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.