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!

 

 

 

Tenderly caressing sentences

June 13, 2018 at 8:22 am | Posted in Common Good, david gillespie, John Clanchy, K.a. Nelson, Poetry books, psychopaths, Short stories | 1 Comment
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Three favourite books

I’m always driven by curiosity and apart from work these past few weeks I’ve been spreading my brain too thinly across a vast variety of stimulating books. In the time it takes to write a blog I could have read another book or two. With so many fascinating books piled up – and some jumping up and down, clamouring ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ because they’d be due back at the library soon – I just continued to read my way through the pile in my spare time instead of writing blog posts.

But no regrets and I’m in the Slow Blogging camp (after being one for some time, I discovered that there is actually a formal association for Slow Bloggers – see https://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/23/fashion/23slowblog ). So I make no apologies and below I reflect on the three best of my recently read books, each of which deserves its own post: K. A. Nelson’s Inlandia (Recent Work Press, 2018); John Clanchy’s Six (Finlay Lloyd, 2014, and a La Muse Books E-book); and David Gillespie’s Taming Toxic People (Macmillan, 2017).

Inlandia by K. A. Nelson

‘Caress your sentence tenderly: it will end by smiling at you.’

Continue Reading Tenderly caressing sentences…

Optimism in a world of degradation

April 22, 2018 at 2:24 am | Posted in cooperatives, Inequality - Australia, optimism | 5 Comments
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Quality control

I’ve been writing some brief biographies for an organisation and before I interviewed some of these high achievers, I wanted to note down some basic facts about them. So I nipped up to my local library, chained my bike and went inside to the Reference Section for Who’s Who. They’ve rearranged the library and now there’s a vast empty space in the centre. I walked all around the book shelves on the perimeter and couldn’t find where they’d moved the Reference books.

When I asked a library assistant, a willowy girl with wispy chestnut hair, she said, ‘We’re trying to get people to look up stuff online. We’re phasing out Reference books.’

After I picked up my jaw from the floor I managed to voice my horrified amazement at this retrograde step.

‘You’re welcome to express your opinion in writing,’ she said.

*          *          *

Continue Reading Optimism in a world of degradation…

Swimming, dancing, writing – or What I Did on My Summer Holiday

March 27, 2018 at 4:49 am | Posted in Argentine tango, arts and health, creativity, social capital, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Swimming

Swimming every morning in the clear turquoise water, surrounded by trees – oaks, chestnuts, London planes and gums, with swallows and parrots flying about and ten ducklings following their parents across the grass – plus coffee on the deck afterwards with a group of convivial co-swimmers: is it any wonder it’s been a long time since I posted a blog? It didn’t take all day but it did consume some morning writing time and I wouldn’t have traded talking and laughing with simpatico people for any number of blogs written.

My local swimming pool – see www.dicksonaquaticcentre.com.au – has a Lap Legends club where you write down the number of laps you do, aiming to get above 77 kilometres by the end of the season. That is the figure beyond which you’re in the running for some great prizes.

No, I didn’t win a prize (and I wasn’t really on holiday – it just felt like one) but I got up to 123 kilometres, the maximum I’ve ever done from October to March. It gave me a sense of achievement, the loss of some kilos and a heap of other health benefits.

Continue Reading Swimming, dancing, writing – or What I Did on My Summer Holiday…

When the Couch-Potato Pill is invented will you take it?

January 9, 2018 at 1:24 am | Posted in Andrea Goldsmith, Cook books, depression, health, swimming, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Summer Cook Books

‘That’s the first time I’ve ever seen anyone do that,’ said my friend Sharon, standing above me on the turquoise-tiled rim of Dickson swimming pool.

‘Do what?’ I asked, as I completed my length and stood up in the shallow-end water.

‘Yawning while swimming,’ she said.

 

Continue Reading When the Couch-Potato Pill is invented will you take it?…

Changing lives – making lists and having fun

December 12, 2017 at 3:19 am | Posted in Christmans presents, libraries, list-making | Leave a comment
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Why write?

‘It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by.’ I’ve quoted Vita Sackville West https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vita_Sackville-West before but this bears repeating. Writing or any activity that produces something will prevent that feeling of empty past days. But it should also be remembered that Vita Sackville West probably had servants. So if she didn’t write on a given day, perhaps she could do nothing if she felt like it.

Few of us have that luxury now. The days of most people, even if they’re wealthy, are filled to overflowing with too many things to do. (I’ve met two super wealthy people and even at a dinner out I never saw them relax – they’re always on the mobile, checking some crisis in the China factory or whatever.)

There’s another quotation I like:

‘Lists are the butterfly nets that catch my fleeting thoughts…’ by American blogger Betsy Canas Garmon.

Continue Reading Changing lives – making lists and having fun…

Robin Dalton’s exhilarating books – great Christmas presents

December 2, 2017 at 1:32 am | Posted in Aunts up the Cross, Australian memoir, Comic memoirs, humour, One Leg Over, Present giving, Robin Dalton | 1 Comment
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High dramatic comedy

Death was ‘always present, cosily accepted’ in Robin Dalton’s 1930s childhood in Kings Cross, Sydney. As a single child in a house full of eccentrics, the fairy tales she was told were the amusing accounts of how her relatives met their ends.

Her 85-year-old great-aunt Julia was knocked over by a bus. This bus was travelling slowly, in the right direction. It was Great-Aunt Julia who was, characteristically, walking very fast, in the wrong direction. Great-Uncle Spot fell off a ladder while changing a light bulb. A great-aunt died as a child from eating green apples and another from blowing up a balloon. The author’s great-grandfather died while reading Uncle Vanya and her Uncle Ken, a soldier in Gallipoli, was killed not in action but from a fatal bite of sugar. (Clearly an early casualty of the ‘Sweet Poison’ we’re hearing a lot about now – see davidgillespie.org and www.sarahwilson.com )

Dalton’s Aunts up the Cross is still in print, I’m happy to see – originally Penguin and now a Text Classic – and it would make a great Christmas present. There is not a word wasted, every word is elegant, and nearly every word is funny. Continue Reading Robin Dalton’s exhilarating books – great Christmas presents…

Yellow horses: a story of thwarted ambitions and coming full circle

August 29, 2017 at 8:25 am | Posted in art, creativity, Franz Marc, Living creatively, Writing | 1 Comment
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We wondered why the tulips were taking a long time to come up

Silver needles in my knees

I’ve been working on a book about an abstract artist and having some minor setbacks. First, a previous writing job kept spilling over into the time I wanted to be researching the new, much bigger project. (And this keeps happening. They come back wanting more and I do more because they pay me.) Although shorter and simpler than a PhD, the new project is like a PhD in that if I take even one day off it, it takes about two days to get back down to the deep level of engagement with the subject again that makes the connections come easily and the writing go quickly.

Second set-back: I hurt my knee and spent many hours of many weeks doing physiotherapy Continue Reading Yellow horses: a story of thwarted ambitions and coming full circle…

Flirting with the world – lunch with Robert Dessaix

July 3, 2017 at 1:11 am | Posted in English Language, Leisure, Robert Dessaix | Leave a comment
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Getting the hang of leisure

Robert Dessaix seems like one of the last people in Australia to be qualified to write a book about leisure. He has written many books, he taught Russian at two universities, and he has been a radio presenter for long-running programs. A glance at his achievements gives the impression of an industrious and productive life, possibly one of unremitting toil.

Recently I went to a lunch at Muse bookshop and restaurant  www.muse.com.au  with Robert Dessaix and a few other convivial, interesting people. We ate delectable food, drank good wine and listened to Robert Dessaix talk about the life of leisure and how he came to write a book about it. A copy of it, The Pleasures of Leisure (Knopf, 2017), was included in the very reasonable price of the lunch.

Dessaix admitted that leisure was something he ‘never quite got the hang of’, knowing only how to fill vacant time usefully and productively. In the book he tackles aspects of leisure such as loafing, reading, walking, nesting, travelling, taking siestas and meditating. With the notion of loafing in mind, he reflects on his childhood:

‘I’d never nonchalantly arrived at anything at all (although from an early age, by dint of hard work, I could say “nonchalant” in several languages’ (p. 5).

 Why do words go out of fashion?

Loafing is not a word you hear much these days. It produced in me connotations of disapproval, probably from my mother’s attitude, and loafing was definitely one of her words. The opposite of loafing, in her vocabulary and moral universe, would have been expressed by ‘gumption’, another word we don’t hear much these days. (Why is that?) Continue Reading Flirting with the world – lunch with Robert Dessaix…

Tearing sentences to pieces

June 20, 2017 at 9:00 am | Posted in Tim Ferriss, writers' habits, Writing | Leave a comment
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Schine novel

They May Not Mean To

Your worst fears

According to Tim Ferriss, ‘the worst fears of contemporary men and women are getting fat and getting too many emails.’ Well, no wonder we’re all having anxiety attacks!

The Slow Carb diet in Ferriss’ book The Four-Hour Body should solve the first problem and spending regular time unsubscribing from unnecessary emails will liberate more time to spend on what’s important. Easier said than done, I know!

My subscription to the Literary Review (hard copy plus online) is as important to me as my subscription to the Guardian Weekly. I’d unsubscribe from anything before these. The Literary Review is ‘for people who devour books’ and the editors recently warned me that if I let my subscription expire I’d risk ‘missing out on everything relevant and stimulating in our society’. That kind of chutzpah can only be rewarded; of course I renewed. (Even though it eats up too much time!) Reviews are one page, in plain English and reviewers are clearly chosen, apart from their profound experience relevant to the book’s topic, for their wit and intellectual dexterity. You can subscribe at https://literaryreview.co.uk/

Continue Reading Tearing sentences to pieces…

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