Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Diary of an Honours Student: Week Two

If you missed out on me explaining what my Honours Thesis is, click here.

Well, folks, things are looking up.  While the sun is still shining, it's no longer sweltering out and I was even able to bring my pink jeans out of retirement this week.  People are smiling, cupcakes are being eaten, and I haven't spent a single lecture this week reading the Unit Guide as slow as humanly possible while a lecturer laughs self consciously and says things like "Don't get too overwhelmed now."

That being said, this week started off pretty strangely.

On Monday, after a lecture on HOW TO USE THE LIBRARY (As if I haven't been at the University for three years already... well, actually, no some of the stuff she said was new to me...) I went home.  I said to myself, "Self, today you are going to knuckle down and just get on with it."  I even wrote myself a little list; Track down articles that I identified as possibly useful from the bibliography of another article, transfer all Honours documents to a portable hard drive, get my laptop talking to the printer, and read at least 100 pages of Richard Nile's The Making of the Australian Literary Imagination.  So, I came in, and I sat down at my desk, and I opened the lid of my computer, opened a browser and I actually got on the AusLit database and started looking for those articles.  And I didn't stop until I found them.  All the while I was thinking, "Self, this is too good to be true, last week you spent a heap of time procrastinating and stuff.  Well done, Self."  Anyway, it turned out one of the articles I had on my list wasn't an article at all.  It was a book.  So I skipped merrily over to the Uni Library website (of course I mean this figuratively, you can't skip on the internet unless you, you know, scan yourself into the computer and become an avatar.  Duh.) and I typed in the name of the book and... it was out.  It wasn't just out on loan, either, it was out on long term loan until the end of semester.  It was out until June.  This told me two things.

 1) It told me that the person who had it out was either staff, or doing a postgrad/ research degree like myself.
2)  It told me that if I was really serious about needing this book, I was going to have to toughen up, be a bit of a bitch, and recall the book.

So, I took a deep breath, and I recalled it.  And if I recalled it from you, dear reader, I'm really sorry and I hope we can still be friends.  By the way, your hair looks fantastic.

I started to get a bit of an eerie feeling then, but I ignored it.  Later, I decided I'd plug one of the names of the authors I'm writing on into the Library Website, just to see what came up.  To my horror, the Library's copy of the book I was doing my thesis on was also out.  No big deal, really, because I have my own copy (signed, thank you very much) except that this book was ALSO out until the end of semester.

"Self," I said, "I think someone is doing the same topic as you."

This just made me determined to work harder.  Once I find this person, I will probably have to duel them.  This means it is time for a montage, in which I study surrounded by large piles of books and fall asleep in my notebook with my glasses askew (yes, I did borrow this analogy from Buffy.)

A few hours later, my neighbour decided to mow his lawn.

How boring, you say.  Lawn mowing.  You yawn, to illustrate how very bored you are.

But wait, there's more.  My neighbour owns the Barry White of all lawnmowers.  He drags it over the bricks at about 5 at night when the sun is just starting to get lower in the sky and the fading light is making me sleepy.  Scraaaaaaaape go the bricks.  And Barry White the lawnmower begins to sing.

My hands go to my ears.  My palms begin to sweat.  I grab great chunks of my own hair and have to stop myself from pulling them out.  It is like nails on a blackboard, the sound of Barry White the lawnmower munching on lawn.  Doesn't he know I am trying to study in here?!

My mother comes home.  "Mum!" I wail.  "John is mowing the lawn again!"  She looks at me oddly.  "So?"  I abandon this thread of conversation, not getting the sympathy that I want.  After about forty minutes, the mowing stops but I am in full sensory overload by that point.  I am fit to explode, all my nerve endings tingling, and I lie on my bed in a half foetal position.  I speak to History Boy on the phone, and he tells me to "Toughen up, Princess."  He is right.  Mum is right.  BUT THE THESIS MONSTER HAS ME IN ITS TALONS AND MUST BE OBEYED.  I shower, wash the stress down the drain, and then use this interesting little mental breakdown of mine to write a paranoid thriller set in the suburbs about a neighbour who tortures people by mowing the lawn at midnight.

Tuesday was not so eventful.  (And gosh, I hope you're still reading... this is turning into a looooong post.)  I made a list again.  Laundry, finish book, transfer notes to exegesis plan (no, I don't know what that word really means either), read articles.  In the morning, I began one of my assignments, then I went to the Library where it is literally only 10 degrees at the moment to make up for the fact that the aircon has been on the fritz all summer long.  I found (most) of the books I needed, checked them out, and then went to writing club.  (If you don't know about my writing group, you should click here.)  I met with my supervisor.  We discussed many things, chief among them relevant things, but also movies from the 1970s I should watch, student reactions to controversial books, and what I should do with my lawnmower tale.  I came home.  I finished the rest of my list... er... mostly... and then I went for a walk.

On this walk, I spent a fair bit of time with my bare feet in the river, looking at the city, because I was feeling sentimental.

And then, there was Wednesday.  Today.

This was the class I was dreading.  Imagine this.  A tiny class with an extremely high functioning, newly-become-a-Doctor running it, with energetic, intelligent drama students in it, plus one older woman who is doing a literature thesis and talks like a teacher, plus me in a T-shirt with a turtle on it, talking about Frederic Jameson's the Culture of Late Capitalism and Postmodernism.

Did your imagination look anything like this?

Well gee, thanks a lot, your faith in me is heart warming.

Lost my train of thought while I was drawing that... OH YEAH.  So, I got into the class.  And we started the lecture and I KNEW WHAT THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT.   In fact, I had an opinion on it.  And I shared that opinion.  And people agreed with me!

I started thinking to myself... "Self, you are actually pretty smart."

And I ended the class feeling like I'd learned something.  Plus, in the hall, one of the other class members told me to have a nice day.  :)

So, on the whole, I think things are looking up.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Perth Writers Festival 2012

(It's probably just me, but whenever I write "Writers Festival", I always feel I should be writing "Writers' Festival."  I mean, the rule for placement of apostrophes is "Whose item is it?  Place the apostrophe after the answer."  So e.g. Who owns the shoes?  The boy.  They are the boy's shoes.  Who is the festival for?  The Writers.  So it is the Writers' Festival.  But apparently not.  Must remember that.)


Sleepy little (lovely little) Perth had its socks rocked this weekend by the arrival of the literati.  They swept in from their garrets, wearing capes, rose coloured glasses with circular lenses and carrying bongo drums.  Okay, so perhaps they were a bit more... normally... dressed, but Frank Moorhouse DID have red suspenders. 

A must-visit event for writers and readers alike, the festival promised (among other things) fiction writers, journalists, chefs/cooks, historians and general smarty-pantses.  This year, I showed dedication to my craft, and took the Saturday off work to go.  I was accompanied by the charming Miss Jade Carver, of Jade Goes with Everything fame.

This kind of event always makes me feel like a serious writer.  It makes me want to write, it helps me approach my projects in new ways, and it makes me humble.  There is nothing stranger than going to an event where a packed audience all wants the same thing as you.  What is it about me that makes me special?  I found myself thinking.  What makes me think I deserve it more than any of these people?  

After all, I can't take a photo without sticking my thumb in it...

The sessions that we took in were Tom Hungerford and his Literary Legacy, Reimagining the Future, Location, Location, Location and Writing and Ethics.  I ended the day with a reading by my favourite author, Craig Silvey.

A big plus this year was the West Australian newspaper tent, with comfy deckchairs and wicker seating.  I felt like a character from A Passage to India, sans the Gin and Tonic.  Plus, there were cross words.

I barely had to use Goodreads to finish this...
My favourite sessions of the day were the ones that really got me thinking about Honours.  Reimagining the Future was the biggest surrpise of the day, giving this HISTORICAL fiction writer perspective on how to write about the past.  Location, Location, Location was wonderful, though I couldn't see a thing, and what I learned will be invaluable to me when writing settings.  And a big kudos to Craig for being brave and sharing a bit of his new novel.  I am so excited that he's writing about the 1920s!

Were you at the writers festival?  Did you have an awesome time?  What really got your brain cogs turning?

One day, I hope to be on the stage, rather than just watching it...

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Western Australian Writing Review: Boy on a Wire by Jon Doust

I thought I would kick off a new round of reviews today and just give you a little taste of the kind of literature that I am trying to promote.

Jon Doust's Boy on a Wire was published in 2009, and is a memoir style fiction about growing up in Western Australia during the 1960s.  The book's protagonist, Jack Muir, comes up from Glenoralup (near Bunbury?) to begin his years at the suitably vague 'Grammar School', an Anglican (?) school for boys that we are told is near a river.  My guess is that it is supposed to be Guildford Grammar, although the book's acknowledgements site Christ Church as being a reference.  I think that the setting is supposed to be largely amorphous- the school could be any boys school at the time, the trials faced by Jack could be anyone's trials.  And that is why we like Jack, as a reader, despite him being a trouble maker.

Jack suffers from what everyone calls 'Pink's Disease'- a build up of Mercury in his system that requires him to ingest more salt to replenish his natural stores.  He is constantly licking little piles of salt out of his palm in an attempt to try and control his bad behaviour.  Jack's bad behaviour is contrasted to his brother, Thomas's.  Thomas is the golden boy.  He gets good grades, behaves appropriately and is good with machinery.  He is a real man, unreachable to Jack, who spends a large part of his high school days wondering when he will experience the urge to 'wank' like all the other boys.  This sexual awakening is a milestone for Jack and the moment at which he will become a man.

The book is riddled with pop culture references and intertextual links.  Jack's consciousness becomes a mish mash of his idols- The Phantom, Tom Brown, the Count of Monte Cristo and Atticus Finch.  They provide him with a moral code.  After a young, potentially traumatized student is tormented by the dorm bullies, Jack takes them on one by one.  He is not the strongest or the biggest but he is fearless, and has arm muscles from chopping wood at home.  It becomes apparent that his revenge is less about 'Sack' than it is about Jack's own chip on his shoulder when 'Sack' antagonises Jack and Jack still continues to go after the boys.  What 'Sack' stands for is more important to Jack than the boy himself.  

This intertextuality is a common theme in books set around this time.  Craig Silvey's Jasper Jones also deals with a protagonist who looks for answers in novels from other countries- To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn.  

I liken this book to Salinger's Catcher in the Rye in that it is predominately about an emotional journey, a downward awakening if you will.  The conclusion to the novel leaves you worrying for Jack, as he is at his 'worst' yet by conventional standards, but also hopeful because Doust makes it clear that Jack has discovered his self.  It is a muted book, the narrator seems to view everything at a distance, and yet this seems to follow the sleepy pace of Perth life.  And it is about life, this book, about Doust's life and the lives of others like him.  

I was disappointed at times by the way that themes were picked up but never fully resolved- the plotline with Jack's grandfather adds drama but is then let to fizzle out off the page.  Thomas's head injury always seems like it will reveal a twist, a permanent mental deformity that will explain some of Jack's troubles, but it never does.  I was also disappointed to have found several typos in the edition- the wrong use of too.  

This was a very useful and very though provoking read.

3 out of 5 beaten down bullies.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Beginning Honours

One of my long term goals is to be integral in generating a larger writing and publishing scene in Western Australia.  Basically because I don't want to move.

For those of you who don't live here, let me explain.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Australia became a federated nation but the centre of the world was still pretty much London.  It was the done thing to buy English products and send your sons to English boarding schools.  The birth of Australian Literature, as a thing (and let's just say it's a thing, we can debate the thinginess of it some other time) pretty much coincided with the birth of the nation.  So, our first major novel then is Miles Franklin's My Brilliant Career which was published in 1901.

We had a few publishers over here back then, one of which being Angus and Robertson.  But they weren't interested in Franklin and so she published through a firm based in Edinburgh, thanks to that lovable drunkard Henry Lawson.

From then on, we were what Richard Nile has called in his book The Making of the Australian Literary Imagination, culture takers rather than culture makers.  Basically, we sent our books off to London (i.e. that place where all that is good and civilized is born), the London publishers made their changes, published them, and sent them back.  Not only did we import our own culture, we allowed it to be moderated.  And there was nothing the Poms loved more than thinking of us as Wild Colonials.  (Okay, I'm sure there are things that they love more, like fish and chips, and lager, and crisps and stuff.  Maybe Big Ben.)

I see a contrast between early Twentieth Century Australian publishing and Western Australian publishing now.  We have a good industry here.  We're doing the best we can.  We have writer's festivals (this weekend, YAY), a publishing house, journals (largely online), courses at our unis etc etc etc.  But I think that we could be more, and I am going to see to it.  Because if you want to get published under one of the bigger names, i.e. the ones with international offices, you have to send your work, or yourself, over east to that behemoth SydneyMelbourne.

What I hope to achieve with my Honours is to a) raise an awareness that there is such a thing as Western Australian Literature that is distinct within the category of Australian Literature b) establish that on the whole, W.A. Literature is awesome and c) make myself imminently hirable so that I can learn to edit and publish books (as well as write my own) and then create publishing opportunities left, right and centre for people like me.

There is a catch, however.

I am dead frightened that I am going to fail.  This week, I have gone from being the one of the smart fish in the big pond to being one of the more average fish in the teeny tiny brains trust fish tank.  Where the fish all wear monocles and bow ties, and say "indubitably" a lot.  This kills my will to learn.  My attitude is, if you can't be the best, what's the point.  This is bad.  Bad, Elimy, bad.  So I am pushing on.

I will keep you informed, hopefully without boring you to death.  Please send me your questions, comments and support.  Much love.

P.S. You may have noticed I deleted some blog posts from earlier this month,  I felt I was veering away from the point of this blog, and also that some of you may have been screaming NO ONE CARES at your computer screens.  If you liked hearing about my shoes etc, you can let me know, I can always post more.

Your continuing readership is heart warming. Have a great day.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Most Romantic Reads

Love it or hate it, it's just over a week until Valentine's Day; that mushy, gushy day of holding hands and/ or throwing popcorn at people holding hands during movies/ picnics/ skydiving lessons etc.

I've had my ups and downs with Valentine's over the years.  There was: Palentine's Day of 2009 (i think it was 2009) in which I saw the Wolfman with a bunch of other Singletons, the Valentine's Day I got dumped a few days before and had to call in depressed to work, and most memorably, last year, the Valentine's Day on which History Boy ordered a picnic off of the internet and took me to the foreshore to sit on blankets amid a sea of thirty-somethings who had the same idea.  (It sounds like I am poking fun... I'm not.)  This year it was my turn to plan Valentine's, and not to be outdone, I've planned TWO.  But more about that after the fact.

Whether you're loved up and feel like mooning on the couch, or single and needing a little Mr Darcy in your life, this list is for you.  Some reads to get you that lovin' feeling that you've lost this February the 14th, as selected by moi.

Most Romantic Reads...

1. The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton (That's The House at Riverton to some of you)
Poets, Sisters in love with the same man, English country houses.  It's like I dreamed this book into existence.

2. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Okay, okay, so this doesn't have the happiest of endings, but tell me that the hero and heroine don't have some Georgette Heyer scale passion with some Jane Austen style intelligence...

3. Remember Me by Liz Byrski
Some of the best stories are close to home.  Rooted in my real world, this story is raw, and honest, and leaves you feeling like it's been told to you by a best friend.

4. The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory
Or the Constant Princess.  Or the Lady of the Rivers.  Some of Phillipa Gregory's novels are full of a burning love, others are full of a consuming ambition.  Some real perspective into the strong and influential ladies of England's History.

5. The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons
If you loved The Shifting Fog, or Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, you'll love this.  This talented writer can make even the culturally taboo seem oh so sigh worthy.

6. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
You may have already seen the film; the book is better.

7. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Get lost on the moors with Heathcliff this Valentines, and enjoy the world's most celebrated abusive relationship...

8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen  
You didn't think I was going to leave this off, did you???

9.  The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Cloaks and daggers on the streets of post WW2 Barcelona.  A book like no other.

10. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
For the crime novel reader; for the romantic; for the lover of classics.  This book is for everyone.

What will you be reading this Valentine's Day?  Have you read any of these books yourself?  What did you think?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

How to Read in Wet Places (Part Three): The Beach

What Australian summer would be complete without a trip to the beach?  The temperature is far more comfortable by the seaside than it is in the suburbs this time of year.  So do yourself a favour and try this one out for yourself!

Here are my tips:

* Be not afraid of wetness:

Obviously, as soon as you get to the beach, you dump your things, strip off and race into the waves.  But once you're starting to feel a little cooler, and you head out of the waves, make sure you dry your hands.  The warm summer sun should evaporate most of the water off of you quite quickly.

Certainly I think that the biggest obstacle to reading at the beach is not the water, but rather the sand.  It gets everywhere.  On your feet, on your food, in your mouth.

But sand will not damage your book so never fear.  One of the nicest things is opening a favourite book the next year and having previous summer's sand piles fall out.

* The Bare Necessities

For goodness sake, wear sunscreen.  If you're like me, and notoriously pale, this is very very important.  The sun WANTS to burn you.  And bugs want to bite you, so bring RID or similar if you'll be there after dark.  In hindsite, I wish I'd taken Paraderm for the sand-rash.

Sunglasses will stop you squinting at the page.

A towel will both dry you and stop you having to lie in the sand, which WANTS to get into your bathers.

* Relaxation Station

A picnic with friends is a great way to relax on the beach, and its always safer to swim in a group.  Melons and grapes make fantastic snacks, so long as the sand stays out of the tupperware.  Remember to drink plenty of water, preferably out of a bottle and not out of the sea.  Just don't feed the seagulls!

* Get Comfy

E.M. Forster's Room with a View

Love or hate the sand, you have to admit that it does a fabulous job of moulding to your body if you lie in it for long enough.  Make a sand mound under your towel for a pillow, dig a divot for your bum or hips, make a crater to cuddle you, whatever you like.  If you head out around four, you'll catch the last of the warmth of the day, and the last of the families swimming.  The beach will be nice and quiet and you can tire yourself out, then just settle back and get lost in the book.