Sunday, November 22, 2009


France is justly famous for its cuisine, also for eating frog’s legs and snails. These things came to be part of the French diet because of hard times during wars and famine. Frogs and snails and all the rest are a good, cheap source of protein and should not be sniffed at by those of us who have plenty to eat. How choosy would we be if we were hungry, I wonder?

There was a time in France (1030-1032 under King Henri I), when food was so scarce that the French not only ate snails, frogs, kidneys and livers etc., but they ate each other as well. Cannibalism was common and human flesh was sold in the market. Of course, other peoples have also resorted to cannibalism, some not even out of necessity.  

Most ancient cultures have experienced famine at some point and have learned to eat all parts of the animals they kill: beak, snout, ears, testicles, penis, uterus, intestines, heart, lungs, pancreas, brains. Alexandre Dumas even has a recipe for elephant’s feet, in his Grand Dictionnaire de la Cuisine, available on Amazon in case you need it. They taste like marrow, apparently. 

Too many people, usually plumper than they should be, loudly squawk “ew!” at the mention of a liver or a kidney on their plate, or even mutton, which many mistaenly think is goat.  This “ew” factor has been exported around the world via TV shows and movies, making it acceptable to throw out or ignore vast amounts of nourishing food for no good reason, while too many people starve.

There’s nothing shameful or “ew” about eating a snail; they’re now considered a delicacy. There's even snail caviar, delicate translucent snail eggs which taste like "a walk in the woods", I hear. And if snails eat your garden, eat them back. With garlic butter and parsley and a nice Beaujolais. Besides, snails are quite remarkable critters: not only do they have a beautifully designed Art Nouveau home, but they can slide across a razor’s edge without cutting themselves, thanks to their amazing mucous. By the way, snails should be served cooked and HOT and not on "a bed of ice", as I read with horror on a blog recently. When cooked they are not slimy in any way, the texture is softly rubbery, in fact. 

Other fine sources of protein are octopus beaks, giant African snails (as big as a Sunday roast), cicadas, lemon ants, bee larvae, bamboo worms, scorpions, tarantulas, dragonflies, sago grubs, cockroaches. And, the way things are going, we might be eating them sooner than we think.

Photos: top: Beef heart   /  Centre right: snail caviar  


Saturday, November 14, 2009


Last week I bumped into a friend who asked about my book.
    “What's it about?”
    “Oh, what fun, how charming!”
There it was again, the assumption that anything to do with animation is automatically fun and charming. The patronising tone also suggested that animation might be frivolous fluff not to be taken seriously. Not that it isn't fun now and then, but there's more to it than fun and jokes.
     Although cartoons are mostly made to amuse, (with exceptions like PERSEPOLIS and WALTZ WITH BASHIR), it’s the end product that’s funny, but the work required to get it on to the screen is challenging, difficult, painful. Anything but fun.
    Nothing fun or charming about working eighteen hour days, producing high quality images at supersonic speed while diplomatically dealing with people you often hate with a passion. Animation is a cold-blooded, cutthroat business, where it’s every artist for himself. It’s an industry, a business, not a joke, not fun. And, although artists may have a reputation for being weird and crazy, how many films would be finished if animation artists were so nuts that they couldn’t do their job? And their job is tough. It requires not only artistic talent, but discipline, endurance, stamina, courage and nerves of steel, not to mention buns of steel.   
    Artists race against time to get those funny gags and cute, charming characters on to the screen. They may enjoy the challenge of moving a character in a funny way, painting a background with a specific atmosphere, but not for long. In animation, there’s no time for artistic indulgence, it’s all about deadlines. Daily, weekly and the ultimate deadline, the film’s release date which can't be changed. So, even though the average animated feature film, from concept to screen, takes about four years to make, it’s always the animation department that bears the brunt of the pressure to finish on time. The writers and designers take up a lot of the time making the film the best it can be before animation can start and, since there’s still a lot of work to do after animation, it's the animators who are under the most pressure to work fast.
    Animation is also team work. Artists have to work together, sometimes for decades, so they get to know each other intimately, they get on each other's nerves, get in each other's face and business, gossip, fret, fight and befriend each other, but always there’s the common thread that makes these disparate individuals function like one big multi-armed organism, the animation.  Animation artists would walk through fire for their art.
    And don’t get the impression that they are a humorless bunch. Artists skewer each other with biting caricatures, chortle about each other’s peccadilloes, pull stunts and pranks, but mostly they just don’t have time for fun.   
    What IS funny about an animation studio, is the way it takes itself so seriously.  It has to, to get the work done, but people taking themselves seriously are always funny.  It’s the banana-peel school of comedy.  One slip and you’re hilarious.
    And the urgency is funny. It’s just a movie, for heaven’s sake, but artists can get caught up and carried away by the artificial urgency of a deadline to the point of slapstick. All this high drama and hilarity provided fodder for my book.
    So, while the business of animation is not much fun, writing and reading about it is.        

Sunday, November 8, 2009


When it was time to start animating BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. . .

The content of this post can be found in 
ANIMATED, a novel

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I first discovered Twitter in June 2009.
After hearing about it from everyone, everywhere for months, I finally logged on, created an avatar and told the world about my lunch. It seemed asinine.  But, gradually, I found kindred writerly and artistic spirits and spirits I didn’t think could be kindred but were.
Twitter was as addictive as chocolate.
I loved reading what other people were doing, it was voyeuristic and altogether terrific. Getting glimpses of people’s lives is a writer’s dream, even better than eavesdropping in a cafĂ©.  Almost better than chocolate.
    After the novelty of connection wore off, I began to learn things about publishing, agents, editors, query letters and submissions that would have taken years to learn without Twitter. I shared chocolate info while savoring sweetly perfumed 70% Lindt intense pear and the witty, sarcastic, hilarious and harshly critical Tweets and blogs of the other people I followed. Their excellent writing inspired me to tighten up the blather on my blog.
    Over the past months, thanks to Twitter, my blog has been visited by artists, animators, writers, poets, scientists, photographers, journalists and lawyers.
    Twitter also allowed me to see how much writers struggle to write.  Even published and successful ones panic about deadlines, agonise about the next book not being good enough, worry about being dropped by their publisher and about how low advances are going. Good grief, it seems writing never gets easy. Except for Dan Brown, who is not on Twitter. Or J.K. Rowling, who is, but is too busy writing to Tweet. (What is she writing, and when will we see it?  Will it be under a pseudonym and if so, how will we know?) 
    Dan Brown, God bless his rich little best-seller heart, says he gets up at 4 am to write. So, I figured it was worth a shot. I began waking up a 4 AM.  Not to sit at my keyboard, but to think in the dark. (In more ways than one).  Writing is 99% thinking and 1% typing, isn’t it?  I thought about what I wanted to write that day. Toni Morrison said something like: “I type at my keyboard, but I write all over the house.”  Yes, and outside too, in cars and buses and planes.
    After deep thoughts in the dark, I'd get up just before dawn and go for a one-mile walk, while I wrote in my head. I liked being up and out while there were a couple of stars still in the sky and the street lights were still on. And, although it didn't transform me into a best-selling author, it got the day going.  So I kept doing it.
    I fret about my so-called “writing process”.  I’m not sure it is a process at all. I just write any way I can, really. Sometimes in great spurts, sometimes just a word or two. Sometimes everything I write will sing, sometimes it all sucks. Sometimes I labor over a page or a paragraph or a word, sometimes it pours out effortlessly. I rant and rave on my blog to clarify my thoughts. I tell myself that blogging is good for keeping up the writerly chops. Is it? I don’t know.
    My Twitter addiction is under control now, unlike my writing or my craving for chocolate. I find that writing requires more and more chocolate. Especially Lindt chili chocolate, not too sweet, with a little burn at the end. I like to get my tongue wrapped around a thick chunk of it and, as it begins to melt, slide it around until all the flavors erupt all over my palate then slip smoothly down my throat.
    If only I could get my writing to slide around smoothly and erupt with a little burn at the end. Perhaps more chocolate will help.