Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Books’

Best Writing Tips from William Boyd, Claire Messud, Tessa Hadley, Philip Hensher and others

September 26, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →

Illustration by Jill Calder in The Guardian

Plan your ending

About once a month or so, when someone says to me, “I’ve got this great idea for a novel/film/play/TV series” and then outlines the (usually pretty good) opening, I say: “So – how does it end?”. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the answer is: “I haven’t quite figured that out yet.”

Therefore my default response to all “great” ideas in the writing business is to do with the ending. A good ending can redeem a mediocre idea. A bad ending can sink a really good idea. As soon as you know how your narrative ends – in whatever medium – then a huge percentage of the problematic issues that arise in the writing will be solved.

If you have a clear sense of how your story will end then you can, as it were, rewind to the beginning and plot any number of various routes that will allow you to arrive at that desired ending – with its attendant catharsis, of course. If you start writing (however striking your original idea) with no sense of how your story will end, then life becomes progressively harder. Flailing around. Writer’s block. Draft after draft. This is how novels get abandoned; film scripts bottom-drawered. The thing to do is to stop and envisage your final pages, your final scene. Take your time. What note do you want to strike? What surprise do you want to spring? What denouement will justify this journey?

It may sound mechanical, but story-telling is a very complicated business, full of moving parts and many cogs engaging. You can’t rely on the Muse to descend and sort it all out for you. A bit of serious forethought about the conclusion will mean you don’t need the Muse’s help at all.

Read My Best Writing Tip

Still Jonesing: The return of the 90s singleton

September 15, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books 2 Comments →



There are bookshelves, then there are rooms that are bookshelves.

September 14, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →

Book and Bed is a hostel in Tokyo where guests sleep in hidden bunks built into a giant bookshelf. The hostel’s owners wanted to recreate the feeling of drifting off to sleep in the company of a good book, and has 1000s of books — both in English and Japanese — to choose from.

Read about it.

3 Stories by Joy Williams

September 06, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →

Titles at the end.


The child wanted to name the rabbit Actually, and could not be dissuaded from this.

It was the first time one of our pets was named after an adverb.
It made us uncomfortable. We thought it to be bad luck.
But no ill befell any of us nor did any ill befall the people who visited our home.
Everything proceeded beautifully, in fact, until Actually died.


“To read a Saki story is to hire an assassin.”

September 02, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →


To read a Saki story is to hire an assassin. There have been many attempts in the last hundred years to re-create that specific Saki feeling; the pleasures of laying waste to convention combined with the quickening promise of something wilder in its stead. Nobody has yet managed it entirely, but in the pursuit of Saki a great deal of gleeful choler has been produced. If you were feeling ungenerous, you might compare the writing of an introduction to an animal marking out territory (the same could be said of writing essays for literary publications), and so it is with the list of writers who have introduced Saki’s work: Noël Coward, A.N. Wilson, Tom Sharpe, Will Self. Coward’s use of Sakian humour, though, is constrained by his urgent pursuit of the next punchline; Sharpe’s has a seaside postcard quality that has dated more in forty years than Saki’s has in a hundred. Saki is often said to ring through the novels of P.G. Wodehouse, but Wodehouse turns his raw material into something far gentler than Saki did; there is kindness in Saki but not sweetness, and in a truly Sakian Wodehouse story, Bertie would be trapped under a piece of vintage furniture and torn apart by the dog Bartholomew. Coward and Saki do both give off-kilter advice, and they are at their most archetypal when laying down the law. Coward renders schoolboy humour urbane: ‘Never trust a man with short legs; his brains are too near his bottom.’ Saki is calmly outlandish: ‘Never be flippantly rude to any inoffensive grey-bearded stranger that you may meet in pine forests or hotel smoking-rooms on the Continent. It always turns out to be the King of Sweden.’ The work in Coward’s quips is audible; in Saki’s it is undetectable. As with Donne, Nabokov and Spark, the mechanisms of wit are unseen and so inimitable.

Read in the the London Review of Books.

Read The Background by Saki and compare it with Skin by Roald Dahl.

The Background
by Saki

“That woman’s art-jargon tires me,” said Clovis to his journalist friend. “She’s so fond of talking of certain pictures as ‘growing on one,’ as though they were a sort of fungus.”

“That reminds me,” said the journalist, “of the story of Henri Deplis. Have I ever told it you?”

Clovis shook his head.

“Henri Deplis was by birth a native of the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg. On maturer reflection he became a commercial traveller. His business activities frequently took him beyond the limits of the Grand Duchy, and he was stopping in a small town of Northern Italy when news reached him from home that a legacy from a distant and deceased relative had fallen to his share.

“It was not a large legacy, even from the modest standpoint of Henri Deplis, but it impelled him towards some seemingly harmless extravagances. In particular it led him to patronize local art as represented by the tattoo-needles of Signor Andreas Pincini. Signor Pincini was, perhaps, the most brilliant master of tattoo craft that Italy had ever known, but his circumstances were decidedly impoverished, and for the sum of six hundred francs he gladly undertook to cover his client’s back, from the collar-bone down to the waist-line, with a glowing representation of the Fall of Icarus. The design, when finally developed, was a slight disappointment to Monsieur Deplis, who had suspected Icarus of being a fortress taken by Wallenstein in the Thirty Years’ War, but he was more than satisfied with the execution of the work, which was acclaimed by all who had the privilege of seeing it as Pincini’s masterpiece.

Continue reading The Background

by Roald Dahl

That winter – 1946 – was a long time going. Although it was April, a freezing wind blew through the streets of the city, and overhead the snow clouds moved across the sky.

The old man who was called Drioli shuffled painfully along the sidewalk of the Rue de Rivoli. He was cold and miserable, huddled up like a hedgehog in a filthy black coat, only his eyes and the top of his head visible above the turned-up collar.

The door of a café opened and the faint whiff of roasting chicken brought a pain of yearning to the top of his stomach. He moved on glancing without any interest at the things in the shop windows – perfume, silk ties and shirts, diamonds, porcelain, antique furniture, finely bound books. Then a picture gallery. He had always liked picture-galleries. This one had a single canvas on display in the window. He stopped to look at it. He turned to go on. He checked, looked back; and now, suddenly, there came to him a slight uneasiness, a movement of the memory, a distant recollection of something, somewhere, he had seen before. He looked again. It was landscape, a clump of trees leaning madly over to one side as if blown by a tremendous wind. Attached to the frame there was a little plaque, and on this it said: CHAIM SOUTINE (1894 – 1943).

Continue reading Skin.

The Philippine Readers and Writers Festival presents Pulitzer winner Adam Johnson

August 25, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Announcements, Books No Comments →