The hidden secrets of writing with Lynn Joffe

 In The secrets behind the practice of good writing, Tips for Writers

Lynn Joffe received a marvellous ‘shout’ for her debut novel, The Gospel According to Wanda B Lazarus (Modjaji Books), from Stephen Fry:

Lynn Joffe’s writing is so alive, and wicked and made, and full of surprises. The joyous fusing of art from the Muses with the mess of history. Like a Jewish Molly Bloom, let loose on history.

Hers is the latest novel I’ve chosen to highlight in our blog series showcasing the books of past participants of our Creative Writing Course. It’s a rollicking story, a funny, feminist take on the myth of the Wandering Jew, which was shortlisted for the Sunday Times/CNA Literary Awards 2021.

In fact, I so much enjoyed reading this extract again, I may well use more of her novel in the future.

Tummel in the Temple: Bethany 33CD 494 words

If we hadn’t been following Hadassah’s pomegranate all over the known world, we’d never have wound up in Bethany. Lazzie would still be alive. And I’d be mortal. But that’s not how the hamantaschen crumbled. A painted lady flaps her wings and all that jazz. The disciples remember it differently, but they were always going to write their own version anyway. I was there. I saw it all. Not in my present incarnation, but who am I to split sheitel hairs?

The beitzim started to roll when Rov Yossi and his chevras were invited over for that last supper. It was a double whammy, actually – Pesach and Shabbos rolled into one. Martha and I were helping Hadassah boil ’n bake an exodus of matzoh balls. I was never much one for domestic activity and did all I could to wheedle out of the chores in the wide, clay-baked kitchen. Normally, the servants would clean up after us. But on Pesach, Hadassah was having no shirking. Scour the scullery. Polish the porcelain. On your hands and knees, girlchicks! Seek and destroy any vestige of chametz – no wheat, no rice, no leftover shewbread, it all had to go. On Pesach, we’re forbidden to put anything in our mouths that rises. Then there’s the matter of changing the dishes – one set milchedik, another vleishedik. Hadassah was very proud of her Pesach crockery, handed down through the maternal line since the great trek back from Babylonia, each item adorned with a symbol of the festival: a dandelion, a sprig of parsley, chopped up charoset representing bricks and mortar of the slaves, salt water for tears. All in all, a huge schlep.

Twelve extra mouths to feed was no mean feast. Our second stepdaddy, Qumran Qumran, had done well in the buildup to the festival. He knew how to supply the needs of the flocking pilgrims and set up fruit stands all along the road to Damascus. Palm dates did very well that season. Figs were at a premium. He tripled the cost of olives. But he liked a flutter on the camels, did Qumran Qumran, and often returned home in his flagons with no more than a handful of copper leptons and a mild dose of the clap. Still, Hadassah was a social climber and having the chevras over would up her Quarter cred by quite a few notches. Nu, we improvised ways to stretch her stingy allowance to feed the holy horde. Rolled the matzoh beitzim smaller. Watered down the wine. She tried to pass it off as a miracle. From her lips to Yahweh’s ears.

Lazzie didn’t have to do kitchen duties. He was practising his shofar in the courtyard with the chickens while Martha and I had our hands full. I could see him from the window, pursing his clefted lips to the blowhole and wheezing a few breathy parps into the chaffed afternoon air. He hadn’t quite got the first long Tekiyah note right.

The first aspect to leap out at you, surely, is the marvellous voice. It’s strong, it’s funny, it rolls along, carrying us with her on her irreverent ride. It’s so filled with the protagonist’s personality, we feel that we know her, intimately, from the first paragraph. It has action and specific details that ground us in her world. Her every observation shows us more about the world, but also more about who she is.

Writing tips:

  • Your narrator’s voice needs to be developed and created. It should flow out of who your character is. That means knowing your character better than you know yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid of using vocabulary your character would use. Don’t worry about whether your readers can understand it or not. Readers are clever.
  • Allow your character’s observations to show us what she’s observing but, also, more about her, her personality, and her state of mind.

We’re pretty sure the extract and analysis have whet your appetite and you’ll want to read The Gospel According to Wanda B Lazarus now. It’s published by Modjaji Books. Buy it here.

And if you’d like to become a better writer, whether you’re a complete beginner, or have some experience and would like to up your game, our Creative Writing Course will teach you you need, with personal feedback.


Read our previous Hidden Secrets of Writing blogs

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