Coining words – from assassination to jobstopper

March 24, 2016 at 9:35 pm | Posted in English Language, Shakespeare, Shakespeare's neologisms | Leave a comment
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shakespearetoastShakespeare introduced 1,700 words and many phrases we still use today. He coined assassination, for instance, from the 8th century Arabic assassin.

Even-handed, far-off, hot-blooded, schooldays, well-respected, are Shakespeare’s too, as are useful, moonbeams, subcontinent. [Without him we wouldn’t have the phrases] laughing yourself into stitches, setting your teeth on edge, not sleeping a wink, being cruel to be kind, and playing fast and loose.

In my English Honours degree we studied all the plays and many sonnets but that was a long time ago and it’s great to read a neat summary of some of Shakespeare’s achievements. Ben Crystal reminds us of the above list of words and phrases in his Shakespeare on Toast: Getting a taste for the bard (Icon, 2016). It’s an engaging, funny, accessible little book for a reminder of or an introduction to Shakespeare’s genius with language.

When I was little we had the book Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. It was a favourite and in King Lear I remember the picture of Cordelia, appearing to be asleep, wearing what I thought was a beautiful pale green nightie, her blonde plait hanging down her back. The caption said: ‘And Cordelia ended her life in prison.’

At five or six I couldn’t make any sense of the plot from Romeo and Juliet and I asked my older sister, why couldn’t they just agree not to see each other if it was going to cause so much trouble? No matter how she tried to explain romantic love she couldn’t make me understand such irrational behaviour.

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Putting the world into words – Tim Parks and why we write

March 10, 2016 at 6:36 am | Posted in Writing | Leave a comment
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Tim ParksI’ve been fond of English writer Tim Parks since he cheerfully admitted to ABC Radio interviewer Margaret Throsby that he had had ‘enough rejection slips for his novels to paper Buckingham Palace with!’

Parks wrote seven novels over six years before one was accepted for publication. Rejected by twenty publishers, Parks tells us in Where I’m Reading From: The changing world of books (Harvill & Secker, 2014, p. 130) that his seventh novel eventually earned him a £1,000 advance. This anecdote is appealing because it gives hope to writers who are struggling to gain a publisher’s contract.

Yes, there are now alternative ways of getting one’s writing into print. We can be liberated from the gatekeepers in the publishing industry. But some writers still want to be published in the traditional way, not least because of the time it takes to self-publish and to generate enough publicity to prevent one’s work being another drop in the ocean of self-published works, and to get on top of the technology to do all this.

Tim Parks has written seventeen novels and ten non-fiction books plus much translation, and prolific amounts of literary journalism, including Where I’m Reading From.

This book contains over thirty thought-provoking essays. In one, ‘Does Money Make Us Write Better?’ Tim Parks tells us that with an advance like that, clearly he wasn’t writing for the money. He was about to give up after that seventh novel so it wasn’t that he was in it for the pleasure of writing.

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John Tesarsch – sophisticated and uplifting

March 3, 2016 at 12:17 am | Posted in Australian novels, Books, Writing | 1 Comment
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John Tesarsch's brilliant novel

John Tesarsch’s brilliant novel

John Tesarsch’s The Last Will and Testament of Henry Hoffmann (Affirm Press, 2014) is a masterpiece. I’ve reviewed a lot of books in the past twenty plus years, (in local magazines and 85 for The Canberra Times, and more recently in this blog) but I have never described a novel like that. This one deserves it. I simply could not put it down and I am in awe of the author’s mastery of the form.

The novel deals with the theme of death as a catalyst for examining life – the past life, in this case with its extraordinary secrets, and life in the present for the survivors, who include the three children of Henry Hoffmann. When Henry unexpectedly dies they must deal with his idiosyncratic will.

The eldest of Henry’s progeny, Eleanor, very bright like her father, is teaching at a boys’ school and trying to find the time to do her PhD. Sarah used to be a concert pianist and now simply immerses herself in her music, after suffering debilitating stage fright. Robbie is the black sheep whose real estate deals and secrecy have led him into financial woes and made his wife Carla very unhappy.

Tesarsch’s first novel The Philanthropist (Sleepers, 2010), also a story of family secrets, was very readable and competent but this second one is lifted to another level. With its engaging and increasingly compelling plot The Last Will and Testament of Henry Hoffmann moves through the settings of Melbourne and to its north during the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, to Vienna during World War II and to contemporary San Francisco. The plot moves at a fast pace while simultaneously we gain a deeper knowledge of the characters.

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