Clunky sentences? Read that stuff out loud. Writer’s Diary: 2

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The last thing I do before moving on to the next chapter to edit, is read that thing out loud — shut the door and say it loud! — It’s a piece of advice people give you but you never do, right? I started doing it b/c the couple of times I’ve had to record a short story for radio and podcasts, I found that in the act of doing so I picked up so many clunky phrases or yucky sentences. And it’s especially helpful if you’re a fan of sentences that have rhythm and feel good and are nice to listen to. After reading my stories for said radio/podcast I actually changed a lot of words and had to resubmit the written story. If you imagine, while reading, that it is for radio and therefore u need to pronounce clearly, it really hones in on those ugly words – and you never know when, in the future, you might have to read that out loud to someone, so best fix that shit now.

Jane bounces her Lychee seeds, what can I say?

 

 

 

 Jane

 

 

We had a short hiatus from Lychees or Peaches while I found my way out of a hole, but now we have Jane Rawson, author of  A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists! Here we go, Jane!

 

Hard questions first: Lychees or Peaches?

Oh peaches, without a doubt. Peaches are glorious, a little ball of heaven; lychees are revolting. In lychees’ favour though, they have very bouncy seeds.

 

Bouncy seeds?? Jane? Oh never mind…If you were written about in a newspaper, what would the headline say?

 Shocked neighbours say: ‘but she seemed so nice!’

 

What is your favourite line from a book or movie?

I haven’t a firm favourite, but this, from the first page of Moby-Dick, pops into my head a lot. “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.”

 

Which genre do you usually write in? And why do you think this is so?

The books I enjoy most are those which are a little bit odd, a little bit magic, where strange things happen but no one thinks much of it, where things are slightly off kilter and reading them makes you see the world differently. So I try to write in that genre, whatever that genre is, because that’s what I enjoy.

 

Tell me a secret about yourself that nobody in the whole world knows? Go on tell me, nobody but me is listening.

Sometimes I wish there was no such thing as books. My life has revolved around books for so long – what new things would I discover if they suddenly ceased to exist? Maybe I’d be a brilliant rock climber…

 

What is your latest book about?

 A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists is about what happens when you live so much in your memories, they become your real life. It’s also about living in a climate-changed Melbourne, about time travel to imaginary places, about impossible quests in a made-up version of America, about bureaucracy, about jokes and about love.

 

How did you come up with the title? Did it come to fistycuff’s with your editor?

The Office of Unmade Lists actually plays only a very small part in my novel – Suspended Imaginums and Shadow Storage & Retrieval are far more vital to the plot and characters take more than one wrong turn at them, but they just didn’t sound as nifty in my head. Anyway, it’s a ridiculous title and far too long to be telling people over and over, so I suggested to my publisher we come up with a different title and he said no, because he loved that one. So now I’m stuck with it.

 

 

When you daydream about singing on The Voice (I know you do) what song do you sing and if you could have any celebrity judge in the world turn for you who would it be?

I would want to sing George Gershwin’s Summertime, which I would totally butcher, but I’d feel fine about it when Leonard Cohen spun around and told me, ‘never mind: we are ugly, but we have the music’.

 

 

Leonard Cohen? Did you got to his last tour? I did, and….(this is not the time for this is it?) What do you really, really, really, love?

Sometimes I go out with a friend or friends and we have a delightful time drinking and talking and laughing and all that. Then I step out onto the dark street and begin my walk home alone and that moment – when no one is watching and I can just be me – is the thing I really, really, really love. That, and Andy, who is my husband.

 

Can you show us a quick snap of your work desk? No tidy spic and span ones. I won’t believe you.

 

Jane's desk

 

Yes, my desk is in the bedroom closet. I can hear the neighbour’s terrible music through the wall.

 

Serious stuff now, Jane: where can we purchase your latest book?

 You can get a hard copy here at New South Books  or it’s on e-book at Kobo, Amazon and Google Play.

 

Thanks so much for taking part in Lychees or Peaches, Jane!

For more on Jane you can follow her on Twitter:@frippet

Or check out her blog at: http://janebryonyrawson.wordpress.com

Interview: Writing in Virginia’s Shadow with Mary Pomfret

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A review of Mary’s ‘Writing in Virginia’s Shadow’ can be found here.

1.      Writing in Virginia’s Shadow is a collection of interconnected stories that ponder the writing life for working class women. The title suggests influence from Virginia Woolf’s work. Can you talk a little about how her work influenced the inception of your book?

Well, I guess it all starts with Virginia Woolf’s wonderful essay “A Room of One’s Own” which addresses the many issues that might influence a woman’s practical capacity to engage in a writing career should she have the talent and desire.

Woolf makes it clear in her analogy of “Shakespeare’s sister” that talent and drive are not enough for any person, male or female, to devote themselves to a writing life. However, she makes the very strong point that in a patriarchal society the demands and expectations of women are different from those imposed on men.  I know that Woolf wrote the essay in 1928, and of course things have changed a lot since then for women.

And although women’s lives have improved greatly in the last century, material matters, social expectations, and familial responsibilities still impinge on the artistic freedom of women. Clearly, most women in the contemporary western world do not spend Monday mornings hand washing and wringing the family laundry and generally they do not scrub the floors on their knees. Most have computers, electricity and hot water on tap. Yet still, women who write encounter difficulties, particularly if they are not from the privileged classes.  Although much progress has been made, women writers whatever their social class, still experience psychological struggles as a result of the dominant patriarchal order, which still might seem to favour the writing of men and the subjects that promote the perspective and interests of men.

Virginia Woolf noted, “This is an important book, the critic says, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room”. The description of a child eating an orange sitting on her mother’s lap by the fire in a suburban lounge room, can be just as vivid as the description of Napoleon riding a horse in the battlefield. Woolf was well aware that it is not the ordinariness of the subject but the quality of the writing which matters but that this is not always recognized in a patriarchal world.

2.      The collection utilises different forms of writing: short story, email, letters, and vignettes. I’m intrigued about how this lovely group of writings came together. Did you write with a theme in mind? or did you select from work that had previously been written?

Much of the writing in this collection formed my creative honours thesis. Because I possibly am more of a creative writer than an academic one, I used the ficto-critical approach which allows a certain creative freedom to address theoretical concerns. Hence the letters and emails from and to Virginia Woolf. And here I must give credit to my honours supervisor, Dr Sue Gillett, who introduced me to the ficto-critical form.

The short stories came together in the organic way that most stories do. I began by writing three separate stories, as a trilogy, and then I saw how easy it would be to link the characters because the themes connected them.

3.      Most of the protagonists are women, excepting a story about Sam and his book launch. How do you see this particular story fitting into the work as a whole?

Oh dear, poor Sam and his book a launch. Sam is perhaps more of a caricature than a character. And the same could be said about the egotistical Nigel, who launched Sam’s book. Sam appealed to Nigel’s vanity and attempted to emulate his cool confident style but without much success. I guess what I was getting at with these two, is that Nigel had a wife at home, Leah, with considerable writing talent, yet he failed to recognise her talent or support her work. He preferred to promote the work of the talentless Sam who stroked his ego by his hero worshipping attitude. Leah clearly did not give Nigel the adoration his ego required. As Virginia put it in 1928:

‘How could he go on giving judgment, civilizing natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and dinner at least twice the size he really is?”

4.      The character Sam shares the same name as Samuel Clemens. Can you share with us any meaning or connections we can take from your use of Samuel Clemens as a character?

Most astute of you, Julie, to ask me this question. Samuel Langhorne Clemens was Mark Twain’s pseudonym. I think perhaps “our Sam” wasn’t legally his name at all, but maybe he was a “John Smith” who felt Sam Clemens was a more suitable name for a writer of his perceived, but in fact dubious talent. My attempt at irony I guess: Mark Twain was a wonderful talent, “our Sam” clearly was not.

5.      For me as a reader, a theme that came through strongly is the idea that attitudes and responses to particular fiction vary widely depending on age, socio-economic status and gender. Is this an idea that you considered when putting this project together?

Once again, my fictional stories just tend to evolve. I rarely set out to write about a particular subject or issue. The theme of women, captivity and the material matters which influence their ability to fulfil their creative potential just seemed to develop and then fictional letters and emails sprang from there. I think I have read somewhere that the way in which you perceive the world, depends on your position in it. Your perspective in other words.  So, I figure that your age, gender, socio-economic status and perhaps race and family of origin are the basic footing for your view of the world. In the case of the writer’s perspective, my own included, these factors undeniably have an influence on the stories we write and the point of view we take.

6.      In the fictional letter from Margot to Virginia, Margot writes:

…I feel that writing of stories, stories with female characters who are from the working class, will do more to advance women’s position in society…because such stories would be accessible to more women than are the writings of academic theorists.

Can you talk a little about this idea and how your own work might relate to it?

Well, I guess I have a thing about  “ivory tower” perceptions of life. Take for example the writing of the French feminists – beautiful as it undoubtedly is – I don’t feel it is as easily understood by people who have not had the opportunity to study literary theory. Perhaps I am wrong, but I feel fiction has the power to explore complex issues in simple ways which touch the imagination and heart of the reader.

7.      Thank you for taking the time to chat with us Mary. I’m hearing rumours of another book. What else can we read by Mary Pomfret and what can we expect in the future?

Yes, Julie. Most exiting! My new collection of short stories ‘Cleaning out the Closet’ will be launched at the Basement on View (next to the Bendigo Art Gallery) on April 10, at 7.00 pm.

You can read a review of ‘Writing in Virginia’s Shadow’ here

Review: Writing in Virginia’s Shadow, Mary Pomfret.

Writing in Virginia’s Shadow

by Mary Pomfret

56 pages

Ginninderra Press

Writing in Virginia’s Shadow is an eclectic collection of short fiction works presented as short stories, vignettes, email, and letters that explore what it means to be a female, working class, fiction writer. The writing contemplates similar ideas as those addressed by Virginia Woolf, hence the title.

It would take a long essay and a month of days to delve into the many themes presented through the fictional characters within the interconnected works so I only touch on a few.

We begin with Margot, an aspiring writer, who receives a rejection letter from a magazine, and is confronted with harsh criticism:

The devices you use to connect stories, such as recurring metaphors, motifs, related characters and the repeated theme of the ‘poor woebegone struggling women writer’, are tedious, pretentious and far from subtle. …We feel we want to scream at all these characters, ‘Get a life!’ but of course we wouldn’t; we are far too polite.’ 7

As the reader you feel the immediate sense of Margot’s despondency as she attempts to take an objective view of the criticism that is inherently a personal attack on Margot as a writer. The fictional letter pulls the rug out from under her and seems to mock Margot in such an awful way:

‘Margot, your namesake, who is seemingly the fictitious author of all the stories, intolerable. Eliminate her.’ 8

The rejection letter read in the context of the book as a whole is at once comical and awful, but we die a little on the inside for Margot at the thought of such a letter which can also be read as instruction to Margo to eliminate herself. This idea of exposing Margot is replicated in a letter she receives from Virginia (Woolf):

And as for you Margot. Where are you? You are weaving in and out of text, hiding behind words and phrases like a frightened child hides behind her mother’s skirt. Who are you? You must come out and declare yourself. You are the author, the writer of stories, are you not? 38

Margot is given opportunity to respond to Virginia Woolf in a letter and says simply:

If I am honest, I guess I am just plain scared. 41

but she defends herself in explanation:

…I feel that writing of stories, stories with female characters who are from the working class, will do more to advance women’s position in society…because such stories would be accessible to more women then are the writings of academic theorists. 42

One of the common frailties of the writer is explored through the character Leah – the not-good-enough-fear – shown in the form of Leah chastising herself:

When it came to her turn to introduce herself, she felt vaguely fraudulent. It had been over a years since she had written anything of substance. She muttered something about hoping this workshop would cure her writer’s block. 19

Leah, an emerging writer who competes for literary attention with her unsupportive writer husband,

He was getting sick of minding the kids every Tuesday night while she went off to her writing group. Old ladies and retired nuns – what would they know about the art and craft of writing? 11

finds herself struggling to live up to the standards of a writing group due to her family commitments:

This was a tall order – writing for a solid hour. It was a rare event for Leah to have the opportunity to write uninterrupted for an hour. Most of her writing was done in opportunistic snatches, while waiting to pick up children from soccer, or when a DVD was so engrossing that no one asked her where their socks were or what was to eat. The last time she wrote for an hour at a stretch was while she was waiting in the hospital room when her son had broken is arm. Leah picked up her pen and gazed around the room. All of the group were writing with such intensity. 22

It  is brought home here, that Leah’s lack of confidence stems directly from her lack of support from her husband.

A message that comes through strongly in this book is that of how subjective (while hiding behind the mask of objectivity) reactions to fiction can be. Margot takes a battering of a variety of opinions from her email critique group:

‘She always had to steel herself for this monthly task of reading the email responses of her fellow writers.’ 27

She faces a maze of subjective advice,

…I am a Poet after all.) I suggest you condense it a little… 27

…Loved your story. I do suspect, however, that your male protagonist is a bit of a wank. Sometimes, Margot, I think that you don’t think much of male writers. Got to watch that, you know. It can sometimes sound like sour grapes.’ 27

and has to decipher the intentions of critiquers:

The problem with your story is that it doesn’t really make much sense. Even so, I like it and I’m not really sure why. I think you are headed on a quest. Do you know what it is that you are looking for? XX Nyall.’

I think Nyall has something else on his mind. We all know a Nyall don’t we?

One of my favourite sections in the book is an interaction between the character Louise and her plumber husband Norm.

Why the hell are you always making up stupid fucking stories? Why are you always telling lies? Her reply was stuck in her throat like snow white’s apple. She spluttered, struggled to get out the words. ‘Because…because I’m a writer – that’s what I do. I make up stories. Fuckhead. I make up stories to survive.’ 31

I’m a bit partial to calling someone a fuckhead so this appeals to me, but as she blurts out ‘I make up stories to survive’, it’s an instinctive blurt, and she hits on a truth for many writers that they write because they have to; they write to understand themselves, and the world they live in.

I love the reference to the poisoned apple, intentional or not.  Those words Louise speaks to her husband, Norm are bound to begin a rift that may cause her to have to ‘go to sleep’ in relation to writing, to keep the peace, and forget writing completely.

Writing in Virginia’s Shadow is abundant with themes and ideas about writers. It can be read as simply as a series of stories about the lives of writers, or, it can be read as an insight into the state of the writer in all her phases, or, you may go deeper and read to examine the reflexive, post-modern style of the work. As a fan of meta-fiction, I find the latter adds a meaningful depth to the writing allowing a sense of realism that draws the reader in.

Either way, I urge you to take your time with Writing in Virginia’s Shadow, and give it the thought that it asks you to, and it deserves.

Interview with Mary Pomfret 

Mary lives in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia. You can find out more about Mary at her Blog.

Chat rooms and identity: brb: a verse novel, by Maree Dawes

 

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Brb: be right back

A Verse Novel

By Maree Dawes

109 pages

Thank you to Bronwyn Mehan at Spineless Wonders for this e-book copy.

Brb is a first person verse novel that remembers the days when chatting on the internet was new, when chatters revelled in immediate, words-only, communication. Remember ICQ?

I hadn’t read any verse novels before, I know, shame on me, but I’ve had a quick look around and I’m glad this is my first foray. Brb captures that immediacy and quick-fire fast-fingers-chat with a luscious blend of prose and poetry. It uses online language like email and chat talk to take the reader, with ‘Bodicea’ our protagonist, as she stumbles and learns how to use chat rooms and falls so deeply into that world of other chatters and painful trysts where she is forced to question her actions, and her  identity:  what is adultery? Who is she really as she straddles both her worlds?

Her friend and husband take measures to draw her out again back into her lonely life as wife and mother where she almost has to relearn how to live and love and communicate in a life not governed by the fantasy created by words. (Funny, in this instance, how easily it is to turn ‘word’ into ‘sword’.)

 Think again

She says

You’ll never feel that in chat

Never see my eyes fill

Never taste our tears

In the ocean

This is what she believes

Chat is fantasy

How many times

Would she need to slap my face

Before I believed it too

She won’t be able to I know

One slap

All she can do

The nowords space

Between the slap

And wishing

You never had.

pg 97

Brb is a fascinating, fun, and sad portrayal of a lonely housewife trek into nineties chat-rooms. I love the use of chat-room language, the phrases, short-hand and email, and yes, I do remember chat-rooms. What a wonderful portrayal of the era that was the dawning of the complex use of our lovely internet!

The Spineless Wonders Book club will be chatting about this book on March 13 on their face book page.

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

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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.

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