Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas Manicure

Seeing as I had flowers painted on my nails in Bali, I am clearly a nail art expert...

No but seriously, I didn't think painting holly on my nails would be very hard and lucky for me it wasn't.  My sister even let me do hers for her the other day.  I've just done my own.  I used Maybelline Mini Colorama in Green Park and Urban Turquoise, and Rimmel I love Lasting Finish in Double Decker Bus.

Can anyone guess what I have been listening to? :)

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Contract for Rewriting

I have been rewriting a novel.  I have not been rewriting this novel alone.  Members of my creative writing group are ALSO rewriting their novels, or writing their novels for the first time whilst keeping an eye on material about rewriting.

Laura Jane Cassidy very kindly wrote this blog post for me. 

Just because I am a little bit crazy, I created a contract for my writing group to sign so that they would work hard over the summer and reach their goals, although so far I am the only one who has signed one.  It's just for a bit of fun, and I thought you might like to look at it, download it, sign it, share it, use it, etc.

How do YOU rewrite?

Merry Christmas and Happy Scribbling.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Thoughts on... One Day

One Day is a book written by a man who is very good at writing the beginnings of stories but not so skilled at ending them. Each chapter for 'twenty years' Nicholls restarts his story with minimal info dump (barring some exceptions which become more frequent as the book goes on). His prose is clever, and original. The idea of making Brechtian love was to the drama student in me a phrase to steal and cherish.

However Nicholls can tend to wax wordy and will at times rephrase the same sentimental idea twice in a chapter. As they say, it takes one to know one. At the moment, I am revising a novel and I do this OFTEN.

If I had written this book I would have ended it in Paris; I am aware that changes the tone of the novel entirely. As it stands, the ending is more like the story's excess baggage for which the reader has had to pay. It seems to me a better idea to write a fantastic romance story than to write an average story in the literary fiction genre, even if your value judgement is that literary fiction is BETTER than romance. (Also: it's not. It's just different. There is good and bad writing in all genres.)

(If you haven't read the book, stop here. Spoilers coming!)

Killing off Emma Morley, to be frank, appears to have been the solution to the problem of how to end a novel in which plot is essentially life. Life ends by death. However, the death itself will have you rereading, scratching your head and saying "wait what?"

What comes after us the convenient and largely unbelievable tying of loose ends, bar one.

Why did Dexter never go to AA?????

The last four or so chapters essentially demoted what was a five star book to a three star one.

Three out of five empty wine bottles. Brilliant phrasing can never in a million years cover up a dud ending.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Thoughts on... The Lady of the Rivers

I've long been a fan of Phillipa Gregory.  I started, as most readers would, with her novel The Other Boleyn Girl in 2007- before it was made into a film starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson.  I believe that this was the beginning of my love affair with Tudor history.

In 2008, after reading nearly all of Gregory's Tudor Court novels, I wrote an Original Solo Peformance for my TEE drama exam in which I portrayed all six wives of Henry the Eighth.  In 2010, I watched all four seasons of Showtime's The Tudors.  I read Booker Prize winning "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel.

But what is it about these long dead royals that have us so captivated?  And why, in our modern representations of them, do we feel the need to make their lives so... sexy?

I believe there are several factors, first among them being that sex sells.  Of course, movies like the Other Boleyn Girl and shows like The Tudors show us a clean, exorbitant world in which sex is pleasurable for everyone and not just for making babies.  There is no reference to the fact that people didn't necessarily bathe or wash their hair regularly, or that the woman's role was to please the man in many cases.

Another factor, I believe, is to use lust to explain the turmoil of the times.  There was a lot of fighting in the periods I have read about.  There were wars, usurpations of the throne, infidelity, witchcraft, people burned and beheaded... the list goes on.  Playing this chaos against a backdrop of lust is a way in which we can explain the frightening uncontrollable nature of the times.

Finally, I believe that writers like Gregory give women a stronger focus in their histories, where the historians who have gone before them have largely ignored the roles that they played.  Yes, Henry the Eighth had six wives... but what influence did each wife have on Henry?  What role did these women play in the decisions that he made?

Phillipa Gregory is a talented historical fiction writer.  In The Lady of the Rivers, she writes about the Plantagenets, the predecessors of the Tudors, and does so in a way that is beautiful and relatable without being cheapened or sexualised.  She does not attempt to impose control over the chaos, but rather uses it.  And she researches the women, the observers, the silent partners, and gives them a voice they have otherwise been denied.  Jacquetta, the dowager duchess of Bedford, has appeared in her previous two Cousin's War novels.  In The Lady of the Rivers, she is both the same character and different.  The reader is allowed to get close to her in a way that was deliberately denied in both The White Queen and the Red Queen.  Gregory gives you a history lesson without putting you to sleep.  But facts are there for the aware reader to garner.  History and magic mingle in a delectable fashion.  And if you want to read this book now, can't wait for paperback... Big W has the hardback out cheap.

I give this novel four out of five slumbering Kings of England.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Turkish Delight Cheesecake

The first attempt...  made with the help of the wonderful, irreplacable Barbara J.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Baby's First Woody Allen Movie... Midnight In Paris

If you don't go and see this... I will cry.

I don't normally like Owen Wilson in anything.  Not in Wedding Crashers, not in.. whatever else he was in... with his "Look at me, I'm so awkward, I have a really badly broken nose" mainstream playful man boy thing going on.  The idea of Owen Wilson in an indie film about writing made me skeptical. 

But if you do not see this movie, I will cry.  There will be tears on my pretty little face and it would break your heart to see.  If you are a writer, or a painter or a singer or a... shoe maker.... see this movie.  See it now.

This is the kind of movie where the dialogue is intelligent enough for you to feel cultured when you understand the jokes but not so aloof that you feel excluded occassionally and just have to pretend.  It's the kind of movie that immediately has your mind made up about characters like Inez and Paul, but lets you watch Gil grow, and lets you grow to love him, so that when he finds... no, you know what, I'll let you watch the film and see what adorkable (yeah I said adorkable) things he does.

It's a story I can relate to.  I too have yearned for other eras.  I yearn for inspiration that is transcendant.  I yearn to meet my idols.  I yearn for romance and beauty and artisticness. 

Rachel McAdams, as per usual, is beautiful and her acting is subtle but good.  There are cameos by the stunning Carla Bruni among others, and the ethereal Marion Cotillard plays Adriana, 'the muse'.  It is a love story of sorts, but more of a story that teaches you to love yourself, and love your dreams.

And now, after watching it, I have to go and write.  A good writing movie will do that to me.  How about you?

What movies inspire you to write?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Location, location, location.

Today, I was reading on my lunch break in the back room at my job.  The back room is also a jeweller's workshop.  One of our jewellers was singing.  The other one was sawing or grinding something (whatever it was, it was noisy). 

My 3IC manager came in.  She said to me "How can you read out here?"

I shrugged, and said "I can read anywhere."

It's true.  I can.

Where do you like to read?  Some of my favourite places are: In the bath, on the lollabout on the balcony, up a tree, in my bed, under a shady tree at uni (so long as there are no birds above me that might poop on my head), and in my boyfriend's room while he plays Call of Duty.  Seriously, if you can read while your boy plays Call of Duty, you can probably read on a construction site, at a rocket launch or during lazer tag.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Thoughts on... Memoirs of a Geisha

Happy Birthday, Arthur Golden, I just finished your book.

That is, if your wikipedia page is correct and it is in fact your birthday.

I have a lot of respect for this book.  First of all, it seems authentic to me.  I did ten years of Japanese language study through school, none of which has survived three years of non-practice except perhaps a few very basic phrases.  And last year, I did a Modern Japanese History unit at Murdoch which was actually wonderful context for reading this novel.  The author says in his acknowledgements that any errors are his own.  I like that.  I like that he's covering his bases, just sticking it out there and saying "hey guys, I did ten years of research for this book, talked to everyone I could, but just in case I got it wrong, oops.  And Sorry."  Particularly considering my own research looks something like this.

> Goes to Library.  Searches 'Perth social history.'
> Results... one book found.  Checks out said book.
> Flips through said book.  Writes down a single sentence.  "Nothing much happened." 
> Writes from what she's seen in movies and then goes back to fix it later.

I know, I know, it's bad, and maybe that is why I'm not published.  It's not that I don't like history per se, it's just hard to structure a huge research project for yourself when you're also doing a degree that requires you to do other research projects.  I'm hoping Honours next year will teach me good habits about Historical Fiction.

But this article is not about me.

The other thing that I really loved about Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha was its interiority.  How does a thirty or forty something year old American man write in such a way that makes me believe that he is a teenaged/ early twenties/ thirties/ elderly Japanese woman raised as a Geisha?  HOW?  Tell me the secrets and I'll follow them to the letter because I always seem to be drawn to writing male characters aren't typically masculine.  Which is fine.  But it's not challenging and I do like a challenge.  Sayuri's story is framed as memoir, as the title would suggest, which is one of the best ways to break the classic 'show don't tell' rule.  You HAVE to tell in memoir.  But you have to do it in a way that shows.  And Arthur Golden certainly can.  His pace is natural and yet not to slow or wordy.  His prose is clean but there are no cliches.  His supposedly translated style comes across as... other culture-ly.  I honestly feel like I have been to Kyoto and back.  If only.  My experience of Japan in 2008 (around the time I started this blog) looks something like this:

Oh yeah.  Hotel yukata, green fingernails and mid-calf height Cons.  I was cool.  Serious.
But Memoirs of a Geisha makes me want to go back and see Japan in full technicolour.  Perhaps that is the value of a good novel.  The ability to transport its reader in a metaphorical enough way to instil a literal longing for a time or place they've never been.

Five our of five politely blushing geishas for this one.

Friday, 2 December 2011

A Bloggy Advent Calendar.

One link for each day until Christmas, for your viewing, doing and reading pleasure. 

Now that my Christmas Tree is up, I'm really in the mood to be jolly.

December First

December Second Put some colour in your life this summer...

December Third 

December Fourth

December Fifth

December Sixth

December Seventh

December Eighth

December Ninth

December Tenth

December Eleventh

December Twelfth  An interesting take on an amazing song... look up the album version too!  This band is up for a Grammy in Feb.

December Thirteenth

December Fourteenth

December Fifteenth  How cute are these?

December Sixteenth

December Seventeenth

December Eighteenth Courtesy of Simon.

December Nineteenth  (This is because I told Shane I needed a few more links.  Funny guy...)

December Twentieth

December Twenty-first

December Twenty-second

December Twenty-third

December Twenty-fourth

December Twenty-fifth

BONUS:  December Twenty-six

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Thoughts on... Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

You may remember that I did a series of not-quite-book-reviews at the end of 2010.  If not, let me refresh your memory by linking you to one of my more popular reviews (meaning more than just myself and my grandparents read it...) here.

Because this year I pledged myself to read 100 books on Goodreads, and then when that was too hard and obviously not going to happen, lowered that number to 60, I thought maybe I would review a few of the books that I read this summer.  Any of you looking for something to read, or looking for a debate are welcome to weigh in.

Last night I finished Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm, which was given to me by my grandparents a few Christmases back.  Having just finished The Help, which was amazing, I was feeling that floundering falling without a net sensation of weaning myself away from a very good book.  I had no idea what to read next.  I didn't want a heavy classic.  I didn't want fluffy romance.  I had no idea what I wanted.

This is going to sound stupid, but I picked Cold Comfort Farm because its cover has a cow on it.

So, here's  brief run down of the book.  Q: What do you get if you take an orphaned Londonite and strand her in the country in the middle of the 1930s on the worlds strangest farm? A: A tale of meddling and pastoral satire, of course.

From page one, Gibbons' prose is witty and quotable.  On several occassions, she had me running for my notebook to write down my favourite quotes. 

"One of the disadvantages of almost universal education was the fact that all kinds of persons acquired a familiarity with one's favourite writers.  It gave one a curious feeling; it was like seeing a drunken stranger wrapped in one's dressing gown."

She is both clever and pleasant, whilst all the time being extremely judgemental of the world she writes about.  It is clear she finds D.H. Lawrence (her contemporary) ridiculous, as personified by the way she pities the sex obsessed Mr. Mybug. 

But here's the thing that bugs me about the protagonist, Flora Poste.  She's too normal.  She doesn't really seem to have emotions at all.  Both her parents die, she doesn't grieve at all.  And she goes about meddling in other people's lives without trouble.  Her plans always work.  People always fall in love with her.  She doesn't appear to have a single flaw.  Were this another novel, perhaps Flora's meddling should have bitten her on the bottom. 

The effect of this is eerie.  It doesn't take away from the book, but as I read, I had an inkling that something was not right.  Normally, you have a character, they're average, relatable etc., but they have one huge unoverlookable flaw to overcome in the course of the novel.  That drives the story.  Flora has that... in that she is the world's biggest control freak... but it's not presented as a flaw.  In fact, it drives the story by being the saving grace of all the other characters.  Bit by bit, she imposes order on Cold Comfort, and then once it is perfect enough for her to live in she leaves.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Anyway, you should read it for yourself.  Get to know Flora Poste and Stella Gibbons, get inside the witticisms that will have you screaming "Yes!  This is how I feel too!"  And you should tell me what you think.

A must for fans of D.H. Lawrence, but only if you're willing to have him mocked.

I give Cold Comfort Farm 3 out of 5 mysteriously disintegrating cows.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

I'm craving...

I'm craving a good book to read, and the world around me is conspiring so that I get off my bottom and find one. 

First, I watched all of Castle Season 2 over the last couple of days.  And in one particular episode, a copy of Catcher in the Rye was stolen.  I love that book.

Then, some excellent book deals showed up in the latest Big W catalogue.  I spent some time today ticking some of the titles I lust after.

And then, I knew I needed a night with a good book or two when even Two and A Half Men (Sheen, not Kutcher) featured a book related plotline.  Jake was writing a book report on Lord of the Flies.  My sister had to read that in Year 12, she wondered why 10 year old Jake had to read it...  I wondered why I hadn't read it...


Last night, at approximately 10.15, the word count on the novel known as The River limped over the 50 000 word mark.

To celebrate, I was given a shiny Winner's logo.  Check it out, it's under my profile there!

Here are a few things I learnt while writing a novel in a month:

1) You cannot resist the will of your characters.  Even if their will extends to semi-incest and kidnapping.

2) You cannot censor yourself just because your grandparents may be reading.

3) You must force yourself to write on the weekends.  You must force yourself to write at your Boyfriend's.  You must force yourself to write when drunk (a little...)  You must force yourself to write after lunch.  You must force yourself to write overseas.

4) You may have to swap writing time with reading time if you have a job in retail, as November is close to Christmas.  This also applies to exams.

5) Never put off until tomorrow what is coming to you in today's writing rant.

I am rewarding myself today with a Castle Season 2 Marathon, and I just ate my way through an entire box of Pocky.  Regular blogging will resume from tomorrow.  I'd love to do a Question and Answer blog...  Maybe you guys could ask me some questions in the comments section.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Nanowrimo 2011 Week Three

If you've read yesterday's post, you will know that this week, I spent five nights in Bali.  Let me tell you a little something about writing while on Holiday.  (It's a capital H because it's not just "oh, school's out, cool, let's have a Buffy marathon" it's, "hey, leave your mobile phone in a safe place because we're leaving the country.")  Writing on Holiday is HARD.  Here's why:

1) My beloved laptop Cedric has decided to chuck a few tantrums lately.  I switch him on.  He works for about 90 seconds and then switches himself off, swallowing any progress that I made.  Cedric was therefore NOT invited on Holiday.  I am currently working on my Dad's laptop, seeing as he now has an iPad and barely ever uses it.  Hooray for family!
2) When you go on Holiday with someone, you are expected to pay attention to them.
3) If you DON'T pay attention to said person, and instead write in the huge king size bed while said person is forced to watch Man vs. Wild repeats on a couch made of stone,  you feel a tad guilty.
4) You are a bit busy seeing the country you have paid to go to.

I actually did pack my compendium with THREE legal pads, and my journal.  I spent the days leading up to the trip catching up on words I didn't write while studying for my exam.  And I made a promise to myself that I would come home with enough new material to take me to 36000 words.

I did not do that.  Considering one of my characters hates it when people say they are going to do things and then don't, I'd say she's pretty mad at me.  My word count looks a little something like this now:

Bad, Elimy. BAD.
Now, No Plot? No Problem! by Nanowrimo creator Chris Baty says that you should never ever ever neglect your novel for more than a day, or you will lose momentum/ get addicted to a TV show/ pick up a bad habit that prevents you from getting near computers/ get a new hobby/ boyfriend/ pet or something else disastrous.  I thought that was silly.  I thought; No, if I don't write for a few days, I'll just pick up where I left off.  Now I'm back, I'm wondering where I left off.  I don't keep comprehensive notes, so I am wondering what I named my protagonist's father in law, what my protagonist's son's middle name is and I don't even really feel strongly about what characters to kill off anymore!  Plus, I am addicted to Castle.

To be fair, watching Castle does inspire me to write.  Watching other writers, even fictional ones, is always inspiring for me.  Another thing that inspires me is to find a book I hate by an author I think is ridiculous and then I get so mad that this person can be published and not me that I write for DAYS.  I won't name names. 

But seriously, I should have forced myself to write everyday.

Sorry novel!

That's all from me today; I'm only about a day and a half behind now, so I am off to rectify that.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Elimy in Bali

I've only ever read two novels about Bali.  The first was Sustenance, by Simone Lazaroo.  The second was Eat, Pray, Love.  Neither prepared me.

Books like those ones want you to think that Bali is a deeply spiritual place, full of rich culture and beautiful sunsets.  And maybe it is, if you are Balinese.  But if you are Australian, Bali is about three things: Crude souvenirs, semi-nudity and bintang singlets. 

Going to Bali made me a little bit ashamed to be an Australian.  And so, for a while, I wasn't.  But every now and then, a little bit of the Australian Bali DID sneak its way into my citizenship-less Balinese experience.

Let me show you the highlights reel.

We arrived late Thursday night.  And I mean late.  I don't just mean the plane was a late flight, I mean WE GOT DIVERTED TO A WHOLE DIFFERENT ISLAND OF INDONESIA BECAUSE OBAMA WANTED TO TAKE UP THE WHOLE OF DENPASAR AIRPORT.  We're talking something like more than an extra hour circling in the air above Bali, and then being sent to Surubaya before we ran out of petrol.  At least the lady sitting next to History Boy and I was nice.  She lent us trashy magazines.  Score.

Just FYI, Obama, you're totally off the woman behind us's Facebook likes.  Ouch.
We arrived at our VERY OWN PRIVATE VILLA late Thursday night, smelling just lovely, I can assure you.

The next eight hours were spent sleeping.

Friday we went out and explored Bali.  i.e. We were introduced to the trifecter of Aussie behaviour in Bali. As we walked around Kuta, near Matahari's department store, we discovered two things.  1) If an Indonesian hears you are from Australia, they automatically assume you are from Sydney, even though  I am pretty sure the majority of Australian tourists who go to Bali are from Perth.  2) If you walk around in a couple, people offer you "good price for honeymoon couple."  I wanted to exploit this misconception.  History Boy was not so keen.

Of course, this was the day we ate the obligatory MacDonald's.  The Fast Food Gods were pleased. 

And then, we came back... to this....

You can be jealous.  It's okay.
The whole trip was pretty much punctuated by swims in this pool.  Everyday we would wake up, swim, eat, go out come back, swim, eat, go out come back swim, go out, eat, swim, sleep.  There was also a lot of showering and bubble baths.  It was nice not to have the water run out on me for once!!!  I've never been so clean as I was for those five minutes after each shower in Bali.  But do you know what we missed?  Being able to open our mouths.  Hooray for safe water!

The best part of the trip was DEFINITELY the Saturday because we went to the Safari Park.  You know.  The Safari Park.  Oh, what's that?  You haven't heard of it?  Well it's pretty much the most awesome zoo ever.  It's on about 45 hectares of land, and driving around it in the safari tour was very similar to driving around Jurassic Park with Sam Neill that one time except there were no dinosaurs.

But there were Leopards.

And owls.

And elephants....

...that sprayed everyone in the crowd at bathtime!


A cheetah named Sabrina...

Mufasa...there was a Simba too and I got to cuddle him!!  Yes, I still have all my fingers.
It was VEEEEEERY hot that day, so we didn't stay a long time at the Safari Park, just long enough for some lions to make us tasty burgers for lunch and me to buy yet another stuffed animal for my collection of stuffed animals from zoos and aquariums world wide!  Can you guess what I bought???  I'll give you a hint; it has a trunk.

As for writing... well.  I DID intend to write in Bali.  I took over my compendium and my journal but aside from chronicling the day's events....

I did get my nails done though!

Are you distracted by the pretty??
Anyway, schoolies starts this week, and luckily we only overlapped with all them for about a day.  It's okay, because it is easy to spot a schoolie.  The difficult part is crossing the road to get away from them.  If you've ever seen a Bali street between two and three pm, you'll know what I mean.

Travelling tips from me?  If you take taxi's in Bali, take the light blue Bluebird taxis... we had a couple of drivers do loops of the city to get more money off of us.  Wear sunscreen.  Don't bother with lots of make up, it just melts anyway.

That's all for now folks.  I've left a lot out but you probably don't care about me walking around looking at stuff.

I'm off to catch up about 8000 words for Nanowrimo by the end of the day.  Have a good one.  Any questions, hit me up in the comments.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Nanowrimo 2011 Week Two

"There are some things (like first love and one's first reviews) at which a woman in her middle years does not care to look too closely." - Stella Gibbons
This morning, I dropped a pile of books on my face.  I was trying to decide what to read, and I sometimes find rearranging my massive (but ever smaller) to read piles helpful in that kind of pursuit.  As I moved one pile, standing on tip toes and reaching for it precariously as it would happen, several books decided that they did not want to live anymore, and took a swan dive to the floor.  Fortunately for them, and unfortunately for me, my face broke the fall.  I fear I shall have a black eye.  I fear I am being overly dramatic.  For those of you who care, the books were P.D. James' Talking about Detective Fiction and Gift of the Gob by that woman who used to be on Can We Help? on ABC, whatever her name is.  I would go and look at the book to find out, except presently we aren't speaking.

Last night I came down with a bad case of novellus unputdownabilitas which was brought on by Kathryn Stockett's The Help, as well as the fact that I have a history exam tomorrow.  I read until well after midnight.  I shan't apologise.  If anyone was thinking of reading that book and couldn't decide, let me decide for you.  Read it. 

But despite all this reading and clumsiness that is going on, you may be surprised to hear that YES, I am still working on my Nanowrimo Novel for 2011, entitled The River.  The novel has taken some rather strange twists.  Last night, one character threw an orange at her sister. 

Other things which have happened this week include:

* The beginnings of a Buffy the Vampire slayer marathon
* Lychee martini's... which for the record, have proven to me once and for all that I could never be the functioning alcoholic type of writer.  At least not when History Boy is making the cocktails.
* The repeated deaths and reincarnation of my beloved laptop, Cedric, who is currently banished to the top of my writing paraphernalia box, under my desk.  Not because I am mad at him, but because I fear for his health.  IT Guy Brother may have have to rip his brains out so I can put them in a new body.  Which means I need to think of a new laptop name. 
* I got made over for Jade Goes with Everything.
* I saw a fantastic student production of As You Like It at Murdoch University.  If you didn't go and see that, you really missed out.  If you were in that, I salute you.
* I found a floppy hat!  It's rust coloured and I never want to take it off.

Seriously, you're thinking.  When did she have time to write???

I did, trust me. 

Word count currently at 26 500 words.  Aiming to be at 30 000 by tonight... in which case, why am I still talking to all of you???

Wish me luck.  And take my books away.  (Don't really, I'll cry.)


P.S. Comet November went live today.  If you're missing me at all, head over tomorrow because I have a fictional piece going up at midnight.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Nanowrimo Sneak Peak

Hey all. Just a quick note before I put up a little something of what I am working on. This exerpt contains some crass language, and I was conflicted as to whether or not I should put it up. I don't know if I mention this often but I have a two person grandparent fanbase who support me every step of the way and read my blog. I love my Grandma and Grandpa very much. They believe in me so much and that is very touching. Out of deference to them, I usually make sure I keep my language PG on this blog. But I don't always in my writing. Because I am so proud of last night's segment, I am going to bend that little rule of mine today. If I apologise profusely, perhaps I will be forgiven.

On that note, FOR THE LOVE OF CHERRY RED LIPSTICK, never ever ever censor yourself. Don't ever feel like you can't write something because it might offend someone. Writing is for yourself. And if you turn the muse away when she knocks on your window, she might try the house next door.

If you're reading this, Grandma and Grandpa, I love you! :)


Bundles of joy.
There was something growing inside Catherine that made her hungry and tired and fat. It was like a little tumour, except she wasn’t allowed to think that. Every time she thought that, she felt bad. She hadn’t told Peter yet, but surely he had noticed that her belly was thickening, or that her skin was worse, or perhaps he’d just noticed that her breasts were bigger. That she had breasts, for once. Maybe she wouldn’t ever have to tell him. Weren’t babies the desired outcome of a coupling? Wasn’t it more appropriate for wives who had not conceived to be the ones breaking news to their husbands?
Catherine took to walking about the house and jiggling, hoping that the thing might slide out of her. It wasn’t that she wanted to harm the baby. If she’d wanted to do that, she might have done something more excessive. She’d read that there were certain things expectant mothers could eat to bring on miscarriages. Or she could drink excessively. At a stretch, she could try falling abdomen first down the front steps.
The foetus in her made her crazy. There were always bags under her eyes. She kept on working, like a zombie. By night she cleaned and cooked. By day, she worked at the post office, selling stamps. At one point, a customer asked her opinion on two different books of stamps. One set had Queen Elizabeth on them, with various coloured backgrounds. The other set had pictures of buildings in Perth.
“Excuse me,” said the man. He was wearing a neat grey hat, and Catherine noted irritably that it didn’t cover his bald testicle of a head. She blushed. She’d never said the word testicle out loud before, and this was the first time she’d thought it. Then the image of Peter naked came to her mind, and the blush cleared from her face with clinical precision. She adjusted her pony tail.
“Which book of stamps do you like better? I’ve had the Elizabeth’s before, but they’re classic, aren’t they?”
“Certainly sir. And she is a lovely looking woman.”
The man sniffed, and scratched the hollow of his nose. She could tell he desperately wanted to pick inside his nostril, but refrained out of deference to her.
“But the ones with the Perth buildings on are better for sending to my friends in England, who’ve never been here before. They’ve seen the Queen lots of times.”
“Sound logic.”
Catherine leaned forwards on her little white counter to see the stamps closer. She saw so many stamps a day that they’d ceased to be something that registered in her thinking. To Catherine, a stamp was a stamp.
“But then again, I don’t know if he collects stamps you see, and then the effort would be wasted.”
“It’s up to you. Which ones do you prefer?”
The man took off his hat. There was not a hair to be seen under it, but there was a little sunburnt patch. Catherine pinched at the pressure point between her thumb and forefinger. She had a headache. Her ankles were hurting too. She was only three months pregnant, and under her red Australia Post smock, no one could tell anyway. But the foetus wouldn’t let her forget.
“Oh. Well. They’re just stamps, really, aren’t they?”
Catherine sighed. She opened her little white gate and came out from behind the counter. Smartly, she walked over to the customer, her neat little court shoes going clack clack clack. He smiled at her brightly, expecting her to do something that solved his problems. Instead, she reached out and took the books of stamps off him, first snatching the Queen Elizabeths, and then snatching the City of Perths. She dropped them in the pocket of her smock. Then, she went back behind the counter, and opened the drawer, her face like a thundercloud. In the drawer was another book of stamps. This one with tropical fish. She pulled it out, rang it up on her little cash register and then slipped it into an envelope.
“Five pounds, sir.”
“But I don’t know what you even put in there. Which one was it?”
“You’ll see when you get home and open it.”
He frowned. “This is highly unusual.”
“So is wasting energy deciding which book of stamps to buy. This is a lucky dip. Like in school. It’s fun, sir.” Catherine said all this with a bleak look on her face and a droll note in her voice. Bottom lip jutted out in a sulk, the man fished a handful of coins out of his wallet and dropped them on the table. He snatched up the envelope and put it into his pocket.
“Keep the change,” he said.
A few moments later, the phone rang. Catherine waited the obligatory three rings, and then picked up.
“Post office,” she said.
“Hello,” said a male voice. “I was just in your store a moment ago. Could I speak to the manager please?”

Peter was waiting for her when she got home. He hadn’t taken his mackintosh off yet. He was sitting on the arm of the couch. She hated when he sat on the arm of the couch.
“Cathy,” he said, the end of her name with a downward inflection. There was a hint of disapproval in that. “Cathy. You should have told me you were pregnant.”
The foetus made her want to say something absurd. She took her shoes off and kicked them into the middle of her room. The carpet felt luscious through her stockings. She smiled and closed her eyes.
“You must be tired, Love. Come, sit down, and tell me how long you’ve known,” he said. He didn’t sound excited. Wasn’t he supposed to be excited that he would be a father?
“I suppose I’ve known two months.” She didn’t go into details of why. Men hated it when women talked about their monthlies. Women hated it when men talked about their ailments, but it didn’t usually stop them. Catherine smirked at the thought. She was becoming cynical in her pregnancy.
“You could have come to me. We have some money saved. You didn’t have to keep working.”
“I like my job,” she said. Then she coughed as the taste of cigarettes filled her mouth, like it always did when she lied. What she meant was, I need something in my life that is not here and is not you and is not my depressing, invalid father-child.
“It’s no place for a woman in your condition.”
She smirked and crossed one leg over the other. “In my condition,” she repeated.
Peter put his hands on her shoulders. “Cathy, you’re exhausted.”
“I think we should hire a maid.”
“A maid.”
The words were going into her ears but coming straight back out through her mouth. Peter used his thumb and forefinger to swivel her face towards him. “Cathy? Cathy are you alright?”
Catherine went to stand up. There was something she was supposed to be doing. Laundry to be put in the oven. Dusting to be mended. A roast to be ironed. But it was like someone had found her switch and flicked it off. She felt the steady power down of her body, and then her eyes closed like shop shutters, and Catherine fell back into Peter’s arms, unconscious. Her body had forced her to sleep. The foetus had made its presence felt.

As Catherine got more and more pregnant, Don called her Jane more and more often. Every time he did it, Catherine felt a little sick. She started to feel as if she needed to hide from him. When they walked together, she would walk behind him. Even needing such a wide berth herself, it annoyed her how slowly he walked. His back was like a big, heavy upside-down U shape, and his legs were skinny and too weak to move his body forward any faster than the speed of someone learning to waltz. She took to counting as he moved. One two three, left foot, one two three right foot. Eventually, she would breathe to this rhythm too. When her child was born, she would breathe to this rhythm without thinking twice about it.
Things that it was okay to get Peter to do— taking in cups of tea, waking Don when he fell asleep by the radio— she delegated. Catherine still did all the heavy labour. She was the one who had to help him when Don was too dazed to shower himself. But Peter picked out his clothes. Catherine dressed him, but Peter sat with him and ate breakfast over the morning paper. It was like shift work.
Catherine found that she missed her father, but spending time with him when he thought she was someone else did not really count as spending time with him. So she continued to miss him for six more months, and pretended that she was practicing for when she had her baby.

It always seemed like the washing grew exponentially. The mound that was her stomach prevented her from lifting up for very long, because her back muscles all folded up on themselves like an accordion when she tried. Peter bought her a little washing line that folded out like a trestle table. It was only for sock and underwear, but she sat on a lawn chair next to it and pegged out one load at a time. The washing took five times as long but at least she was in no pain.
While she pegged, she’d devised a little game to pass the time. It was called The Alphabet Name Game and in it, she listed a strange and vaguely erudite name for her baby, one for every letter of the alphabet. Albert, Bertoldt, Chester, D’Artagnon, Emil, Franz, Gunther, Harold, Isaiah, Jenevieve, Kingsley, Langford, Maynard, Nathaniel, Oliver, Prudence, Quentin, Ramsdale (which she wasn’t even sure was a name, but it sounded nice), Scarlett, Tobias, Umberto, Victoria, Wallace, Xanthia, Yorrick, Zachariah. From the percentage of names that were male to those that were female, Catherine could tell that the foetus was mostly sure it was going to be male. It was usually the same list of names, and after a while, it became a remembering game rather than a creating one. When she couldn’t sleep one night, she got up and wrote them all down on the back of a receipt. The next morning Peter found it and thought that she had become clucky. She told him it was a poem.

© E.P. 2011

Monday, 7 November 2011

Nanowrimo 2011 Week 1

Been a very busy girl this week.

For those who don't know, Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month. I've challenged myself yet again to write 50 000 words in a month, and by now I am one fifth of the way there.

Things that have gone into this week's nano effort:

Monday: Attempted to stay up until midnight. Was disgruntled once I realised that I cannot merely stay up til midnight, I must actually write once that time comes.

Tuesday: Writing club. Took my first couple of pages and my friends very kindly pretended to like them. Also, I was interviewed by my friend JH for his radio assignment. It was fun to pretend I was an important part of the local writing community.

Wednesday: It was really hot but really overcast. Promised myself I would work on my homework. Did a solid day's effort, culminating in studying with a friend at uni...but got my official Honour's Acceptance Email (capitalised to stress importance) and gave myself the night off to celebrate.

Thursday: Worked. Studied. Wrote.

Friday: Not one but TWOOOOO in class tests. Then Tav with a whole bunch of neat people. Spent the night writing. Got to 10 000 words!!!

Saturday: ...did not write as was being Batgirl at a belated Halloween party.

Sunday: Tried to write but sleepy. Managed 300 words.

If you're doing Nanowrimo too, you can find me listed under Elimy. I don't really know what my novel IS yet but...

Sunday, 30 October 2011

A Note from Dr. Lit

I have discovered a new kind of reading related injury. Having never met another person who has suffered an injury of this kind, I have taken it upon myself to name the phenomena. I have called it: GoneWiththeWind-Arm. It is somewhat like Ulysses Strain Injury, but manifests itself in a somewhat less pretentious manner.

Symptoms include a soreness in the left arm (or less predominent arm/ both arms should one be ambidextrous), distinct lack of swelling or bruising and occassionaly random throbbing.

At first, one may mistake this injury for another kind of injury. One will think: now when exactly did I hit my arm? One may consider that this was done lifting boxes at work, but will then wait for the accompanying swelling and bruising. One will be disappointed in this regard. Then, seeing as it is one's left arm, the thought may cross one's mind that one may be about to have a heart attack. Subsequently, this will be dismissed as utter stupidity as heart attacks do not affect the wrist. At a loss, one will assume it has something to do with either blood loss from sleeping on the arm, or the fact that over the course of one's life, said wrist has been broken twice.

Then, one night, as one lies on her side in repose, with Gone with the Wind in one hand, held out attractively at arms length, one will realise that the muscles of the left forearm are feeling that lactic acid strain which accompanies exercise. What an alien feeling... one thinks.

With a laugh, one then realises that the injury to her arm has been procured reading Margaret Mitchell's weighty 1011 page tome. One realises that it is the largest book one has ever read, and that longer than four weeks of one's life have been spent holding this book up in such a way at various times.

After finishing the book, one is relieved to realise that the sensation of strain disappears from the arm.

Dr. Lit's diagnosis? GoneWiththeWind- Arm is totally harmless. If the pain bothers you, try sitting up whilst reading, or switching arms. A bearable side effect of reading such an amazing book.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Film Review: The Three Musketeers

I would just like to inform you all that I am taking up sword fighting and moving to sixteenth century France.

Yep. Those are my plans for the summer. Because, you see, I just got home from the preview of The Three Musketeers, and I don't know if I have told you this but I am incredibly susceptible to exciting films and books.


This movie has pretty much every ingredient for a good couple of hours of viewing pleasure. Beautiful scenery? Check. Witty/ Corny one liners? Check. Historical intrigue? Check. Big-ass flying ships? You bet. Okay, so there is a fair bit of the willing suspension of disbelief needed to watch this film. The integration of a femme fatale style double agent who abseils down the side of a palace in her underwear, whilst amusing, does perhaps induce an eyeroll. But Milla Jovovich as Milady is so good, I just didn't care. In fact, the entire cast was superb.

What the film makers have done is very cleverly brought a classic novel into a more fashionable context. The use of steampunk style elements makes it just exciting enough, and like all pieces about this particular period in history, it is highly stylised. (Don't even get me started on the sexualisation of the Tudors. Please.) There was also a hint of Pirates of the Caribbean in there, but that may just be because Orlando Blood + Eyeliner + Boats + swelling string music = Pirates sequel. But I wasn't alone in thinking that Orlando was channeling a bit of Captain Jack in his portrayal of Buckingham, was I Lauren???

It was funny because while the ads were on, the two of us girls were trying to cast a better Catwoman for the new Batman movie (because seriously Princess Mia = Andie Sachs = Jane Austen =/= catwoman. Just no.) and then Milla came on screen, and oh my gosh, why hadn't we thought of her before???

There is really very little in this film that I can find fault in... mostly because I was so entertained, I don't want to look for historical inaccuracies or deviations from the book. Besides, I haven't read the book. And seeing as I don't see Dr. Who dropping by later this evening in the TARDIS, maybe I should settle for planning to do that this summer, instead of learning to fence.

See this film. That is all.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

All Quiet on the Western Front

Dad comes home from work, so I know that my afternoon has been officially wasted. I stare at the cursor, that taunting, dancing cursor, and at the words I just wrote. "YOU SUCK, WHY DON'T YOU JUST GIVE UP NOW AND FLUNK OUT?" Encouraging, I think to myself. It's all uphill from here. Up-mountain. Up-vertical incline. There is a sick feeling in my stomach, like I need to throw up or eat something. Possibly at the same time. Yet another impossible feat to add to the list of things I must do.

When Dad knocks on the door, he doesn't wait, he just opens it. "Hello" he says, and I reply "I am going to fail uni." "Why?" he asks. "Because this essay is making me physically sick and I can't write it and I want to smash my head into the wall!" I say, forcing the words out violently and feeling the tightness of my own jaw. I hastily delete the swearwords that I have written on the page. "Oh," he says sarcastically. "That will help." He leaves the room then, and I hang my head. You win, I think, and delete the derogatory comments I have written about myself. I think of writing something encouraging instead, but that seems very sappy, and instead I write a loose theme for each remaining paragraph and click save. 834 words out of 2500 on that Nazi no one really cares about anyway. And where is that girl who outlined her argument off the top of her head in conversation last week? Why has she gone away and left me to write this alone!? Cow.

I know I have to leave this room. This room smells of discomfort. This room looks like poor lighting and frustration, and over-organisation to the point that I cannot move. I look longingly at the copy of Gone with the Wind I am partway through. What would Scarlett do? But that's not helpful, all she ever seems to do is steal other girls' beaux.

Tomorrow is another day, I think, and close the document.


It's that time of the year again. You know, the part of the year where I literally have to sit on my hands to stop myself from tearing all my hair out. Yep. It's the end of semester. But this time, it's a special end of semester. It's my last semester as an Undergraduate.

Unfortunately, that means the pressure is on, and I haven't been writing much lately. I have still been going to writing group meetings, however, and last week, Issue 2 of COMET all went online, and if you haven't checked it out, you should. You can do that at

Friday, 7 October 2011

Live an Inspired Life #2: Just Say Yes

Just say yes. Just say there's nothing holding you back.

The theme for this week is JUST SAY YES.

Stop putting off until tomorrow the things you could be doing today. If you say no too many times, maybe the opportunity will go away. Say yes to going out in the middle of the week. Say yes to going for a drink after class with people who make you smile. Say yes to a new kind of food, or a song, or a colour for your fingernails.

See how much more fun you will have. And let me know how it goes.

Monday, 26 September 2011

10 Life Lessons from Jane Austen

1. Never trust a man who is too charming.

2. If you wish to explain yourself, write a letter.

3. Never trust the one you love around actors.

4. Sometimes, the child must parent the parent.

5. Age is just a number.

6. Jealousy is never becoming and often unfounded. (It's also a useless emotion)

7. If you go looking for scandal, you're likely to create one.

8. Happiness is never far from home.

9. Not all women turn into their mothers.

10. Affection is born of compassion.

And a bonus one for luck:

11. Shallow relationships will come to shallow people.

Thanks to Elisa for helping me make this list.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Introducing COMET

Some of you may know that I am a part of a Creative Writing group at my uni. I started it with my great friend Jade Carver late last year and we have more than 20 online members through Facebook. We meet weekly at a cafe on campus to discuss writing and related topics. And most of all, we have a lot of fun.

I am very proud to announce that as of this weekend, our very own Blog has gone live. Each month, COMET will showcase a selection of work from the group including poetry, fiction and non fiction writing of up to 3000 words.

Please support my talented, talented friends, and my dream to revive and improve the literary community here in Perth, Western Australia.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Live an Inspired Life #1

For Sharron.

Yesterday, a friend of mine from Uni began speaking to me about what it feels like to run out of motivation. I don't believe she expressly asked for my advice, but I gave her some anyway. (I hope that wasn't too forward of me.)

What I told her was this: The best way I have found to motivate myself is to remind myself why I am doing this. Why am I at uni? Why do I write stories? Why do I enter competitions which I never win? Why bother?

Some days, the answers that you come up with sound a bit hollow. And some days, The Big Bang Theory is on TV and it is so much more interesting than America between the wars.

When the answers can't come from you internally, it can help if they come from you externally. This is why I have an Inspiration Wall above my workstation. It's the little visual clues and support that I give my future self on the days I feel inspired.

I've collected quotes, nice wrapping paper, post cards of places I've been and want to visit, and I have even drawn the cover for my own novel, albeit badly.

What kinds of things would be on your wall?

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Film Review: Jane Eyre

Image from IMDB

"Sir, you are the most phantom-like of all."

Director: Cary Fukunaga
Starring: Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender

I don't really know how to start this review. The first time I ever came into contact with the story of Jane Eyre would have been in 2006 when the BBC version starring Toby Stephens screened on Channel 2. I remember they split it into two parts so that they could tell the whole story in detail, and in the interceding week, I bought the cheapest copy of the novel I could find and tried to speed read it because I HAD to know what happened. All in all, that version would have been about four hours long. This movie was not, it was about two hours.

The film starts in the middle, with Jane fleeing Thornfield and falling in with the Rivers' family. She relives her life in flashbacks, first to Gateshead, then to Lowood and then Thornfield, thus neatly splitting the stages of Jane's triumph whilst simultaneously minimizing the boring bit at the end before she is reunited with Rochester. But not only has the structure been changed from the original novel, a lot has also been either cut or severely curtailed. Blanche Ingram plays barely a passing role. There is no scene in which Rochester pretends to be a fortune teller. St.John Rivers is not in love with his benefactor's daughter because she does not exist. I found the pace of this movie incredibly strange. At times, the scenes were so short and expedient. At others, there seemed to almost be this 1960s perfume ad quality to it, in which Jane wanders through the garden and looks over her shoulder at the camera and touches the pretty flowers. In fact, if you ask Elisa, of the JustElisa blog, she would tell you that the movie is Pretty itself.

The scenery really was fantastic. I had flashbacks to the Secret Garden. And I think they used the same Thornfield exterior as in the BBC version.

Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre was... well let's put it this way, it's very hard to identify with Jane anyway because she is not cuddly. You don't want to be her best friend and stay up all night giggling and plaiting her hair. But in a movie, where there is no interior monologue to help you get to know an unemotional character it's even harder to love her. I think Wasikowska did a very faithful representation of Jane for that reason. But she's not my favourite. Nor was Fassbender my favourite Rochester, because that's still Toby Stephens. At times, his Rochester was not only grumpy and changable, but violent. The scene in which he begged Jane to live with him in sin almost seemed like a rape scene. I didn't think she was crying because she loved him, I thought she was crying because she was scared.

And this is the first adaptation in which I have thoroughly disliked Mrs. Fairfax at times. She could be a downright b-i-t-c-h sometimes. At others, you could feel sorry for her, like when Rochester insults her while she's still in the room. But she almost seemed creepy when she turned up in the ruins of Thornfield in time to meet Jane.

I was also extremely disappointed that Eliza and Georgiana never had their big blew. While a lot of the more comedic moments (i.e. when Jane tells the man from Lowood that the way to avoid Hell is not to die) were kept, and faithfully kept, some of the most memorable moments were slightly off.

All in all, I think it's probably not a fantastic version if you are a purist...

Monday, 22 August 2011

Saving the Children One Box of Books At A Time

Look at the top of this webpage. You might notice something is missing. It is the ten to one rule tab! That's right, ladies and gentlemen, I have officially fallen off the non-book buying wagon. (I should really be in BBA...)

But in my defence, it was for a very good cause.

All this weekend and also Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday too, Save the Children have been and will be set up in Winthrop Hall at the University of Western Australia. If you live in Perth or if you happen to be stopping by, give it a quick peruse through. I can reassure you, there are a lot of Jane Austen novels, for a start. Too bad I own all those already, huh? I managed to pick up 9 books at a stealish price of $41. That should keep me busy for a while!!

[Thanks very much to Debbycakes for letting me know this was even on! And thanks to History Boy for going with me and carrying my box of books even though he was clearly bored out of his mind!]

Find out more.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Why Write?

It's been a rather uneventful August.

I've just finished my third week of the Semester. This time around, I am doing three history units rather than two literature and only ONE history. This means it is the first semester that I haven't had around ten novels to read and report on. It also means it is the only semester where I have been surrounded soully by academic writing.

For me, this is somewhat overwhelming.

However, after a bit of grumbling (read: a lot of grumbling...) I have decided to use this to my advantage. I have decided not to just LIKE being a history major, but to LOVE it.

The three units I am doing this semester are all very different. One is about power; it is about the fall of various regimes and rulers, and is organised down thematic lines. One is about Twentieth Century America but it uses Hollywood films as a way to make it a little more fun. Today we watched Birth of a Nation. This is actually about the opposite of my definition of fun, but we'll let it slide just this once.

Another requires me to be a detective and 'solve' Historical Mysteries. We've just covered the Franklin Expedition, which has actually given me an idea for a story that I am rather excited about.

But all that doesn't really leave a lot of time for writing. Each week I have to do a lot of reading, and true to nerd form, I also take notes and answer study guide questions. THAT'S RIGHT, I SAID I ANSWER THEM. Luckily, I am a member of a very supportive writing group. But lately, since around about July the 31st, I have had rather crippling writers' block. (Or is it writer's... i can never work that one out.)

There are a number of possible causes.

1) I have burnt myself out like a lightglobe. Peaked too young. I will now descend into hack-dom.

2) History lessons have sapped my creativity.

3) There are no good ideas left in the world, or good sentence combinations that haven't already been used.

4) I am full of hot air and spend more time talking about writing than doing it. (Likely, I fear)

5) I never had any talent in the first place and a lot of people have lied to me.

6) I am so nervous about hearing back from a particular publication that stated that if I hadn't heard by Aug 31, I am not in, that I can't bear to try another piece or my little heart will break.


7) I have started writing for the wrong reasons.

I think it's probably a combination of all those reasons. Sad face.

So for now, I have decided to take some time to reflect on the process of writing, and why I love it. I am going to write some really bad fanfiction style stuff in my journal. I am going to take barefoot strolls on the lawn. I am going to read, read, read. And hopefully, I am going to cure myself. I don't want to be the kind of writer Proust was, rolling on the floor in agony because he couldn't think of a good synonym for nostalgia or something like that.

Most of all, I need to remember that I love to write. Writing has been the way that I have taught myself to be my own best friend. It's also been the way that I have taught myself to look at others. And it's important to me. I told a lot of people (tearfully) that I was going to quit this month and to those people, I would like to say thank you for your patience, and for not letting me give up. I also want to thank my Mum for her PERSPECTIVE, which she is never short of.

It's time to rest. But you'll hear from me again soon.

Friday, 29 July 2011

The Final Jane Austen Book Club: Pride and Prejudice


Wednesday night was the final meeting of the 2011 Jane Austen Book Club, and a big thank you to all who participated. It's been a lot of fun, and I think we've learned a lot.

I made the above cake in honour of the occassion, copying the picture from the sketch done by Cassandra, Jane Austen's sister. I'm not very good at drawing, and as you can see, I did take some liberties with her facial expression. I've made her smile!

We saved the best until last, choosing to do Pride and Prejudice in the last week. However, we did find that it was mentioned nearly every week!

Hopefully, you all know the story... It's a plot I've always likened somewhat to Beauty and the Beast, but perhaps I would be one of the few people who could understand that comparison.

Interestingly enough, we started the night's discussion with a question: Why Charlotte Lucas and not Mary? I have a vague memory of them playing on this very question in the Keira Knightley version of the the film and that may possibly be where I got the idea from. Collins comes to the house determined to be, what is by his standards, agreeable. Of course, he is by everyone else's standards, a pain in the you know what. He wants to make up for some of the hard feelings that may be caused by his inheriting Longbourn by marrying one of his fair cousins. Immediately, he settles on Jane. Why wouldn't he? Jane is so very good and so remarkably beautiful. But, he is warned by Mrs. Bennett, she is already soon to be engaged to the lovable Mr. Bingley. So, his choice skips to Lizzy Bennett, the protagonist. But she knocks him back, and so he marries their neighbour Charlotte Lucas.

Why Charlotte though? Charlotte is said to be very plain and she is quite old for an unmarried woman, something like twenty seven or twenty eight I believe. It seems to come down to the fact that she listens to Collins when no one else will. I'll just say, she must have a remarkable amount of patience in her. But I believe that Mary could have been just as good if not better for a wife. She would have youth and accomplishment to her name. While she is nothing to look at, she is extremely musical and very well read.

But the strength of my feelings on this subject are just testament to the strength of Jane Austen's minor characters, I suppose. This is actually one of the few novels where everyone doesn't end up paired off. The world of Pride and Prejudice is much like the real world, in that there are more women in it than men to marry them. This is exactly the problem facing the Bennett family, who have five daughters and no sons. And when it comes to the mother and the two youngest daughters, they also have no sense.

It is interesting to note the authorial devices at work in this book. For example, those true, good characters like Jane and Mr Bennett call Elizabeth Lizzy, which is her 'true' name in the mind of the reader, if you would. Those less likable characters (Mrs. Bennett, Caroline Bingley) all call her Eliza. And this is how we are let know that they are not in the same class of person as the very much liked Elizabeth.

Although, at risk of facing the literary firing squad here, I must make a note that we have a similar situation to that of Persuasion here, what with so many men all falling for Elizabeth. Mr Collins, Mr Darcy, there is some discussion the Colonel Fitzwilliam might fancy her, although that might be wishful thinking on her part.

There is lots I could say about this book really, but it's so much more magical for you to discover it yourself. I am indebted to CH for bringing a list of discussion questions to the session compiled from here, here and here, as it prompted much debate.

Happy reading, everyone. I would love to read your thoughts on Pride and Prejudice in the comments section of this post.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Welcome to the Sausagefest

Earlier this year, in Sydney, the shortlist for the 2011 Miles Franklin Award was announced- and suddenly, my Twitter account was on fire. It was perhaps one of the shortest shortlists ever, including only three books and overwhelmingly, without a woman’s name to any of them. The response from the online literary community was near-immediate, with one contributor to the Melbourne-based Kill Your Darlings blog referring to the list as a literary ‘sausage-fest.’ It is the second time in three years that the shortlist has been devoid of female writers, according the Meanjin blog ‘Spike’, leaving the blogger wondering if we still see our quintessential Australian experience as being a rural male one.

While there has not been any deliberate attempt to serve an ‘anti-female agenda’ in this short-list or the 2009 one, many critics are left scratching their heads.

As a young woman with lofty aspirations to one day win the award myself (perhaps even multiple times), I am left wondering who my own role models are. A scan of my shelves provides the answer. I can list perhaps only a handful of women writers still writing today that I’ve paid attention to. This is worrying. And perhaps it is a condition shared by many others like me; readers who have admired the Austens and the Brontes and the Whartons and the Plaths and the Alcotts, but have ignored those newcomers who deserve our attention.

So who are the contemporary women writers who warrant a place in our waning collective attention-spans? Does women’s writing still suffer from pigeonholing? Why do some people think that women write only for women readers, and men write for all?

Walk into any creative writing class (or literature class for that matter) and the presence will overwhelmingly be female- or at least, this has been my experience. Where do they go after graduation? (Is there a sequestered island somewhere for women writers? And if so, why haven’t I received my invitation?) There is no simple answer to this question, and no logical explanation that I can see. Does it boil down to the fact that we really are still living in a man’s world, at least when it comes to our conception of ‘literature?’

If you’re a woman writing today, you’re more likely to publish within four genres: romance, ‘chick lit’, mystery/crime or speculative fiction. The assumption seems to be that if you’re a woman writing, you’re writing about women’s concerns- something that will only interest other women. Moreover, you’d be most likely to write about WASPy twenty or thirty-somethings who just want to have a baby. (Thank you, Bridget Jones.) In 2010, I was lucky enough to see a panel at the Perth Writer’s Festival entitled ‘Escaping the Pigeonhole’ in which my eyes were opened by three very inspirational women. Local writer Liz Byrski defies the idea that books need to be about young people- and she does it with style; Dr. Anita Heiss challenges the white domination of the genre with her “deadly” indigenous heroines; Sara Foster’s books integrate marriage and child-raising with reality, albeit through her compelling mixture of crime and ‘chick lit.’ While each of these women are inspiring in their personal lives, and have certainly made some success for themselves as writers, I challenge you to find a man out there who would list himself as a fan. To quote another ‘chick lit’ writer, Lisa Heidke, “[A fellow writer] exasperated that I was sticking with the novel idea, asked me why I was writing chick lit. ‘You should write a real novel.’ And a real novel would be?”

Speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy, for those not in the know) seems to be a much more forgiving genre, but if you thought that it was free of gendered concerns, you were wrong. Many authors revert to using androgynous sounding nom de plumes in order not to discourage male readers from picking up their books. To quote one reader it “took me ages to click with the fact that Robin Hobb is a woman!” Ever wondered why J.K. Rowling didn’t publish as Joanne? It happens in the crime genre too, although nowhere near as much. (Heard of P.D. James?)

It’s all so very... backwards. One is inspired to think of the Bronte sisters publishing as Ellis, Acton and Currer Bell, or Jane Austen publishing simply as ‘an author.’ There’s got to be more than this. There’s got to be more to it than write for women, or write as a man.

We’re heading that way already. Think of the Lionel Shrivers of the world, the Donna Tartts, and the Alice Sebolds. But until we no longer need to make a distinction for ‘women’s writing’, until we no longer need panels about escaping the pigeonhole, and until woman writers stop feeling the need to conceal their gender, we’re not there.

If you’re hearing me, raise your glass. No, better yet, raise your pen, and get scribbling. Be a Melina Marchetta, or a Honey Brown, or a Kirsten Tranter (or a Helen Garner, or a Helen Oyeyemi, or a Jhumpa Lahiri.) And who knows? Maybe you’ll make the shortlist one day.

Because, after all, an all-sausage barbeque is no fun.

She is indebted to Shaneyah Galley, Christopher Grierson, Elisa Thompson, Kash Jones and Deblina Mittra for their help with this article.

Killings, The Kill Your Darlings Blog

Harry Potter

Southerly's July Guess Blogger

The coverage on this issue in the Meanjin blog, Spike, is also pretty great but I can't find the exact article that I was thinking of... so here's a similar one.

And finally, Lisa Heidke:

This article originally appeared in Murdoch University's Metior Magazine during Semester 1, 2011

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Jane Austen Book Club Week Five: Emma

This picture was done at the most recent book club by the lovely Lauren! Isn't she super talented? If we're lucky, she may post you all a link to her deviantart portfolio in the comments. Come on Lauren! Pretty please? :)

With all the recent hooplah about women in writing, I think it's kind of great to be re-reading Emma.

Oh, don't get me wrong. Emma's not exactly out there saying men are the root of all evil or anything. In fact, she's kind of doing the opposite. While she vows never to get married herself, it is only to take care of her elderly, miserable father. And her one joy in life is marrying her women friends off. She's got a Noah's Ark view of the world. It must go two by two.

We all have that friend, don't we? I fear, in my group, it may occassionally be me.

But the book is named after her. She is the only Austen heroine who has that after final publication. And the story is her coming of age.

The Emma plotline, that of the "humbling of a pretty, know-it-all girl" (Jocelyn, the Jane Austen Book Club film) is supposed to be one of the most popular of all time. Published in Decemeber 1815, it was reviewed favourably by Sir Walter Scott, and was dedicated at his own request to the Prince Regent. Pretty cool, hey? But there is another plotline to the story as well, and that is the story of Jane Fairfax. Someone at my book club on Wednesday night actually said that it could be argued that it is the parallel story of Jane which is actually the more interesting one.

Jane Fairfax (and here the author does what any confident writer would do in naming an accomplished character after herself! ha!) is an orphan who has been taken in by a family friend and has grown up to be an accomplished young lady. She occassionally visits Highbury to visit her grandmother and aunt, Mrs. and Miss Bates. She 'belongs' to Highbury. And being Emma's exact age and everything, she is also unwittingly Emma's rival. I see some structural symmetry here between the stories of the two girls, or at least some sort of authorial device. Being the only two women of about 21 in Highbury who warrant a mention aside from Harriet who I think must be younger, I see Jane and Emma as akin to Bertha Mason and Jane Eyre- arguably two sides of the same coin. I see Jane as a lesson to Emma, foreshadowing the kind of person she will become over the course of the book. Perhaps Jane is Emma's rival but she is also not attempting to be and by the end of the book, Emma feels sad that she never tried to be better friends with this girl.

This novel is the first time we have encountered the high end of middle class British society. Well. I think thats where they would be. The Woodhouses are landed gentry and most importantly, they still have their money and their house. The Dashwoods WERE landed gentry. The Eliots still are to a degree but they're strapped for cash. The Morlands certainly aren't and Fanny Price is not but her cousins' family is. But Emma is still very much assured of her station. And rank is of utmost importance to her. Now listen carefully because I am going to tell you the best kept secret of the novel.

Emma is a snob.

Ha, you say. I already knew that. So how is it that Emma is a snob and we still love her? I think the answer there lies in the fact that we see the world through her eyes. We see the absurd little world of Highbury in Emma's very judgemental black and white way and we laugh at it, but we also laugh at her somewhat. We find her lovable in her oh-so-very-wrong-about-everything way. Because she's mostly harmless in it. Mr. Knightley on the other hand is pretty much right about everything, as is his brother. They see when people are lying before anyone else. George Knightley (Emma's Knightley) is the first to suspect Frank Churchill of carrying on with Miss Fairfax. And it is he that guides Emma. When she is wrong about things he is the only one who tells her she is wrong and then she corrects her ways, such as when she is cruel to Miss Bates at Box Hill and he scolds her. She then goes to make amends. I think because Emma Regards Donwell Abbey, Randalls and Hartfield as the height of society, it is really only the Westons and Knightley who could have this effect. She doesn't listen to anyone else. When the Coles presume to have a party, she wants to say no outright just on principle because they think they are high society. But then she is not invited and its a huge slight. And she hates that Mrs. Elton presumes herself to be the first lady in every room even when Emma is there too. But then again she hates Mrs. Elton and so do I.

If you've ever seen the version with Juliette Stevenson playing Mrs. Elton in it, you'll know what I mean. Ugh, horrid woman. There are no words.

We see in some of the male characters a few archetypes that Jane Austen goes to again and again. First of all, there is Mr. Elton. He is a clergyman, but for the first time he is not the love interest. He is not Edward Ferrars or Edmund Bertram. At first, he is seen to be a potential love interest by Emma for Harriet, and she convinces her protegee as such, but then it turns out he loves Emma. And suddenly she is no longer seeing him so favourably. Because it turns out that Elton is a worse snob than Emma. He believes, possibly, that to attract a snob, one must be one. And this is true when it comes to Augusta, his disgusting bride. But Emma's snobbery is a facet of her youth and in a way this story is her coming of age. Snobbery in others eventually teaches her to abhor it in herself.

Then there is Mr. Frank Churchill. Another example of Jane Austen never trusting men who are too charming. Like Willoughby and Henry Crawford except it is not the heroine who rejects Frank but Frank who cannot attach himself to Emma. And Emma is impervious to his charms because she really loves Knightley and can't realise it until she is in danger of losing him to a Mrs. Knightley who is not herself. Yet Frank does not end up hated, and therefore he is more like Willoughby than Crawford. He writes a letter and explains himself, and Emma finds that she cannot stay mad at him, just like Jane has been magnanimous in not blaming Emma for her flirting with Frank. Which is really very big of her when you consider how cruel Frank is to Jane.

I haven't said much about Harriet yet, and really there isn't much to say. Emma likes Harriet because (as the Josh character says of Cher in Clueless) she never had a mother and needs a human doll to play with. It is very much like that. Emma needs to be adored and Harriet hangs on her every word. In the end, however, Emma could not truly dispell the true feelings between Robert Martin (a non character in that the letters he writes are only ever paraphrased by others and he only occurs as an off the page character) and Harriet. Which is excellent because by the time his second proposal occurs, Emma has changed and wants her friend to accept. Also, it is convenient because Emma has accepted marriage from the man Harriet loves, i.e. Knightley.

When one really takes into account the lying, backstabbing and manipulation, it's no wonder the story was so easily adapted for a teenage drama like Clueless.

What do you think?

Next week we read Pride and Prejudice. Finally! Mr. Darcy!!!