Word Play

You know that I love a great messing around with words, right? The opening passages from The God of Small Things are just dripping with it. Lots of alliteration, lots of rhyming syllables, lots of  repetition of strong sounds and individual letters: K/C, J, F, B. And the sentences oscillate and create a rhythm that is musical!

May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpains and die, fatly baffled in the sun.

But by early June the south-west monsoon breaks and there are three months of wind and water with short spells of sharp, glittering sunshine that thrilled children snatch to play with. The countryside turns an immodest green. Boundaries blur as tapioca fences take root and bloom. Brick walls turn mossgreen. Pepper vines snake up electric poles. Wild creepers burst through laterite banks and spill across the flooded roads. oats ply in the bazaars. And small fishappear in the puddles that fill the PWD potholes on the highways. (From Page 1 of The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Booker prize winner)

Creating space in writing.

In the excerpt below, I love the space created by a simple change in focus. The grandmother pauses within the story to brush flies from the child’s face, and we just know there is something wrong! Love it.

“The little granddaughter came, picking her way through the long grass. She told the grandmother that the new baby was going to have a bath and she was going to have a bath as well. Her mother had said so.

‘Is mother going to have a bath too?’ the grandmother, brushing flies away from the child’s face, asked.

‘Yes,’ the child told the grandmother. ‘All, her and me and baby.’ The grandmother was surprised….the baby and the granddaughter had been bathed.”

(P116. The Orchard Thieves, Elizabeth Jolley 1995)

Sentence: description or construction?

I want to show you something I’m reading about sentences. Let me know your thoughts.

The main point is this: “There are no descriptions in fiction, there are only constructions.” (this reading is from Philosophy and the Form of Fiction by William H Gass)

We start with a paragraph describing a character named Magister Nicholas Udal. (from The Fifth Queen, Ford Maddox Ford)

 

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Next, we look at removing the colon, and placing that sentence at the end of the paragraph to see how that changes our comprehension of the character.

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Next, the possessives related to clothing are removed, the ‘his doctor’s gown’ is changed to ‘a doctor’s gown’ and the same with the cap.

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And then the same is done with Udal’s features.

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Next, he plays around by letting him own his clothes but not his face:

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from Philospophy and the Form of Fiction by William H Gass.

William H Gass & Metafiction

 

 

 

AS William H Gass was said to be the first to coin the term metafiction, I thought I’d post the paragraph in which he does. It’s from Philosophy and the Form of Fiction, an essay from his 1971 collection, Fiction and the Figures of Life, and he entertains us with a bit of attitude.

There are metatheorems in mathematics and logic, ethics has its linguistic oversoul, everywhere lingos to converse about lingos are being contrived, and the case is no different in the novel. I don’t mean merely those drearily predictable pieces about writers who are writing about what they are writing, but those, like some of the work of Borges, Barth, and Flann O’Brien, for example, in which the forms of fiction serve as the material upon which further forms can be imposed. Indeed, many of the so-called antinovels are really metafictions.

 

Writer’s Diary 7: The Process That I Know

 

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I’m starting another book, and this is what I now know about my writing process.

I now know that what other authors say about writing a book – that the writing of every book is no easier than the first – is a fact I have found to be true, but there are other things that I know, and the knowing makes it a calmer and enjoyable process, perhaps more enjoyable than those books that came after the first, and before the most recent.

I now know that it takes me at least a year to write a book, (others are faster and churn out a few per year, or are slower). I’ve learnt this about my style, and so I know not to expect myself to be quicker. I know that I need to make a plan for a book, and that the end result will only barely resemble that initial plan, but I need to make the plan, regardless. I know I will make many drafts, the first will be sketchy and shallow, the last will be a long and satisfying process of examining every word’s relevance in every sentence. I know that when I have finally completed that book, edited and laid out how a finished book should be, and told everyone that I have finished, the truth will be that I have, in fact, not finished. Three months later I will write one more of at least two more drafts, and I also know, that this process from start to finish is all part of what I find to be the most enjoyable part of writing a book.

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

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

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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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