Creating space in writing.

In the excerpt below, I love the space created by a simple change in focus. The grandmother pauses within the story to brush flies from the child’s face, and we just know there is something wrong! Love it.

“The little granddaughter came, picking her way through the long grass. She told the grandmother that the new baby was going to have a bath and she was going to have a bath as well. Her mother had said so.

‘Is mother going to have a bath too?’ the grandmother, brushing flies away from the child’s face, asked.

‘Yes,’ the child told the grandmother. ‘All, her and me and baby.’ The grandmother was surprised….the baby and the granddaughter had been bathed.”

(P116. The Orchard Thieves, Elizabeth Jolley 1995)

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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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Stoner, John Williams, the describer scriber.

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I’m on the last pages of Stoner, by John Williams, and I’m thinking the thing I will be taking from my reading and learning from, is his attention to descriptions. I could have plucked out any number of passages, but this one of Stoner’s wife, Edith, is a cracker. Edith’s character grows out of the words and you pretty much know who you’re dealing with, just from the description. What a sad sad thing that Williams passed before his book became the success it is now. To not know it. I hope he’s looking down on it and enjoying it all.

In her fortieth year, Edith Stoner was as thin as she had been as a girl, but with a hardness, a brittleness, that came from an unbending carriage, that made every movement seem reluctant and grudging.The bones of her face had sharpened, and the thin pale skin was streathched upon them as upon a framework, so that the lines upon the skin where taut and sharp. She was very pale, and she used a great deal of powder and paint in such a way that it appeared she daily composed her own features upon a blank mask. Beneath the dry hard skin, her hands seemed all bone; and they moved ceaselessly, twisting and plucking and clenching even in her quietest moments.

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