Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Western Australian Writing Review: The Drowner by Robert Drewe

The Drowner by Robert Drewe (ISBN 0-7329-0858-2)
Pan Macmillan, 1996

The best books leave you gasping for air, drowning in jealousy that you did not write them.  They fill you with the need to reread them, to prove to yourself the assumptions you have made.  They make sense only in a place of consciousness which exists in the space between reader and writer, and linger like perfume in the air a while after you've finished.

Robert Drewe's The Drowner is one of the best books I have read this year.

I stumbled across it by chance.  Looking for scholarly material on The Shark Net, I came across a discussion of water themes in Drewe's work.  If you've read The Drowner you'll know why this is.  The book powerfully evokes themes of water as an instrument of chaos, life and passion; something to be both feared and worshipped.  From references to Shakespeare's Hamlet to recollections of Western Australia's  past, Drewe paints a picture of tragedy and hope using a contrast of water and the lack of it.

The novel follows the life of lead character Will Dance, by profession a 'drowner'.  After a chance meeting with the actress Angelica Lloyd in a public bath, water becomes a symbol not only of duty for Will but of passion.  But for Angelica, her relationship with water is fraught with tension- an event in her past leaves her somewhat fascinated with the idea of drowning.  Angelica and Will make their way to Western Australia so that Will can work on C.Y. O'Connor's Goldfields pipelines.  Also tied up in this narrative are Angelica's father Hammond "Ham" Lloyd, the sometimes foolish and sometimes menacing actor, a figure of both love and loss in Angelica's life; Inez Gosper, the Melbourne woman who comes to the goldfield to nurse; Axel Boehm, the photographer with a secret; Felix Locke, the undertaker who longs for the touch of a living human and Dr Malebranche with his penchant for prostitutes.  Their lives of desperation in a country town are transformed into something both normal and fascinated by Drewe's masterful prose.  Never a purple phrase to lead the reader astray, The Drowner is a paragon of literary restraint.

Source and more information found here

As a Western Australian novel, The Drowner is gently situated without becoming narrow in focus.  While Drewe uses the medium of drama and the state's reaction to the pipeline being built as an excuse to meditate on themes of West, the story itself in universal.  Oftentimes, Drewe uses Ham and Angelica to make an ironic comparison between West End- the symbol of culture- and The West- a frontier which seems devoid of all.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has enjoyed Drewe's other works, or anyone who enjoyed Tim Winton's Breath.  

I give this book five out of five marionettes joyeuse.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

11 Things

I'm not the kind of girl (or blogger) who usually takes part in this kind of meme... but I have been tagged by Sabrina and it is Sunday night... and sometimes answering questions about yourself is a good exercise in self reflection.  So I will compromise, and answer the questions without tagging anyone in return.  

I guess this kind of means I will be breaking rule four.  You'll have to excuse me.  I also used to delete chain emails, but thankfully no ghosts or similar came to kill me at midnight as the body of those emails always promised.    So here goes.

The Rules:
  1. You must post these rules
  2. You must post 11 things about yourself
  3. You must a) answer the questions the tagger set for you in their post and b) create 11 new questions for people you tag to  answer
  4. You must tag 11 people to do this meme and tell them on their blog!
  5. No tags back to the blogger that tagged you.

11 Things About Me

1. I am currently writing an Honours thesis in English and Creative Writing, on the topic of Historical Fiction and Western Australian Literature.  I love the topic, but still do not know if I like doing Honours.  Most of the time I do.

2. I am fairly convinced that I am a boring person, as I have no major vices or traumas; I used to believe that this would mean that I would never be a good writer.

3.  I am addicted to watching Australia's Next Top Model, and if that isn't on, I will also watch the New Zealand or American version.  I am deluded enough to think that anything the girls on that show can do, I could do better, if only I were 5'7' or taller.

4. I am extremely clumsy.  I once fell up the stairs.

5. As a child I wanted to be a teacher, a doctor, a martial arts instructor, a Japanese language teacher, a chiropractor, an archaeologist and a writer.  (And I wrote a 'book' on archaeology...)

6. I am afraid of heights.

7. To date I have written at least four 'novels' that will probably never be ready to publish.

8. I wish I were a good dancer.  I wish I had the self discipline to become a good dancer.  For now I will just dance alone in my room.

9. I am rubbish at all video games.  I am convinced I could win at Mario Kart, if only Toad didn't cheat.

10. I am increasingly drawn to the colour pink.  Particularly a soft pink shade that looks atrocious on me because I have reddish hair and pale skin.

11.  One of my favourite places to read is on the balcony, in the sun with the dog on my feet.

Now I will answer Sabrina's questions... I have to say, these are rather excellent. 

Sabrina's 11 Questions:

1. What do you like to do when the sun is out and temperatures are up, up, up?

Well, I live in one of the best places in the world for beachgoing.  My grandparents have a beach house down South, and though I don't get there often lately, I love going there in the hot weather because there is nothing better than languishing in the sea air with a book.

2. Do you separate your garbage (plastic with plastic, glass with glass, etc.)?


3. Best lyrics you've ever heard?

Yeasayer- Ambling Alp
"The top of the world can be an unfair place at times.  But your lows will have their complement of highs.  And if anyone should cheat you, take advantage of or beat you, raise your head and wear your wounds with pride.

4. Your favourite quote?

"She refused to be bored, chiefly because she was not boring." - Zelda Fitzgerald

5. If you could teach your children just one thing, what would it be?

To clean up after themselves and leave me alone.  I am far too selfish right now to be a good mother.

6. How was your first kiss?

I honestly don't remember but what I do remember is telling people afterwards that it was kind of like a wet vacuum cleaner.  Also remember it being on a boat.

7.Something you'd like to say to someone but don't have the guts for?

Ahhh so many opportunities here and so little time.  To save time, I'll throw out a blanket statement of "Grow up.

8. How do you do your grocery shopping? (Fill this in any way you like.)

Step one.  Tell Dad I want something.  Step two.  Wait.  Step three.  Eat said item, if edible.  Step four.  Repeat.

9. What is your favourite recipe?


10. Name a place you haven't been to yet but are dying to see?

Melbourne.  Absurd that I should never have seen the other side of my own country, considering that it's supposed to be the cultural capitol and all.  Plus people say I have hipster tendencies, so it would be somewhat of a homecoming.  Haha.  Sorry Melbournians.

11. Your no-no on a first date?

Picking a stupid movie.  Nothing worse than a boring guy and  a boring movie.

Finally, my questions.  I won't be tagging anyone, but if you want to answer these, please do, either in the comments or on your own blog with a link back.  I am trying to teach myself to be a great interviewer lately, so I view this as practice.

1. How do you take your coffee?

2. What character do you race as in Mario Kart?

3. Did you have any recurring nightmares as a kid?

4. Describe the outfit that makes you feel like the best possible you.

5. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would you pick?

6. If you could learn any language, what would you choose?

7. What daily rituals do you have, even if you've never realised that they are rituals before?  (i.e. do you have to shower, change and clean your teeth etc. in a particular order?)

8. If you could live in any other historical period, which would you choose?

9. Which celebrity, living or dead, do you think that you could have been great friends with?

10. If you could be a superhero, what would your powers be?

11. What is your dream job?

Hmm.  Well, that was interesting...  I hope you kind of got a kick out of that too, dear reader.  Like I said earlier, this was something new for me, and I don't feel comfortable tagging anyone, but I would love for someone to answer these and show me their answers.

Sabrina, thank you very much for tagging me, this was a lot of fun!

Have a lovely night everyone, I hope that you're ready to have a fabulous week.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Note to Self #1

Writing with a fluffy, anthropomorphised pen is never as productive as you think it will be.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Diary of an Honours Student: Week Fourteen

First things first.  I have decided that when I grow up, I would like to be Bernard Black.

There are a few problems with this, besides the fact that the print industry appears to be well and truly struggling and a bookshop run by a drunk miser probably would never turn a profit.  I don't like wine much, and I don't smoke.

But I think otherwise, it could work.

What do you think?


Yep.  It's going to be great.

But I digress.

This week, for those of you who go to university in W.A. is the last week of semester.  And as my tutor so charmingly pointed out to me this morning, I have probably completed the last class I will ever have to do.  Whoa.  I wish he'd told me earlier, I might have made a cake.  I have approximately 2000 words left to write about The Shark Net as memoir, and then it's last train to Thesis Town, baby.  And you're all coming with me.

Other things that happened this week.


* Applied for (and was rejected for) a DREAM JOB in the writing industry.

* Finished reading Cassie Clare's City of Lost Souls (Because nothing says serious student like staying up all night reading urban fantasy.)

* Went for a massive run with a great friend of mine

Nothing out of the ordinary really.  And not surprisingly, I haven't really learnt any deeply hidden truths about myself.  It's been kind of a head down, bum up week. Next week, I plan to work a lot and save money, sleep late and see some friends.  And read.  Oh gosh, will I read.

I have a pile of books that is taller than me waiting to be read.  No joke.  (Bit of hyperbole though, because the books are actually arranged in a shelf-like manner across the tops of both my book cases and I have never thought to stack them alongside myself... but I might now I have thought of it.)

Being at the end of your first semester of Honours is kind of like one big Friday night.  

Work is over for the week, and all you can think about is freedom, and the things you will do, the places you'll go.

It's great, so long as you don't think about the thesis you have to hand in come November.  And the big wide world of grown up jobs waiting after that.

So.... Bernard Black.

Plus... I have a new motto.  I am going to live my life like this cat.  Never write something off until you try it.  And always, always be fabulous.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Western Australian Writing Review: Coonardoo by Katharine Susannah Prichard

Coondardoo by Katharine Susannah Prichard
Printed and bound by Halstead Press, Sydney (1956)
First published by Jonathan Cape 1929

In the early decades of the Twentieth Century, on a rural North West property, two children grow up.  One is an Aboriginal girl named Coonardoo, who charms those around her with her disturbing beauty; the other is Hugh "Youie" Watt, the son of the station owner.  Hugh and Coonardoo are drawn to one another but must never act upon their feelings.  Relations between 'gins' and white men are looked upon unfavourably by most.  Hugh's detestable neighbour, Sam Geary, believes that all men like to indulge, but no one is honest enough to admit to it, and he bets Hugh that it is only a matter of time before Hugh and Coonardoo consummate their feelings... and if Hugh won't, Sam will.

Widely regarded as one of Western Australia's first novelists, Katharine Susannah Prichard has earned her place in the canon with her unique take on Western Australian life.  Her novel, Coonardoo was one of the first Western Australian novels, and takes place in the far North near Roebourne.  

The book is unstereotypical in its approach, following a narrative arc which is familiar and appropriate to the Australian storyteller without being predictable.  Similar to Colleen McCulloch's The Thorn Birds at times, Coonardoo is a family epic, where the Watt family is watched over by the observer, the loyal Coonardoo of the title.  Her life is secondary to theirs and the fate of their homestead, Wytaliba. Interestingly enough, Wytaliba is a native word for "the fire is all burnt out" according to the provided glossary."  (This adds an extra layer of meaning to the saga.)

One of the things which irked me about this book was the strength of detail put into understanding the white characters, particularly Hugh, Bessie, Mollie and Phyllis was not afforded so much to the Aboriginal characters.  Many of them seem like caricatures, striking up familiarities in their speech with Amerindians in old Westerns.  Coonardoo herself seems like the perfect vessel.  She is beautiful and she does as she is told but has no strong feeling or emotions of her own.  She just is.  From a modern stand point, the perception of the Other in this novel seemed somewhat racist, although I would not say that the book is a racist one by intent.  

I did not want to like this book.  I viewed it as a kind of relic of Western Australian literature, at once heavy and simplistic.  

However, Prichard's writing is endearing.  In the tradition of a campfire yarn, it is impossible not to relax into the feeling of being told a story.  From the point of view of studying Western Australian Writing, I cannot think of a better writer to start with.

(For more information on Katharine Susannah Prichard, and her life, and the foundation in her name, click here.)

I give this book three out of five freshly branded horses.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

How Fast Do You Read?

Click on the red button to take a timed test and find out how fast you read.  I read 412 words a minute, which means I could finish Wuthering Heights in 3 hours and 55 minutes!

How fast do you read?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Diary of an Honours Student, Week 13

Dear fellow student- I think of you.

I know that these days, it is hard to get out of bed in the morning, and not just because it is so cold lately that there is condensation on my window when I draw the curtains.  But I do get out of bed.  I do open the curtains.

We are nearly there.  We are nearly at the half way point, and we may rest when we get there.

This week, I experienced life from the other side of the lecture theatre.

Monday morning, first thing, I put on my most responsible outfit and headed in to uni to give a talk to my supervisor's class on The Shark Net.  

Source:  Yep.  This was me.  Except they wouldn't let me bring my dog.
My philosophy on tutoring (of which I have an extremely limited experience, having only helped one year 12 student for one semester) is that so long as you stay one lesson ahead of the student, and have a good grasp of language and concepts, as well as a passion for the thing you are tutoring, you will be okay.  So, I made a powerpoint presentation about The Shark Net based on my own research, I chose some readings to give the class, and then I went along with my merry research, making sure that I could pronounce all the big words.

(Embarrassing side note, there is a segment in The Shark Net where Drewe recounts his father's clandestine reading of the Mirror tabloid, and how it is the paper which publishes details about sex, scandal and divorce.  I had to ask my mother why Drewe would have listed correspondent as one of the bad words that this paper used that other W.A. papers did not... and of course the book actually said co-respondent, which is a word to describe one or other party in divorce proceedings...I are smarts.)

Anyway.  I won't bore you with the details of the lecture itself, suffice to say I enjoyed the sound of my own voice immensely, and although I only spoke for about half the time I probably should have (it was okay guys, we had a video to put on...), the feedback that I received from the class was very positive.  If you, dear reader, were in that class, thank you for your kindness, your attention and your enthusiasm.

After the class, I got to sit in on their tutorials, and be a fly on the wall... although I did take part in the discussions because I just couldn't help myself.  Here's the thing.  Undergraduates may be the lowest rung on the ladder, just below the campus quendas, but they have such vitality of opinion, and they have the most spirited discussions under the guidance of a great lecturer like David, and it is invigorating to listen to them!  I hadn't realised how much I missed being one of them.  I miss tutorials.  I miss coming to class and having read the same things as everyone else and just arguing about them!  I miss meeting new people each semester.  I miss reading and discussing a different novel every week.

And Oh My Gosh, this lot was smart.

I think after all this is over, I wouldn't say no to tutoring a bit.  As long as I can have a monkey to mark all the essays.

Source:  "Well, you see boss, I had to give her a Fail, as her referencing was just awful."

In other news, I've been thinking about how important it is to work on being happy.

My friend Lauren is a talented illustrator, and she's been talking to me about adjusting to the other side of University life... she wrote a great post on her own blog about Optimism for the unOptimistic.  You should check it out.  You should also worship her talent, as she designed all the pictures for this blog.

Being happy and optimistic can seem like a Herculean task.  There is a lot of evidence out there in the world for the case of Optimism versus People are Sh*t.  But this time of the semester in particular, it is important to look for things to be happy about.

If you're feeling a bit weighed down, I want you to do something for me.

I want you to click on this link.

I want you to turn up the speakers on your internet device.

I want you to clear a space around you.

And I want you to have a little dance.

Because, as one of my co-workers once said to me, nothing is ever as bad when you're dancing.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Never Judge an Unread Book... Forget About the Covers

Book snobbery is not a new phenomena, but the fact that it's been around for so long doesn't make it any less pointless.

Traditionally, a lot of snobbery was levelled at the so called genre fiction- a relatively new type of fiction in the grand scheme of things, although in the 19th Century the realist novel was considered far superior to the trashy gothic.  In fact, the idea of reading novels at all was considered somewhat frivolous- just think of Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey.  So the idea of there being 'serious' writing and 'trash' writing is not new.

As humans, our impulse is always to categorise and know our world so that we can control it.  Isn't making this kind of judgement but another way to do this?

A lecturer once told me a story about two young women waiting in line for their Centrelink payments.  One was a student, the other, a prostitute.  Each was reading a copy of Tolstoy.  The student, seeing that the prostitute was reading the same book, promptly threw hers in the bin.

So.  We sort books and we sort the people who read them.  Yet maybe we should be making connections through our reading rather than separating ourselves.  What if the student had approached the prostitute and asked for her opinion on the book?  Maybe she was missing out on a unique perspective.

I'm not going to waste my breath (errr... fingers?) advocating that we stop sorting, but perhaps it's something to think about.  And just maybe, if we do have to sort our reading, there's another way to go about it.

What lies beneath a good book is an artistic impulse.  A writer can be motivated by a powerful message or a story that will just not let go.  A reader can sense this message, kind of the way animals sense fear, even if they can't articulate how the connection is being made.  This impulse pulls them in and keeps them turning pages.  (Talent helps too.)  Traditionally, these authors have been the ones starving in garrets, although some did quite well for themselves.

What lies beneath a shallow book is money.  The market.  The artistic impulse is manufactured in an artificial way, bypassing the great passion for words and storytelling, and leaving us with a great steaming pile of the author's greed.  As a reader, I sense this motive too.  And I resent it.  It is why I would never read a book called Zombie Jane Eyre (and please do not even get me started on this new mutation of fan fiction).

But I would never tell you Zombie Jane Eyre was shit if I hadn't read it.  I wouldn't dislike you if you liked it.  

It would be hypocritical of me to tell you what to read.  I believe that as writers and lovers of books and words, that it's great to strive towards reading everything.  And if Vampire Robinson Crusoe is what it takes to get that sad sliver of the population who don't like to read, reading, then that book is okay by me, so long as I don't have to read it.

We should all remember that one reader's 'trash' is another reader's 'treasure.'

We should also try not to judge books by their genres, as genres are fairly unfixed beasts.  Every now and then, a really entertaining book will rise out of the mire and surprise me.  Some of the most entertaining reads I've had this year have been recommendations of books from genres I avoid, given to me by people I love and respect.  So thank you to History Boy for getting me to read The Hunger Games, I loved seeing how much you enjoyed reading that almost as much as I enjoyed the book.  And thank you to Jen of missjen.com for giving me Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver for my 21st birthday, I've just finished the trilogy and I was so caught up in the story that I have emerged bleary eyed with the tips of my fingers blue with cold as if I too had been in Boundary Woods with the wolves.


You may ask me why I would rather spend my Sunday languishing in the colourful prose of novels about Werewolves and Shadowhunters, and my answer for now will be this.

If all I ever read was The Unbearable Lightness of Being and its ilk, perhaps I would be a smarter, more political, more cynical person.  But the act of reading itself would become a weighty task of self reflection and self knowledge.  Reading serves many purposes.  The joy of reading to escape is in the dichotomy to be found when I read to ground myself in the real world.  I would lose the pleasure of analysis if I weren't also under the influence of its flighty, escapist twin.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Henry Rollins at the Astor Theatre, May 11 2012

The lobby was crowded.  There were bits of cheap smelling popcorn crushed into the floor.  Waiting audience members ranged in age and style from twenty-something year old hipsters (the norm in Mount Lawley) to middle aged men in denim and women who wear probably wearing more eyeliner on the night than they'd worn since the eighties.  Then there was us.  Mournfully under-dressed, or thankfully normal?

We were about to find out that it didn't matter.

Let in half an hour late, we finally took our seats.  Around ten, the lights went down and Henry Rollins came jogging onto the stage, looking very much like Californication's Hanky Moody minus the whisky bottle and sunglasses, and with considerably less hair.  This was what everyone had been waiting for.  And so they shut up.

Henry talked in his usual fashion- sounding angry but actually speaking words of optimism or at least keeping to a tone of uncomplaining truth.  He began by talking about Obama's stance on gay marriage.  Then he moved on to reminiscing about Australian shows.  Punching someone in the mouth and ending up in hospital with an infected hand.  Secret men's business with a twist (literally).  Nature.  Ohio turning into a giant safari.  Rent boys versus urban cowboys.  North Korea.  His fiftieth birthday.  

He spoke like this for near on three hours.  Never once did the microphone leave his right hand.  Nor did he lower his arm to his side.  In fact, he spent the entire show standing in a power stance.  At one point, someone placed a bottle of water on the stage, and while he acknowledged it HE DID NOT DRINK THE WATER.  All this while talking, making sound effects, doing cool accents and generally being awesome.  

I think it's safe to say that Henry left a lot of people wanting to go out into the world experience more things and more people.  At one point, he cited George W. Bush as his travel agent, saying that whenever Bush said a country was bad, that was the next place he would go.  

While here for the Perth International Comedy Festival, Rollins cannot technically be classed as a comedian.  Some audience members may even have been taken aback by how political and anecdotal Rollins's message was.  As for me? I was captivated.

Five stars.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Diary of an Honours Student, Week 12

Does age entitle wisdom?

And what is 'wisdom' anyway? Is it being smart?  Is it knowing things?  Is it understanding things?  Is it working hard to find the answer, and always looking in the right place?  Is it street smarts?  Is it common sense?

Is it a coincidence that when I think of wisdom, I generally think of older men?  My grandfather, Albus Dumbledore and two professors at my University who simply radiate style and smarts?

It just so happens that the year I have chosen to undertake Honours in is also the year I turn 21.  This is not unusual for people who go straight from high school to a three year university degree to honours.  And because I am 21 this year, so are a lot of the friends that I graduated with. (And today is Lauren's birthday, so happy birthday to her!)

I turned 21 a bit over a month ago now.  I'm fairly certain I feel older (or I've started being a bit more mature anyway.)  But do I feel wiser?  Let's look at the facts.

1) When I see groups of teenagers out at the shopping centre in their bum-exhibiting shorts, with their hair all scraggly and the foulest language known to man coming out of their mouths I think "Was I that bad?  Surely not."  This means that I have grown up enough to know better than the mistakes I made in high school.  It also means it won't be long before I start sitting on a deck chair on the veranda and yelling "Hey you kids, get off my lawn."

2) When people ask me about my Honours thesis, I have been known on occasion to explain my research thus far with such clarity I surprise even myself.  Example:
I was asked about the novel The Shark Net one afternoon at work.

"I believe that in literature set in this State, the mid 1960s is an important period of study because the local mindset changed.  Due to the Cottesloe-Nedlands murders, this point in time can be considered a turning point.  As a memoir, Robert Drewe's The Shark Net documents both the event and the change in mindset, at the same time as being a coming of age story of both the character and the State."

I know.  Genius.

3) I sometimes say "Per Se" even though it annoys my boyfriend to no end.

The dictionary defines wisdom as "the quality of being wise" and wise as the ability to "judge what is true or right" or "showing good judgement".

If that's the case, I think there is a time and a place for wisdom.

Perhaps growing older doesn't make you wiser, perhaps it merely gives you the ability to decide if you want to be wise or not on a given day.

What do you think?