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

 

 

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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.

Lychees or Peaches? with author Mary Pomfret: Mary and Andre The Giant, who knew?

 

 

 

 me

 

 

 

1 Hard questions first: Lychees or Peaches?

 

Definitely peaches – just love them – I love their perfume too!

 

2 If you were written about in a newspaper, what would the headline say?

 

Oh dear … not sure…maybe “NOT GUILTY!!!” 

 

3  What is your favourite line from a book or movie?

 

Got to admit to loving Rocky movies – I love the line from famous scene where he talks to his son… “It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up that matter. That’s how winning is done!” or words to that effect. Kind of appropriate for the writing profession. 

 

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

 

Literary fiction – often tragedy, sometimes comedy – flip side of the same coin. I’m just a literary type of gal, I guess.

 

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

 

I have on occasions watched world championship wrestling.

 

6  Oh Mary, I can just see you now – sparring in your arm chair.  So far from your book topic! Tell us what your latest book is about?

 

A short story collection “Cleaning out the Closet” 

 

7 How did you come up with the title? Did it come to fistycuffs with your editor?

 

I came up with it all by myself – it’s kind of an empowering thing to do … getting rid of stuff! Not that I’m saying my short story collection is “stuff” … not really. 

 

8  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 never daydream about singing on The Voice…some things are just not possible. But if by a miracle it did happen my judge would be Marcia Hynes and she would say “Good job!” and look incredibly sorry for me. 

 

9  What do you really, really, really, love?

 

What, not who? Well, I really love drinking a good champagne, as expensive as possible ( preferably paid for by someone else) on a warm summer evening, maybe with blue vein cheese, caviar and crackers.

 

 

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

 

 My desk Mary

 Did you tidy your desk, Mary? I distinctly remember you saying something about coffee cups? 🙂

 

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

 

Cleaning out the Closet  is available from the author, contact marywriter@live.com 

 Dymock’s Bendigo or from the publisher  http://www.ginninderrapress.com.au/

 

Thank you for taking part in Lychees or Peaches, Mary!

 

Mary can be found on Facebook at  Mary Pomfret  or on her blog here. 

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.

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