Sunday Sharing #10: Persepolis, Close to Me, blurring the lines between work and play and more

Christopher Eccleston and Connie Nielsen: the stars of Channel 4’s Close to Me

My last Sunday Sharing of the year (and potentially ever). I’ve got several other blog posts I’d really like to focus on this month, plus I’m considering a more flexible and interesting approach for next year.

As this is the last, I’ve packed this one full of content more in line with the fifth, sixth and eighth editions of this limited series. I hope you find it worth your while.

If all you’re interested in is the list of 10 things I wanted to share from the week, you can skip to the end.

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WRITING

I’ve recaptured my ability to embrace the messy draft, and I thought my friend Jordanna Jade’s insight about freewriting through a block was helpful. Many of my recent attempts to write more substantial fiction were thwarted by unforeseen hurdles and how bloated my scenes were becoming. I’d lose the plot — literally and metaphorically.

Seeing the faults in your WIP whilst you’re still in the early stages of writing is a strong motivation killer that must be resisted.

Freewriting has been freeing (pun intended). It has allowed me to just put the ideas all out on paper and forego concerns about good plotting or dialogue. When there is so much up in my brain, it’s hard to decide what needs to stay and what needs to go until it’s all there in front of me. This approach should — I hope — help me sift the gold from the crap.

I’ve also been writing by hand, which has stopped me from obsessing over the quantity of my output. Whether I’m using Scrivener or Word, it’s just too easy to concern myself with the word count. Sometimes it’s the realisation I’ve written too little. Other times it’s realising I’ve written a great deal but have so much further to go, which puts into perspective just how large the project I’ve started is.

Another change I made with my recent fiction project was changing to first-person perspective. I was inspired to do this after considering what Suzy Hansen said about writing in first-person in her interview with Natasha Rodriguez for chapter 39 of the Writerland newsletter:

I found first person much easier to write. The main reason is that it’s more flexible. I wanted to write a book that mixed history, reporting, psychological insight and literary analysis. I wanted a mix of genres. And first person is much more flexible in terms of weaving in between these genres.

Suzy Hansen

Third-person is my go-to in fiction, but twice now I’ve found writing easier in first. I’ve often thought of first-person as too limiting a perspective to tell a story. But I think Hansen is right about first-person’s flexibility. POV is something I’ll definitely give more thought to in future, and I won’t be writing off first-person again.

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READING

An early panel from Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis set when she was a child with the caption: "I wanted to be justice, love and the wrath of God all in one."

I finished Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis this week and it was fantastic. Much like Art Spiegelman’s The Complete MAUS, comics have proven once again to be an effective and emotive means of telling personal narratives. This graphic memoir is packed with humour and wit but also full of heartbreaking tragedy, violent horrors and conflicts against rage-inducing oppressive ideals.

The memoir begins with Marjane Satrapi as a child during the 1979 Islamic Revolution (as it is called in the comic). We see how the authoritarian regime of the Shah was replaced with Islamic Fundamentalism, which was not representative of the political aims of all the revolutionaries — many of whom were leftists, several of whom were later executed for their loyalty to their progressive principles.

The first half of the book explores Satrapi’s childhood in Iran, which she spends reading up on philosophy and Marxist theory as well as learning about her own family history of resistance. We see how the new oppressive laws affect Satrapi, her family, her friends and her neighbours. And then Iraq declares war on Iran and people Satrapi knew either end up fleeing or dead.

Another panel from the first half of the memoir when Satrapi was a child where she tells her friend: "Don't you know that when they keep saying someone is on a trip it really means he is dead? At least that was the case with my grandpa."

Passionate and brave, Satrapi remains outspoken and regularly lands herself in trouble. And without spoiling too much, Marjane Satrapi eventually had to leave Iran, too. The second half starts in Vienna, but her troubles had barely begun.

There’s so much I loved about this memoir. The narrative covers a great number of political tragedies as well as more personal ones. I’ve often heard that the “personal is political” and Persepolis is a great example. Satrapi weaves her personal strifes into the commentary of the societies she finds herself living in. Whilst abroad, for example, we don’t get lengthy sections on racism but we see several scenes of racism directed at Satrapi and what effect this had on her.

Satrapi’s art style is also incredible. It feels minimalistic and yet every single character is distinct. I never found myself lost as to who was who, which speaks to her attention to detail as an artist. Following the dialogue was also very easy, something a few comics I’ve read in the past haven’t always managed to get right, but Persepolis is easy reading.

Another panel from the first half of the memoir, which depicts the first and only time Satrapi's parents took her to a protest. Satrapi sees violence for the first time. In the penultimate panel, Satrapi sees a man stab a female protester in the leg.

This was definitely one of my favourite books I read this year and I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those who have snobby opinions about comics.

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VIEWING

Yesterday, my parents and I finished the Channel 4 miniseries Close to Me, based on the novel of the same name by Amanda Reynolds, and the three of us enjoyed it overall.

The reveal (or twist) wasn’t very surprising, it was more or less what I guessed from the beginning. However, I don’t think the show is about the surprise, despite its thriller structure. Instead, its themes are more centred around abuse and trauma.

Jo (played by the superb Connie Nielsen) loses her memory after a fall down the stairs. A whole year of Jo’s life is wiped from her brain, leaving her feeling like a stranger in her own head. Now she has to piece her memories back together alone, and she can’t be sure who to trust. Her husband, Rob (portrayed by the always excellent Christopher Eccleston), is also lying to her. But are his lies really as well-intentioned as he claims or is he hiding something?

What the show does really well is force us to be uncertain of Jo’s reality. Not only is this effective for the gaslighting narrative, but it keeps us guessing and doubting that the story will unfold the way we suspect it will. Even I began to wonder if Jo was really the victim in all this, especially as Jo’s inability to discern reality from fantasy offered up some shocking scenes.

I also must now adopt a potentially unpopular opinion: dream sequences are great. Or at least they can be. Sage writerly advice often advocates against dream sequences. However, my opinion of dreams differs. In fiction, I think dreams can be a useful narrative tool if they’re delivered in a way that is surprising and doesn’t undercut the tension of the narrative. Twist endings that reveal it was all a dream are garbage. But if a dream sequence invites intrigue or reveals character in a way that compliments the narrative then I’m all for them.

Close to Me had some surprising dream sequences that I loved. They were especially effective (IMO) because we can’t so easily discern reality from fantasy. It’s not always easy to tell when something is a hallucination, so a dream sequence does a great job of surprising us.

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SHARING

“Everyone is a worker” illustration taken from Emily Alexander’s LitHub article: “From Construction to Teaching: Seven Writers On Their Day Jobs

And one more time for the year (unless you subscribe to my newsletter), here is a list of 10 things I’ve read/viewed from the web that I felt were worth sharing:

  1. Heather Havrilesky, who writes the Ask Polly newsletter, interviewed Austin Kleon (a regular appearance on this blog) about blurring the lines between work and play. As always, Kleon has invaluable insight on making art. | Substack
  1. Joy Williams: “Re: Writer’s Block. Perhaps more should have it.” | LitHub

Perhaps the disease, the dilemma, the affliction is trying to tell the writer something. Much that is produced is unnecessary, indulgent. When the sincerity, the weird naivete and enchanted stupor of writing leaves the host–the writer–one can only pray for their return, their integration.

Joy Williams
  1. I only discovered Rusty Foster’s newsletter Today in Tabs yesterday, but after reading one issue I cannot wait to read more. “A MasterClass in WTF” is a great read. | Substack
  1. There really is something wonderful and exciting about reading something that defies what you believed an author could do. As much as I preach against the notion that there is no “right way” to write, I often find myself plagued by a nagging feeling that there is such a thing as wrongness and there are rules I feel obliged to follow. That’s why I found Francine Prose’s encounters with the literary strange so interesting. | LitHub
  1. Kyle Chayka ponders the “attention economy” in his article “Time Well Spent,” where he lists nine different artworks that explore alternative possibilities for engagement. These are works that use our attention in different ways. | The Believer
  1. An investigative journalist offers some advice on how to get someone to tell you their secrets. | Lifehacker
  1. Seven writers on their day jobs. | LitHub
  1. Ben Lindbergh asks: why won’t George R. R. Martin let George R. R. Martin finish The Winds of Winter? | The Ringer
  1. After my post about my relationship with music last week, I’ve thought a lot more about it and even found myself enjoying a trip down memory lane, listening to songs I once adored. Then Razbuten’s “Finding Meaning in Music” came up in my recommended and has made me question my reserved feelings. | YouTube
  1. Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing newsletter pointed me in the direction of this fun and interesting site: The Video Game Soda Machine Project — cataloguing every soda vending machine in video games.