The Incorrigible Optimists Club

the incorrigible optimists club

A Book Review

I had never heard of The Incorrigible Optimists Club or the Algerian-born writer Jean-Michel Guenassia. I came across it in the library when I was selecting books for my Christmas holiday reading. The original is written in French and I read the English translation by Euan Cameron.

It is quite untrue that covers don’t sell books. I was drawn to the cover and then I was hooked after reading the blurb and the first page. (It wasn’t until later that I noticed the border design of the book bizarrely matched that of my laptop case.)

I love long works of quality fiction, especially for Christmas holiday reading, and at 624 pages, this one fulfilled my craving.


A Highly Recommended Read!

The Incorrigible Optimists Club is one of those special books that’s hard to set aside when you have to do necessary things, like cook meals, or sleep.

It’s hard to believe that The Incorrigible Optimists Club is this author’s debut novel. Written against the backdrop of the Algerian War (the war for independence between France and the Algerian National Liberation Front 1954—1962), and the era of the Iron Curtain, the book offers no facile solutions to the issues raised. Neither does it excuse the terrible tragedies caused by politics and war. What’s more, the author manages to maintain an optimistic tone, and insert humour, despite the seriousness of some of the issues.

Paris 1959

The year is 1959, the place Paris. The story follows Michel Marin, a twelve-year-old compulsive reader and amateur photographer who’s a champion table football player at the local neighbourhood bistro.

But for his age, Michel has an extraordinary interest in the wider affairs of the world and a special empathy. He is drawn to a curtained-off area at the back of the bistro where a group of exiled Eastern European men gather to chat, play chess and smoke: the Incorrigible Optimists Club. As he is gradually accepted into their circle, he listens to their stories about their homelands before they fled to France, and becomes involved in their lives.

He forms a friendship with a Russian former doctor and expert chess player, Igor, who teaches Michel to play chess. He also becomes friends with another exile, Sacha, who is rigorously and aggressively denied access to the club, especially by Igor and another Russian, Leonid, whenever he dares show up. We do not learn until the end of the book why these two men hate him so much.

Michel becomes an important connection to the outside world for Sacha. In his turn, Sacha becomes a trusted sounding board for Michel’s teen angst in the absence of his father who has moved away from Paris when he and Michel’s mother, an aloof figure in Michel’s life, separate.

The club is also the occasional haunt of Jean Paul Sartre, French philosopher, writer and political activist, and Joseph Kessel, Argentinian-born French journalist and novelist. Many of the men in the club survive thanks to the generosity of Sartre and Kessel. The author drops these famous characters into his book as if he were telling the time of day, although the characters treat them with due reverence: “We gazed at him [Sartre] from a distance, slightly intimidated, feeling we were privileged witnesses of creativity in action, and even those who disliked him watched in silence…”

In the tense resolution of the story, Sacha’s strange rituals and the mysteries surrounding him are finally revealed in a way Michel could never have foreseen.


Jean-Michel Guenassia, The Incorrigible Optimists Club, 2014, Atlantic Books Ltd, London. Available through the Book Depository with free shipping.


Gail Tagarro, Editor (AE)


Contact me to have a chat about your manuscript. You may be ready for an edit, or you may like a manuscript appraisal, or to ask about writer coaching. Asking is free and I’m very approachable! Check out my testimonials while you’re on my website. Read some of the other informative blogs!

ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES and other words

While Charles Darwin gave us the theory of evolution in his ground-breaking work On the Origin of Species, the subject of this blog is etymology: the origin of words and how their meanings have changed over time.

This blog is not intended as an academic treatise on etymology. It does not give every single meaning of the words given below. It is intended as a light and playful skim of the surface rather a plunge into the depths of the meaning, history and origin of words.

On the origin of species and other words

on the origin of species

On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, 1809-1882

species

The noun species comes from Latin species, which meant ‘a particular sort, kind or type’. In Late Latin, it also came to mean ‘a special case’. The Latin noun is related to the verb specere ‘to look at, to see, behold’. From the 1550s, species came to mean ‘appearance, outward form’, and by the 1560s it had evolved to mean ‘distinct class (of something) based on common characteristics’. The biological meaning of ‘species’ dates from c. 1600. The term ‘endangered species’ appears to date from 1964.

Did you know? The word ‘spice’ derives from the same Late Latin word species.

…and now we go alphabetical

Now that we’ve looked into ‘on the origin of species’, we’ll look at some other words.

I’ve chosen the theme of prefixes and compounds. A prefix is a group of letters, with a specific meaning, added to the beginning of a word to create a new word with a different meaning. The prefix un-, for example, added to the beginning of happy, changes the meaning to, in this case, its opposite: unhappy. Compound nouns comprise some or all of the letters of two separate words in combination.

ante-

This prefix derives from the Latin ante, meaning ‘before (in place or time), in front of, against’.

Some examples:

antechamber – a chamber, room or apartment through which access is gained to a principal apartment

antenatal – before birth

ante meridiem – before midday. Most of us are familiar with the abbreviated form am, which is used in the example sentence below.

Sentences using the above:

The king’s youthful groom of the stool looked up when the queen entered the antechamber on her way to the king’s private apartments.

The young parents attended antenatal classes to be ready for the birth of their twins.

‘We leave at 11 am,’ Dot’s husband announced.

What’s the opposite of ante-?

The opposite of ante- is post-.

bene-

bene- comes from the Latin adverb meaning ‘well, in the right way, honourably, properly’.

Some examples:

beneficence – kind, charitable

benefit – something beneficial or advantageous

benign – kind, favourable

Sentences using the above:

The king’s beneficence was appreciated by all his medieval subjects.

A benefit of working from home is you don’t get caught in peak traffic.

He has a benign smile.

What’s the opposite of bene-?

The opposite of bene- is mal-.

cardio-

This prefix comes from the Greek word kardia meaning ‘heart’.cardio

Some examples:

cardiologist – heart specialist

cardiometer – a device to measure the strength of the heart

cardiopulmonary – relating to the heart and the lungs

Sentences using the above:

The cardiologist measured the strength of Sue’s heart using a cardiometer.

The conference addressed specialists in cardiopulmonary diseases.

dec- and deca-

These prefixes derive from the Greek word deka meaning ‘ten’.

Some examples:

Decalogue – the Ten Commandments. The word originally came from the Greek dekalogos; later, in Latin, this became decalogus.

decagon – a polygon with ten angles and ten sides

decaspermal – a botanical term meaning a plant that contains ten seeds

Sentences using the above:

God handed Moses the Decalogue on Mt Sinai.

A polygon with ten sides is called a decagon.

The berry of the plant Psidium decaspermum is decaspermal.

eco-

This is a shortening of ecology or ecological and refers to the environment and its relationship with human beings. It originates from the Greek oikos for ‘house, dwelling’.

Some examples:

ecofreak (that’s a good one!) – someone who is fanatical about conservation of the environment

ecology – the branch of biology dealing with the relationship of living organisms to their environment (Greek eco- + logos ‘word, reason, discourse’)

eco-friendly – causing limited or no damage to the environment

Sentence using the above:

Some people think Ben’s an ecofreak because he majored in ecology and he works for an eco-friendly organisation.

Franco-

Franco- derives from the Medieval Latin word meaning ‘French’ or ‘the Franks’. From the early eighteenth century it has been used to form English compound words.

prefix Franco

ooh la, la

Some examples:

Francophile – a person who loves France and the French to the point of obsession

Francophobe – a person who has a morbid fear of the French

Franco-Canadians – French-speaking Canadians

Sentences using the above:

All Fred’s friends call him a Francophile because he visits France every year and he’s in love with France and the French.

Robert is a Francophobe who can’t stand France or the French.

People who speak French in Canada are called Franco-Canadians or Canadiens.

gastro-

Deriving from the Greek word gastēr, this meant ‘stomach’.

Some examples:

gastroenterologist – a specialist in the branch of medicine dealing with the stomach and intestines

gastroenteritis – inflammation of the stomach and intestines. You may have heard this abbreviated colloquially to ‘gastro’

gastropod – a class of molluscs that move by sliding along on a ventral (relating to the belly) muscular ‘foot’

Sentences using the above:

Frank was having recurring problems with his digestion so his doctor referred him to a gastroenterologist.

I had to take two days off work because I had an attack of gastroenteritis.

Slugs and snails are gastropods.

hydro-

From the Greek hydōr meaning ‘water’.

Some examples:

hydroelectric – electricity produced from the energy of running water

hydrogen – colourless, gaseous element. From the French hydrogène (Greek hydōr + Greek genēs meaning ‘born’), coined in 1787 by French chemist L.B. Guyton de Morveau in reference to the generation of water from the combustion of hydrogen

hydroplane – motor-powered boat that glides on the surface of water, coined 1895 by U.S. engineer Harvey D. Williams. (Greek hydōr + Latin plānum ‘level surface’). As a verb, it was first recorded in 1962 meaning to ‘skid on a thin layer of water’ (especially of car tyres)

Sentences using the above:

The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, China is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, commissioned in 2008.

Hydrogen is a colourless gas and it is the lightest and most common element in the universe.

hydroplane is a speedboat that rises out of the water when it reaches a certain speed.

idio-

From the Greek idio- meaning ‘private, separate, distinct’, this indicates peculiarity, isolation, or something pertaining to an individual person or thing.

Some examples:

idiom – words whose meaning cannot be understood from the meanings of accompanying words, e.g. ‘It was raining cats and dogs’. Unless you’re a native English speaker, or a proficient non-native English speaker, you cannot predict the meaning of ‘cats and dogs’ in this sentence

idiosyncrasy – a quirk or unusual trait, mannerism or behaviour (from Greek idiosunkrasia: idio– + sunkrasis mixture, temperament)

idolatry – ‘the worship of idols’ or ‘excessive devotion to someone/something’

Sentences using the above:

The English-language students looked at one another in astonishment when their teacher used the idiom ‘bite the bullet’.

Her idiosyncrasy was that she wore reading glasses when she didn’t need them.

His idolatry of the president is insufferable.

kerato-

From the Greek kerat-, keras meaning ‘horn’

Some examples:

keratin – a  protein in the outer layer of the skin and in hair, nails, feathers, hooves, etc.

keratosis – a harmless skin condition characterised by a horny or scaly growth

Sentences using the above:

A horn is a permanent pointed projection on the head of various animals consisting of a covering of keratin and other proteins surrounding a core of live bone (Wikipedia).

When I had my skin cancer check recently, the specialist said not to worry as I only had a solar keratosis.

Did you know? The word cornea (the transparent membrane covering the front of the eyeball) is a Latin word related to the Greek keras.

 

If you’ve enjoyed reading about the origin of words like ‘species’, ‘ecofreak’ and ‘Francophile’, drop me an email.

Acknowledgements

Collins Online Dictionary, accessed 03/01/19, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english

Macquarie Dictionary, accessed 03/01/19, https://www.macquariedictionary.com.au/

Online Etymology Dictionary, accessed 02/01/19, https://www.etymonline.com/

Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition, CD-ROM Version 4.0

Wikipedia, accessed 03/01/19, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horn_(anatomy)

Coming soon … Writer coaching tutorials: Twelve Ways to Improve your Writing Skills

Help me tell my story

“ I’ve got a story in me that’s important to tell. I want to write a story but I don’t know how to start. Help me tell my story ”

Does this sound like you?

Whimsical 3D book

Great ideas for writers

I’ve spoken with many people who have an important book inside them. Some people in their 70s, 80s and 90s may never have told their family about the ‘real you’, because the past holds painful memories. But one day, you decide it’s important to tell your story. As an older person, the era you lived in and the way life used to be is fascinating for younger generations. Your history could well have relevance outside your family. History is lost once people who lived in a certain era ‘move on’. There is great value in recording these memories for posterity.

Whatever your story may be, and whether you’re ten or a hundred and ten, if it’s important to you, then these suggestions may help get you started.

Common hurdles

Some of the most common obstacles to would-be writers seem to be:

1. ‘It seems too overwhelming to write a whole book’
2. ‘I don’t have the writing skills’
3. ‘My story’s in my head.’ ‘I don’t own a computer but I have handwritten notes.’ ‘I can’t type.’

The hardest step is usually the first step.

Make it manageable. Simplify.

Start with a table of contents

Type (or write) up a structure for your book, a table of contents. You may find a chronological structure (e.g. divided into years) works for you. A table of contents will give a starting point to any type of book, and may be particularly helpful if you’re writing your memoir, or a non-fiction book about historical events.

You can always add to or take away from the contents as the writing progresses – and you will probably want to.

It doesn’t matter if it takes you a few minutes or a few days to come up with a structure that you’re happy with. But one thing is certain: working to a structure will make writing the book much easier. You’ll be amazed at how the ideas begin to flow once you have a starting point.

You might want to number the chapters – Chapter 1, Chapter 2… or you may prefer to have chapter titles – Growing Up in Adelaide; First Boyfriend…

Don’t get fancy at first. Just come up with the major headings.

Ancient table of contentsThen, when you have your top-level structure worked out, think about the topics or themes you want to cover under each chapter heading. Then you can begin to flesh out your table of contents.

For a non-fiction book, it may be easiest to have several sub-headings for the topics you want to cover in each chapter, in the order you want to cover them.

For a fiction book, write a brief description under each chapter of what you want to cover – a chapter-by-chapter synopsis.

Again, it’s quite okay for your initial structure to be fluid. As you begin writing and as your book progresses, you may decide to reorder, add or remove chapters.

Help me tell my story! I don’t have the writing skills

Join a writer’s group

Joining a local writer’s group or writer’s centre is a great way to get help and support while you are writing your book.

If transportation is an issue or you are housebound, ask a writer friend to come over so you can write together. It’s amazing how having another writer in the room inspires and motivates.

Look for a writing mentor online.

Join a writing Meetup group.

Hire a ghostwriter

If you are adamant that you don’t have a writer’s bone in your body, and you can afford this option, a ghostwriter will write your book for you. To find out more about it, click on the link to read my ghostwriting blog.

My story’s in my head, I don’t have a computer and I don’t type

Free classes

Take free classes through your local library to learn how to use a computer. Libraries offer free use of computers for specified periods, usually a couple of hours at a time, so once you build up the skills, you don’t even need to buy a computer to write your story if you don’t want to.

Ask a friend

You may not be interested in learning how to use a computer for any number of reasons. You may have transportation or health issues, or you may be sight impaired. So ask a friend to help you type up your story.

Arrange with your friend to come over to your place once or twice a week. Set aside one-hour-long sessions and work to that diligently. Don’t try to spend longer or you both may become overwhelmed. Focus on only one topic each session, and get down as much as possible. Avoid becoming side-tracked – don’t chat about the weather, that can come later! You will make much faster progress this way, and both you and your friend will feel a sense of accomplishment after each session if you are disciplined. Reward yourselves with wine afterwards!

If you have any handwritten notes or letters for inclusion, your friend can type them up for you and slot them into the relevant chapters.

What is your story?

Graveyard on a dark and stormy night

There’s no age limit to writing.

You will find a way.

Let me know how I can help with getting your book started, no matter where you are with your manuscript or what editorial service you need. If you’re not sure, it’s free to ask. I’m approachable and always happy to help new writers.

Ghostwriting Australia

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Ghostwriting Gratitude

What is a ghostwriter?

A ghostwriter is a writer who writes books, stories, blogs, magazine articles, or any other written content that will officially be attributed to another person – the credited author.

Why use ghostwriting services?

Sportspeople, politicians, celebrities, and business people are the traditional users of ghostwriting services. While these people are experts in their fields, they are not professional writers. Hiring a ghostwriter to write their autobiography, biography or business document ensures they convey their message clearly and professionally.

I’m not a celebrity. Why do I need my story ghostwritten?

Some reasons that you may choose to work with a ghostwriter are:

  • English is not your first language and you are not confident about writing a book for publishing
  • You are writing your first book and need help getting started
  • You have a story that is important to you. It may be a memoir, a biography, your autobiography, ‘that’ story you have held inside you for your whole life, a ‘how-to’ or self-help book that you want to share with others, an article, or an online blog. You do not have the confidence to express your ideas with clarity or the experience to write with confidence.

What do ghostwriters write?

A ghostwriter may be hired by the credited author (or the credited author’s publisher) to:

  • write a complete book, article or blog
  • do most of the writing for a book based on a specified outline
  • do research for a book, article or blog
  • finish off a book in the same style as the author to free them up for other writing work
  • write sections of a book in collaboration with the credited author (similar to ‘developmental editing’).

How do I find a ghostwriter for my book?

The best way to find a good ghostwriter is to:

  • consult professional publications
  • consult professional organisations
  • do an online search for ghostwriting, contact several writers, and ask them about their experience.

Ghostwriting Australia: Finding a Ghostwriter

Ghostwriting fees

How much does it cost to ghostwrite? There are several considerations around fees:

  • How much material is involved and how long will it take to write?
  • How much written material can you provide the writer, and what kind of shape is that material in?
  • What is the complexity of the subject matter and the required expertise of the ghostwriter? If you need a book written on rocket science, you would expect to pay both for the ghostwriter’s writing expertise and for their knowledge of the specialised subject
  • How established and experienced is the ghostwriter?

To write a complete book, a professional ghostwriter can take several months to a year to research, organise, write, edit, and revise a non-fiction work. Meantime, they have to live, and so if they are working pretty much full time on your book, you will need to expect to pay accordingly.

Some ghostwriters charge a flat fee per word, or per page. Other ghostwriters may accept a percentage of the royalties on the sales of the book. If you are an unpublished author and you do not yet have a publishing contract, it is unreasonable to expect the ghostwriter to accept payment based exclusively on a percentage of royalties when there is no realistic basis for expecting there will be any.

Book ghostwriting fees can range from the ‘low’ end at $10,000, to $100,000 per project charged by established celebrity ghostwriters (some celebrity ghostwriters command $250,000 plus).

If the project is small – the ghostwriter will write a blog, an article, or a few chapters of your book – then you can expect to pay an hourly or per-page rate, and this depends on what the individual ghostwriter charges per hour or per page.

It is worth checking with your accountant, as the cost of ghostwriting a book related to your business may be tax-deductible.

How long does it take to ghostwrite a book?

As a rough guide, a 200-page non-fiction book may require close to 300 hours of time – around 70 hours of research and organisation time, one hour’s writing time per page, and one hour of editing/revision time for each 10 pages.

Why shouldn’t I hire a ghostwriter offshore?

A recent trend has been to outsource ghostwriting jobs offshore. While this may initially save fees, the quality varies wildly and usually, a book that has been ghostwritten by someone whose first language is not English is never published. The ghostwriter does not understand the culture, or the nuances of the English language, or the vernacular (e.g. Australian English).

In suggesting that it is not ideal to hire a ghostwriter whose first language is other than English, our intention is not to be culturally insensitive. We are simply being practical. If the boot was on the other foot, and you wanted your book written in a language other than English, you would not hire a writer whose first language was English.

Choosing a ghostwriter based exclusively on price is false economy and ultimately not cheaper. You may need to spend a lot of time communicating your intent when the ghostwriter does not ‘get it’. The ghostwriter may have to rewrite multiple times before they get it right – if they do. Isn’t that precisely why you hired a ghostwriter? To get it right the first time?

It’s simple really; you get what you pay for.

What should I look for in a ghostwriter?

  • A good writer. Give them an idea of what you want and ask them to write a few pages
  • A ghostwriter you communicate with easily and feel at ease with
  • A ghostwriter whose first language is English
  • A ghostwriter who understands the cultural context of your story, and the nuances of the English language.

Should I credit the ghostwriter for writing the book?

There are various ways that a ghostwriter can receive credit for their writing contribution if you as the credited author wish to. It is up to you how much credit, if any, you give to the ghostwriter. The ghostwriter may receive partial credit (‘with…’ or ‘as told to….’ on the cover), or the acknowledgement may mention the ghostwriter’s contribution.

If you do not wish the ghostwriter to receive any official credit for writing your book or article, you as the credited author can agree this with the ghostwriter. You may ask them to sign a nondisclosure contract that forbids them from revealing their ghostwriting role.

Is the ghostwriter entitled to a share of royalties when my book is published?

If you are paying per page or per word, or you have agreed a flat fee for ghostwriting your book, you generally keep the royalties. How you pay the ghostwriter and whether you share the royalties is part of negotiating with the ghostwriter.

Should we have a contract?

As with any business arrangement, it is always a good idea to have a written contract, signed by both parties, setting out the agreement between you. The Australian Society of Authors has a template the ghostwriter can use as a basis for the agreement.

Note

Please note: Due to other work-in-progress, and in order to dedicate more time to my own writing, I am not taking on any new major ghostwriting projects at this time. I am still happy to discuss smaller projects, and to answer any questions you may have, so feel free to send an email.