Saturday, 30 June 2012

Things I Have Googled Lately #2

Writers Google some weird stuff.  Get over it.

The beginning sequence to TV's Castle states that there are only two types of people who sit around plotting ways to kill people- serial killers and mystery writers (and he's the kind who pays better, haha)... so you can see why I might hesitate to google things like identity theft and kidnapping even if it is strictly relevant to the story I am writing right now!!! It is a post 9/11 world, after all!!!

Until I can think up what I would say to the boys and girls in blue when they turn up searching my house for other people's children, here are some other things I have been searching for the on the Interwebz.

But Mum...

* A look at Perth in the 1960s.

* This video was recommended to me by a publishing rep who came into a bookstore I was working in.  Pay particular attention to her advice for writers at the end!

* Jess and I spent some time checking this out on the weekend.  What do you think?  If your house was on fire, would you take your iPod?  And by the way this is Jess's blog.

* What would famous authors have texted whilst drunk had there been mobile phones in their times?  Find out here.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Aussie Writing Review: The Slap

Okay okay, so not strictly a Western Australian book, so lying around reading it since Monday night hasn't been a particularly productive use of my time... but I picked this one up at Big W for about 15 bucks and it's been sitting on the shelf staring at me for simply yonks.  Plus, a lot of the characters moved from Perth so it's not a massive stretch of the imagination to link it to my studies...  ahem.

The Slap won tonnes of awards.  It's about 550 pages long, and it took me less than three complete days to finish.  I couldn't stop reading it, and when I had to, I thought about it.  (In fact, I think I bored History Boy by discussing it on the way to our date on Tuesday night.)  I first came across it when my Uncle's partner was reading it for Book Club but that would have been years ago.  Probably first year uni.  One of my English teachers absolutely RAVED about it.  Three and a bit years later, I'm reading it.

The novel begins with a barbecue- a typical Australian activity and one reminiscent of childhood events where I was dragged to a friend of one of my parents and forced to play with children I barely knew.  (Funnily enough I would always start off feeling like this and by the end I was always chummy as with the kids and didn't want to go... only to repeat it all again next time.)  The hosts, Hector and Aisha (and I don't know whether it should be pronounced Ay-eesha or Eyesha) have invited the entire population of Melbourne it seems.  Hector's big Greek family, including parents Manolis and Koula, his cousin Harry and his family are there.  Aisha's closest friends Anouk and Rosie, as well as Rosie's drunk husband Gary and her brattified child Hugo.  Aisha's workmates and their families.  Hector's friends including an Aboriginal man who has converted to Islam.  Tsiolkas paints a vivid and somewhat overpopulated portrait of the suburban barbecue.

Then, the event happens.  Hugo, a spoilt and coddled child, has been causing problems all evening.  During a game of cricket, the four year old begins to lose badly and muck up the game.  Harry's son Rocco, attempting to rectify the situation, goes to the boy and Hugo raises the bat.  Harry moves.  He slaps the boy, even though it is not his own son, and Hugo's mother Rosie flies off the handle and threatens to call the police.

The event has side effects which continue to play havoc in the main players' lives for the next year and beyond.

It's easy to see why this book won so many awards.  It is well written, simple and yet prescient.  Tsiolkas proves that he understands the way the mind of the Australian surburbanite works.  Even if he is just showcasing the sexual preoccupation of most adults and teenagers.  And if every five seconds they're all popping pills and doing weed and drinking too much.  (I mean, come on, can't there be just one character who doesn't want to abuse substances as a reaction to stress???  Do they all have to be smokers or ex-smokers???)  The book is apt and modern, and not populated with upper middle class white parents- instead the cast of players come from varied multicultural, religious, class and moral backgrounds.    At times, it seemed like the whole of Melbourne was Greek... but then again, I've heard a large part of it actually is.

So how do these less than stereotypical characters deal with the central issue of the novel- Was it okay for Harry to discipline Hugo?- you'll just have to read it and find out.

I give this book five out of five snags on the barbie.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Western Australian Writing Review: The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea

The Merry-Go-Round In the Sea by Randolph Stow
ISBN 9780143180074
Published by Penguin Classics, 2008 (First published 1965)

One of the things that I love about books like this one is the quality of the sweeping family saga.  Drawing on the nature of memory, shared and individual, the narrative follows a line throughout not just a significant event but a string of them.  The reader is invited to watch the character grow and respond to a number of events and share in the special significance of each one.

Image from Goodreads

At the beginning of this novel, Rob Coram is eight.  Geraldton is his whole world and appears to be made up of a series of rural properties, each one belonging to a member of his family.  He has many aunt and uncles, and a multitude of cousins- they are a link to a family history which, for Rob, has taken on an almost fairy tale like essence. But no one is more at the centre of Rob's attention than his cousin Rick (who is actually something like his mother's second cousin I think but I have never been very good at working these things out).  Rick is the golden boy, the Australian legend.  He is handsome, athletic and witty.  And then he goes to war.

Life goes on without Rick, as much as Rob believed that it wouldn't.  He learns to gallop on a horse, without Rick teaching him like he promised that he would.  He goes to school and makes friends.  He becomes the older cousin to younger ones who appear to be coming out of nowhere.  But he never gives up missing Rick.  At first, no one will tell him where Rick is, and then he discovers that Rick is a prisoner of the Japanese, working on the Thai-Burma railway.  Interspersed, we are given scenes of Rick's heartbreaking struggle, his illness and his anguish, to contrast with Rob's.

In the second part of the novel, Rick comes home, and life goes on.  Rob is angered by the adult's criticism of Rick, who has become apathetic and withdrawn.  He refuses to see that the old Rick has never come back.  And both of them must learn to live in a world which has changed forever.

Randolph Stow's writing is simple yet poetic.  He describes things in such a stripped back manner that you would think you'd never looked at them properly in the first place.  The towns and the Maplestead's have a life of their own in front of you as you read.  Some of the lesser character's like Jane and Mr. Coram aren't as well developed, but as you read, you discover that this is because (try as they might), Rick and Rob can never truly understand these people.  At times, things can seem confusing- for example when it is said that Joy is expecting a 7 months baby in 6 months, but I put this down to euphemisms and slang that add to the overall atmosphere, despite no longer being in use.  (By the way, I assume that meant that their baby was conceived before they were married?)

The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea is a novel which makes me yearn for a different time and a place.

I give it four out of five sunken ships.

And thanks to Eden for lending this to me.  :)

Monday, 18 June 2012

Being Bookish this Bloomsday

Do you remember when I tried to read Ulysses for Bloomsday two years ago?

I didn't do too well, did I?

I believe that reading should be enjoyable, so it stands to reason that if you aren't enjoying a book you should shelve it, sell it, trade it or turf it.  Life is too short for mediocre prose.  Critics (and the blurb on Goodreads) often describe Ulysses as being an incredibly readable book but that really only applies if you are a fan of modernist realism with an incredible attention span.  While it's fun to take part in book themed days like Bloomsday, I wouldn't advocate forcing yourself to read all 600 pages in one go.

I skipped Bloomsday 2011.

And the only reason I remembered that it was Bloomsday this year is because I follow a fair few bookish types on Twitter.  I didn't have very much planned for the day so I decided to give it another go...

I'm 45 pages in.  I understand what is going on.  I am enjoying myself.

I will let you know how well I go.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Western Australian Writing Review: A Stranger In My Street by Deborah Burrows

A Stranger in my Street by Deborah Burrows (ISBN 978-1-7426-1101-3)
Pan Macmilllan, 2012

Imagine my surprise (and joy and a little bit of envy) to discover that finally someone has written a book about Perth in the 1940s.  A Stranger in My Street is the first novel from historian and lawyer, Deborah Burrows.  It follows the story of Meg Eaton, whose beau was killed in the war eighteen months before the story takes place.  Meg seems to be coping well, although she is secluding herself somewhat from the real world, until her dead boyfriend's brother Tom shows up in her street looking for her neighbour Doreen.  Doreen is nowhere to be found, and two days later Meg and Tom stumble across her body in an air raid shelter, and wind up involved in more ways than one.

Burrows has used her skills as a historian to paint a realistic and charming portrait of Perth in the 1940s.  No scene seems like it has been adapted from an American film, and the places are easy to imagine.  Some well known places wink at their future appearance.

The protagonist, Meg is a likeable and fully realised character, and her pain at the loss of her first love Peter hits home.  I think perhaps my favourite character had to be the conniving Phyllis Gregory, fiancee of Tom Lagrange.

In some ways, this novel appears to have been over-researched.  Characters speak to each other as if they are quoting dialogue from documentaries made after the fact, or war time posters.  The murder mystery plot itself is both overly complex (as the characters have a great amount of difficulty solving it) and too simple (because once it is revealed, you wonder why you hadn't guessed.) Cliched plot points like addictions to morphine and falling in love with the wrong person are rife.  Some characters flit onto the page (Meg's sister Joan for one) when they are necessary and disappear like 2D cardboard figures who have fallen over in the breeze when they don't advance the plot.

So what is it that kept me turning the pages?

I think perhaps what I most liked about this story was that it recognised an under utilised market in the writing world.  Second World War novels (particularly romances) are incredibly popular and yet to date there have been few of note published about Perth.  I took a special interest in this novel because I had also attempted to write a novel set in this time and done incredibly poorly.  So while the researching of this novel was at times painfully obvious, I enjoyed reading it from a writer's point of view and learning some of my own mistakes at the same time in observing Burrows's strengths.

This is more than just a romance, more than just a war story and more than just a mystery.

So, is this a good book or an average one?  The jury is still out.  I think I'll have to read it again.

In the mean time, what are your thoughts?

Monday, 11 June 2012

Things I've Googled Lately #1

Writers Google some weird stuff.  Get over it.

I still don't know how I feel about the term Google becoming a verb, but I use it so I won't be a hypocrite and start railing about how we bastardise the English language daily.

Here's what I've been searching for on the web this month:

* Wondering how to wear those brown knee high boots you just bought?  Wendy shows you how.  (And how endearing is she??? I love it when she kicks her leg up at the end to give you a better view of her shoes.  I think I could probably manage my own version of each of those outfits.  Fashion bloggers out there, what would YOU pair with brown boots?)

* Here is a recipe for delicious (and grown up) Red Velvet Cupcakes.  Yum.

* Cassandra Clare and I have this in common.  What do you think?  New desktop background???

*  Recently I got a second job in a book shop (yaaaay) which means I can now wear fantastic stuff like this to work.  I said to myself earlier today, "Now I can be like the cute hipster chick who works in a bookstore..."  Then corrected it to "I AM that girl.  Positive thinking.  I think I will  get a Wuthering Heights and a Lolita.  What would you get?  (Keep in mind that for every shirt you buy, a book is purchased for an otherwise bookless community in Africa!  Spread the love.)

*  My all time favourite Blog

What have you been searching for?

Friday, 8 June 2012

Ten Ways To Get Your Creative Groove Back

Being creatively blocked is unpleasant.

It can happen for a number of reasons.  Perhaps, for one, you've spent a busy semester bogged down in the theoretical side of literature and have been too busy to actually write some.  On the other hand, you might have gone into holiday mode and decided that, yes, it is okay to get up when your alarm goes off, shower, then hop back into bed in your dressing gown to finish a really good book.  And then sometimes, the muse just doesn't show up for work.

When it comes to your passion, or your deadline, or your goals, you have to work anyway.

So here are a few tricks and tips to help you get your creative groove back.

1. Meditate on ideas in the shower. Or while doing the dishes.  Or walking the dog.   Get away from your writing space or your desk.  Do something easy and let your mind flow free.  Come back when you feel like you've got something and scribble it down.

2. Stay up late.  Some of our best ideas come when we are tired.  It doesn't matter if they don't make sense... you can edit later.  Just make sure you don't have to get up early the next morning!

3. Study your craft.  Read books that are similar in genre and idea.  Read books that you wish you'd written.  Read books about writing.  Attend lectures or talks on writing.  Go to a writers festival.  Being around words and people who are passionate about writing should fuel your fire again.

4. Live.  Art should imitate life, not the other way around.  They say to write what you know, but what if you haven't tried anything new lately?  Maybe it's time to take a plunge.

5.   Write something else.  One author, I think it was Asimov, used to set himself up with a multitude of typewriters, each one containing the progress on a different story.  When he got blocked with one story, he'd move his chair across to the next machine and pick up on that.  Don't feel like just because one story isn't working, you can't write.

6. Try creating something different. Got something you want to say but the words won't come out?  Try drawing it.  Use stick figures, scribbles, coloured crayons.  It only has to make sense to you.  Try writing a song.  Try communicating through interpretive dance.  Try making a cake that only your main character would make.

7. Explain yourself.  Pretend your story is finished and you're trying to sell it.  Get someone you trust, or have a dog or cat play the publisher, and sit them down to talk about the plot.  If it starts sounding silly to you, it probably is.  If it doesn't make sense then you've probably left out something important.  Writing groups are also great places for this.

8. Dress for the job.  Just because writing is a job that you can do from home doesn't mean you always have to do it in your pyjamas.  Try dressing in an outfit that makes you feel successful.  Do your hair, wash your face, even wear shoes.  Pretend you've gone to your office and you're rostered on to work until a set time.  And go.

9. Get off Facebook.  I don't realise sometimes how addicted to Facebook I am until I step back and realise it's the first thing I do most mornings.  I should change my routine.  Perhaps the first thing I should do in the morning is write.  When you're creating, if you find that every time you hit a road block you switch the the Facebook window and hit refresh, perhaps therein lies your problem.  Try switching off the wireless connectivity on your laptop for while and see if this helps.

10. Quit while you're ahead.  No silly, I don't mean go out and get a day job or anything.  If you're on a roll with your writing, stop at an allotted time anyway, and note down where you were going to take it next so you have somewhere to start tomorrow.  (Idea thanks to Leon.)

How do you overcome creative block to get your groove back?

Monday, 4 June 2012

In Defence of Pop Culture: The Infernal Devices

I'm not about to go to bat for every popular novel out there; that would be a waste of my time.  As I've said before, book snobbery is pointless, but it is sometimes justified.  And it's extremely common.  We all know what we like and sometimes it's hard to see reason in changing.  Ask my best friends.  I can be as resistant to recommendations from them (off the top of my head, the most recent was for the novelization of Assassin's Creed) as they can be to my recommendations, which are usually always Australian Literature.  With the plethora of average in every genre, it can be hard and bothersome to take a risk.  The occasional reward of a great read is too few and far between.

It's very rare I come across a popular series which fills me with that same flutter of anticipation I used to get whenever a new Harry Potter book came out, but I believe the Infernal Devices may come close.  If you're considering giving this one a go, but are intimidated by the fact that Angels seem to be this year's vampires and werewolves, let me tell you that it's worth your effort.  A prequel to the best selling Mortal Instruments series, Cassandra Clare's 'steampunk' esque historical fantasy really hits the spot.


So far, only Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince have been released, with Clockwork Princess due to hit shelves March next year (2013, and just in time for my birthday :0).  The series has been out for a little while now; I'm a bit late to the party on this one.  But like you might be, dear reader, I was a little hesitant to spend my money on what might have been another money-grabbing, sensational Mary Sue series.

Here are a few reasons you too should try these books on for size.

Literary Links

Who doesn't love a book which celebrates... well, other books?  One of my least favourite things to hear in classes at uni (and these are literature and creative writing units) is that other students don't read because they don't have time.  Well, I don't really have a lot of time for the opinions of classmates who don't read.  Let's not talk about books, or anything else.  It's kind of like if you don't cook, get out of the kitchen. 

Both Tessa and Will love to read... poetry mostly... and discuss the things they're read as subtle ways of introducing hidden feelings and themes into the storyline.  Clare also uses poem fragments as an epigraph to each chapter, succinctly foreshadowing what is to come as well as creating a fantastic erudite atmosphere for her London.  Geographical accuracy be damned, give me Dickens every day of the week.

Love Triangles

Has bad writing spoiled the humble love triangle, or has it always been so contrived that two men should love the same woman?  As I saw someone say on Goodreads, it depends on if the woman is deserving of the love in the first place.  Transparent characters lacking in a strong moral view point (come now, let's not name names) don't fool anyone.  So, you didn't get asked out by the most popular boy at your high school?  Why not write a novel, and force a character suspiciously like him to fight with his friends over you.  Problem solved...

The love triangle can be a great plot point, and proves the mettle of many a heroine.  Will she follow her head or her heart?  Traditionally, novels are a form in which the protagonist desires something which he is prevented from achieving by an obstacle, therefore his perception of the desired object is mediated.  In the adventure story, this may be young boy desires treasure on an island but is prevented from getting it by the pirates who also want it.  The romance, although thought of by some as being 'silly women's nonsense' follows this same pattern.  Man desires woman, woman is with other man.  Woman is torn between the two men.

Some undisputedly great examples of the love triangle occur in

*Wuthering Heights between Cathy, Heathcliff and Edgar Linton
* Pride and Prejudice between Elizabeth, Darcy and Wickham
* Les Liaisons Dangerouse between the Presidente, Valmont and and the Presidente's absent husband. (plus some other players besides!)

So if I tell you that one plot line of The Infernal Devices involves a young girl's choice between Will, who her heart (and body) desires and Jem who her good sense and emotions desire, don't roll your eyes, okay?

Puzzling Events

The appeal of a good mystery book is the opportunity to sort out the puzzle before the detective does.  One escapist argument for the reading of mystery novels is that real life is so confusing that as readers, we take solace in the ability to retreat to a place where logic and order triumph over all.  Look at the phenomenal success of writers like Agatha Christie!

The Infernal Devices contains two mysteries.  First and foremost, there is the overarching one.  What is Tessa, and why does the Magister want to kidnap her?  The second mystery differs in each book.  In Clockwork Angel, Tessa must find her brother Nate.  In Clockwork Prince, she must find the Magister and stop him from unleashing an army of automatons.  The readers go along with the Shadowhunters, piecing together clues to try and sort it all out.

Clare has also very cleverly put clues into her Mortal Instruments books which are released interchangabley with these ones to give you no more information than you need, and maximise suspense.

So there we have it.  I hope I've convinced to run out and check these out of the library ASAP.  And when you do, shoot me a comment.  Let's talk theories for Clockwork Princess, I'm itching to know if I am right about who Tessa may really be.

You can find more information about Cassandra Clare's books on her website and her Tumblr.