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

How Can I Publish My Book … what are my options

All that hard work…

Whenever I’m approaching the end of a book edit, most of my clients begin asking me the question, ‘How can I publish my book?’

So … that precious manuscript of yours that took you months, maybe years, to write, has now been professionally edited, and you’re ready for the next step.

This blog does not pretend to go into all the possible publishing options that exist. Nor is it a comprehensive go-to of publishing. The purpose of the blog is to give you a boost in the right direction so you can begin thinking about those next steps, and about what option suits you and your book best.

e-book or print book?

This is your first consideration. So how do you know whether it’s better to produce your book as an e-book or a print book?

Cost of publishing

Arguably, cost is one of the biggest determiners as clearly, there are no printing costs associated with producing an e-book. Also, you don’t have to consider book storage as you do when producing a print book, a factor many first-time authors overlook. Do you have storage space for 100+ books in your house?

how can I publish my book

Where will you store your books?

Type of book

The type of book you have written may determine whether it will sell better as an e-book or a print book. For example, a coffee table style book, while expensive to produce, is designed to be picked up and looked at, rather than read on a device. Having said that, however, my daughter has now written and published two vegan cookbooks as e-books. They contain colour photos on almost every page, she has received positive feedback and she is happy with the sales to date. Her readers are clearly happy to follow recipes on a device rather than from a traditional paper cookbook. Check out her books here: The Hippie Cook Cookbook.

Audience

If the potential audience of your book is not tech-savvy, you are likely to sell more copies of a print book. Nevertheless, with so many people having now joined the digital age regardless of stage of life, the tech-savvy population is on the increase so this may not be such a big consideration.

How can I publish my book? Should I try mainstream or subsidy publishing, a literary agent, or self-publishing?

how can I publish my book

This is the next big consideration: deciding whether to make submissions to publishers and literary agents, to contact a subsidy publisher and try for a publishing contract, or to self-publish your book.

Mainstream publishers

The first thing you need to know about publishing with a mainstream publisher is that they call the shots. You don’t just walk into a publishing company office with your manuscript proudly tucked under your arm and ask for the editor. Neither can you get the name of the submissions editor and address a personal request to them.

(That is, unless you know someone who knows someone and can get an introduction to the submissions editor in the publishing house. But even that, of course, is no guarantee. They then have to approve your book, and it has to fit with their current publishing list.)

No. You have to join the ranks of all those other author hopefuls and follow the publishing house online submission guidelines – to the letter, to stand any chance at all of your manuscript even being read. And that’s only when they are accepting unsolicited manuscripts. An unsolicited manuscript is yours and mine: the publisher hasn’t asked to see it; you are essentially cold-calling them with your manuscript.

The times that a publisher accepts unsolicited manuscripts may change. For example, up to just a few months ago here in Australia, there were four mainstream publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Currently, there are only two. You will find them by clicking on this link. Also, there are often specific days, with a cutoff time, that they accept these manuscripts,

(For help doing publisher submissions, click here.)

Subsidy publishers

With subsidy publishing, the author contributes to the cost of producing the book (the publishing costs), and the publisher assumes responsibility for editing the book and for all aspects of producing the book. They also have channels for distributing the book. A reliable subsidy publisher is worth gold. An ethical subsidy publisher in Queensland is Zeus Publications. Click here for links to their story, and for new author information.

I’ve also had a good report from a client about another Queensland subsidy publisher called Odyssey Books. I did find it disconcerting that there was no number to call on their website – you have to submit a query on their online form.

Literary agents

Literary agents work in a similar way to publishing houses. They accept certain types of manuscripts only, and like publishers, may only accept unsolicited manuscripts at certain times. Some may not accept unsolicited manuscripts at all. Please click here to find two links to Australian literary agents.

(For help making submissions to literary agents, click here.)

Vanity publishers

I have one word to say if you are considering a vanity publisher: DON’T. To read a sage article on why to avoid vanity publishing, click on the following link that ends in the word ‘beware’ to see what the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) has to say.

Self-publishing

The stigma of the self-published author has disappeared, and it is possible to be very successful indeed in promoting and selling your book. I have a client in Baltimore who, in September 2018 alone, sold 7,000 copies of her book Sidelined: The Penalty on Amazon! Check out this amazing lady who works full time yet has now written and published two books: Bianca Williams Books.

What a self-publisher isn’t

Let’s start with what self-publishing isn’t! Many organisations that have set themselves up as author services’ businesses erroneously call themselves self-publishers. It is a contradiction in terms.

What is self-publishing?

The reflexive ‘self’ in the word means that you, the author, are also the publisher of your own book. You write the book, and you publish it.

This means that you buy the ISBN and the bar code for your book, and register it with the national and state libraries (the latter is free in Australia). You also need to get a book designer to lay out your book using book layout software, and have a cover designed. You are in full control of how your book looks (within the limits of what is possible), and are responsible for distribution and promotion. You can also set and control the price of your book. If you list your book on major databases such as Amazon, however, you lose control of the pricing but gain a worldwide audience.

Promoting and distributing your book

Promoting and distributing books, including via your own website and social media,  is a whole topic on its own, which I plan to discuss in the future. Watch this space!

 

Hopefully, you are now a little more informed than at the beginning of this article when you asked, ‘How can I publish my book?’

 

 

Please contact me for more in-depth information, or to discuss any of the following services:

Please note all pricing subject to gst for Australian tax residents.

Writer Coaching to Develop your Writing

Laptop on a table

A writing coach supports you

“Writer coaching empowers you with the tools and knowledge to write your book and evolve as a writer.”

If you want to write a book but…

  • you just can’t get started, or
  • you’ve almost finished writing the book but you’ve come up against dreaded writer’s block, or
  • you’ve finished writing the book but it doesn’t seem ready for the next step – editing

…then writer coaching and mentoring to develop your writing might be just what you need.

The aim of coaching is to empower you with the tools and knowledge to help you write your book and evolve as a writer.

Writer coaching and mentoring help you grow and develop as a writer, improving your writing skills and your craft. You receive feedback on your writing, with focus on both the strengths and the issues. With one-on-one coaching and mentoring, you can thoroughly pick the writing coach’s brains!

Can I write a book?

I often hear from people who’ve never written a book before and who think they don’t have the skills. They ask about ghostwriting. That is one solution. But for most people, ghostwriting is significantly out of budget.

People are often surprised when I suggest they can learn the skills to write a book themselves – with the right guidance. Sure, you can wait until you’ve written the book and then have it professionally edited. That is another way to go about it, especially if you’re confident about your writing skills. If however you’re a new writer and you haven’t had the benefit of guidance through the writing process, it’s likely the book’s going to need a very heavy edit. That translates into a significant editing fee.

While coaching will improve your writing immensely, it is not intended as a substitute for editing. It is strongly recommended your manuscript be professionally edited after the final draft is complete. However, because your manuscript will probably go through several improvement passes during the coaching/mentoring period, the subsequent edit should take less time and therefore cost less.

Making a start

You’ve decided you have a book in you. But each time you try to make a start, you walk away from a blank piece of paper or an empty computer screen after half an hour of frustration.

Little boy with books looking very frustrated

Writer frustration

A good writing coach can help you get started. One way they can do this is by working out a structure first. Another is by helping you come up with a strong opening scene. Different writers have different creative processes, and your writing coach can help you in the way that works best for you.

I’m close to the finish

Have you written a lot of the book but have now reached a roadblock?

You might be unhappy with the sentence structure, the beginning, the ending… You might think there are plot holes. You might lack confidence in writing dialogue, or have issues with spelling and grammar. Perhaps you’re unsure how to resolve the problem that your hero faces.

A writing coach will discuss your issues with you and offer objective input and suggestions so that together, you’ll come up with solutions and you can continue writing with confidence.

The book is finished, but it doesn’t feel right

Have you written the book, but feel that it is not yet ready for editing?

When you have been very close to your book for a long time, it is difficult to be objective and see the issues.

Woman reading book

Read your manuscript aloud

A great way to stand back and look at your writing objectively is to read it aloud – to yourself preferably, when no one else is around, otherwise you will probably feel self-conscious.

A writing coach will be able to see the issues that you can’t. Writers tend to make the same kinds of errors. You might overuse ‘as’ constructions, or ‘tell’ in your writing rather than ‘show’. Your writing might be narrative-heavy so that it would benefit from more dialogue. The sentence structure might be awkward in parts and when the coach points this out to you, you’ll understand how to restructure the sentences for better flow. You might want to work on point of view in writing, or learn how to correctly format your manuscript for submission to publishers.

When you work with a writing coach, you can decide: to methodically work through your manuscript together; or focus on specific writing techniques such as those mentioned above.

 

To discuss writer coaching and mentoring with editors4you, or just to find out more about it, feel free to contact us.

 

Client Testimonials

M.B. Wynter: “Writer coaching with Gail has changed my novel from an amateur’s first draft, to a well-put-together manuscript. I sought a writing coach and editor who would understand my manuscript, respect it, and most importantly, work with me to better it for publication. Gail succeeded in all areas. She was honest and gave thorough notes and advice on not only the manuscript, but for me as a writer. It was an honour to be Gail’s first formal client for writing coaching!”—Aug 2016-Jan 2017
B. Kennett: “Our initial coaching session has had a lasting impact on my writing. My confidence has gone through the roof, as well as my overall awareness pertaining to what I write. This week alone I’ve hammered out nearly 20,000 words for my novel and they’ve been good ones too! In any case I really just wanted to say thank you for the excellent work you’ve done and I’m looking forward to the next session.”—June 2017

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.