Wednesday, 14 March 2018

There's reading and then there's reading...


In this household, where I live with my spouse and two hugely loved rescue dogs, we have multiple versions of every device Apple has ever produced. If I'd wanted to read books in electronic form I could've done so on my phone or one of the iPads just for starters. But I'd cast furtive glances at various devices used by friends who are avid readers, after which I quite suddenly persuaded myself that a Kindle would be handy for trains, planes and automobiles (when I wasn't driving) and also for reading at night on those many occasions when I wake to the demons at 3 am but feel bad switching on the light to read.

Spouse loves little more than buying things online so I'd barely voiced my tentative interest in a little Kindle Paperwhite before one arrived in the post, rapidly followed by a girly-pink Bonjour Paris cover.

The lovely Sabine, a Twitter friend from Ohio, had put me onto the Brother Cadfael chronicles, a series of mysteries (21, I think) by Ellis Peters, featuring a Welsh Benedictine monk living in England in the early 12th century. They are historically accurate, linguistically authentic and Brother Cadfael himself is a gem, as well as a dab hand at identifying murderers and dishing out his own—usually fairly benign—form of justice. So he was perfect for my first foray into the use of my Kindle. I read one volume in hard copy then the next two on the Kindle. No drama.

Very soon I discovered how alarmingly easy it is to buy books for this new device. Basically, identify the book you fancy and press BUY. (Here lies trouble, if you don't watch yourself.)

But the next book (are they really 'books'?) I purchased was Tracy Farr's The Hope Fault. And here was a different ball-game altogether. It's a beautifully written story, though 'story' is perhaps the wrong word. Not much happens. A family heads off to pack up a holiday house that has been sold - a husband, an ex-wife, the new wife, a new baby, a son, a cousin, an aunt/twin/sister-in-law. Absent but significant is the matriarch Rosa, about to turn 100. The language is lyrical, the interior lives of all the players are exquisitely and quietly drawn - their talents, their secrets, their fears, their needs, their histories. Best of all, their care of and love for each other. The structure is clever and enticing. I read it very quickly. On my Kindle.

But what a shock when I finished it! Oh there's a titchy little percentage sign down the bottom to tell you how far along the way you are but who looks at that when you're involved? So suddenly it's over! You can't close the book, look back at the cover, read the bit on the back again, flip back to that part where you'd like to check on something again and worse that that, you can't decide who you'll pass it on to next! No clutching it to your chest and thinking 'Sue's going to love this! I can't wait to hand it on.'
So maybe I'll read some things on this new perky little device and other things I'll read in real books. That'll mean I can still browse bookshops for hours on end and never come away empty handed.

I'm sure I'll get used to it, this Kindle device, maybe one day even forget how I ever got by without it. Meanwhile I have this nagging, slightly guilty feeling that I've betrayed someone. Therefore, all those fabulous writers whose books I've loved, and whose next book I await with such anticipation, their work will still end up on my bookshelves, on paper, with the beautiful covers they've agonised over, awaiting the orange spot I stick on the spine to remind myself in the future that I've read it. Then I can still have the joy of physically handing it over to a trusted friend and saying 'You must read this!'


Saturday, 3 March 2018

#Amwriting - at last

I am almost ready to start writing again. I'll stop wittering on about my garden, the things I've cooked, which birds are landing on the bird-feeders this morning. I will stop posting photos of my dogs on Twitter, stop following up endless reading recommendations from writers whose opinions I value and stop checking out obscure opportunities that I could never win in a million years - though that 4-week one in Ireland sounds like fun. (Thanks Varuna Alumni newsletter for making it sound almost feasible!)
So after a six week lay-off where I've written not one creative word, I'm almost ready to tidy the desk, open the notebook to a clean page, check to see that the word count option is still working and hit the keys.
At the very end of January I submitted the final draft (yeah, right, of course it is) of my favourite manuscript to my agent. I had worked 4 or 5 hours a day for most of January on the final edits she sent me just before Christmas - 14 closely typed pages, in 2 sections, several weeks apart. The first section I tackled with gusto - minor queries to be addressed, issue of chronology to be clarified, a few darlings to kill. The second section though made me reel backwards in dismay. Big changes, big deletions, big issues of voice and character to be addressed. Then just when it seemed as if my shoulders might be permanently sagged, she rang me. "Don't be too alarmed," she said, "I just wrote down every thought that came into my head. I love it, I really love it."
So, euphoric, made bold by praise, I started on the second lot of edits and in the following weeks I learned more about writing than I had for the past umpteen years.
When finally I sent off the final draft though, there was no sense of relief or accomplishment, only that paralysing knowledge that it was now out of my hands. It might go nowhere, might never find a home. This significant milestone might signify only the beginning of another long and lonely wait.
But the human spirit in an aspiring writer is indomitable, if you wait long enough. Today I opened up an abandoned manuscript that early readers had loved. It won a few awards, went through some workshopping at RMIT, had some good feedback and some big faults pointed out without mercy. But it's a good story and there's all that stuff I learned while working on the last one. I know the weakness is in the plot and so I'm taking heed of that precious piece of advice from the matchless Cate Kennedy: "Make Things Worse!"
I'm girding my loins - planning to tear apart the plot, delete all that back story, up the tension, make all those poor characters suffer till their hearts bleed. I don't know how I'm going to do it. But I think I'm ready to start.

Wish me luck.


Friday, 5 January 2018

A Sense of Place

I have always believed that there's a certain time of day when you are aware of where you really belong. Not every day, just sometimes.
It happens, this feeling, at that twilight time of day, just before the sun goes down... that lurching, heart swelling feeling that grabs you when you look out the window of a car, a train, a plane and long to be home.
I'm still very attached to the Tweed Valley where I grew up and where my family members still live, including my sister and her husband, with whom I spent a week little while back.
The mountain ranges, the river, the flowering trees, the way most oncoming drivers still lift one finger off the steering wheel in greeting as they pass— all these made me glad to be back.
The Road to Mount Warning

But there's a downside too.
One morning, hastening to get to breakfast, which my brother-in-law, Des, has on the table at 7.30, I grabbed the previous day's denim shorts, stepped one leg in, went to put the other leg in, only to see a giant huntsman spider trying to crawl out from inside. Now, I don't do spiders well but neither do I smash them with a shoe, and clearly this one was in trouble.
I took him outside, shorts and all, called Des and together we freed him from the cobwebs that had bunched up and stuck like Minnie Mouse's shoes on the end of every one of his eight legs.(Lucky for me. This is what slowed him down.)
Then began the tales of other near-misses with the local critters. Des recalled how he pushed a foot into his gardening boot one morning and felt it to be unusually tight. Investigation revealed a cane toad inside, firmly ensconced up in the toe of his boot. (Have you fainted yet? I nearly did.)
So yes, there are indeed more critters up there than I'm used to in Melbourne—spiders, snakes, goannas, cane toads, ticks, to name a few—and they like to get up close and personal. The giant carpet snakes under the corrugated iron roof of their shed are spoken of with some affection.
But the views do indeed make my heart lurch and it's hard to stop taking photos of the flowering trees as well.
Illawarra Flame tree in bloom

All of which leads me to think about writers who write about place and landscape so evocatively that you feel their love for the place in every word.
Tim Winton has to be top of the list. In all of his novels he evokes a sense of place that is almost palpable.
He urges us to feel the ground beneath our feet wherever we are, to see the landscape as a living entity and to stop moving long enough to hear what it's telling us.

If I'd been listening it might have warned me about that big spider.