We all know Miss LiteraryMinded likes to read. Sometimes I come across writers in journals, anthologies and online that I know I'll continue to wa
We all know Miss LiteraryMinded likes to read. Sometimes I come across writers in journals, anthologies and online that I know I’ll continue to watch. Every now and then I’ll throw them a few open-ended questions about their writing and themselves, in order to introduce them to you.
There are so many layers to the process of writing, plus all the myths and prescriptions people allow themselves to be infected with. Process is absolutely individual, full stop, and even then it’s your most capricious friend.
For me writing should feel like those few seconds after you’ve tripped, but before you’ve found your balance again – a kind of controlled chaos. I like to let a fog come down and sprint into it rather than pre-plot and scheme. Besides, the joy of writing is that I don’t know what’s going to happen in the story either, and not only will I get to find out, but I’ll discover something about myself in the process.
Most important of all is daring to reveal personal truth and emotion in my work. By all means transmute it, rather than throwing up on the reader. But humans have the most uncanny nose for truth. Which means if I’m moved, and my writing can do justice to the sentiment, it’ll move others too. It just will. The art then is to write from your centre, not just from the intellect. Any fool can be clever, but truth is where the power is.
On published works…
I’ve been writing just five years now but during sporadic fits of determination I’ve had my work broadcast on national radio; performed at Melbourne’s Arts Centre; featured in The Daily Telegraph UK; Sleepers Almanac (Aus/NZ); and repeated success in The Bridport Prize – which calls itself the largest open writing competition in the world.
Now I’m focusing on finalising my debut novel – Rocks In The Belly, with interest from two major publishers here and overseas. Once this novel’s ready I’ll start knocking on the big doors again, as well as returning to a previous manuscript – The Prophet Of Loss.
I’ve found a great deal to love about the writing circuit in Australia, especially the strong wave of proactive writers and poets starting their own journals and zines if they don’t find the establishment open-minded.
It’s almost scary deciding what to do with our precious reading moments, such is the kinked ratio between our available time, and the wealth of options. A problem that’s led most people to this kind of ‘franchise mentality’ where both reader and publisher become increasingly reluctant to stray from the formulaic or the familiar.
Independent journals like Torpedo (falconvsmonkey.com) are crucial because they champion meritocracy, a quality that shows in the vitality of the writing.
Story is everywhere. There’s no moment without its ability to be harnessed. Probably because there isn’t one truth of a moment, but many. All you need to do is set those truths against one another and you have the main ingredient of narrative.
What amazes me though is the fact people bother to care. What makes us need to find out what happens in something invented?
But I suppose those of us who sit alone and invent fiction are craziest.
I haven’t found a complete writer yet but I’ve loved the gentle melancholy of Graham Greene; the deftness with which Martin Amis and Michael Chabon draw character; the dialogue of Salinger (he took the trouble to italicise parts of words); the way Iain M Banks builds new worlds…
But it was Raymond Carver who brought about a tectonic shift in my work, even though I had raging arguments with him in my head. He does what he does well, and reading him gave me the courage to make my own writing sparser – for it to stop trying quite so hard. But he also really wound me up.
It’s all very well to be able to produce atmosphere, conflict, something ominous at hand, but if you can’t land it all successfully… That’s Carver. A strong story is one that feels like a complete slice of time. Not necessarily a clear resolution or transformation, but it should leave the reader with a sense of having borne witness to some moment of completeness.
Carver’s stories are sketches of immense promise, and compelling too, right up until they end. At which point, I’m usually left feeling collapsed. It’s all very well getting a story airborne, but the challenge is to land it all again within such a short flight path.
I don’t think Carver could do true justice to plot or real narrative. And I think he knew that.
Zen In The Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury is a wonderfully simple treatise on writing and fits absolutely with how I like to approach it. Writing needn’t feel arduous. Quite the opposite.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a millionaire because I thought it was a profession and the pay might be the best. And for a long time after university I was on a similar path, working in major marketing agencies for major clients.
Then my Mum died and my ambition died with her. Years passed and I eventually found writing, nurturing it from a hobby to a passion, then my vocation.
Soon it became that familiar monster though, sucking up all my energies, awakening ambition, until I was absolutely intent on nothing short of Bookers and Pulitzers.
Thankfully I’ve calmed down. Now I consider ambition to be nothing more than a necessary bastard. Without it I won’t achieve, but I also know how unfulfilling it would be to live my life intent on just one vein. One vanity.
I’ve seen that particular writer at a literary event. You know the one, sweating in the shadows, holding a portfolio of his work – that night being the night he has to make it. It’s such a dangerous and lonely feeling to need one thing absolutely. Especially considering how unlikely it is to fully happen, or sate all that expectation when it does.
To really commit to writing you have to play ambition tricks on yourself – finding the balance between simultaneously striving for and giving up greatness. Not to halve your investment in order to halve disappointment, but to know that everything is hollow if you don’t love it for its own sake.
Five years from now…
In five years I hope I’m still finding enough sustenance to continue writing for its own sake (BOOKERBOOKERBOOKERBOOKER!).
But if I was arrogant enough to bet on the future, I’d wager that in five years I’ll be five years closer to being at the very top of my profession. And, knowing me, I’ll also be five years closer to breaking it all and starting again on something else.
Something not many people know about Jon Bauer…
Whilst at university I earned extra money as a topless dancer. Just thinking about it makes me cringe. If I could revisit my early years, I think I might visit those on-stage moments last.
And congrats are due to Jon, who has just been granted Australian residency as a distinguished talent!
Apr 28, 2009
Stephanie Convery says…
The picture you see of my study was taken standing at the window looking in. It’s on the detached side of a semi-detached terrace, and the window looks out onto a fence, a gate, a tiny path, a garden bed full of succulents and a lot of sky. It lets in the sunlight, the breeze and the occasional bee.
It’s probably a good thing the view is not too interesting, because I am a world-class procrastinator. I will do anything except the one thing I’m supposed to be doing. This generally means my study is the last place I actually want to be (inspiration is invigorating, writing is hard) so it has to be comfortable place to sit for long periods of time but also full of things that will eventually direct my attention back to my work.
Bright colours help. I can’t stand blank walls, so I cover them with comics, pictures, posters, album art, books, bookshelves, words, and lame notes to myself. If I hit a snag, I can sink into the beanbag (it’s behind the chair, under the ‘No Standing’ sign) and pick up one of the 27 or so books on the table beside it, waiting for me to read them. There is a map of the world and a poster of the Lady of Shalott on the wall above my beanbag, as well as more shelving and a perpetually half-finished painting on an easel in the other corner.
The truth is, I write everywhere: at the dentist, at my day job, in my car waiting for the lights to change, on the back of receipts when I’m out for dinner – I have hundreds of notebooks and sketchbooks and looseleaf scraps of paper that I’ve snatched up and scrawled on because it felt right at the time. Even my bedsheets have ink stains. My study is really the place where I go to collect the pieces-where I can shut the door, be alone, and attempt to sew them all together.
Stephanie Convery will be a ‘book’ at this year’s Emerging Writers’ Festival Living Library, on Saturday the 23rd of May.
Stephanie Honor Convery is a rebellious redheaded twenty-something writing her first novel via PhD at Monash University and digging into the murky side of Australian history and politics. She’s had a slew of haphazard writing, editing, proofreading, mediating, reviewing, proofing and publishing gigs-some worthy, many cringeworthy. At the moment she works behind-the-scenes in television and disappears up to the tropics when the bad journalism gets too much. http://gingerandhoney.blogspot.com
See also in this series – (EWF) Kirk Marshall, (and non-EWF) Charlotte Wood, Michael Gross, Paul Morgan, Damon Young, and Caroline Petit. If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear from you… email contact in ‘About Angela‘.
The winner of the LiteraryMinded April haiku comp is Damon Young, with this beauty combining history, philosophy and a glimpse of the ordinary:
Heidegger on the
3.10 Lilydale express.
The ‘uncommon/unusual’ word, ekphanestaton, that Damon has used comes from Heidegger’s philosophy. Here’s a page featuring it on Google Books. Perhaps Damon could shed more light on it in the comments?
The 2nd prize goes to Samuel Cooney (aka Not Dark Yet) with the humorous:
Mum is shrinking, in
old photos she’s a poplar,
now a baobab
Some came so very close, it was a hard decision! I encourage you all to go back to the original post and read them all in the comments. I’ve added the ones that were submitted via Twitter. Keep an eye out for the May comp. Winners, I’ll be in touch for your addresses.
First of all, happy ANZAC Day. It’s great to take some time to think about the young soldiers who have been sacrificed for our country, and the sadness of war – conflict, power, greed. I know that books and films have been beneficial to my knowledge and understanding of war, and of nationalism, patriotism (the genuine, the forced and the mythical) etc. These favourites are all films, but stories nonetheless: Gallipoli, Schindler’s List (I’m yet to read Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark), Good Morning Vietnam, Full Metal Jacket, and more. What texts have shaped your perception of war?
* The Emerging Writers’ Festival programme has been launched! Check it out here. If you’re in Melbourne or feel like travelling to Melbourne in May, do come along. As I was on the Programme Advisory Committee I was very happy to see that they used quite a few of the authors I suggested, and the programme is really strong overall – something for everyone.
Where will you see me?
15 Minutes of Fame:
On the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (May 25-28) from 5:30pm at the City Library in Flinders Lane, yours truly will be interviewing hot new writers (from novelists, to playwrights, poets, picture book writers etc.) about their publications, and how they got there, for 15 minutes at a time. I must also mention the exciting fact that there is wine tasting, and it is FREE. I will also try to wear a different outfit every day, though the tights might be a staple as I’ll be rushing from work on my bike each evening. Writers, wine, readings, mingling, what more could you ask for?
The Revolution Will be Downloaded:
Yeah baby. Come and hear me talk about the love of my life – this blog! On Saturday May 30 at 3pm I’ll be blabbering alongside Rachel Hills (uber-cool writer/blogger), and James Stuart (poet/new media dude). The panel will be hosted by Karen Andrews.
And in the spirit of the festival I’ll continue to feature the ‘Literary Space’ of participating writers up until it’s on. If you’re also appearing at the festival, feel free to spruik in the comments below!
* You may remember recently that I talked about being on a list of Australian blogs on writing? Well after quite a few comments and prompts, Jonathan Crossfield of Copywrite actually rejigged the list. And I was surprised and honoured to come out at number one! Now, there are two things to note – these are blogs which are at least in part ‘about writing’, not ‘literary blogs’ in general, so omitted are blogs like Matilda, which is legendary. Also, it is based on statistics, not Crossfield’s opinion – you’ll see he has used things like the blog’s Technorati rating etc. These kind of stats show that a lot of folks link to me, and I get a goodly amount of visitors. So all in all, I’m just stoked. It makes me even more pumped to talk about cultural blogging on the aforementioned panel at EWF. Cheers for reading and linking! (Pictured: the original ‘Number One’).
* The May/June Bookseller+Publisher is on its way to subscribers. Just came in the office this week. I’ll tell you a bit more about it next weekend (forgot to bring a copy home – doh!).
* Overland and Meanjin are offering a subscription deal, explained in this inspired and lol-worthy video. Spend your KRudd money on some culture.
* The Short Review April is now up.
* And here’s a really interesting article from Publisher’s Weekly (thanks Tim), directed at publishers. What can they do better? The author makes some good (but not necessarily easily-applicable) points.
* Haiku comp winners will be announced tomorrow. You’ve got until midnight to enter!
Reviews + Analyses
Apr 23, 2009
An enhanced version of modern-day New York (1999) is the main setting of Promethea Book 1, alongside an alternate realm where all the vivid imaginings that go on in the collective consciousness (and unconscious) live, the Immateria. Main character Sophie and her bumbling best friend Stacia are doing assignments on comic books. Sophie’s subject is the oft-referenced character Promethea, who has seen many manifestations in visual literature. Sophie is compelled to find the links.
She tracks down a woman called Barbara Shelley, who is the widow of the last man to write about Promethea. Barbara warns her off the case, and on the way out the teen girl is stalked by a shadowy figure. When this dark presence tries to attack her, a hefty Promethea comes to her rescue, who closely resembles the woman whose house she was just at. It turns out this ‘Smee’ who attacked was trying to intervene before she took over as the next Promethea…
Promethea Book 1 is an intellectually stimulating, highly imaginative, transportative text, of which I got immense enjoyment. Like Watchmen, the story is rich and complex. Unlike Watchmen, almost all the main characters are female, and besides the overemphasis on lesbian jokes (which is a bit tongue-in-cheek I think), these women really kick arse.
The character of Promethea is part of the Immateria herself – she is a story, and is only brought alive through the imagination. For someone like me – passionate about the existence of stories and their ability to make things come alive – this was a fulfilling concept. Futher, there is a kind-of play on Baudrillardian/postructuralist notions where the two worlds are concerned eg. ‘Chairs exist – so does the idea of chairs’.
In this volume many other themes and ideas come to the fore, which I’m sure will be extended on in later volumes. These include war and conflict being ‘naught but a failure of the imagination’ (one Promethea was created to rescue young men from the trenches) and other philosophical musings fleshed out through the colourful, artful panels (hints of all kinds of aesthetic influence – from dystopian sci-fi, to fairytales, to gangster films, to pop art and so on).
A quest narrative is also introduced towards the end of this volume, which will obviously be continued, where each of the Prometheas fulfills some purpose. Sophie is yet to find hers, and it’s also brought up whether or not the merging of the imagination with reality would be chaotic or peaceful. It is also only revealed towards the end of the volume who one of Promethea’s main enemies is.
There are so many other small things to be enjoyed in this book besides the overarching, engaging storyline, and the inspired visuals. There is a lot of humour – nods to silly pop-culture fascinations with faux-existential texts (here, The Weeping Gorilla); baddies who can turn into a swarm of wasps but take a cab for the cultural experience; the pop-up pieces from the local news analysing the moves of New York’s multiple-personality-disorder mayor; the incompetent band of sciencey superheroes The Five Swell Guys, and much more.
I am really looking forward to the subsequent volumes of Promethea which I have already ordered. I would seriously recommend this for anyone who, like me, is quite new to graphic novels and wants to see just what they have to offer.
Apr 21, 2009
Kirk Marshall says…
For my part – and in this forum for intimate, writerly expression – I’ve got to openly submit here to conceding that for the longest time I’ve resented the contention that a tactile, geographical environment impacts on the quality of an author’s work. I do, however, freely and cordially embrace the notion that a physical, authorial space administers a significant influence upon a writer’s work ethic.
For wherever I work – be this sprawling over and scrawling onto the leg of an armchair – be this conveniently adopting the Yellow Pages as both a makeshift desk and seer-stone for its infinite supply of barbarous character names – be this scrawling my linguistically anomalous breed of hieroglyph into water-choked moleskines, or onto the backs of lurid junkmail pamphleteering the services of professional suburban podiatrists moonlighting as dental technicians – be this writing with my fingertip into granulated mounds of sugar, or into nuggets of spilled coffee grounds, before palming my idle attempts at kitchen literature into my enamel-ware mug and consuming these same imperfect sentences with soy milk so sweet I can almost mask the bitter taste of haphazard syntax – for wherever my compulsion to write seizes me, my stamina for producing is dependent upon a space where personal comfort reigns supreme.
I’d claim, therefore, that I’m only productive when I possess an arena to write in that is as supple and accommodating as an old, fuzzy, sublime memory. I don’t want to resign myself to having to assemble a new or revised order from the things around me, every time I sit down to unfurl my fists: writing should be like fly-fishing or tossing the ball; surveying your immediate surroundings, you should know the way and wend of the river, you should sink back into your chair with the faultless ease of a hand into a well-oiled baseball glove.
For me, if you’re having to repeatedly grapple with your workspace each time you succumb to your keyboard – as though words are only valid and apparent when chaos has been cast asunder – then your reserve of energy is being channelled into an unnecessary endeavour. Eventually, a desk will clean itself, but the words won’t ever fail to sprawl, to clutter up, to generate their own forms of fungus and dust. Eventually, there comes a time when you have to accept that objects in disarray won’t tell you anything. The words are skulking in the negative space around them, and unless it stinks of week-old pizza a writer has more important concerns to devour.
(And to prove it, this is a picture of mine and my partner’s living room table. It’s like a Google Map image of domestic love).
Kirk will be appearing in the Two Sides of the Coin debate: Art vs Craft, as part of the Emerging Writers’ Festival Melbourne Town Hall program (launched later this week).
Kirk Marshall is the Brisbane-born(e), Melbourne-based author of A Solution to Economic Depression in Little Tokyo, 1953, a 2007 Aurealis Award-nominated full-colour illustrated graphic novelette. He holds a Bachelor of Creative Industries (Creative Writing), with Distinction from the Queensland University of Technology, and a first-class Honours degree in Professional Writing from Deakin University. This year, he’s a non-fiction columnist for ‘ISM: online’, an international think-tank for creative youth, a panelist for the Emerging Writers’ Festival, and editor of Red Leaves, Australia’s only English-language/Japanese bi-lingual literary journal http://www.myspace.com/redleaveskoyo.
Inspired by the Vintage Books Easter Twitter haiku comp in which I won a copy of Richard Yates’ The Easter Parade (score!), I thought it would be much fun to hold a little haiku comp of my own.
1. Write a haiku (the wiki entry explains the form quite well if you’re stumped) which features an unusual or uncommon word. Something like costermonger, rasp, hyetal – you get the point. Make it fun, light, poignant, sexy, whatever – be creative, have fun and broaden your vocabulary.
2. Either tweet your creation on Twitter, tagging it @LiteraryMinded and/or #LMhaikucomp (I’ll check both for entries); or post it as a comment on this blog post (if you’re not signed up, just a name and email is required). Do this by midnight next Saturday the 25th of April (AEST). I will announce the winner on Sunday the 26th. You can enter as many times as you like. Get some inspiration from Cordite‘s Haikunaut Renga 1 and Haiku for People.
1 copy of Wet Ink issue 14, featuring my short story ‘Birds’
1 copy of The Death Mook, featuring my essay ‘Express or Die?’
1 copy of The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow by AJ Mackinnon (Black Inc.)
+ I’ll throw in some zines and other goodies
Back issues of Australian literary journals Page Seventeen, Meanjin, and Going Down Swinging
Have fun! Here’s the Easter haiku that won me the Vintage Books comp, in case you were wondering:
tongue-theft of cocoa melt this
Apr 17, 2009
The Miles Franklin Literary Award 2009 shortlist. So they’re all dudes. But hey, thankfully the judges didn’t attempt to be politically correct and throw in a chick ‘for the sake of fairness’. I have so far only read one of the shortlisted titles (and have another in my reading pile – thanks Penguin!). I am going for The Slap, as it completely compelled me and got me all riled up and excited (and the female characters I found exquisitely empathetic and well-written). I’ve given copies to two friends now and feedback gathered last night was: loving it. You can revisit my interview with Tsiolkas here.
What it does bring me back to, all this, is how many Australian books by male authors do we read, as opposed to books by female authors? And do male readers steer clear of female authors more than female readers might? Have you seen any dudes on the train reading Toni Jordan’s Addition (which was longlisted); or Helen Garner’s The Spare Room (which wasn’t)? Do many general book buyers even know who Gail Jones is? Have you read more of Alex Miller’s backlist than Kate Grenville’s? The general consensus so far in these discussions I’ve been having is that, yes, people read more male authors, but it’s not deliberate. Are more published? Better marketed? We know women write as well as (and in many cases better and bolder) than many men – but are the themes more difficult to relate to in general – eg. more confronting? Anyway, let’s get talking! Also – who’s going to win, and who do you want to win?
Max Barry, author of Company, Jennifer Government and Syrup, agreed to satisfy my curiosity about his online novel Machine Man, and other writing projects…
It’s not like it’s never been done before, but you may be one of the first Australian authors depositing installments of a novel into cyberspace day-by-day with Machine Man. What made you decide to tell this particular story this way?
I really liked the idea of each installment being short. I love the net, but never thought it was a great way to deliver novels, because novels demand long periods of undivided attention, whereas I can’t read more than eight sentences of anything online before feeling the urge to check my email. And that’s including when I’m reading my email.
So a novel delivered one chapter at a time via the web never seemed right to me – particularly a novel written as a regular print book. The art and medium just didn’t fit. But I heard about these tiny, bestselling Japanese novels delivered via text message, and found that intriguing. At that time I had the basic idea for Machine Man and a few hundred dull, ponderous words that sucked all life out of it: when I thought of that idea in a compressed, electronic format, it came alive again. The format changed the nature of the story.
What I’m doing now is a ‘page’ each day that’s a self-contained scene, maybe a couple hundred words long. Each five-day week is a chapter, and ideally ends with a small cliff-hanger. That structure means I don’t get to muck around; there’s pressure on each tiny page to justify its existence.
Since this is all very experimental, I thought I’d make it real-time as well: I’d post pages as I wrote them, one a day. And because that wasn’t terrifying enough, I added the ability for people to post comments. It’s like having a book club meeting in my study, yakking about all the things I’m doing wrong as I’m doing them.
If there was a jacket blurb for Machine Man, what would it say?
Man, I thought it was hard enough to write blurbs for my novels; now I realise that’s nothing compared to blurbing a book I’ve only just started. I’m not a planner, so I don’t know where this one is going. But it begins with a man who decides to replace bits of his body with artificial parts he builds himself.
You’ve got a great interactive following on your blog. Do your online readers come across your blog via your books, or vice-versa?
I think it’s books first. I started blogging because people were getting bored of waiting for new books; the site reminds them I haven’t died. But yes, the people who leave comments are amazing. I’m so grateful to have smart fans. Have you seen the comments on YouTube? Those people make you weep for the future of humanity.
In conjunction with the release of Jennifer Government you set up an online game called NationStates. Can you tell us a bit about both?
NationStates is what I’m best known for to high school and poli-sci students around the world. It’s this weird little web game where you run your own nation and decide what all the laws will be. I was researching political economic systems for Jennifer Government, my second novel and discovered it was funnier than you’d expect, so coded up the game. It became a small phenomenon and is still powering along five years later.
Have you currently got any other book, web or facial hair projects in the works? (Readers: the facial hair thing is a Max Barry blog-reader in-joke).
Oh, I’m sorry. I thought a ground-breaking experiment in online fiction would be enough for you. No, no, don’t apologise. It’s too late for that.
Actually yes: I have two books I’ve been working on, which is a fast way to finish neither. It was partly because they were taking so long that I felt I should serve up something in the meantime – again, just in case people thought I’d died. Of course, starting a third book may not be the best way to speedily conclude the first two. I may not have thought that through properly.
You’ve had short fiction published also, including the sweet, funny and at times frightening ‘Attack of the Tiny Miracles’, in the latest Sleepers Almanac. (Readers – in this story a man visits the doctor several times with his pregnant wife and keeps getting told there are more babies growing in her belly! The man has to deal with the knowledge, and handle his blooming wife delicately in the process.) How do you find writing short fiction, compared to longer narratives?
Short fiction isn’t as satisfying for me as a novel, but occasionally an idea strikes and it has to be a short or nothing. So I usually write the short. I don’t feel like I’m the world’s greatest short story writer, though. There are plenty of people who are scary-talented at that. So I only go there if I’m forced to.
Who or what do you like to read, in print and online?
Funny you should ask! I just put together a ‘Bookshelf’ page for some of my favorite novels: http://www.maxbarry.com/max/bookshelf.html
Online, I am currently reading what people I barely know believe is worthwhile posting to Twitter, and trying to figure out why I can’t stop.
By Geoff Lemon
I’m driving south. Or roughly south
I’m sure of that. The car’s a Mustang, 60s build
rich with that old leather smell. Adam West
is in the passenger seat, window halfway down.
It’s night and warm outside. The air rolls in like oil.
Adam West is smoking – Chesterfields.
Somehow this car is right-hand drive, although
the whole scenario distinctly seems American.
Just me and Adam West, cradling his smoke
by the slipstream.
The inside light is on, but
so orange-dim through the ancient plastic
the whole car feels like sleep.
Adam West won’t look at me.
He’s picking at the seams in the upholstery.
There’s a mayonnaise stain on his left knee
from an errant chicken burger.
Seems like days ago. I think it was.
Look. I don’t wanna have a go, I say at last.
But…I believed in you. I really thought
you were the coolest. Then I grow up
and find out you were just taking the piss.
Yeah, well you were twelve, he says
or eight, or ten. You didn’t know the difference.
Come on! I say. The end of season three?
You walk into that showdown
with your gut hanging over your utility belt.
How does Batman have a gut?
Like I said, you didn’t know the difference.
Still wouldn’t, if you hadn’t watched it since.
It’s definitely America. We’re driving on the right.
Flickers through our dusty headlight cones:
fences; grass; dishevelled heaps of fur.
There’s a crumpled kind of music
every time he moves his feet
among the cans and bottles on the floor.
I’m driving south with Adam West.
Three hundred miles gone today
and still no place to stop for gas or food.
This poem appears in Geoff Lemon’s collection Sunblind (Picaro Press, 2008). Geoff is one of Melbourne’s most well-known and best poets, poetry editors and one of the founders of the Wordplay spoken word collective. He has won a barrage of performance poetry awards and his work has been published all over the joint, including in Best Australian Stories, HEAT, Blue Dog, Island, Etchings, Herding Kites, Going Down Swinging, Wet Ink, Cutwater, and One Trick Pony.
Sunblind acts as a ‘best of’ of Geoff’s work so far, from the small, quiet and moving pieces, to the intertextual, the intelligent, the satirical, the humorous, and the bold rhythmic pieces written for performance. Some are narratival and transportive, such as the wonderful ‘Nevada’ suite, told from a female point-of-view. Many are playful of both language and culture such as ‘Albatross’ and ‘Da Vinci’. Sunblind is in parts clever, amusing, imaginative, entertaining, and moving. Best read bit by bit rather than all in one go due to the variety of material and mood.
a brief round-up this weekend, because, as you know from the previous post I’m up to my neck in my own words (up to my forehead, really, being a bit suffocated by them). I’m half-way through the rewrite, and it’s going alright, but to be completely, searingly honest – it’s really, really hard and I went and bought more wine today. I’ll quit for the day soon and veg completely in front of a few DVDs, alowing my brain to mush-out. I’m going a little bit loco.
Drawing by Franz Kafka. Ah, love.
* So first, you probably know about the Dymocks Booklover email by now? It was hard for me to recieve that because I actually worked at Dymocks for four years, and I always stick up for chain bookstores because I know I’ve had some very passionate, lovely franchise owners as bosses. A shame that the company wants to give the general public one (very skewed) side of the story in the parallel importation debate. Others have written about this very well this week, so here are some links: The Weekly Book Newsletter brings you up to date on the official stance of publisher and bookseller organisations in the wake of the email; Book Thingo wrote a great post on why she won’t be signing the ‘Coalition for Cheaper Books’ petition; author Sheryl Gwyther has been keeping us up to date; Dee Scribe provides a valuable argument as to what a danger an open market would be, and encourages us to write to our pollies about it; Jeff Sparrow wrote a good overview of the situation for Crikey; an organisation has been set up by the ASA, APA etc. – Australians for Australian Books, also sign their petition, and join the Facebook group.
*Submissions for Page Seventeen and Going Down Swinging are open. Both fantastic publications. I was in the previous Pg 17, also shortlisted for the short story comp, but not sure if I’ll have anything ready for either this time around. Go for it you guys!
* A callout has been made for people who want to exhibit their wares at the Page Parlour, at the Emerging Writers’ Festival:
As part of this years Emerging Writers’ Festival, we will be opening for business our first ever Page Parlour within the Atrium space of Federation Square on Sunday May the 31st from 12pm – 5pm.
If you are based in or around Melbourne, or intend to be in Melbourne at the beginning of June, and are a zinemaker, small press publisher, emerging writer, poet or comic artist – in fact anyone who has wrestled the word onto a page – Page Parlour is a great way for you to deliver your work to a wider audience. It will take place in The Atrium at Federation Square, a location that is both central and public, which will attract a large amount of foot traffic and expose stall holders to people who may not otherwise discover their work.
Stalls are free, however places are limited so please register early to avoid missing out. While the parlour is open to all who work with the word, we will prioritise independent publications, such as zines, self-published books and independent magazines, above other publications that are better supported in a retail context.
The Emerging Writers’ Festival is working with the Reading Matters Conference, Australia’s leading youth literature event, to attract new audiences for your work. The Reading Matters conference will be attended by teachers, librarians and literacy professionals and Page Parlour stallholders will have the option to recommend their work for distribution in places such as school libraries, as part of our special Reading Matters recommends program.
Also, as part of the Festivals ongoing role in Federation Square, stallholders will be offered an opportunity to have a table on a semi-regular (not weekly) basis at the weekly book fair Federation Square runs every Saturday in the Atrium.
To register your interest and receive a registration form, please email Zoë Barron at [email protected] Registrations close on the 18th of April, 2009.
* The next festival I’ll be appearing at is the Newstead Short Story Tattoo. The website is now up. Very excited about the panel I’ll be on called The Fictitious Woman:
The Fictitious Woman brings together some of the strongest storytelling female talent around including Carmel Bird, Cate Kennedy, Jospehine Rowe, Angela Meyer, Tiggy Johnson, Eleanor Marney (to be confirmed) and Newstead’s own Janet Barker. This event will be MC’d by the driver of all things wordy, direct from Chewton, Zoe Dattner.
Time: Sat, 16/05/2009 11:30am Location: Dig Cafe, Lyons st, Newstead
I have been asked a few times lately what’s happening with this novel manuscript, as people know I’m also working on a new one. Well lit-lovelies, here’s the juice.
I’m restructuring, rewriting, adding, subtracting, overhauling Smoke & Dancing this long weekend.
This is the story so far, in point form (because my brain is mush after the first day’s work!)
* Wrote first draft about 2 years ago. It is my 2nd novel manuscript. As it’s set in Wollongong in 1970 I went to the ‘Gong and researched, conducted interviews etc. Lots of fun.
* Entered S&D in the Varuna HarperCollins Awards end 2007. Was one of 5 to win Peter Bishop’s Pathways to Publication Masterclass.
* Worked on about the 3rd (I’ve lost track?) draft at Varuna in April 2008. Still some sticky points but made progress.
* Left for a goodly while. Didn’t win Vogel, obviously. Finished Uni and came out with 1st class Hnours and lots of short stories.
* Rewrote from 1st to 3rd person as the 1st person narrator was too intrusive and the other (important) characters’ voices couldn’t be found, gave to a publisher who asked to see it late 2008. He gave me some wonderful advice – all characters’ voices were blurred in the rushed 3rd person draft. Many ideas and voices not quite coming through clearly (and there are many ideas in the manuscript). But he was very encouraging. The mind was overwhelmed but it hummed.
* Have been writing new project (90s novel) but mulling over what direction to take Smoke & Dancing in. Slowly, ideas and visions have come to the fore, often at 3am. I wrote them all down but let them stew some more. American agent who had asked to see it said he liked it, but didn’t think he’d be able to sell lit fic given the climate (I thought it was odd that he might even want to look at a book set in regional Aus, but who’d say no?). He asked me to send him my YA novel when I’m finished though. I’ll share a quote from his email: ‘But do let’s stay in touch – you’re clearly hugely talented, and I’d be curious to find out which Australian publisher will snap up the book and would love to read your next one!’ Tres encouraging, yes?
* S&D is with another Australian publisher who asked directly for it, but this was a few months ago. I haven’t told her yet that I’ve decided to rewrite, I’ll see how it goes. Perhaps she will see potential in it anyway. There are about four other publishers who have shown interest, but I’m concerned now with taking the time to get it right. So, instead of going away or lazing around this weekend, I’m working hard.
This morning I physically cut the manuscript into scenes:
Then I marked the scenes by which character is most predominant. What became clear is that one character I felt very strongly about had become lost in the last draft. And it became clear that some scenes were muddled in their POV. But laid-out like this it also seemed clear that this could be fixed! I inserted blank pages with ideas for fleshing out scenes amongst the typed pages, and I decided on two added scenes at the ending – for better closure. One of these came to me just three nights ago (again, around 3am), and it was a definite lightbulb moment. I’m very excited about this new, extended ending.
I also wrote out a set of ‘rules’ for myself as some ‘choices’ had to be made and stuck to (notice I’m not actually telling you very much besides process, as I hope you will read it in book form one day); and I re-clarified the themes by jotting them down.
I was going to let that be my work for the day, but it was only just after lunch and I was quite keen to get writing. To my surprise, I rewrote the beginning as present tense, and a lot shorter, then inserted new scenes! I have now rewritten 12 pages, and it’s structurally quite different than before, and I hope a lot clearer. After I’ve gone through the whole thing (hopefully by the end of Monday), I’ll still need to go over it again and look at voice – to make sure each character is differentiated and three-dimensional and clear etc.
I am going to go for an ASA mentorship – it would be great to have a second pair of eyes once all this is done, and some guidance. They only give away 10, so I may not get it, but one should always try.
Hope you’re all having a great Easter. I’ve got some fun times planned with good friends for the evenings (thus, I won’t go stir-crazy). Champagne ahoy!
Viking, 9780670071364, 2007 (Australia)
Gerard Moyne is an extremely successful Sydney-based art consultant, art lover, and all round philosophical aesthete. He falls for the independent, earthy, and oft-scattered Julia. They’re not exactly opposites, but nor do they complement each other entirely. Their relationship, and its undoing (it begins with this) are chronicled, alongside the narrative of artist JMW Turner, whose life and works Gerard is fully versed in, being his first professional interest and introduction to the art world.
The novel is quiet and accessible. The intimacies, ticks, secrets, needs, sweetness, and terrors of the relationship are very relatable. The first-person protagonist, Gerard, shows his weaknesses and flaws. You don’t always like him, but you do often understand him – on a level of emotional and/or intellectual conflict with himself, his lover, and the structure of his private and public worlds.
I found some of the overall writing a tad clichéd, a little florid and emotionally angsty (‘arty’ even?), especially when Gerard asks his readers questions, which grates a little. There are also some strange metaphors and similes that seem unnatural (such as a funeral being like ‘a ghastly negative of a wedding … with … death his pale bride’). But in general Paul Morgan lulls you into his quiet, reflective, and quite deep, story. Something like this passage shows the way the profundity and slight awkwardness sit aside each other:
‘Everything we did together was as though for the first time and retained an Edenic glow. Each moment was spot-lit by a constellation of twinkling endorphins. There is a kind of prospective nostalgia, isn’t there? While experiencing a happy time, you already regret its passing.’
See, he’s right, of course, and the ‘prospective nostalgia’ is a wonderful phrase, but there’s something a bit pokey about it too. The way Gerard nudges the reader to help confirm his floaty theories.
There are so many spot-on moments though. In a much more honed description, Morgan describes the ‘holy spirit of compromise’ that flies back with Gerard and Julia on a plane after their first fight. There is also the (both joyful and daunting) discovery of parts of the ‘secret identity’, when you begin living with someone. For example, Gerard keeps the clock running 15 minutes fast so he’s never late and Julia leaves her dirty socks and underwear on the floor. The protagonist describes the way we invade each other in relationships. Yet he later concludes that we’re always alone (‘aren’t we?’, he asks).
Gerard generally scrutinises life as though he were looking at a painting. Aspects move him, conflict within the frame, and are complex. From different angles, surfaces change to look like something different. Another way this is shown is through the visual recording of moments (reflecting the aforementioned anxiety of the ephemeral nature of happy moments). Some that spring to mind are his descriptions of his lover, not necessarily in bed (though there are those) but washing the car windscreen, amongst the kids she works with, sipping from her favourite mug, and other small but important burns on the memory.
Turner’s Paintbox has a lot of charm, colour, and meaningful philosophy. Subversively, I would recommend it to people who are currently in a relationship, or have only just broken up. A worthy companion to Annie Hall, if not quite so witty. Also, if you’re interested in art, art history, and are generally a visual being, you would be quite absorbed by the palette on offer (the chapters are in fact named after colours in the paintbox).
Apr 7, 2009
I reviewed Brendan Gulli
Apr 6, 2009
I reviewed this gig for RHUM -
Charlotte Wood, author of The Children says…
My writing room is a small room above a shed separate from our house in Marrickville, Sydney (I’m told the shed bit downstairs was once a stable; all I can say is that it must have been a very tiny horse). You can see the iron stair rail and the beginning of the steps at the left of the picture.
The room looks out over the back of our house and a wide, leafy laneway beside the house that leads to a big shopping centre nearby. It used to be very good for observing frazzled mothers trying to deal with toddler tantrums (they like to have them exactly outside our house, for some reason) and the old Greek men and ladies who sit on the low garden-fence railings and have a smoke and a natter. But the grevillea we planted grew much taller than I expected and now obscures the view, so that’s a bummer. All I hear are the toddlers’ shrieks and the tinging of shopping trolleys now.
My desk always looks like as messy as this except I don’t normally have my own books on it! (This picture was originally taken for cutaways for an Australia Council online video thing.) At the top of the stairs in the black frame is a drawing my dad did of my mother once before any of us were born, and the other pictures are of various things – some Indian mynah bird photos I needed to look at a lot for my last book (must take them down now), and postcards people have sent that are too beautiful to throw out, and so on. The white bird on the computer is a little brooch given to me by my publisher, because it reminded her of the creepy mynahs in The Children. On top of the pile of books there is one of my favourites, a volume of letters between Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell, called The Element of Lavishness. I return to it frequently.
Outside the frame of this picture behind the desk is a wall of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, built by a friend, including a shelf for a turntable, speakers and my husband’s collection of junk-shop vinyl. To the right of the desk is a double bed we use for guests, but also for me to have little Writing Naps on. I start off reading there, but … especially if I’m reading my own work … zzzzzzz. Actually I have often found that an afternoon nap solves problems – that half-conscious space between sleep and waking has very often provided me with a solution, or at least a fresh way of attacking a problem. The notebook beside the computer will have scribbled bits and pieces in it to go and peruse when I am lost. I write almost entirely on the computer but the notebook is for stray things that come to one at other times. The teak desk was given to me by a friend, and I like its largeness and its warmth. When it’s not covered in crap it’s quite beautiful. Actually that’s how I feel about the whole room.
See Charlotte’s blog on food and writing.
It doesn’t happen often, but I’m feeling a bit that way today. And it’s frustrating. Because I only really have a few hours on the weekend to work on fiction. I tapped out about 1000 words of 90s novel, but they weren’t very inspired. They were limp and floppy. Hopefully next weekend will be better. I’ve had a hot-shit week though, here’s some sharesies:
* On Tuesday night I went to see David Malouf talk about Ransom at Reader’s Feast. I reviewed Ransom for B+P and was thus lucky enough to be one of the first people in Aus to read it. Lucky, because it’s spellbinding. He’s a master storyteller – and much of what Malouf discussed at Reader’s Feast was just that, storytelling. The elegant, poised and youthful (for his 70+ years) writer had his audience captivated, talking about living one another through stories, and being alive even in the years before he was born through the tales told by his parents and people coming and going in the house throughout his childhood. (I was nodding along, having written about my parents era and the place they lived in Smoke & Dancing). The storytelling of the cart-driver within Ransom awakens curiosity in the old king, Priam. So Malouf discussed storytelling and curiosity in general, it being something he is becoming more and more interested in, and sees as integral to our lives.
There was a large audience, and they asked very specific questions about passages and characters in his other books, quite obviously in awe of his intelligent creativity, and he answered humbly and generously. I thought about how positive and youthful he seemed and I figured that the curiosity was what kept him like this. It was inspiring. It was also inspiring how he talked about it not ‘technically’ being his first novel in 10 years, but the first to be published. For him, it is about the writing, and working on something for as long as it takes, until it is ready to be sent out into the world. He seems as though he has true enjoyment for his craft (and eavesdropping, he conceded to one questioner, something every writer takes delight in).
He read one of my favourite passages from Ransom, where Priam is encouraged to dip his toes into a stream. The reading was both humorous and touching. I thanked Malouf later when he signed by book. And I loved how Mary Dalmau of Reader’s Feast introduced him with genuine enthusiasm. He is her favourite writer – on a whole other plane than others, she said. ‘My author’ she called him, and thanked him for coming with the gift of a rare second-hand book (I didn’t catch what it was).
* I received confirmation today from the Emerging Writers’ Festival (May 22-31). I will be on a panel called ‘The Revolution will be Downloaded’ with Rachel Hills, Darren Rowse, and James Stuart, hosted by Karen Andrews. And I’ll be hosting the ’15 Minutes of Fame’ nights also. It’s going to be really fun and fantastic, and I’ll share more info in the coming weeks…
* Did you hear about the floods in Coffs Harbour this week? I felt quite emotional seeing many of my old haunts completely submerged! My family and friends are all okay and managed to escape damage to their homes. But check out these amazing photos that have been put up on Facebook, including this one (this used to be the highway…):
(credit: Angela Blackman)
* If you happen to be in NSW, you can vote for the new People’s Choice Award in the NSW Premier’s Awards here.
* On Thursday at lunch time I recorded my first review for ABC Radio National’s Book Show. It should air sometime next week, and I’ll let you know. There will also be a podcast available. And why not check out Torpedo publisher Chris Flynn’s review of the latest McSweeney’s.
* On Thursday night I attended the launch of Brendan Gullifer‘s Sold (and you’ll hear more about this book when you hear more about the above!). The book, the second novel by Sleepers Publishing, was launched by Peter Moon, who you might remember from:
Of course, he was hilarious, and Brendan was too. He read from one of the ‘Dally Love’ chapters in the book – I don’t want to say too much (yet), but this is seriously a character you will love to hate. He’s awesome. Stay tuned. I have to say, Sleepers is doing some really exciting things in Australian publishing. With the Almanac, that I mentioned last week, and with Steven Amsterdam‘s Things We Didn’t See Coming, I see them as a publisher with a fresh, timely, and talented eye. I’m glad both authors will also be appearing in the EWF program.
* I was invited to two other launches that I couldn’t make it to this week. That of the 50 new ‘Popular Penguins’. Happy to see a good Aussie contingent, plus Lolita, and A Clockwork Orange on there. Many more on my to-read list. Also, the launch for Overland 194. I missed it but I bought my copy from Reader’s Feast and will probably review it again for you. This has become my only must-have journal, because I always learn something.
* Was excited to see a big, considered spread on graphic novels in the Australian Literary Review this month, by Cefn Ridout. Also enjoyed reading Louis Nowra’s taking-apart of Kristin Williamson’s biography of her famous playright husband David Williamson. A nicely diverse ALR this month.
* I’ll be reviewing some Melbourne Comedy Festival gigs for RHUM over the coming weeks, and I’ll post links here. Off to ‘Best of the Edinburgh Festival’ tonight.
* I was included on two lists this week. The Top 50 Australian Blogs on Writing on CopyWrite – I’m at number 33, but if you’ll notice, I have a default Technorati rating as I hadn’t yet joined this service. Now that I have it appears (with the combined scores) I’d be much further up the list. But Jonathan Crossfield said he will do it again in June, let’s see what happens! Actually, looking now, I have the highest page rank and the highest Alexa score… just doing the math (ow, my brain). By my calculations I am actually currently number four. But then again, a lot of the other Technorati ratings have defaulted to 5000000. But still, almost as blog-loved as Max Barry will do me just fine! Thanks!
The other, in The Australian, I wouldn’t really call a ‘mention’ as it’s the Crikey blogs in general, and it’s under ‘Politics & Policy’, hum, but they do only name four blogs in this ‘strong stable’ and I am one of them. Nice.
* Here’s something fun! David Nygren’s short story published in a spreadsheet.
* We reported on this in WBN this week – first news of the Books Alive campaign, 2009, which will be held in September. But I just love this out-take footage of Michael Parkinson and Tom Keneally from the TV commercial. Who knew Tom Keneally was so cute and cuddly-looking?
This is an extract from my short story ‘Birds’, published in Wet Ink issue 14, just out. I share the pages with such wonderful writers as Ryan O’Neill, Michelle Cahill, Matthew Condon (who is interviewed) and others I’ve yet to get to know better (but soon will!) Buy a copy or subscribe here.
for Sonja …
Birds and wings and musty feathers. I smell their little bodies and the ribcage within – so pop-able. They flit and flutter – excited, demented. They are shrill. Their notes peck at one another. They jump with my heart. My head whips around at one, and another.
The chest’s blotches are there already and I haven’t even made it to the train. I anticipate the ride now, before the day of work – the clean-shaven scents, the clearing of throats, the eyes catching each other in the window’s reflection as they attempt to hold onto the day outside.
It’s not as though work is bad, either. It’s probably somewhat a breeze. Comfortable. The boss does not bear down upon me. But nor has she told me I am on track, doing fine. I have much independence. I design, I submit, I begin over. Concepts come in, I liase, I email. I refine. I am fine.
Jessa was giving me a massage last night, wedging her thumb into my knots. Those un-birdlike parts that won’t shift. The framework around the bubble where inside things flit and flutter and threaten to break out. She tries to understand. I try to understand. She has cures, after all, for her own problems. The new pills, a bitey taste on her tongue, for her migraines. They found a cure for cancer last year. AIDS is promising too. But for the worrisome, for the quickened ones, there are only horrid things that rob you of sleep and leave you with cotton in your mouth.
‘Why don’t you give them a try again?’
There is nothing more she suggests, just digs those familiar thumbs in deeper. I catch the scent of her hair and turn to her soft face. I press myself in. Here it is warm. We are both girls. Our faces are soft together. Our nails are short but our fingers are long, intertwining.
The train is hard, fast. There are many of them now. Streamlined. One after another. Ensuring we all get to work on time, keep the world going. The older people often look deflated. They miss their cars. They miss a lot of things. It is not simple, I think. But this efficiency is all I’ve known.
I unlock the office door. I am always the first to arrive. My hand is slippery on the key. That sweat, the blotchy chest covered by the neck of my shirt. The nausea creeps in. There is a little unbalance in my toes. I sit at the desk and the chair seems to have swirled me around five times over. I take a deep breath, willing myself not to get carried away. Don’t go into it today. Don’t go into it.
It’s just a job. It’s just a day. Everyone does it. People are worse off somewhere. There is nothing wrong. The walls are not closing in. You are fine.
At lunch I don’t leave my desk. Too many lines. Too many places to choose. I have my sandwich. White bread, tuna, lettuce, tomato. Bit of red onion, and mayo. I minimise my design and float around online. The sense of overwhelm is present there too. But something catches my eye in the news feed.
‘ViagenCo. to trial ‘Positivity Chip’ for anxiety sufferers’.
To read the rest, buy a copy here.