Female Authors & Meta-Fiction

I am gathering here a list of meta-fictional works of literature (and extra info: reviews, essays) by women. After reading At Swim Two Birds by Flann O’Brien, a classic novel (written by a male) that uses meta-fiction devices, I’ve become obsessed with collating a list of meta-fiction works by women for my own reading.

What is meta-fiction? William H. Gass coined the term metafiction in a 1970 essay entitled Philosophy and the Form of Fiction. Metafiction is a genre of fiction that draws attention to the fact that the reader is in the act of reading a work of fiction. It often adds a deeper dimension to the reading experience.

Patricia Waugh, in her book Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction ( a bit of a bible on metafiction) says, ‘Metafiction is an elastic term that covers a wide range of fictions.’ (pg18)

There are a number of terms that come under the meta-fiction umbrella: selfconscious narrative; post- modernist literature; self-reflexive fiction; surfiction; self begetting novel; fabulation; intertextuality; self conscious narrative; anti-novel; anti-mimetic; unnatural narrative; experimental fiction; meta-narration and many more.

And just to make things difficult I’ll leave here another quote from Patricia Waugh: ‘What I hope to establish… is that metafiction is a tendency or function inherent in all novels.’ (pg5)

Want to explore the idea further? You’ll find more on the genre at the other end of this ( sporadically but continually worked on) list.

(Australian Authors are highlighted in Blue)

 

Margaret Atwood (Canadian)  The Handmaid’s Tale(1985)

(Why is The handmaid’s Tale MF?: The Handmaid’s Tale concludes with a metafictional epilogue that explains that the events of the novel occurred shortly after the beginning of what is called “the Gilead Period”. The epilogue is “a partial transcript of the proceedings of the Twelfth Symposium on Gileadean Studies” written in 2195. According to the symposium’s “keynote speaker” Professor Pieixoto, he and colleague, Professor Knotly Wade, discovered Offred’s story recorded onto cassette tapes. They transcribed the tapes, calling them collectively “the handmaid’s tale”. Wikipedia)

Other reading:

Margaret Atwood’s Metafictional Acts

Margaret Atwood’s Modest Proposal: The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood HAPPY ENDINGS (1983)

Happy Endings is a short story first published in a 1983 Canadian collection, Murder in the Dark.

Read HAPPY ENDINGS here

More readings ON HAPPY ENDINGS 

The Mad Literature Professor; Margaret Atwood’s Happy endings

Margaret Atwood (Canadian) THE BLIND ASSASSIN (2000)

(Why is The Blind Assassin MF?: The book includes a novel within a novel, a roman à clef attributed to Laura but published by Iris. It is about Alex Thomas, a politically radical author of pulp science fiction who has an ambiguous relationship with the sisters. That embedded story itself contains a third tale, the eponymous Blind Assassin, a science fiction story told by Alex’s fictional counterpart to the second novel’s protagonist, believed to be Laura’s fictional counterpart. Wikipedia)

Jane Austen  NORTHANGER ABBEY (1817)

(Why is it M.F.? The Novel is a satire of the Gothic novels popular at the time of its first writing in 1798–99…. it contains many literary allusions…. [naming] many of the Gothic novels of that time and includes direct commentary by Austen on the value of novels, which were not valued as much as nonfiction or historical fiction.Wikipedia)

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (UK) 1847

My Thoughts on Jane Eyre as meta-fiction

Christine Brooke-Rose  BETWEEN (UK) 1968

Christine Brooke-Rose, THRU (1978) 1975

Brigid Brophy FLESH (U.K.) 1979

A.S. Byatt (English) POSSESSION (1990) Booker prize.

(Why is Possession MF? The novel follows two modern-day academics as they research the paper trail around the previously unknown love life between famous fictional poets.  The structure of the novel incorporates many different styles, including fictional diary entries, letters and poetry, and uses these styles and other devices to explore the postmodern concerns of the authority of textual narratives. from wiki)

Other readings:

A.S. Byatt’s Possession: A Postmodern perspective Analysis. 

(De)construction of the post modern in A.S.Byatt’s POSSESSION

Tongue Sophistries: Review: Possession by A.S.Byatt

Why You Should Read Possession (A.S Byatt)

A.S. Byatt, THE GAME (U.K.) 1969

Angela Carter (English) NIGHTS AT THE CIRCUS (1984)

(Why is it M.F.? Nights at the Circus incorporates multiple categories of fiction, including postmodernism, magical realism, and postfeminism. As in her previous works, Carter plays with many literary aspects and dissects the traditional fairy talestructure.Wikipedia)

More about this book:

Tall Tales and Brief Lives: Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus

Angela carter’s Nights at the Circus: A Histographical perspective

Tracy Chevalier, Girl With a Pearl Earring (U.K/U.S.) 1999

Joan Didion ( U.S.)  DEMOCRACY  (1984)

Why is Democracy MF? Democracy is unusual in that its narrator is not a character within the novel’s world but a voice whom Didion identifies as herself, a writer self-consciously struggling with the ambiguities of her ostensible material, the ironies attendant to narration, and the inevitable contradictions at the heart of any story-telling. Didion’s deft and economical use of this conceit allows her to comment not only upon the novel she chose to write, a romantic tragedy, but also upon the novel she chose not to write, a family epic encompassing generations of Inez’s wealthy Hawaiian family, artless emblems of the colonial impulse. Wikipedia)

Margaret Drabble  (U.K.) THE RADIANT WAY (1987)

Why is THE RADIANT WAY metafiction?

The Radiant Way is a highly complex work. Subverting traditional structures, using fiction to examine British society, and making comparisons and conversations between her own work and that of others.

‘More than 65 writers and about a dozen visual artists appear in the text…Experiments with Point of View by employing communal protagonists…….the entry of the narrator into the text…makes fictionality…a central theme…'(Bromberg)

Pamela S Bromberg writes extensively in her article Margaret Drabbles. The Radiant Way: Feminist Metafiction

NYT Review: Growing Up Thankless By MARILYNNE ROBINSON

An Interview with!Dame Margaret Drabble,  Nick Turner

The Paris Review: Margaret Drabble, The Art of Fiction No. 70

Margaret Drabble, THE DARK FLOOD RISES (U.K.) 2016

I’m struggling to find a review or essays on The Dark Flood Rises that corroborate my thoughts that it is a work of meta-fiction, but, I’ve found a few instances where the Narrator, who is not one of the characters, addresses the reader to discuss the characters. Below is one such quote. (Ivor, and Fran, are both characters in the book)

“And, as we have said, it is not a good idea to look too closely at Ivor. He wouldn’t like it, and we do not have the right to get too close to him. We have no permitted access to the inwardness of him. We know a lot about him, and we can describe his public behaviour, which is polite, circumspect, considerate. We can describe his public and even some of his more private actions, such as his new found church-going, and the lipstick he tried on as a boy. But we can’t get too close. He wouldn’t want us to see the dark shadowy violet-grey blotch on the right of his hardly wrinkled forehead, a blotch sitting above his eyebrow. It may or may not be spreading month by month. It is a handsome shadow, it decorates his handsome palely tanned visage, as an artificial beauty patch used to highlight the features of a Regency buck. We don’t want to be privy to Ivor’s thoughts about this omen. Fran Stubbs doesn’t mind our looking into her head, indeed she insists that we do so. She’s keen on the confessional mode, not necessarily with other people, but with herself. Ivor is not.” (Ebook, Loc 1187)

Margaret Drabble, THE WATERFALL, (U.K.) 1969

Jennifer Egan, A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD (U.S.) 2011

George Eliot, ADAM BEDE ( U.K.) 1859

Anne Enright, THE WIG MY FATHER WORE (Irish) 1995

Eva Figes, The Tree of Knowledge (U.K.) 1990

A novel about the daughter of the poet John Milton. It has a feminist theme and deals with women, religion and tyranny in 17th-century England.

Eva Figes Nelly’s Version 1977

In acclaimed author Eva Figes’ inventive reshaping of the pop psychological thriller, her fifth novel opens as Nelly Dean, a middle-aged woman suffering from amnesia, checks into a small-town hotel with a suitcase full of cash and no idea where it – or she – came from. Distrustful of everyone from the waiter who serves her lunch to a store clerk who claims to know her from grade school, Nelly fears she is part of a conspiracy, although she is strangely indifferent to the clues that might explain her puzzling circumstances. Part dark comedy, part mystery novel, Nelly’s Version offers an unsettling journey into the mind of a witty, intelligent woman stuck in a pastless present.

Janet Frame (New Zealand) In the memorial Room 2013

Elizabeth KOSTOVA (U.S.) THE HISTORIAN

The Historian ( FROM WIKIPEDIA) is the 2005 debut novel of American author Elizabeth Kostova. The plot blends the history and folklore of Vlad Țepeș and his fictional equivalent Count Dracula. The Historian has been described as a combination of genres, including Gothic novel, adventure novel, detective fiction, travelogue, postmodern historical novel, epistolary epic, and historical thriller.

Review by Bookslut

Dinah Lee KUNG (Swizerland) A Visit from Voltaire 

This is a quirky autobiographical comedy in which the phantom of Voltaire haunts her farmhouse as she tries to settle into life in Switzerland.

Guardian Review

Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook (U.K.) 1962

The Golden Notebook is the story of writer Anna Wulf, the four notebooks in which she records her life, and her attempt to tie them together in a fifth, gold-coloured, notebook. The book intersperses segments of an ostensibly realistic narrative of the lives of Molly and Anna, and their children, ex-husbands and lovers—entitled Free Women—with excerpts from Anna’s four notebooks, coloured black (of Anna’s experience in Southern Rhodesia, before and during World War II, which inspired her own best-selling novel), red (of her experience as a member of the Communist Party), yellow (an ongoing novel that is being written based on the painful ending of Anna’s own love affair), and blue (Anna’s personal journal where she records her memories, dreams, and emotional life). Each notebook is returned to four times, interspersed with episodes from Free Women, creating non-chronological, overlapping sections that interact with one another. This post-modern styling, with its space for “play” engaging the characters and readers, is among the most famous features of the book, although Lessing insisted that readers and reviewers pay attention to the serious themes in the novel (wikipedia)

Doris Lessing, (U.K.) THE FOUR-GATED CITY 1969

Doris Lessing, (U.K.) BRIEFING FOR A DECENT INTO HELL (U.K.)  1971

Doris Lessing, THE MEMOIRS OF A SURVIVOR (U.K.) 1974

Joan Lindsay, Through Darkest Pondelayo: An account of the adventures of two English ladies on a cannibal island (Australian) 1936

The book is presented as an autobiographical travel narrative.Lindsay wrote the novel as a satire on English tourists abroad after having spent significant time in Europe with husband. Included in the book are multiple photos, presented as lithographs, featuring Lindsay and friends posed in various simulations as the characters enacting events depicted within the narrative. The narrative is also littered with intentional grammatical errors. In reviewing the book, Martin Boyd called it “one of the best collections of malapropisms in the English language.

Penelope Lively, MOON TIGER (U.K.) 1987

Ki Longfellow, Houdini Heart (U.S.) 2011.

Daphne Marlatt  Ana Historic (1988) (Born Australian-lives Canada)

Ana Historic CanLitGuides

Toni Morrison, Jazz. (U.S.) 1992

The novel deliberately mirrors the music of its title, with various characters improvising solo compositions that fit together to create a whole work. The tone of the novel also shifts with these compositions, from bluesy laments to up beat, sensual ragtime. The novel also utilises the call and response style of Jazz music, allowing the characters to explore the same events from different perspectives.

This book utilise the style of untrustworthy narrators, in which reality is altered slightly by the storyteller’s emotions and perspective. Narration switches every so often to the viewpoint of various characters, inanimate objects, and even concepts. The book’s final narrator is widely believed to be Morrison or perhaps the book itself.

Iris Murdoch, UNDER THE NET 1954

Iris Murdoch, THE UNICORN 1963

Iris Murdoch, A FAIRLY HONOURABLE DEFEAT 1970

Iris Murdoch, THE BLACK PRINCE 1973

Iris Murdoch, A WORD CHILD 1975

Grace Paley, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute. (U.S.) 1974

Marge Piercy, WOMEN ON THE EDGE OF TIME (U.S.) 1976

Ann Quin, PASSAGES, (U.K.) 1969.

Alice Randall, The Wind Done Gone. ( U.S.) 2001.

The Wind Done Gone (2001) is the first novel written by Alice Randall. It is a bestselling historical novel that tells an alternative account of the story in the American novel Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell. While the story of Gone with the Wind focuses on the life of a wealthy slave owner, Scarlett O’Hara, The Wind Done Gone tells the story of the life of one of her slaves, Cynara, during the same time period and events.

Wind Done Gone’ copyright case settled

ABC News Review

NYT 

Michele Roberts, IN THE RED KITCHEN  (U.K.) 1990

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (Dominica/U,K.) 1966

The novel is written as a prequel and response to Charlotte Brontë’s noted novel Jane Eyre (1847), describing the background to the marriage that Jane learns about after going to work for Mr. Rochester.

Nathalie Sarraute, THE GOLDEN FRUITS, (France) 1963

Nathalie Ssarraute BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH (France) 1968.

Murial Spark, The Comforters, (U.K. ) 1957

Murial Spark, MEMENTO MORI, (U.K. ) 1959K.) 1959

Murial Spark, THE BALLAD OF PECKHAM RYE (U.K. ) 1960

Murial Spark, THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (U.K. )  1961

Murial Spark, (U.K. ) THE GIRLS OF SLENDER MEANS (U.K. ) 1963

Murial Spark, THE PUBLIC IMAGE (U.K. ) 1968

Murial Spark, THE DRIVER’S SEAT (U.K. ) 1970

Murial Spark, NOT TO DISTURB (U.K. ) 1971

Murial Spark, THE HOTHOUSE BY THE EAST RIVER (U.K. )  1973

Murial Spark, THE ABBESS OF CREWE (U.K. ) 1974

Rose Tremain, RESTORATION (U.K.) 1989

Guardian Review, Restoration by Rose Tremain

Satire Revised in Light of Thatcherism in Rose Tremain’s Restoration

Aritha Van Herk, Restlessness, ( CA ) 1998

Sarah Waters, TIPPING THE VELVET, 1998; AFFINITY, 1999; FINGERSMITH, 2002. (U.K.)

Guardian Interview with Sarah Waters Sept 2002

NYT review of Affinity

Guardian review of Fingersmith

A book club reflects on Affinity

Virginia Woolf, MRS DALLAWAY  (U.K.) 1925.

Turning Inwards: the journey from intertextuality to metafiction in Mrs Dalloway and Atonement

Virginia Woolf, An Unwritten Novel. 1920 Short story.

Virginia Woolf, TO THE LIGHTHOUSE (U.K.) 1827

Virginia Woolf, THE WAVES (U.K.) 1931

Fay Weldon, PRAXIS (U.K.) 1978

Jeanette Winterson, The Passion (U.K.) 1987

Though nominally a historical novel, Winterson takes considerable liberties with the depiction of the historical setting and various strategies for interpreting the historical—making the novel historiographic metafiction

Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry (U.K.) 1989

Sexing the Cherry features elements of magical realism. Sexing the Cherry is a postmodernist work and features many examples of intertextuality. It also incorporates the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. (Wikipedia)

 Jeanette Winterson, The Powerbook (U.K.) 2000

Jeanette Winterson, Gut Symmetries (U.K.)  1997

Common metafictive devices  (from Wikipedia) in literature include:

  • A story about a writer who creates a story; for example, John Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor, a thoroughly fictional account of the life of real person Ebenezer Cooke, a Maryland colonist who in 1708 wrote the real satirical poem The Sotweed Factor. Barth’s Cooke is a naive innocent who sets out to write a heroic epic, becomes disillusioned and ends up writing a biting satire.
  • A story that features itself as a narrative or as a physical object; a notable example is Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, which is ostensibly a 999-line poem of the same name, but with a foreword, index and extensive commentary in footnotes, from which so much detail is revealed of the lives of both poet and editor that a plot gradually emerges.
  • A story containing another work of fiction within itself; e.g. Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler
  • Narrative footnotes, which continue the story while commenting on it; e.g. House of Leaves
  • A story that reframes or suggests a radically different reading of another story; for example, Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, which retells the story of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre from the point of view of the madwoman in the attic; or J. M. Coetzee’s Foe, which recounts a battle of wills between Daniel Defoe and a castaway survivor over the writing of the story that would be eventually become Robinson Crusoe.
  • A story addressing the specific conventions of story, such as title, character conventions, paragraphing or plots; e.g. The Secret Series
  • A novel where the narrator intentionally exposes him or herself as the author of the story; e.g. Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, in which the first-person narrator—presumably Vonnegut himself, since he even shares Vonnegut’s birthday—regularly reminds the reader that the characters in the novel are fictions of his own creation:
    “I do not know who invented body bags. I do know who invented Kilgore Trout. I did.
    I made him snaggle-toothed. I gave him hair, but I turned it white. I wouldn’t let him comb it or go to a barber. I made him grow it long and tangled.
    I gave him the same legs the Creator of the Universe gave to my father when my father was a pitiful old man. They were pale white broomsticks. They were hairless. They were embossed fantastically with varicose veins.
    And, two months after Trout received his first fan letter, I had him find in his mailbox an invitation to be a speaker at an arts festival in the American Middle West.”
  • A story in which the authors refers to elements of the story as both fact and fiction; for example, in Joseph Conrad’s Author’s Preface to Nostromo, most of which provides a factual account of how he came to write the novel, Conrad states “My principal authority for the history of Costaguana is, of course, my venerated friend, the late Don Jose Avellanos, minister to the courts of England and Spain, etc., etc., in his impartial and eloquent ‘History of Fifty Years of Misrule.'” Thus Conrad, in a putatively factual context, attributes his intimate knowledge of the fictional country in which his story is set, to a fictional book written by one of his book’s characters.
  • A book in which the book itself seeks interaction with the reader, such as Art Spiegelman’s picture book Open me, I’m a dog!
  • A story in which the readers of the story itself force the author to change the story
  • A story in which the characters are aware that they are in a story
  • A story in which the characters make reference to the author or his previous work; for example, in Paul Auster’s City of Glass, the main character is an author of detective novels who writes under a pseudonym, and identifies closely with his own main character. He receives a phone call from someone seeking a detective named Paul Auster, and ends up posing as Paul Auster so as to take the case. Paul Auster is later found to be an author, not a detective.

These elements of metafiction are similar to devices used in metacinematic techniques.

Other Books/works on meta-fiction:

Metanarration and Metafiction by Birgit Neumann & Ansgar Nünning

Hutcheon, Linda, Narcissistic Narrative. The Metafictional Paradox, Routledge 1984,

Levinson, Julie, “Adaptation, Metafiction, Self-Creation,” Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture. Spring 2007, vol. 40: 1.

Patricia Waugh, Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction, 1984

Extracts from Patricia Waugh’s Metafiction: the Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction (1984)

The following are other works on metafiction that I keep here just for my own reference, but please feel free to use them too!

  • Dupuy, Jean-Pierre (1989). “Self-reference in Literature.” Poetics 18, 491–515.
  • Peters, Joan D. (2002). Feminist Metafiction and the Evolution of the British Novel. Gainesville: UP of Florida.
  • Quendler, Christian (2001). From Romantic Irony to Postmodernist Metafiction: A Contribution to the History of Literary Self-Reflexivity in its Philosophical Context. Frankfurt a.M.: Lang.
  • Alter, Robert (1975). Partial Magic: The Novel as a Self-Conscious Genre. Berkeley: U of California P.
  • Booth, Wayne C. (1952). “The Self-Conscious Narrator in Comic Fiction before Tristram Shandy.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 67, 163–85.
  • Cutter, Martha J. (1998). “Of Metatexts, Metalanguages, and Possible Worlds: The Transformative Power of Metanarrative in C.P. Gilman’s Later Short Fiction.” American Literary Realism 31, 41–59.
  • Fludernik, Monika (1996). Towards a ‘Natural’ Narratology. London: Routledge.
  • Fludernik, Monika (2003). “Metanarrative and Metafictional Commentary: From Metadiscursivity to Metanarration and Metafiction.” Poetica 35, 1–39.
  • Gass, William H. (1970). Fiction and the Figures of Life. New York : Knopf.
  • Genette, Gérard ([1972] 1980). Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Ithaca: Cornell UP.
  • Hutcheon, Linda (1980). Narcissistic Narrative: The Metafictional Paradox. New York: Methuen.
  • Hutcheon, Linda ([1989] 1996). “Incredulity toward Metanarrative: Negotiating Postmodernism and Feminisms.” K. Mezei (ed). Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology and British Women Writers. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 262–67.
  • Nünning, Ansgar (2004). “Towards a Definition, a Typology and an Outline of the Functions of Metanarrative Commentary.” J. Pier (ed). The Dynamics of Narrative Form: Studies in Anglo-American Narratology. Berlin: de Gruyter, 11–57.
  • O’Donnell, Patrick (2005). “Metafiction.” D. Herman et al. (eds). Routledge Encyclopedia of Narative Theory. London: Routledge, 301–02.
  • Prince, Gerald (1982). Narratology: The Form and Functioning of Narrative. Berlin.: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Prince, Gerald ([1987] 2003). A Dictionary of Narratology. Aldershot: Scolar Press.
  • Scholes, Robert (1970). “Metafiction.” Iowa Review 1, 100–15.
  • Šklovskij, Viktor (Shklovsky, Victor) ([1921] 1965). “Sterne’s Tristram Shandy: Stylistic Commentary.” L. Lemon & M. Reis (eds). Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 25–57.
  • Waugh, Patricia (1984). Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. London: Methuen.
  • Wolf, Werner (2009). “Metareference across Media: The Concept, its Transmedial Potentials and Problems, Main Forms and Functions.” W. Wolf (ed) in collaboration with Katharina Bantleon and Jeff Thoss. Metareference across Media. Theory and Case Studies. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1–85.
  • Dupuy, Jean-Pierre (1989). “Self-reference in Literature.” Poetics 18, 491–515.
  • Peters, Joan D. (2002). Feminist Metafiction and the Evolution of the British Novel. Gainesville: UP of Florida.
  • Quendler, Christian (2001). From Romantic Irony to Postmodernist Metafiction: A Contribution to the History of Literary Self-Reflexivity in its Philosophical Context. Frankfurt a.M.: Lang.

Lychees or Peaches? with author Pamela Freeman: don’t get between Pamela and her drum kit!

 

 !cid_320F7CC6-059E-4458-9745-780E4A0B91C3@optusnet_com

 

 

1 Hard questions first: Lychees or Peaches?

Um…nectarines? Peaches if I must.

 

2 Okay, nectarines it is then (you’re such a rebel Pamela.)  If you were written about in a newspaper, what would the headline say?

Funnily enough, I received a copy of an article about me today.  The headline read:  Top Author Shares Secret With Students.  I’m okay with that one.

 

3 I wonder what that secret was – I bet it has something to do with drums – I guess we have to enroll in your novel writing course to find out! What is your favourite line from a book or movie?

This is hard…I’m a bit of a media girl. It’s likely to be a Monty Python line, like: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Or We would like: a shrubbery. I also love the first line of George Orwell’s 1984: It was a cold, clear day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.

 

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

This is a hard question for me as I’ve just changed genres. In the past, I’ve written mostly fantasy (plus science fiction, mystery and non-fiction).  But my most recent novel is for adults and it’s straight history, set in World War I.  It’s called A Soldier’s Wife.  I suspect I may be writing more of historical fiction – I started a few years ago, with a book about Mary MacKillop’s childhood, but it’s been growing on me. I enjoy the research, I think.  I used to do a lot of research for my day job, and I did find that when I started full-time writing I missed that element, so maybe that’s why I’ve turned to history.

 

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

I blush to admit it, but I don’t have many secrets. I talk too much for that and my husband knows me too well. Can I use one that he knows?  I have a passion for real estate.  I’m one of those people who are constantly going online to check out what’s open for inspection.  I like to ‘keep an eye on the market’ just in case – even though we have no immediate plans to move!  My husband indulges me in this.  At least it’s a cheap hobby!’

 

6 If that’s the case, Pamela, I’ll remember not to tell you any secrets!  What is your latest book about?

The last published book is a non-fiction book about how Australia changed during Mary MacKillop’s lifetime (a project book, really).  The next one coming out is the fourth Betony book, Princess Betony and the Hobgoblin.  And my current novel is the WWI book, A Soldier’s Wife, which is with the publisher at the moment.  I’m waiting to find out if they’re going to publish it.

 

7 Good luck with A Soldier’s Wife! How did you come up with the title? Did it come to fistycuffs with your editor?

Not so far, but the cover designer hasn’t got hold of it yet!  In my experience, that’s when you are most likely to be asked to change the title. In fact, I’ve changed it twice already. My first working title was 1916, which sounded like a text book; then I called it The Home Front, but I thought that sounded boring.

 

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

I love Joel so I would pick him.  As for songs…. so, in my daydream, I sing a lot better than I actually do, of course, so I could handle songs I couldn’t really sing… something jazzy from the 30s, maybe? There’s a Bessie Smith song I heard recently (at a Hugh Laurie concert) which is so much fun and yet so heartbreaking that I couldn’t resist it. It’s called Send me to the Lectric Chair, and it’s a woman singing to the judge, asking him to give her the death penalty because she’s killed her unfaithful lover. Sounds appalling, but it’s a hell of a song! Judge, Judge, please Mister Judge, send me to the ‘lectric chair…

They would turn, oh yes they would!

 

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

My drum kit

 

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

 

chair

 I don’t write much at a desk.  The great advantage of writing in a chair is that it stays neater than a desk!

 

11 Lovely, lovely chair, I think you might have the secret to writer’s back health. Okay, serious stuff now: where can we purchase your latest book?

My kids’ books are available in most bookshops – or they can be ordered anywhere,  Dymocks, Booktopia, Amazon.  You won’t find Betony at Big W, because it’s a small (gorgeous) edition and they can’t shelve it, but once it’s out in paperback you’ll be able to get it there too (next year).  My adult fantasy books can be ordered also – I would recommend Pulp Fiction books if you want them quickly (0732362750)

 

Thank you for taking the time to do Lychees or Peaches, Pamela!

Pamela Freeman teaches a novel writing course at the Australian Writers’ Centre in Sydney, her next one starts in June, and I think there is still a couple of spaces if you are quick!

 

Pamela can also be found on Facebook at pamelafreemanauthor

 

 

Interview: Writing in Virginia’s Shadow with Mary Pomfret

download

 

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

Elizabeth Jolley interview with Julie Proudfoot

At the time of this interview ( October 1999) Elizabeth Jolley had just released her fourteenth novel: ‘An Accommodating Spouse’, and released only one more book in 2001: ‘An Innocent Gentleman’ . Sadly, she passed in February 2007. This interview was conducted for Mystic Ink Magazine.

 

When reading Elizabeth Jolley’s work with her strong characters you can be forgiven for imagining a woman with a domineering presence. Her presence is powerful, but you will also find yourself drawn in by her quietly endearing sense of humour, her modesty, and her generosity that come through with such warmth when she speaks. This humbleness and humour, you will find, is also present in her work. In her book,  Central Mischief: Elizabeth Jolley on writing her past and herself,  Jolley says, “I want, in my writing, to be optimistic and fond”. I think this sums up her personality as well as her writing.

Her words are full of meaning, and will entice you to read her work again and again, and her work can bear many readings, leaving you enjoying and seeing more of her depth of understanding of people and her exploration into the human mind while enjoying her fascinating characters.

Jolley’s work has often been referred to and studied by feminist groups for her strong, independent, and sexually confident female characters, but Jolley has denied having developed feminist issues in her work. Simply saying she enjoys writing real and interesting female characters.

J.P. Elizabeth your writing is very often the private details and internal
thoughts of your characters’ minds about their lives and relationships,
topics many of us avoid discussing in our own lives. Do you feel it takes
courage to be true to your thoughts when you write?

E.J.  Much fiction writing examines the private details in human life,
especially thoughts and wishes. Any writing needs courage because some
people might dislike your work.

J.P.  Helen Garner recently referred to writing as a ‘sickness’that must
be attended to’. How do you feel about your writing life?

E.J.  I don’t see writing as being a sickness. It is an art, which has to
be kept alive, and worked at with an excitement and the hope for something
special to occur.

J.P.  Do you believe anyone can write or is a talent required?

E.J. A talent or an interest in writing is help but great discipline is
needed to carry on the wish to write. A feeling for language and
compassion for human individuals are needed, also constant observation, the making of
a quick note, and mixing with people.

J.P.  Do you have a set writing routine?

E.J. No, I work whenever I have the chance and get up very early to make
time.

J.P. When you write a novel do you write prolifically and then go back to choose what to
leave in or out or do you go ahead and write the novel chapter by
chapter?

E.J. No, I never write prolifically, I write small unmatched fragments
and weld them into a story or novel in what I feel to be the best way (for
me) I re-write, and always rearrange order of events to structure the work.

J.P. Elizabeth I have read that you were writing for twenty years before
publishing, do you feel there are constraints or processes involved in
publishing?

E.J. I was not accepted by publishers and their readers because, I think,
at the time I was offering “different” material here in Australia.
Everything has been published now, except the novel I am not finished
with. It is hard to get in the Eastern seaboard publishers if you live in
Western Australia, and I feel that this was the case.

J.P. You have the ability to convey immense feeling and meaning in your
work. Would you attribute this to your abilities as a wordsmith, or
perhaps your understanding of human nature?

E.J. I try to understand human nature sexual and otherwise, if there was
no mystery about life and death etc. I suppose there would be no writing? I
suppose that is the case. I love language and people and places

J.P. There is often sexual tension in your work, in your opinion how much
sex, if any, is good for a story?

E.J. There is a “lot of sexual tension about.” – sorry for the cliché.
Sexual matters create tension of all sorts between people; most mistakes
in life are sexual in origin. I would not place too much in a story or novel
and by suggestion is more powerful than straight boring telling. ‘Crude’ is
not a good thing either, it becomes boring.  I try to be interesting!

J.P. At a reading from your most recent book, The Accommodating Spouse,
you read a childhood story of your own, and spoke of the importance of
recollecting and writing our own childhood. Why, in your opinion, is it
important to write our childhood?

E.J. If people want to write their child hood it may be soothing to them,
also experiences which belong to one person might not be known about by
other peoples and can become interesting material in a book – but not
overdone in length or in incident. However, writing about your own
childhood can be a bore to other people, as our dreams may be boring to
other people.

J.P.  In your work there is a strong sense of place coming through, I am
referring to the Australianness and Britishness of the landscapes and
characters. Do you feel your work can be enjoyed cross-culturally?

E.J. Yes I think people like to read familiar backgrounds and they like
to be offered a wide variety of backgrounds. British, Australian and
European backgrounds are very important to me to show things about characters. I
hope I am being enjoyed a bit in different places – rather awful to see
one of your own books being sold for 5 cents on a charity stall!

J.P.  Elizabeth you have a website on the Internet, do you find this
helpful in bringing you additional exposure, and have you ever considered writing
and publishing e-books through the Internet?

E.J. I know nothing about web sites. I do not have anything to do with
computers except to supply grandsons with “the necessary” and the money
for the computers’ needs. I can’t even type and I can’t ‘compute’, – that’s
how I am; I do not fret over this.

© Julie Proudfoot Melbourne 1999.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: