strange New Things, you can tell he was knocked off his feet. For those who don’t like sci-fi, Theroux says, “give it 10 pages, it doesn’t start with aliens, it’s about a man going on a long journey to a planet light years away and saying good-bye to his beloved wife.”

Indeed. Here are the first lines from Chapter 1, Forty Minutes later he was up in the sky:

‘I was going to say something,’ he said.
‘So say it,’ she said.
He was quiet, keeping his eyes on the road. In the darkness of the city’s outskirts, there was nothing to see except the tail-lights of other cars in the distance, the endless unfurling roll of tarmac, the giant utilitarian fixtures of the motorway.
‘God may be disappointed in me for even thinking it,’ he said.
‘Well,’ she sighed, ‘He knows already, so you may as well tell me.’

It is so real, so human! Isn’t that just the sort of thing you say to your loved one as you go off on a trip?  This sort of fiction is linked to the here and now, as we live it, with our anxieties and doubts, our loves and regrets.

The key descriptors here are “possible” and “plausible”. That very plausibility is what turns this kind of sci-fi thriller into emotion-laden explorations into the human condition. Our Earth is recognizable but it’s much worse, battered by climate change and geo-political instability. And in that sense, this book links up with the basic tenets of climate fiction,  a rapidly rising genre, ever since Dan Bloom coined the term in 2008 (and he’s a vocal part of the debate in that New York Times piece, Room for Debate, published in July 2014).

Theroux in concluding his review of The Book of Strange New Things  reveals how he really feels about it and let me quote him:

Since the critical and commercial triumph of Hilary Mantel, the historical novel is newly respectable. One hopes that Michel Faber can do something similar for speculative writing. Defiantly unclassifiable, “The Book of Strange New Things” is, among other things, a rebuke to the credo of literary seriousness for which there is no higher art than a Norwegian man taking pains to describe his breakfast cereal. As well as the literature of authenticity, Faber reminds us, there is a literature of enchantment, which invites the reader to participate in the not-real in order to wake from a dream of reality to the ineffability, strangeness and brevity of life on Earth.

This amounts to a major recognition of the speculative dimension of science fiction that has been often ignored, as millions of readers have become entranced with Star Wars and Ender’s Game. However, the escapist, irrealistic aspect of this kind of sci-fi has also turned off just as many people. Result?  Sci-fi has become classified as a commercial “genre”: pure entertainment and nothing else.

Will Faber, with his book, help to make sci-fi  “respectable”, repeating what Hilary Mantel did for the historical novel?

I believe he could, because, in fact, Faber is not alone in doing this. Other major writers are doing it too, in particular  Margaret Atwood (MaddAddam Trilogy, inter alia) and Barbara Kingsolver (Flight Behavior). Of course,both writers are also considered climate fiction authors, but Margaret Atwood for one has always argued that her fiction is “speculative”.

In my view, regardless of terminology, this is speculative writing of the highest order – it ties back to the founding masters of the speculative sci-fi genre, George Orwell (1984) and Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) who always started from highly plausible premises. And that’s why their books fascinated and scared a whole generation that was feeling under the threat of totalitarian communism.

Today, we are under the threat of global warming with big corporations that won’t do anything about it (because they profit from fossil fuels); we witness increasing geopolitical chaos, especially in the Middle East but other places too as Islamic Jihad spreads; we watch helplessly as income inequality takes hold everywhere, including in places like the United States, where chances for the young to “make it” are growing slimmer by the day unless they were born into “big money”.

Speculative authors (like myself) take this world of ours as the starting point for our fiction. And we try to look into the future to figure out what awaits us and our children.

Given current trends, where are we going?

Such questions need to be asked. And as our world continues to unravel, they will become evermore urgent.

That is why speculative fiction is going to be the Next Big Trend in Publishing.

Just one sad last note: Michel Faber has told the press (see here) that he won’t write another novel, he’s been shaken by the loss of his wife Eva who died of cancer as he was putting the last touches to The Book of Strange New Things. I sincerely hope he will change his mind, it would be a terrible loss to literature.

Post Scriptum: If you’re curious about this kind of fiction, my own speculative novel (just published) is free for 5 days, starting today November 4, don’t miss the chance, I’m not going to do it again! Click here to grab your copy before it’s over.
We mortals dream of immortality. What if there was another option? The power of money could make the difference. A few win, the great majority loses, but humanity is saved, or is it?

Gateway to ForeverExcerpt from reviews:

– A prophetic view of our future. Compelling from start to finish (Lit Amri)

A cast of characters that range from fascinating to despicable (Marsha Roberts)

– A very plausible future, scarily plausible (Bob Rector)

Published May 31, 2014. 326 pages.

UPDATE ON FREE CAMPAIGN:

On Day One (November 4): 264 units were downloaded and that shot the book up to:

Major author and playwright Bob Rector (who reviewed the book, see here) just posted the following on his Facebook page:

Great opportunity to grab one of my favorite books for free. If you like storytelling at its very best, I urge you not to pass this up.

Thanks, Bob, I hope many will follow you and read the book. And I know you love Alice, the protagonist of whom I made a portrait, so I am including it here:

Alice in the desert

 

 

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A Perfect Summer Breakfast

What a way to start a perfect summer day! A foamy cappuccino, a crisp croissant (or cornetto if you are in Italy), fresh fruit and a good book:

 

 Am I plugging my latest book? Yes, shamelessly, ha ha! I just got it in the mail, brand new, fresh from Create Space’s printing presses (you can see it here on Amazon – for some mysterious reason, the blue in reality is several shades darker than on the website, looks much better in reality. I confess that I love a printed book. It looks more real than the digital version, it’s got pages you can turn, a shiny cover you can slide your fingers on, and you can write in the margin. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t feel I’ve published a book until I hold it in my hands…

And I’m not afraid to say it’s a damn good book…Though I must also confess that I find it hard to self-promote, it goes against the grain. I’ve been brought up by old-fashioned parents who felt children should be seen and not heard.

…Well, not quite like that (though it pretty much sums up the influence of my mother and father, Mom was always the one who showed affection and Dad the one who discussed ideas). And it’s hard to shake off a lifetime of acting reserved and demure.

So what is this book Forever Young about? A near-future thriller (yes, scary!), it is set 200 years from now. Last week it got a Nevil Award for climate fiction and has already garnered 5-star reviews on Amazon. Actually, last year, when I published the opening, it got a lot of attention on Goodreads (23 ratings) – and more recently on Wattpad (400 reads) and Readwave (1685 reads, 13 likes, my most successful short, a 3 minute read, see here).

Here are some excerpts, and I treasure them, there is nothing that makes a writer happier than a good review that shows the reader enjoyed the book:

  • “Futuristic and yet spot on” (Beate Boeker, here) 
  • “A highly plausible future. Scarily plausible” (Bob Rector, here)
  • “A prophetic view of our future” (Lit Amri) 
  •  “a roller coaster ride” (Marsha Roberts, here
  • “A growing tension among the main characters as the fatal end approaches” (C.E. Rodriguez)
  • A fascinating concept, Nougat provides beautifully-written science fiction, with enough reality to scare the hell out of us” (Vikki Patis, see article here)

So why not make your summer perfect and get Forever Young?

Right now, if you live in the UK, the digital version is under promotion (at a 70% discount) – until 22 July, so hurry! If you don’t live in the UK, don’t despair, the digital price is low and the printed book can be had with a free digital version. I made sure to make the digital version free; in my opinion, this is something  that should be standard: if you buy the printed book, you should always get a free digital version, it makes sense.

Now, as to why Amazon doesn’t run “countdown deals” in markets other than the US and UK, I have no idea. Not fair. I can only presume that in the near future, they will do so.

Wondering about where I took the image with my book and cappuccino? On this terrace:

That’s our house in Umbria, an old stone farm near Lake Trasimeno, one of the main settings of my previous book, Crimson Clouds. Yes, under that umbrella, a perfect place to read a book!
Cheers and have a happy summer!

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A Five-Star Review by a Major Writer for Just Published FOREVER YOUNG, Part One

Hugely talented writer Bob Rector, author of Unthinkable Consequences (I highly recommend it, great romantic thriller) and of the acclaimed play Letters from the Front that successfully toured the world for 15 years, has just put my new climate fiction book, FOREVER YOUNG, Part 1,  on his list of “hot new reads”. This is a serialized novel exploring the future that I believe awaits us all, and three more parts are soon coming up, the next one, Part 2, The Immortality Trip, to be released tomorrow on Amazon (and later on all other e-platforms). Look for it!

I’m deeply honored that Bob singled my work out and his review makes me particularly happy. Here it is:

5-STAR REVIEW OF FOREVER YOUNG PART ONE by Claude Nougat

If you’re a boomer and this book doesn’t send a chill up your spine, you’d better check your pulse. I don’t want to give too much away but it’s no spoiler to say that Claude Nougat’s Forever Young series takes place about 200 years from now. Unlike so many stories set in the future, Ms. Nougat creates a very plausible future. Too plausible. Scarily plausible.

The changes that have taken place on the globe sound eerily prophetic. It’s hard to single out a protagonist. Forever Young is comprised of an ensemble cast, each with conflicting interests. They are all faced with the choice of whether to remain forever young for a hundred or more years or receive a billion dollars.

Thrown into the mix is a quest for true love, family bonds, greed, sculduggery, duplicity, and humans basically behaving at their worst. In other words, some things never change despite all the glittering marvels science can bestow upon us.

Ms. Nougat creates characters that jump off the page at you. Her dialogue is so razor sharp you find yourself sometimes saying “Ouch!” The climax is as hair raising as an old west shoot out. Is there humor? Oh yes, and it’s dark as molasses and just as tasty. You’ll be tempted to lick it right off the page.

As a reader, when I pick up a new book, I want to feel like a mail sack on a railway platform waiting for a speeding train to snatch me away to a new destination. That’s just what Claude Nougat does with this first book in her Forever Young series, Gateway To Forever.

It’s always comforting to be in the hands of a real pro. Ms. Nougat certainly is that. Highly recommended read.

For the whole post, see here: FOREVER YOUNG by Claude Nougat.

Update: this morning, another 5-star review was posted on Amazon by author Marsha Roberts, see here
I’m wowed!

And here’s the cover of my book:

Available on all e-platforms, for Amazon click here: http://www.amazon.com/Forever-Young-Part-One-Gateway-ebook/dp/B00JU99LS4/

Available on all e-platforms; click here for Amazon

BIG NEWS: Drum roll please! Part 2, The Immortality Trip is out! Find out what happens to Alice, Lizzie and Jamie as they are given the chance to fly off to a pristine planet one thousand light years away where humanity can start again…Click here to see it on Amazon and here on Smashwords in the Premium Catalogue, which means it’s available on all e-platforms, for the Nook, Kobo and iPad as well as mobile devices.
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Author Bob Rector’s Interview of C.N.

Reblogged from author Bob Rector’s blog, see here. He’s just launching a round of interviews of authors – so keep an eye open on his blog, more interesting interviews are sure to come!

I’m very honored to have drawn his interest. He is a remarkably talented writer himself, the author of Letters from the Front, a show that became known as the World’s Most Decorated Play and that entertained America’s troops around the world for fifteen years. Most recently, he has released a smashing novel of romance and suspense, Unthinkable Consequences (see here) that is climbing the Amazon ranks at a fast pace and has already garnered 19 reviews, all of them 5 stars and well-deserved too!

For more about Bob Rector, click here. And here’s the interview, with lots of arresting questions:

April 6, 2014

MY INTERVIEW WITH MULTI-TALENTED CLAUDE NOUGAT

It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you the very talented author/artist Claude Nougat. Not only is she a gifted storyteller, she also provided invaluable editing advice to me while I was in final preparation of my manuscript for Unthinkable Consequences.

Claude you are an accomplished author with several books in release, but before we start discussing your word-craft, tell us a little about your background.
I guess you could say I’m a world citizen, I really don’t have roots anywhere. Born in Belgium, raised in Sweden, Egypt, Russia, France, Colombia and finally reaching the US when I was 17 – picking up on the way many languages and forgetting them in turn. What’s left is French, Italian, Spanish and of course English that I learned attending classes at the American Embassy in Moscow. My formative years as an intellectual took place in America, at Columbia U. I graduated in economics not because I particularly liked the subject but because my father felt that studying anything else would be a “waste of time” (what I really wanted to study was paleontology, I love old bones…) Once out of school, I travelled the world over for the United Nations, giving management advice to aid projects in difficulty, a fantastic job. It put me in touch with so many different people – a very enriching and full experience that lasted 25 years till I retired in 2003.

I happen to know that you are also a very talented painter. Do you find that it compliments your skills as a writer? If so, how?
Painting and writing seem to call on diametrically opposed segments of the brain: the mode of concentration is totally different – painting is more intuitive, it sort of “happens” on the blank canvas. You could argue that a book also happens on a blank page, but it is a long haul, not like a painting that can be done in a few hours. A book can take years in the making – my first one (now out as “Luna Rising”, a Sicilian family saga) took 30 years in the making, from the first moment I thought of it (when I walked into a dusty men’s club in Sicily full of old men playing backgammon – they all looked like ghosts) to its most recent incarnation (now out in a brand new edition). A painting only takes a few days, in that sense, a painting is more like a short story or a poem…

Two of your works that I truly enjoyed are Crimson Clouds and Forever Young. Give us a brief description of each.

So happy you enjoyed them! “Crimson Clouds” is about the anxieties of restarting one’s life after retirement. Robert, the protagonist, in his early 60’s, a brilliant manager, he’s still young and attractive and has a lovely and much younger wife who’s carved out her own success as a dealer of contemporary art. But when he decides to renew with a childhood dream of being an artist and produces paintings that are dreadfully academic (a little like my own!), his wife is horrified. They fight over art but what is at stake is their marriage and they separate. He goes to Italy, has some love affairs but his wife wants to save their marriage and comes back to him…

“Forever Young” is set 200 years from now, when the Earth is dying and only the ultra rich, who can afford the costly and exclusive Age Prevention Program (APP), enjoy a perfect life in their gated communities, looking young till the day they drop dead. The book has three major characters, forming a love triangle: Jamie, a young investigative journalist from the World and US Post (the New York Times and Huffington Post rolled into one), his partner Lizzie, a professional golf player (she’s a descendent of the mythical Tiger Woods), and Alice, a beautiful Swiss nurse and an outsider: she yearns to join the APP and is in love with Jamie. There are two options to survive the extinction of life on Earth, both opened only to APP members: fly to another pristine planet similar to Earth or take refuge in Antarctica, the last virgin continent, and wait for the end to come, getting ready to re-settle the Earth afterwards. What will our threesome do?

Why do you write?
Tough question. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t write!

What appeals to you most about crafting a story?
The suspense. Digging into another person’s head. Figuring what happens next. If I know ahead what’s going to happen in my story, I don’t feel like writing it at all. I’m my own first reader!

What writers have inspired or influenced you most and why?
All the classics, especially the Russians – I consider Gorki’s Dead Souls an absolute masterpiece, it’s got everything I love, the characters, the social comments, the way a light is thrown on society – much more effective than any sociological critical essay. The same can be said of Bulgakov’s The Master and Marguerite: literally insane fantasy and the most effective and devastating comment ever made about Communism and men’s tendency to fall into dictatorship. But I also like the French, Voltaire’s Candide and Camus’ novels for the same reason I like Gorki. Also the English, in particular the sci-fi masters, Aldous Huxley and Orwell though this is an area where there are lots of remarkable American writers too, from Frederik Pohl to Philip K. Dick and most recently, Hugh Howey. Actually, there are lots of amazing writers alive today from Penelope Lively to William Boyd, David Lodge, Louis Begley, Deborah Moggach, Tracy Chevalier, Siri Hustvedt…

If your writing was music, what would it sound like?
Good God, I have no idea! I guess, cool jazz…

What comes first for you, plot or character, and why?
Character, no question about it. The plot comes next, it develops out of a character’s strengths and weaknesses, yearnings and fears. The setting is often what challenges the characters and pushes them to their (internal) extremes but the challenges also come from relationships between characters.

Tell us a little about how you formulate your plots.
I don’t formulate them at all. I have a general idea and jump in. As I write, it all unfolds in front of my eyes like a film.

Talk a little about themes. At what point in your writing process do you address them?
Never. I don’t believe in writing with a theory in mind that you want to develop. The themes come naturally as a side-effect of the plot and characters. Forever Young really deals with major issues threatening life on earth but I hope that doesn’t show. The intention is to entertain, not teach or preach.

Tell us a little about how you create your characters.
Observation. People around me are warned! But most of all, I draw characters from my own inner self. Whatever looks logical for the character, given who he/she is, gets written down. The characters dictate the creation, not the other way around. I’m sure you know what I mean, because I can see that’s how you create your characters too.

Which characters have you created that are most vivid to you, or continue to reside in your heart?
The young man in Luna Rising, he is stuck in his life, he hates it and he’s trying to get out of it. Obstacles on his way, coming from the ghosts in his family, are so numerous that he is forced to become a hero or…die! Contrary to a lot of my readers who disliked Kay, the wife in Crimson Clouds, I actually love her. That’s why I rewrote Crimson Clouds (now the second edition of what was originally called A Hook in the Sky). I wanted to make it clear that for her, winning back her husband is a huge undertaking and he’s constantly cutting her down. So I added whole sections to the book giving her side of the story. And I also love Alice in Forever Young: she’s the outsider who should be in, but is constantly left out. But that doesn’t discourage her, she’s a brave, determined woman – at any rate, that’s how I think of her and painted her (at your behest!) and I’m thinking of using that portrait as a book cover…

ALICE
Portrait of Alice at dawn – oil on canvas by Claude (2014)

You definitely should! Talk to us a little about writing good dialogue.
Bob, I think that’s where you’re the master! In any case, I follow your system: see the people talk, hear them talk (go in a trance if necessary!), take time to speak the dialogue out loud, and you’ll hear it when it’s too long or repetitive or useless. Then, there’s only one solution for it: cut, cut, cut!

I agree. For every line of dialogue that makes it on the page, I probably toss a dozen more. Do you have personal, social, or political convictions that worm their way into your writing? If so, give an example.
I suppose I do though I try very hard to not let them “worm” their way in. Yes, because they can be truly worms that punch holes in the plot. I am convinced that much of contemporary art is not good and I guess that worked its way into Crimson Clouds (mainly in the form of fights between Robert and the women in his life who are all contemporary art fans). Likewise, I’m convinced that income inequality is a major evil of our time and it’s become one of the premises of the brave new world you find in Forever Young.

What do you find most difficult about the craft of storytelling?
Avoid repetition. Not talk down to the reader. Realize that they’re bright and don’t need to be either lectured to or have to be told anything twice. So again, I cut!

Amen! Talk to us about your greatest “Ah-ha!” moment when you read over a passage or chapter and said, “Wow, that’s really good!”
Are you speaking of my own work? I don’t have such moments, ever, when it comes to my own writing! Other people’s writing, yes. Right now I’m into Siri Hustvedt The Blazing World and there are a fantastic succession of such awe-inspiring moments! Just to quote one (out of a dozen or more) when she describes the protagonist’s father: “Harriet’s father was physically awkward, prone to self-conscious pats of his daughter’s arm or quick, hard hugs that were more like speeding collisions than expressions of affection…He liked to expound to us on philosophy…He believed in tolerance and academic freedom…But it is not what is said that makes us who we are. More often it is what remains unspoken.” That last sentence is fantastic!

Many writers create different working environments or conditions that help them focus on the job at hand. Tell us about yours.
Nope, sorry to disappoint. No special environment. I work wherever and whenever I can, in between womanly tasks like cooking or making beds. I leave the gardening to my husband!

We’re in agreement, although I don’t make beds. Don’t see the point. What frustrates you most about being a writer?
The marketing. I hate book promotion but it’s a necessity – especially in today’s environment, with millions of books available on Amazon with just a computer click.

Yes, I think most writers would agree with you on this. Do you think male and female writers approach storytelling differently? If so, how?
I never thought it was a gender thing. For me, it’s not and I don’t believe there’s any gender determined difference. Character-wise, sure. I should think we’re all different in the way we approach work, whether it’s writing, painting, music or economic analysis.

If a young person just starting their working life said to you they wanted to be a writer, knowing what you know now, what would you say to them?
Hey, that’s a tricky question! I don’t think of myself as a guru… On the basis of my own experience, I would say, be ready for the long haul, chances are that your first book won’t make a ripple. So don’t get bitter about it, it happens to all of us. Be ready to befriend your competition. Actually, a lot of writers see other writers as rivals and that’s totally wrong. Writers are terribly different from one another, there’s space for everybody, and we can help each other!

Great advice, Claude. As always, I enjoy your stimulating views on writing. Thank you for participating.

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