Shatter it with mammary power: writing with intelligence and wit.

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I recently finished reading Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson. It’s so good to read intelligence and wit bound in one place. In the middle of a breakup scene, she is funny, descriptive, uncomfortable and sad:

I nodded, twisting the cake fork between my fingers, pushing my knees against the underside of the doll’s house table. Nothing was in proportion. My voice seemed too loud, Jacqueline too small, the woman serving donuts with mechanical efficiency parked her bosom on the glass counter and threatened to shatter it with mammary power. How she would skittle the chocolate eclairs and with a single plop drown her unwary customers in mock cream. My mother always said I’d come to a sticky end.

Truman Capote’s Violets

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Snatching her hand, he pulled her along with him, and they ran until they reached a side street muffled and sweet with trees. As they leaned together, panting, he put into her hand a bunch of violets, and she knew, quite as though she’d seen it done, that they were stolen. Summer that is shade and moss traced itself in the veins of the violet leaves, and she crushed their coolness against her check. (p.81)

I have recently written about violets, and violets that have poignant reason for being in the book, and this little violet moment in Truman Capote’s Summer Crossing is a reminder that I have missed an opportunity to slow the moment down, and bring attention to what is going on in the minds of characters – I think I might now go back to it and go a little deeper.

Up until these sentences quoted below from the book, there has been mostly action and words that move the story on, and then suddenly there are these descriptive sentences, waxing and waning and slowing down, and you just know that there is something coming, a point in the book in which everything changes, and sure enough it does. With one short sentence (that I haven’t copied here) the lives of the characters change, and without all this slowing down and going deeper that comes just prior, I think the reader would feel like it had all come way too suddenly. As it is, it’s a lovely sliding into the moment, the reader eases into it, and then, there it is, the moment we waited for. ‘…heat’s stale breath yawned in their faces…’ too good.

It was wilting out on Lexington Avenue, and especially so since they’d just left an air-conditioned theatre; with every step heat’s stale breath yawned in their faces. Starless nightfall closed down like a coffin lid, and the avenue, with its newsstands of disaster and flickering, fly buzz sounds of neon, seemed an elongated, stagnant corpse.

A roar from underground echoed through her, for she was standing on top of a subway grating: deep in the hollows below she could hear a screeching of iron wheels, and then, nearer by, there came a fiercer noise: car horns clashed, fenders bumped, tires careened! And she whirled around to see a driver cursing Clyde, who was jayhopping across the street as fast as his legs would go. (p.80)

A short note on Christina Stead’s sentences.

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I’m reading A Christina Stead Reader, by Jean B Read, and note the long, rhythmic sentences that give the sense of riding waves into a sandy romantic beach.

Henry had discovered long ago that his fish were temperamental. On certain days, quite apart from the occasional sad twinges lent them by soot, fog or nightfall, the fish appeared to change colour, hourly, and even momently, due to secret and invisible movements of the water, or its animalculae, or to the filtration of light through the plankton, or to the thoughts of those finned images themselves. Sometimes, their bars and mottlings, their scars, freckles and wine marks would glow and burn, redden, blacken, glower: sometimes, the fish would turn paler and the outlines of their beauties fade.

A Month at the Beach: Queenscliff Literary Festival.

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If you know me well, you’ll know that there’s only one thing I love more than reading and writing, and that’s talking about reading and writing. Last month (May) I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at the fantastic Queenscliff Literary Festival, and I can’t say enough how wonderful the event was. Our chairperson, Alice Barker, managed our event expertly and talentedly, having clearly read both my, and my fellow author, Emily Bitto’s, books – which is not always the case at events. Alice put excellent questions to us that allowed fantastic and vigorous discussion on character, and setting, theme, the act of writing, and publishing. As a result, the audience was keen to get involved and also put forward great questions during the panel with follow-up conversations during the signings that were engaging and fun.

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The Queenscliff Literary Festival is a little different to other festivals in that it runs only on weekends and runs across every weekend in May. So although authors don’t get an opportunity to spend time with all authors, the events are not crammed in.  Often there isn’t enough time between events at festivals, but at Queenscliff authors aren’t hurried out the door to make room for the next panel, but given as much time as is desired for chat between authors and readers alike. And can I side-step for a moment and go a little gaga over the festival setting. Do you know Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale towns? It’s a gorgeous place: beaches, cafes, art, lighthouses, lookouts, peers, ferry across to Sorrento with dolphins alongside! It’s a gorgeous place. It’s a rare thing to be given the opportunity to indulge in books and words in such a lovely setting with people just as enthusiastic about literature as I am, with an engaged and generous crowd, host and bookseller. Thank you to The Bookshop at Queenscliff, Marylou Gilbert and Alice Barker.

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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

 

 

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