Passages Of Writing: The Spare Room by Helen Garner

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Book: The Spare Room, Helen Garner. First Pub 2008 – The Text Publishing Company.

Why: It’s so real, visceral. I felt like I was actually Helen caring for, getting angry at, and cleaning up after Nicola. Helen is brave, goes right to the truth of it and so crisply and clearly.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between fiction and non-fiction, not the actual difference, I mean in terms of writing style, and it’s occurred to me there does not have to be any difference. I’ve often had more success with my non-fiction than my fiction and after reading this I realise why: I’ve been wafting around the details in fiction. I need to get to the nit and grit of my characters and feel them, really see how the character sees and believe it, and throw some emotion at it.

I’m doing a final edit of my current book, and today went back to the start to make a real attempt to implement this, the crisp realness that comes with non-fiction, seeing, feeling and knowing, not pretending to know.

Peggy glanced at me. Horrified sympathy passed along her eye-beams. It weakened me. A huge wave of fatigue rinsed me from head to foot. I was afraid I would slide off the bench and measure my length among the cut roses. At the same time a chain of metallic thoughts went clanking through my mind, like the first dropping of an anchor. Death will not be denied. To try is grandiose. It drives madness into the soul. It leaches out virtue. It injects poison into friendship, and makes a mockery of love.

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What about the importance of the right adjective? Cut them out is often the advice, but when you do need them, should you go to the thesaurus for something unique, or should you wrangle common words into a lovely and intriguing formation? I don’t know.

She was an elegant, stick-thin woman pushing forty, in a narrow jacket and skirt that skimmed her wiry frame; her ankles and arches were so bony that she had to scuff her feet to keep her high-heeled sling-backs on. Her hair was springy as a pot scrubber, and her face was a darkly lit by a half-smile of ferocious irony.

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Passages Of Writing: The Heather Blazing by Colm Toibin.

Book: The Heather Blazing, Colm Toibin. First pub. Picador 1992. This ed. Picador 1993.

Why: I’ve been looking for good examples of opening paragraphs, and this seems to fit the bill.

Of course there’s no better opening than Lights Out in Wonderland, by DBC Pierre, (  just my opinion remember )  but this has it all:

-A character name that makes you feel like you’re saying ‘Mmmm Mmmm’ like you’re having a good time;

-action rather than reminiscing, reminiscing is nice but an act to place you there with the character is great;

-a time – Friday morning end of July;

-a place – looking out a window at a river in Dublin;

-a job – law related;

-and it even gives you a sense of state of mind – contemplative, using words like ‘stillness’ and ‘quiet’.

Add to that a bit of colour – brown and grey;

Within a couple more paragraphs he adds a suggestion of a bit of danger, bombs and balls of fire, and a question for us to ponder – a ruling on a court case. It’s all there in the first two pages.

Eamon Redmond stood at the window looking down at the river which was deep brown after days of rain. He watched the colour, the mixture of mud and water, and the small currents and pockets of movement within the flow. It was a Friday morning at the end of July; the traffic was heavy on the quays. Later, when the court had finished its sitting he would come back and look out once more at the watery grey light over the houses across the river and wait for the stillness, when the cars and lorries had disappeared and Dublin was quiet.

Passages of Writing: Point Omega by Don DeLillo


Book: Point Omega, Don DeLillo. Picador 2010.

Why: It’s intimate, kind, sad and quiet. The set up of this little piece is that these two men, who don’t really know each other that well, are waiting for something. Can’t say what in case you’d like to read it yourself. Suffice to say there is tension around them and this intimate moment is shrouded in sadness and kindness.

I stood behind him with a pair of scissors and a comb and told him it was time for a haircut.

He turned his head slightly, in inquiry, but I repositioned it and began to trim his sideburns. I talked as I worked. I talked in a kind of audiostream, combing and cutting through the tangled strands on one side of his head. I told him this was different from shaving. The day would come when he’d want to shave and he’d have to do it himself but the hair on his head was a question of morale, his and mine. I said many empty things that morning, matter-of-factly, half believing. I removed the wormy rubberband from the weave of braided hair at the back of his neck and tried to comb and trim. I kept skipping to other parts of the head. He spoke about Jessie’s mother, her face and her eyes, his admiration, voice trailing off, low and hoarse. I felt compelled to trim the hair in his ears, long white fibers curling out of the dark. I tried to unsnarl every inch of matted vegetation before I cut. He spoke about his sons. You don’t know this, he said. I have two sons from the first marriage. Their mother was a paleontologist. Then he said it again. Their mother was a paleontologist. He was remembering her, seeing her in the word. She loved this place and so did the boys. I did not, he said. But this changed over the years. He began to look forward to his time here, he said, and then the marriage broke up and the boys were young men and that was all he was able to say.

p 90.

Passages of Writing: The Last City by Nina D’Aleo

Book: The Last City, Nina D’Aleo. Published by Momentum, Aug 2012 E-book

Why: I’m a sucker for gorgeous writing and Nina’s writing is just that – it’s beautiful and voluptuous (in a non-sexual way) and flows like a dream with rhythm and timing.

The Last City is published by Momentum who are putting out fantastic new work. I’m only half way in but I can’t put it down. The characters are real (testament to Nina) and the story is engaging and moreish.

Blurb from the pub: An intoxicating blend of noir crime, science fiction and fantasy The Last City is Blade Runner meets Perdido Street Station.

The women for sale loitered around their territories, sizing up passers-by with eyes intent on picking flesh. The winding whistle of a gypsy busker’s flute drowned the sounds of unsavoury purchase.

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The Mocking Witch of O’Tenery Asylum had taken her in, along with the other throwaways, runaways and screeching crazies. She saw herself in her mind, waking silent as a shadow through the asylum building, the labyrinth of rooms haunted and lurking in a permanent state of semi-darkness. Low ceilings pressed lower and constricting walls crept closer until she felt as though she was sliding on her belly. Suffocating in the rancid air of rotting waste and a thousand unwashed bodies. Eyes peered at her from behind rusted bars that were now now more than grisly reminders. Scorpia’s government, the Standard, had long since abandoned the derelict building and its broken wards. Now only their minds kept them prisoner, and Ev’r knew the truth better than anyone: there was no escaping yourself, no matter how far or fast you run.

p24

Passages of Writing: The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates 1973-1982

 

 

 

Book: The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates 1973-1982 Harper Collins 2007

 

Why: It’s just a little reminder in a world of texting, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest to stop and breathe. Keeping busy does block out the ills of the world but you can feel it – when you forget to just be still, running with the pack day after day – the loss of self.

Creative impulse doesn’t only apply to Artists and Writers, it apples to living your life in the moment with family friends and your self.

 

January 19, 1973. Days of teaching; meeting with students; talking with colleagues. The irresistible pull of the external world. One could very easily lose oneself within it…”keeping busy” is the remedy for all ills in America. It’s also the means by which the creative impulse is destroyed.

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Passages of Writing: Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

 

 

Book: Imperial Bedrooms, Bret Easton Ellis. 2010 Alfred A. Knoph.

 

Why: The many ‘ands’ create a desperately increasing anxiousness that builds up to a crescendo of awfullness. The increasing number of ‘ands’ gives you a sense of hurried breathless anxiety. Speeds the pace up as well as initiating expectation and stress.

 

Driving along sunset I keep checking the rearview mirror and Julian sits in the passenger seat texting someone, probably Rain, and I keep turning on the radio and then turning it off but he doesn’t notice, and then we’re crossing Highland and the Eurythmics song fades into a voice from the radio talking about the aftershocks from an earthquake earlier, something that I slept through, and I have to roll down all the windows and pull the car over three times in order to steady myself because I keep hearing sirens all around us and my eyes are fixed on the rearview mirror because two black Escalades are following us and the last time I pull over, in front of the Cinerama Dome, Julian finally asks, “what’s wrong? Why do you keep stopping?” and where Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood intersect I smile at him coolly as if this is all going to be okay, because in the condo I felt like I was sinking into a rage but now, turning onto Hillhurst, I’m feeling better.

Outside a building past Franklin that’s surrounded by eucalyptus trees Julian gets out of the BMW, and starts walking toward the entrance just as I receive a text that says don’t get out of the car

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The ranch house was in the movie colony and had walls that were cream-colored and mirrored and pillars that lined the pool shaped like a baby-grand and raked gravel blanketed the yard and small planes flew above it in the dry air before landing at the airport nearby. At night the moon would hang over the silver-rimmed desert and the streets were empty and the girl and the boy would get stoned by the fire pit and sometimes dogs could be heard barking over the wind thrashing the palm trees as I pounded into the girl and the house was infested with crickets and the boy’s mouth was warm but I didn’t feel anything until I hit him, always panting, my eyes gazing at the steam rising from the pool at dawn.

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