Stoner, John Williams, the describer scriber.

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I’m on the last pages of Stoner, by John Williams, and I’m thinking the thing I will be taking from my reading and learning from, is his attention to descriptions. I could have plucked out any number of passages, but this one of Stoner’s wife, Edith, is a cracker. Edith’s character grows out of the words and you pretty much know who you’re dealing with, just from the description. What a sad sad thing that Williams passed before his book became the success it is now. To not know it. I hope he’s looking down on it and enjoying it all.

In her fortieth year, Edith Stoner was as thin as she had been as a girl, but with a hardness, a brittleness, that came from an unbending carriage, that made every movement seem reluctant and grudging.The bones of her face had sharpened, and the thin pale skin was streathched upon them as upon a framework, so that the lines upon the skin where taut and sharp. She was very pale, and she used a great deal of powder and paint in such a way that it appeared she daily composed her own features upon a blank mask. Beneath the dry hard skin, her hands seemed all bone; and they moved ceaselessly, twisting and plucking and clenching even in her quietest moments.

p241

Reading to put your brain in the right state – Steven Carroll, The Time We Have Taken

When I’m working on something, I like to read from any of my favourite books to put my brain in the right frame of mind. You know, slow it down a bit and find a rhythm. I pick up a book and open to any page and read. Today’s read was from Steven Carroll’s The Time We Have Taken pg 132  (Fourth Estate paperback 2007)

You can see the influence from one of Steven Carroll’s favourite authors, Proust, in the long sentences, the rhythm, and the use of the senses.

The smell of previous-night’s-beer is unmistakable. And with the whiff of old beer she is simultaneously seeing Vic falling through the front door, stumbling through the house, and that old familiar feeling of wretchedness is upon her once again, and the memory of that wretched madness that swelled her heart to the point of exploding all those years ago is now more than a memory. It’s a smell. And smells make things happen all over again. And she knows she doesn’t want these memories again, but knows they won’t go till the smell does. Then she sees further signs of disruption, even as she’s dwelling on this business of smell and weight and love and why it had to be like that. For she has entered Michael’s old bedroom, which has changed little since he left, and noticed immediately that the bed has been disturbed. Slept in. And with the observation comes an involuntary shiver. A half-hearted attempt has been made to make it, a quilt thrown over the bed almost contemptuously. Brazenly. And as this strangers perfume– which she knows to be a common, cheap scent that young girls these days go for — as this strangers perfume mingles with the sight of the shabbily remade bed, the word ‘tart’ comes to her again. And she is convinced that Michael has not only sneaked back into the house when she was not there like some creature with guilt written all over his face, he has dragged a tart back into their house, her house, with him. And she knows straight away that this is not the act of her Michael, upon whom she rested the weight of the love she was left with (when Vic couldn’t carry it any more), her Michael who had always told her that her dresses were just right when the street sneered. No, it wasn’t him, but some other Michael with a tart in his ear.

Recoils like snails shot with vinegar: Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre

 

 

It’s not the first time I’ve quoted Vernon God Little, and since I’m only part way in ( and being a fan of DBC Pierre I’ve also quoted from Lights out in Wonderland ) I don’t think this will be the last time you see me quoting from this book. He really does have a way with words to be envious of.

 

On mothers. (I am one, I can quote it. ):

 

Between you and me, it’s like she planted a knife in my back when I was born, and now every fucken noise she makes just gives it a turn. P7

 

One for the writers:

 

When the rubbing of her thighs has faded, I crane my nostrils for any vague comfort; a whiff of warm toast, a spearmint breath. But all I whiff, over the sweat and the barbecue sauce, is school – the kind of pulse bullyboys give off when they spot a quiet one, a wordsmith, in a corner. The scent of lumber being cut for a fucken cross. P11

 

Describing the weather without  putting yourself and readers to sleep can be a challenge, no fear here:

 

Outside a jungle of clouds has grown over the sun. They kindle a whiff of damp dog that always blows around here before a storm, burping lightening without a sound. Fate clouds. They mean get the fuck out of town, go visit Nana or something, until things quiet down, until the truth seeps out. Get rid of the drugs from home, then take a road trip. P13

 

One I wish I’d thought of first:

 

Gurie’s chin recoils like snails shot with vinegar. P26

 

 

Jesus Sandals and Anchovette, by Joanna Atherfold Finn

 

 

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Delicate and sweet writing from the point-of-view of an eight-year-old child, but what is really great about this piece is that it’s written in second person. I haven’t read a second person story before this that isn’t in the form of letter or diary. (If you know of any, comment below I’d love to read it) In this instance it gives the reader a strong sense of being right with the character and somehow helps to put you in the mind of the child. There’s nothing bad to say about this; it’s gorgeous, a must read.

This story is from the Amanda Lohrey Selects series at Spineless Wonders Publishing.

There is so much information about the little girl (and the family) to be gleaned from these few opening sentences.

You look out the back window of the lime-green Galant to the curved struts of the rusting balcony, the top step where you grinned (gap-toothed) for your first-day-of-school photo, the pine tree with its dying centre. Behind the gate is your cubby house with foundations so deep it can’t be moved. Next door, Mr Carter is spraying his cumquat trees. You picture Mrs Carter inside sitting at the kitchen table doing her crossword, and Jesus hanging from his cross, observing her forlornly. She has told you he is all-knowing. You wonder why he doesn’t drop a hint now and then.

The sentences are dripping with descriptions of colour and images,

A row of blue-headed pins protruded from her pillowy lips. Her smooth forehead bobbed as you revolved in tiny increments.

and descriptions that can pull you back right there with the little girl. We know where they are even before it’s made clear.

He leads you through glass doors with his hand clamped around the back of your neck, past nicotine-yellow tables, over kaleidoscope carpet. A row of men are perched on stools, their thick arms bent across blue towels, their hairy legs dangling. Their hair is shrinking into their skulls. They are stunted and swollen like the puffer fish you poke with a stick on the beach.

 

 

Black Juice, by Margo Lanagan

 

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This is a short story collection, one of five by Margo. I read the e-book version from Amazon

These passages are from the first story in Black Juice, singing my sister down. The sentences are plump with meaning and expression in a subtle and beautiful and intriguing style. This particular story will also break your heart. Love it, can’t wait to delve into more.

 

And Mumma was talking, wearily, as if she’d been going on a long time, and soothingly, which was like a beautiful guide-rope out of my sickness, which my brain was following hand over hand.

 

The style has a biblical tone with the repetition of the word ‘And’ at the beginning of many sentences, and also the repetition of sentences – which I love, but avoid doing myself for fear of being criticized for it.

 

–and into my Mumma, whose arms were ready. She couldn’t’ve carried me out on the tar. We’d both have sunk, with me grown so big now. But here on the hard ground she took me up, too big as I was for it. And, too big as I was, I held myself onto her, crossing my feet around her back, my arms behind her neck. And she carried me like Jappity’s wife used to carry Jappity’s idiot son, and I felt just like that boy, as if the thoughts that were all right for everyone else weren’t coming now, and never would come, to me.

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.

Loneliness and the family wrench in just_a_girl by Kirsten Krauth

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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.

Whatever I got up to yesterday has given me a boil on my ass- MONEY, Martin Amis

This is another one of the quick-reads-to-get-in-the-right-frame-of-mind-before-I-start-writing quotes. The manuscript I’m working on is more upbeat than my last book so a bit of MONEY by Martin Amis is just the thing to get my mind ticking. I opened the book and this is what I read. It’s a great read, and so funny, but if you can ignore the words (almost impossible) and look at the rhythm, the sing-song within the sentences, the short and long sentences, the stopping and starting, the rhyming (read it out loud there are plenty of rhymes) the repeating of phrases – it’s pretty poetic. To put it all together – the rollicking story, the humour,  and the poetic sounds,  is wonderful. You have to love it.

Whatever I got up to yesterday has given me a boil on my ass – and a big ‘un, too. I’ve had some boils on my ass before, but this mother has to be the daddy of them all. Boy, is this a big boil. I thought that these characters had gone out of my life along with circle-jerks and slipped octaves. Apparently not, apparently not. It must be the booze, it must be the junk, it must be all the pornography… I feel as though I’m sitting on a molten walnut or a goofball of critical plutonium. Amazing, even flattering, to think that the body still harbours this stinging volatility, these spiteful surface poisons. It fucking hurts too. If I turn my back on the uncensored mirror, touch my shins, and peer through my parted legs, like a scowling pornographic come-uppance, then I get a pretty good view, thanks, of this purple lulu scoring it’s bullseye on my left buttock. It really means business. It isn’t messing about…Lying down is okay. Walking hurts,standing hurts, sitting hurts. Abiding hurts. It must be the booze, it must be the junk, it must be all the pornography.

MONEY by Martin Amis (1984) This ed. Vintage 2005 pg 210

Passages Of Writing: The Spare Room by Helen Garner

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Book: The Spare Room, Helen Garner. First Pub 2008 – The Text Publishing Company.

Why: It’s so real, visceral. I felt like I was actually Helen caring for, getting angry at, and cleaning up after Nicola. Helen is brave, goes right to the truth of it and so crisply and clearly.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between fiction and non-fiction, not the actual difference, I mean in terms of writing style, and it’s occurred to me there does not have to be any difference. I’ve often had more success with my non-fiction than my fiction and after reading this I realise why: I’ve been wafting around the details in fiction. I need to get to the nit and grit of my characters and feel them, really see how the character sees and believe it, and throw some emotion at it.

I’m doing a final edit of my current book, and today went back to the start to make a real attempt to implement this, the crisp realness that comes with non-fiction, seeing, feeling and knowing, not pretending to know.

Peggy glanced at me. Horrified sympathy passed along her eye-beams. It weakened me. A huge wave of fatigue rinsed me from head to foot. I was afraid I would slide off the bench and measure my length among the cut roses. At the same time a chain of metallic thoughts went clanking through my mind, like the first dropping of an anchor. Death will not be denied. To try is grandiose. It drives madness into the soul. It leaches out virtue. It injects poison into friendship, and makes a mockery of love.

P88

What about the importance of the right adjective? Cut them out is often the advice, but when you do need them, should you go to the thesaurus for something unique, or should you wrangle common words into a lovely and intriguing formation? I don’t know.

She was an elegant, stick-thin woman pushing forty, in a narrow jacket and skirt that skimmed her wiry frame; her ankles and arches were so bony that she had to scuff her feet to keep her high-heeled sling-backs on. Her hair was springy as a pot scrubber, and her face was a darkly lit by a half-smile of ferocious irony.

P70

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