Only Marcus knows: Sex in fiction

July 26, 2019 at 3:58 am | Posted in Bad Sex in Fiction | 2 Comments
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‘The sex in your novel I can understand,’ said a friend as we stood in adjoining lanes in the shallow end of Civic Pool. ‘The sex in A.S. Byatt’s novel you’d need a PhD in English Literature to understand.’

‘I’ve got one of those,’ I said, pulling my goggles into place. ‘Can I borrow it?’

‘I’ll bring it tomorrow,’ he said, before swimming away.

And that is how I came to have A.S. Byatt’s Babel Tower, all 618 pages of it, about to topple off the tower of books on my bedside table. But I too gave up on it, not because I couldn’t understand the (admittedly erudite) sex scenes but because I came to this sentence, quite early on:

Continue Reading Only Marcus knows: Sex in fiction…

Slowing down – A beautiful book on sustainable living: Mark Boyle’s The Way Home

July 10, 2019 at 4:26 am | Posted in Blasket islands, capitalism, digital technology, E.F. Schumacher, Mark Boyle, rural Ireland, Simplifying, Small Is Beautiful, sustainable living | Leave a comment
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The Way Home: Tales from a life without technology. Mark Boyle. (Oneworld Publications, 2019)

It’s a surprise to learn that Mark Boyle has a degree in Economics and Marketing. He lives in rural County Galway in a dwelling he built himself. He chooses to live without electricity or running water. He has no car and of course no phone – landline or mobile – but the thing that really brought home to me his hard-line stance is this: he won’t use matches either.

Once you’d spent the hours and labour (not to mention generating blisters) on making a fire with your bare hands I can’t imagine ever letting it go out.

Mark Boyle writes that he also has neither clock nor watch. Would a sundial count as technology? Probably not, but its use might be a bit limited in western Ireland, which receives roughly twice as much rainfall as the rest of the country.

And lighting? ‘Making a candle is easy. The real craft lies in the first part of the process: the keeping of the bees,’ he writes. ‘Actually, the most difficult part of candle-making is deciding to reject electrical lighting.’ Continue Reading Slowing down – A beautiful book on sustainable living: Mark Boyle’s The Way Home…

Thinking women, hope and regeneration

June 12, 2019 at 6:56 am | Posted in Andrea Goldsmith, Australia behind, Australian novels, Democracy, Living creatively, Movies, optimism, Toni Jordan | 2 Comments
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 Am I advocating escapism?

It’s been hard to find anything uplifting to say in the last few weeks. The last time I read John Milton (1608-1674) was in English (Hons) many years ago. But I just came across a quotation from Paradise Lost that seems like a sanity-saver in the world we’re enduring now.

‘The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.’

I can imagine a certain homeless lad I see often, camping endlessly outside Dickson Woolworths, waiting for a Government flat to come up – or any of those poor, skinny, desperate blokes on Manus Island or Nauru who find themselves simultaneously in Hell and in Limbo – saying, ‘Yeah, that’s easy for him to say!’

And yes, Milton had his books and his house, music and writing, and his wife (a succession of three) and children.

But everyone has his own trials and Milton was blind when he wrote Paradise Lost, and of course when writing poignant poems like ‘When I consider how my light is spent’. His first two wives died, he also lost a son and a daughter, and he had a strained relationship with his remaining daughters.

Continue Reading Thinking women, hope and regeneration…

After She Left – Penelope’s adventure with the idea of patience

May 9, 2019 at 1:18 am | Posted in Impact Press, Perseverance in writing, Publishing industry, Ventura Press | 4 Comments
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At a quarter of a century between novels, and not for want of trying, I now have the authority to write about the value of patience and persistence.

I wrote the first draft of my new novel After She Left over ten years ago. It was the creative component of a PhD. The theory component involved getting my head around a lot of French Postmodern theory and that took up most of the time, along with writing a commissioned non-fiction book on the side, which my employer said was six months’ worth, but which took about two and a half years.

A long time before that I’d been reviewing for The Canberra Times and the literary editor gave me a biography of French sculptor Camille Claudel. I always wanted to write a happy ending to her ghastly story. In between getting a less ambitious first novel published (Full House, Simon & Schuster, 1993) I’d written two other novels and couldn’t get them accepted.

Putting the accountants in charge

Publishing was changing. Previously a publisher would take on a new writer whose manuscript showed potential but who needed editorial guidance to lift it to the next level. But as neoliberal dogma took over more and more of our world, huge corporations started taking over smaller presses. The new managers were not the “gentleman publishers” of before. They were only focused on profits and no longer interested in literary novels being subsidised by the higher sales of bird books and cookery books. Now everything had to result in high sales.

Continue Reading After She Left – Penelope’s adventure with the idea of patience…

Anne Pender’s Seven Big Australians

April 22, 2019 at 9:04 pm | Posted in Australian Satire, Comic Theatre, Humour - Australian, Stand-up comedy - Australian | Leave a comment
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Transforming comic genres

In Seven Big Australians: Adventures with comic actors (Monash University Press, 2019) Anne Pender paints an unforgettable portrait of the lives of Australian comic actors: Carol Raye, Barry Humphries, Noeline Brown, Max Gillies, John Clarke, Tony Sheldon and Denise Scott. She brings to life careers that span from the Second World War to the present.

These portraits are also a portrait of the times, giving insights into Australian society just after the Second World War and of the tremendous social change in Australia from then until now.

Because the author interviewed her subjects over a five-year period, and knew some for much longer, the reader feels an intimate connection with them. We hear about their disappointments and triumphs, their failures and perseverance in their own heart-felt words. Continue Reading Anne Pender’s Seven Big Australians…

Recipes for happiness

April 3, 2019 at 12:24 am | Posted in Bookshops, creativity, decluttering, libraries, List making, Living creatively, Simplifying | Leave a comment
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That warm glow of excitement and satisfaction

It’s been a while since my last blog post and I make no apology. I don’t write them for click-bait – they’re for contemplation and the odd laugh. I’ve been working – writing non-fiction – and, of course, reading. One thing I read expresses precisely my situation about books to be read. New Yorker staff writer Katy Waldman admitted in that journal (4 December 2018) that she was ‘criminally behind on the books I want to read, and my job consists of reading books, so I can only imagine what most readers feel. … The deficit grows by the hour.’

Judging by the towering pile of books on my bedside table, and probably on yours, we know exactly what she means.

Continue Reading Recipes for happiness…

Powerful and uplifting – Magic Happens: The Story of Painting with Parkinsons by Nancy Tingey

February 5, 2019 at 2:18 am | Posted in arts and health, Australian memoir, Parkinson's, Winston Churchill, Yoga health benefits | 1 Comment
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Artist and curator Nancy Tingey was the first person I interviewed for my history of the Churchill Trust, Inspiring Australians (2015) and it was a wonderful story to begin my research with. Nancy founded the group, Painting with Parkinsons in Canberra in 1994. Her husband Bob had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s a few years before when he was 46.

Nancy Tingey began the group she called Painting with Parkinsons ‘just [as] an idea for a fun thing to do’. Her beautifully produced book, Magic Happens, outlines the journey of Painting with Parkinsons, with insights of some class members, teachers and facilitators. Nancy Tingey’s own professional and personal journey gently threads its way through this powerful and moving book.

Continue Reading Powerful and uplifting – Magic Happens: The Story of Painting with Parkinsons by Nancy Tingey…

Summer books and summer heat

January 21, 2019 at 2:21 am | Posted in capitalism, Common Good, Democracy, libraries, social capital | Leave a comment
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The cover of ‘Mistakes Were Made, But Not by Me!’

After finishing the rewrites of my novel just before Christmas it’s been an orgy of reading. Among recent books that have impressed me are Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean; Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson; and D.B.C. Pierre’s Release the Bats. There’s also beautiful, strong writing in another of Elizabeth Harrower’s trenchant, insightful and bleak novels about relationships, In Certain Circles. But I’ll focus on the three non-fiction books here.

Democracy in Chains

Democracy in Chains: The deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America (Viking, 2018) tells the story behind the subversion of democracy in the United States, a story of dark money and radical right-wing politics, and how ‘liberty’ came to mean liberty for the rich few to concentrate vast wealth and deny basic fairness and rights to the majority. And it all started with racism, back in the 1950s. I can’t hope to summarise it adequately in such a short space but it’s a mesmerising book, understated in tone and jaw-dropping in its implications.

Continue Reading Summer books and summer heat…

‘Life is not for doing the doable.’ – Tim Ferguson

December 5, 2018 at 9:25 am | Posted in Australian memoir, Comedy writing, Comic memoirs, humour, Tim Ferguson | 2 Comments
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Penny Hanley and Tim Ferguson

There are remarkably few books or courses on how to write humour. Most people think that it can’t be taught. Tim Ferguson disagrees. He holds regular classes on how to write narrative comedy, in Australia and other countries, and has written a book on it, The Cheeky Monkey: Writing narrative comedy (Currency Press, 2010).

I did one of his weekend courses recently in Canberra and it was fantastic. Tim Ferguson is generous, smart and a fabulous teacher. He’s a humane and witty guy who shared the secrets of comedy and the milieu of comic writers and performers in Australia with us. And it was like paying a (very reasonable) sum of money to laugh from nine to five, two days in a row. Continue Reading ‘Life is not for doing the doable.’ – Tim Ferguson…

Envying Georges Simenon

October 27, 2018 at 12:52 am | Posted in Simenon, writers' habits, Writing - tools of the trade | Leave a comment
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It’s been aeons since I wrote in this. I’ve been writing heaps, but not here. There have been paid writing and editing jobs plus rewriting a novel, ‘After She Left’, which will be published in May.

And all this time I haven’t been able to get Simenon out of my mind. I haven’t even read many of his novels, and none of the famous Maigret series, but I feel sick with envy at his productivity. (What is the noun of prolific? Prolificness? Prolificity? – Suffice to say that Simenon put new meaning into the adjective, prolific.)

The reason behind his prodigious productivity was that he had to make the money to pay alimony to all his ex-wives. The method behind it is even more interesting.

He had the reputation of getting his novels published after writing only one draft. That has since been disproved. He did two drafts – only two! I’m nauseated with envy and I think: if I could just copy his method, maybe that would work for me too!

A writer’s routine to emulate?

His routine was: up at dawn and put on a freshly ironed special writing shirt; scribble like mad for many hours with lots of sharpened pencils; finish the novel begun a few days before; vomit from the psychic stress of it; and go out and sleep with a prostitute. (I would hope that he added to that routine a penultimate chore: clean teeth.)

So, could I be like that? I can see myself in the ironed shirt – a man’s white cotton one, got from St Vinny’s or off a man’s back. I can see the sharpened pencils lined up on my desk. I can see myself doing that first draft, dredging it all up from my psychic depths to the extent that I vomit … no. I can’t. Nothing is worth that amount of suffering.

I don’t imagine anyone enjoys throwing up but I have a neurotic dread of it. I get scared my eyes will fall out. The last time I vomited was from food poisoning in late 2004. The time before was for the same reason, in Egypt on a 1st class train in early 1985. I take care not to do it very often. (I guess the silver lining of that neurosis is that I could never develop the worse one of bulimia, not that I should be making jokes about a serious condition like that.)

Fall seven times, stand up eight (Japanese proverb)

So I’ll have to put my dreams of being a female Simenon behind me and accept that I’m like every other writer, and that for us, writing is rewriting. I usually write a scene umpteen times before it sounds right. Or I think I get it right but my editor doesn’t think so and I have to rewrite several times in order to address all the problems in it. No. There’s no way around it. We just have to put in the time and effort. No prostitutes or toy boys for us, then – ha! – or at least not daily! (Easy to guess why Simenon couldn’t make his marriages work – I can’t imagine many women who would put up with all that ironing and sharpening pencils for a philanderer like that!)

And maybe we will develop an output of more consistently high quality that way. After all, Simenon might have nailed the gold medal in the productivity race but most critics agree that only a few were high quality; many, if not most, were just pot-boilers.

Maybe I have to accept the sort of output where it gets to be a quarter-century between novels. But I shouldn’t feel bad about it because I’ve been productive in other areas, typing away on non-fiction that gets into print, as well as novels that don’t. And at least non-fiction requires far fewer drafts than novels and short stories. Plus I feel actively happy that I have managed to make a living through writing without having to vomit every day!

 

 

 

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