Crossing ethical lines: Midnight Blue and Endlessly Tall by Jane Jervis-Read

9781922057433

Midnight Blue and Endlessly Tall by Jane Jervis-Read

Xoum Publishing 2013

121 pages.

 

Jessica is a divorced and single health worker whose children have moved on with their lives, leaving her to negotiate her relationships from a distance and to grapple with a ‘hollow and sore heart’. When she becomes increasingly entangled in the life of her client her own needs allow her to go where logic might tell her she shouldn’t.

From the beginning we know we are in the hands of an author who cares about words and what lies between them. Jane Jervis-Read creates a haunting and wanting aura with her sensitive writing:

But she will already be walking out the back, screen door sighing closed behind her, slippers scuffing the concrete, spanning the distance between the kitchen and the shed. The corrugated roof casts a shadow over the entrance… But inside the shed a world awaits. From the window I watch the shadow drink her in. p2

When Jessica takes on the job as carer to Eloise we follow her tender path along a road that both she and we know she shouldn’t go down. It echoes the decisions we fail or neglect to make, or choose to ignore, that allow us to follow the heart in search of something we need. It puts the question to us that we may not like to explore, should we go to places we know we shouldn’t for the sake of cotton-balling the heart?

It meant something when Eloise pulled me in. It meant I am sad and the world is falling like leaves around me. It meant you are a warm heart next to me and your heart loves and listens where mine is hollow and sore and calling out like a wild, hungry mouth. It meant I need you…Something is starting and something is ending. I need relief from my sorrow and you are it, your hand is it, your warm heart beating beside me is it. p66

As we would in reality, Jessica questions her actions and explains them away with care:

She was crying with growing intensity. You don’t leave someone alone in that state. You don’t say, Sorry but my shift is over.’ You can’t clock off. This may be that sort of job to some people but not to me. p53

And Jervis-Read does not shy from bringing truth to the story by allowing Jessica go into this blindly. Jessica knows she goes where she should not; she knows she has blurred ethical lines:

Her thigh slid between mine. I waited. What was I thinking in this moment? I can’t remember. Only the feeling of heat, from her bath-thickened flesh…Maybe I told myself, ‘You have come this far without knowing why – what reason is there to step out now?’…How wild and misguided a life can become, but the body maintains this simple truth: the elegant curve from the waist to the hip. p 83

And nor are the characters allowed to waft away in romantic views; the story is not without the tendrils of uncertainty you might find in a relationship wrought with baggage, illness and dependency:

Eloise smirked. She leant towards me and her robe fell open at the top. ‘I’ll follow you,’ she said. ‘If you go.’  p 63

The characters are beautifully painted on the page. We feel for Jessica as she navigates the emotions left in the wake of her divorce from her husband, and the feelings of estrangement from her children that seem to open her up as they go on with their lives:

Was I a good mother to my children? I think I was. Why then did they move away? p67

And out of this we accept and forgive Jessica. Had we only had access to the facts of the story – lonely carer takes advantage of a patient overcome with sadness for the loss of her life due to mental illness, and engages in physical intimacy – we might judge and condemn Jessica. Enormous credit goes to Jane Jervis-Read for enveloping the facts in a beautiful story that leads us to understand and forgive the characters.

When Eloise sobbed that guttural sob I recognised my own voice in her throat. I recognised the sobs of my children, of my mother too. I remembered my mother weeping when my father died and how I had held her. Eloise clutched at me and pulled me in through the blankets. She cried in my arm. p53

Midnight Blue and Endlessly Tall is a beautifully written, honest and elegant tale of longing and loneliness; it turns the light on what a person will allow themselves to do to abate and caress those feelings and it tackles the questions around crossing ethical lines. Set in the university area around Carlton, Melbourne. I highly recommend you take on this novella and see how you fare.

Jane Jervis-Read and Alice Grundy from Seizure talk about her novel and novellas in general in a great audio interview here

You can purchase Jane’s book here.

Fuckadoodle! It’s just_a_girl ! Interview with debut author Kirsten Krauth

just-a-girl

When the opportunity arose to chat with Castlemaine author Kirsten Krauth about her unique debut book just_a_girl, I jumped at the chance. The novel is bursting with themes of loneliness, sexuality and relationships in a modern world, and we had a lot of fun exploring and unpicking those themes and it was great to get some insight into the evolution of the book. I hope you enjoy it too.

1                    Just-a-girl is an intriguing novel written in a non-traditional format, with a mix of diary, and third person. Is the final book as you had initially planned, or did these formats evolve over many drafts?

The mix is pretty much the same as when I started writing, but the draft I sent to the publishers was different in some ways to the final book. Layla is pretty much the same, with her choppy and cut-off sentences. But Margot’s sections were originally written in the form of a prayer, each one starting ‘Dear Lord’. If you look at those entries there is a rhythm to them that intones, as if she is speaking to someone. It still works, but more as a stream of consciousness. Tadashi was always in third person and past tense, because I thought you needed a character who offered a chance for pause, a bit of respite after the two very strong and direct female voices. He is also quite removed and I thought that style suited him.

2                    The characters in just_a_girl are believable and well-drawn; you’ve been able to get into each of these character’s heads to portray them in a realistic way, but all three characters are very different to each other. How, as a writer, did you prepare yourself to get inside your characters heads?

The strong voice of each character emerges first and if I like that voice, I run with it. Using certain stylistic phrases helped me get into the psychology pretty early-on and quickly. For instance, Layla’s character has virtually no commas or run-on sentences; whereas Margot’s character has a comma whenever she pauses, and her sentences can go on for pages! Simply saying one of Layla’s made-up words (‘fuckadoodle’) would make me laugh and I’d find the mood of the piece. Placing characters in a particular location, with a particular emotion, helps dramatically. I find it easy to empathise with a character, and I get to an emotional place where the language stems from where they are (whether it’s on the train or on a rollercoaster).

3                   As you mentioned earlier, the sentences in Layla’s diary are often cut up, short and stuttery and ignore normal punctuation rules in a way that might do an editor’s head in. Can you talk a bit about conversations with editors and readers you have had while working on just-a-girl about writing it in this style? 

That’s a beauty of a question! I didn’t really see it as a diary but as an insight into how Layla’s mind works. As an editor, I was aware of the difficulties of this kind of writing. It runs the risk of turning readers off very quickly. But as a writer, I wanted the style to completely reflect where Layla’s head was at. At the beginning of the book she describes her thoughts as being like a ‘grasshopper’s spring’ and it was more crucial for the writing to reflect that, than to be grammatically correct. With texts, messaging, and other forms of writing these days, the rules of grammar are being relaxed, and I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing. My editor did query the style and encouraged me to run on some of the sentences. But I stayed pretty firm on it as I wanted the character to be distinguished by her strange use of language. I’m lucky that nearly all of my readers have had the resilience to push through and run with it. I love books like Trainspotting and A Clockwork Orange that play with language and style.

And  what lead you to the decision to have Margot’s character italicized?

I see Margot as a character who is unravelling. Her anti-depressants have been keeping her together (but numb) and now, having gone off them, she’s starting to spiral. It’s like she’s trying to convince herself (not convincingly) that everything is okay. The long sentences in italics give a hint that she is not coping, but also that she is immensely lonely. Her long rants (to herself) are a way of venting when she doesn’t have someone else to connect with. And this juxtaposition of styles points to the lack of communication between Margot and Layla, too. I’m very sensitive to the way looks on the page, how text is arranged. We experimented in final drafts with doing Margot’s chapters in roman text, but I couldn’t do it, because the italics had become an integral part of her characterisation.

4                    Margot and Layla are mother and daughter, but your third character, Tadashi, comes out of left field, and although he connects with Layla in the story, he has a very separate story line. In her review of just_a_girl, Angela Meyer draws a connection between the three characters and says of Tadashi,

…there’s a disturbing metaphor of objectification in his story, which echoes some of the actions of male characters in the story threads of Layla and Margot. He has literally replaced a flesh-and-blood woman with a doll who keeps quiet and is available whenever he needs her. She is pretty and poses the way he wants her to. There are parallels with the sex video that Layla makes for Mr C, an older man, and in her relations with her 18-year-old boyfriend, and also in the harassment she suffers—and never reports—from her boss.

What do you see as the connection between the three characters, or what drew you to connect Tadashi to Margot and Layla within the novel?

I see all characters as not-quite connecting, either with each other or the world around them. I liked the idea of Tadashi being a commuter on the same train as Layla, appearing and disappearing, almost as if Layla summons him when she needs him, but with a fragility that never quite extends to friendship. All the characters project their fantasies of what ‘real life’ and an ‘ideal relationship’ should look like onto others. In Margot and Layla, it’s their shared Mr C. Tadashi imagines love and nurturing in the only space he feels comfortable – and takes this ideal to an extreme. In general, I like leaving the threads of narrative untangled so the reader can weave them together how they like. It’s one of the reasons that I love Murakami’s novels (who is a big influence on this book) because he’s not interested in tying all those threads together. All the characters are also exploring sex and power, the way they are cast (aside) sexually, who they can trust, how others’ look at and respond to their bodies, to what extent all of this can be controlled. Angela’s interpretation is terrific as I think it’s about posing: how they present to the world versus how they really feel, and what happens when they are truly exposed.

5                    Leading on from this idea of sexual identity and objectification, in her review of just-a-girl, titled, Are Teenage Girls Just Like That? , Elizabeth Lhuede delves into the portrayal of sexually precocious young teenage girls in literature, and the written compared to actual motivations of girls’ behaviour, whether it‘s born out of early sexual abuse, suffering that shaped the parents who raise them, the invasiveness of the internet, or perhaps simply ‘teenage girls are just like that’. Is this something you explored and constructed in just-a-girl? Or did you write the book as it came to without delving into those themes?

The idea of sexually precocious (or physically precocious) teens came out of my direct experience. I was an early developer, like Layla. I found this intensely challenging, as my body was garnering unwanted attention in public (from older men rather than boys), before I had any emotional or intellectual capacity to deal with it. I wanted to explore this divide. My experience did not come out of sexual abuse, so that’s a realm I didn’t research, but was very moved by Elizabeth’s analysis.  I thought it was an area that hadn’t been explored much in fiction. As with Layla, though, by the time I was fifteen all the other girls had caught up, so it was a very particular timeframe. If you read closely, though, Layla is actually quite naive and inexperienced when it comes to her sexuality, but she masks it by talking about sex a lot, and putting herself in dangerous situations where she has to confront things head on.

6                    Lastly, I hit my elbow in the shower the other day, and instead of my usual expletive I blurted out that word of Layla’s that you mentioned earlier, Fuckadoodle! I’m thinking you’ve started a new catch, what do you think!?

LOL, we are in sync! As I mentioned earlier, I just had to say that word to myself, and I was off in Layla-land. My dad has developed a whole string of profanities that go along after it in a poetic way; quite hilarious. It does make reading in public hard though, if there are any kids around! Feel free to move it along. I love Kath n Kim and J’amie and all those characters who make up their own words. That latest one, ‘quiche’, just absolutely cracks me up.

Thanks Kirsten!

You can read my mini review of just_a_girl here. Kirsten can be found at her blog, Wild Colonial Girl , and on twitter @WldColonialGirl . There is also a great interview over on ANZ Lit Lovers  called Meet the Author, with Lisa Hill and Kirsten.

Just_a_girl is published by UWA Publishing, 2013. I read the E-book.

Loneliness and the family wrench in just_a_girl by Kirsten Krauth

 just-a-girl

Kirsten Krauth’s debut novel, just_a_girl, brings about complex discussions grown out of the many themes embedded in the book. From loneliness in a world where we connect more than ever, to conducting relationships and sexual identity within this environment. From the format of the book, that includes diary type chapters, to the chopping up of sentences within the diary entries.

Kirsten and I will be chatting about some of these themes in an interview that I’ll put up here soon, but I want to drop a couple of paragraphs here that are not so related to those themes, but are moments that many of us experience. Moments that go toward feeding our insecurities and making us who we are, that made me stop and think for a moment.

This is from fourteen year old Layla, thinking about trips to visit with her father:

I wish the oxygen masks would fall down from the ceiling so I could strangle the stewards…Latchkey kids. Granny said that’s what they used to call kids who came home from school to an empty house. But what do you call the school hols brigade. Flying once a year to see their dads. Getting to board first and being offered magic pens. Colouring in books to distract from the family-wrench. Trying not to cry as you look out the window. Because you’ve got to return to the woman. Who’ll be waiting anxiously in Sydney in her airport outfit. She’s probably there already. The long drive home to the mountains. The questions she doesn’t ask and I don’t answer.

Maybe one day I won’t get on the plane. I’ll disappear, duck out of sight of dad. Or I’ll rewind the plane down the tarmac. Reverse through the punters. Clutching their last-minute-texts-on-mobiles. I’ll stand and revel in the limpness of that concertinaed shute. Looking shrivelled, sad and used as the jet sucks itself away. Mum will spend her years wondering how I managed to go missing. From a plane in the air between Coolangatta and Sydney.

Loc 1844

And from Layla’s mother Margot, on the same topic:

But even though I now have the Church in my life sometimes I lie here afraid that the black hole is sneaking up again and it’s worse when Layla is away, this year she wanted to spend Christmas Day with Geoff, the first time we have been apart, and I don’t want to be all alone during the festive season but what could I say?’ …and Geoff’s always spoiling her with outings, so when she comes back home I look like the boring old mum, I mean, he seems to get all the good bits and he’s split up with the latest, they’ve been so many over the years, so God knows what space his head’s in and I get a bit worried about Layla when she’s not home, we’re on such different wavelengths, so I wish she’d answer her phone up there but she sees my name flash up and hits the reject button.

Loc 1469

 

Read my interview with Kirsten  here.

Just_a_girl is published by UWA Publishing, 2013. I read the E-book.

Australian Women Writers challenge 2013

awwbadge_2013

This year I was a bit slow off the mark with my Australian Women Writers Reading and Reviewing Challenge. I was enjoying being headfirst in the completion of one of my own novels, and the beginning of another.

My intention was to complete the Stella challenge (read 4 –  review at least 3)  which I’ve done in the dying days of December with my final read for the year, Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett. And boy what a book it was. What a gem! Beautiful and sombre. So glad I ended the year with that one.

I read Landscape With Animals early in the year when I was looking for a book with well written sex scenes to use as a study for my own book. Kristen Krauth from over at  Wild Colonial Girl, interviewed Krissy Kneen (author of two collections of erotica, Swallow the Sound and Triptych) about writing sex scenes. Krissy noted that Landscape With Animals is her favourite erotic book. That was enough for me. And I’d have to agree, it really is  a great study in writing sex scenes, as well as being a beautifully written book.

Eleven of the books or collections I’ve purchased this year just happened to be by Australian Women so I’ve got plenty to catch up on, and to go on into AWW2014!

Landscape With Animals by Cameron S Redfern (Sonya hartnett) ✔

Jesus Sandals and Anchovette, by Joanna Atherfold Finn from the  – Amanda Lohey Selects, The Women’s Long Stories collection put out by Spineless Wonders  ✔

Black Juice by Margo Lanagan ✔

Past The Shallows by Favel Parrett  ✔

Unloched, by Candice Lemon-Scott 

Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan

Floundering by Romy Ash

Chameleon by Kathy Stewart

The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement by Virginia lloyd

In the Shadows of the garden by Sharon Kernot

Surrender by Sonya Hartnett

Passages of Writing: Animal people, Charlotte Wood.

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Book: Animal People by Charlotte Wood.  Allen & Unwin 2011. This edition: e-book, Allen & Unwin, 2011.

Why: Charlotte Wood’s writing is always grounded and insightful but never pretentious. The characters are so real I want to cringe as a human to be seeing how we know people speak right there on the page:

‘So who organised the lesbian? ‘…Belinda snickered into her mineral water… (p233)

And,

‘It’s sort of boho, ‘Fiona said…’ which doesn’t really suit her.’ When he asked why not, Cathy said drily, ‘because she’s more ho than bo,’and Fiona snorted into her glass. (P202)

Writers are always taking the time to slow the reader down to think about things in a way that is normally missed. It’s one of the things I love about writing. And it’s a little bit disarming to think that someone may be listening to the way you eat an apple from another room.

He heard her set a knife down in the chopping board before going to answer the door.

He had never before known the cadences of a person’s movements like this, except in his own family, as a child. It was not just her tread; footsteps were easy, especially here in Fiona’s house when there were just the two of them and the girls, whose hard little heels struck the floorboards like mallets. But even elsewhere, in other houses, in shops, he could tell Fiona’s presence by the sound and rhythm of her movements: keys in a handbag, the taking of a breath. Surely humans could only breathe in so many ways – inhalation, exhalation could not possibly be so individual – but still, he always knew her. He knew the sounds of her swallow, her bite of an apple from another room.

p.190 Animal people by Charlotte Wood

Passages of Writing: The Watch Tower, Elizabeth Harrower.

 

 

Book: The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower. First Published 1966 Macmillan. This edition: The Text Publishing Company – e-book.

 

Why: The book starts off with, “Now that your father’s gone-…’Dead,’ she corrected herself firmly…” and this is the impetus for change in the two little girls’ lives. (It’s the hook, I guess – someone has died.)

 

But there is a differing in responses to the news and in a few short concise paragraphs we quickly understand  that the mother, the headmistress and the children all feel differently and this is emphasized by the paragraph starting with ‘A Magpie..’  with everyone going quiet for a moment as if stunned, or speechless. It’s a great lesson on how to do that.

I love that moment because the author is bestowing on the reader the intelligence to get it without explaining it and we all sit quietly for a moment understanding. (And who doesn’t like being told their intelligent.)

As a reader you are taken out of the little meeting in the head mistress’s office and zoom right out to view it from a distance and forced to slow your pace to realise the magnitude of what is being said to the children. And at the same time given more of a sense of what sort of person the mother is: ‘…or some other bush bird she hoped never to hear in town…’

( Also love that she mentions currowongs, who writes about currowongs in their writing? We used to have a currawong – his name was Colin)

 

 

 

‘When I’ve sold the house and found a flat in the city, ‘the girls’ mother continued, taking in the exchange of the looks dryly, ‘I’ll let Miss Lambert know.’

A magpie or a currawong, or some other bush bird she hoped never to hear in town, gave it’s careless, beautifully deliberate call from a giant blue gum in the distance outside the school grounds. (Someone sighed) Closer at hand there were energetic sounds from the tennis courts, and laughter.

p.1. The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower.

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