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)
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.
Writers absorb the world around them and churn out thoughts through their fingers and onto the page (or screen). As we speak we are waist deep in a communication revolution that is transforming the way we think about the production of the novel.
Perth Writers Festival’s recent Twitter Novella is a perfect example of this new era of novels. Fifty writers (including yours truly) contributed two tweets each to a work read out at the festival, and tweeted via the @PWFNovella twitter handle. Writers were asked not to spend too much time on the work but be instantaneous, keeping with the essence of twitter, so the end result was vibrant if not a little bit strange. The work itself is a pure example of new ways of writing taken from the world around us. You can watch the event here with authors Annabel smith and Andy Griffiths presenting.
The Twitter Novella (which may have been done first by David Mitchell) is a completely modern kind of work, but authors are also blending tradition with innovation. Recently an author invited me to write a long form review of her novel, a book that I had read and reviewed previously in preparation for a panel at the Bendigo Writers Festival. The elements within the novel that called out to be recognised were the use of new ways of communicating – text messaging, tweets, chatroom transcripts – that you won’t find in a traditional novel. You can read the full review at its home with Tincture Journal here.
Annabel Smith’s novel, The Ark, is a perfect example of our world naturally influencing the entire structure of novels. With its use of various messaging systems including emails, and encrypted messaging programs to construct the novel. I love nothing better than to curl up in bed and turn the yellowed pages of a classic, but taking on board the ways people communicate as they go about their normal day, to incorporate in written work, engages people in reading and writing in a way that they want to be interacting, and in the process it has created a whole new genre.
There are whole areas devoted to the discussion of alternative-text within written works (Google Alt-Lit), and it comes with vast and detailed real life involvement, but that is another blog post.
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.
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