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.

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Jesus Sandals and Anchovette, by Joanna Atherfold Finn

 

 

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Delicate and sweet writing from the point-of-view of an eight-year-old child, but what is really great about this piece is that it’s written in second person. I haven’t read a second person story before this that isn’t in the form of letter or diary. (If you know of any, comment below I’d love to read it) In this instance it gives the reader a strong sense of being right with the character and somehow helps to put you in the mind of the child. There’s nothing bad to say about this; it’s gorgeous, a must read.

This story is from the Amanda Lohrey Selects series at Spineless Wonders Publishing.

There is so much information about the little girl (and the family) to be gleaned from these few opening sentences.

You look out the back window of the lime-green Galant to the curved struts of the rusting balcony, the top step where you grinned (gap-toothed) for your first-day-of-school photo, the pine tree with its dying centre. Behind the gate is your cubby house with foundations so deep it can’t be moved. Next door, Mr Carter is spraying his cumquat trees. You picture Mrs Carter inside sitting at the kitchen table doing her crossword, and Jesus hanging from his cross, observing her forlornly. She has told you he is all-knowing. You wonder why he doesn’t drop a hint now and then.

The sentences are dripping with descriptions of colour and images,

A row of blue-headed pins protruded from her pillowy lips. Her smooth forehead bobbed as you revolved in tiny increments.

and descriptions that can pull you back right there with the little girl. We know where they are even before it’s made clear.

He leads you through glass doors with his hand clamped around the back of your neck, past nicotine-yellow tables, over kaleidoscope carpet. A row of men are perched on stools, their thick arms bent across blue towels, their hairy legs dangling. Their hair is shrinking into their skulls. They are stunted and swollen like the puffer fish you poke with a stick on the beach.

 

 

Chat rooms and identity: brb: a verse novel, by Maree Dawes

 

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Brb: be right back

A Verse Novel

By Maree Dawes

109 pages

Thank you to Bronwyn Mehan at Spineless Wonders for this e-book copy.

Brb is a first person verse novel that remembers the days when chatting on the internet was new, when chatters revelled in immediate, words-only, communication. Remember ICQ?

I hadn’t read any verse novels before, I know, shame on me, but I’ve had a quick look around and I’m glad this is my first foray. Brb captures that immediacy and quick-fire fast-fingers-chat with a luscious blend of prose and poetry. It uses online language like email and chat talk to take the reader, with ‘Bodicea’ our protagonist, as she stumbles and learns how to use chat rooms and falls so deeply into that world of other chatters and painful trysts where she is forced to question her actions, and her  identity:  what is adultery? Who is she really as she straddles both her worlds?

Her friend and husband take measures to draw her out again back into her lonely life as wife and mother where she almost has to relearn how to live and love and communicate in a life not governed by the fantasy created by words. (Funny, in this instance, how easily it is to turn ‘word’ into ‘sword’.)

 Think again

She says

You’ll never feel that in chat

Never see my eyes fill

Never taste our tears

In the ocean

This is what she believes

Chat is fantasy

How many times

Would she need to slap my face

Before I believed it too

She won’t be able to I know

One slap

All she can do

The nowords space

Between the slap

And wishing

You never had.

pg 97

Brb is a fascinating, fun, and sad portrayal of a lonely housewife trek into nineties chat-rooms. I love the use of chat-room language, the phrases, short-hand and email, and yes, I do remember chat-rooms. What a wonderful portrayal of the era that was the dawning of the complex use of our lovely internet!

The Spineless Wonders Book club will be chatting about this book on March 13 on their face book page.

Fuckadoodle! It’s just_a_girl ! Interview with debut author Kirsten Krauth

just-a-girl

When the opportunity arose to chat with Castlemaine author Kirsten Krauth about her unique debut book just_a_girl, I jumped at the chance. The novel is bursting with themes of loneliness, sexuality and relationships in a modern world, and we had a lot of fun exploring and unpicking those themes and it was great to get some insight into the evolution of the book. I hope you enjoy it too.

1                    Just-a-girl is an intriguing novel written in a non-traditional format, with a mix of diary, and third person. Is the final book as you had initially planned, or did these formats evolve over many drafts?

The mix is pretty much the same as when I started writing, but the draft I sent to the publishers was different in some ways to the final book. Layla is pretty much the same, with her choppy and cut-off sentences. But Margot’s sections were originally written in the form of a prayer, each one starting ‘Dear Lord’. If you look at those entries there is a rhythm to them that intones, as if she is speaking to someone. It still works, but more as a stream of consciousness. Tadashi was always in third person and past tense, because I thought you needed a character who offered a chance for pause, a bit of respite after the two very strong and direct female voices. He is also quite removed and I thought that style suited him.

2                    The characters in just_a_girl are believable and well-drawn; you’ve been able to get into each of these character’s heads to portray them in a realistic way, but all three characters are very different to each other. How, as a writer, did you prepare yourself to get inside your characters heads?

The strong voice of each character emerges first and if I like that voice, I run with it. Using certain stylistic phrases helped me get into the psychology pretty early-on and quickly. For instance, Layla’s character has virtually no commas or run-on sentences; whereas Margot’s character has a comma whenever she pauses, and her sentences can go on for pages! Simply saying one of Layla’s made-up words (‘fuckadoodle’) would make me laugh and I’d find the mood of the piece. Placing characters in a particular location, with a particular emotion, helps dramatically. I find it easy to empathise with a character, and I get to an emotional place where the language stems from where they are (whether it’s on the train or on a rollercoaster).

3                   As you mentioned earlier, the sentences in Layla’s diary are often cut up, short and stuttery and ignore normal punctuation rules in a way that might do an editor’s head in. Can you talk a bit about conversations with editors and readers you have had while working on just-a-girl about writing it in this style? 

That’s a beauty of a question! I didn’t really see it as a diary but as an insight into how Layla’s mind works. As an editor, I was aware of the difficulties of this kind of writing. It runs the risk of turning readers off very quickly. But as a writer, I wanted the style to completely reflect where Layla’s head was at. At the beginning of the book she describes her thoughts as being like a ‘grasshopper’s spring’ and it was more crucial for the writing to reflect that, than to be grammatically correct. With texts, messaging, and other forms of writing these days, the rules of grammar are being relaxed, and I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing. My editor did query the style and encouraged me to run on some of the sentences. But I stayed pretty firm on it as I wanted the character to be distinguished by her strange use of language. I’m lucky that nearly all of my readers have had the resilience to push through and run with it. I love books like Trainspotting and A Clockwork Orange that play with language and style.

And  what lead you to the decision to have Margot’s character italicized?

I see Margot as a character who is unravelling. Her anti-depressants have been keeping her together (but numb) and now, having gone off them, she’s starting to spiral. It’s like she’s trying to convince herself (not convincingly) that everything is okay. The long sentences in italics give a hint that she is not coping, but also that she is immensely lonely. Her long rants (to herself) are a way of venting when she doesn’t have someone else to connect with. And this juxtaposition of styles points to the lack of communication between Margot and Layla, too. I’m very sensitive to the way looks on the page, how text is arranged. We experimented in final drafts with doing Margot’s chapters in roman text, but I couldn’t do it, because the italics had become an integral part of her characterisation.

4                    Margot and Layla are mother and daughter, but your third character, Tadashi, comes out of left field, and although he connects with Layla in the story, he has a very separate story line. In her review of just_a_girl, Angela Meyer draws a connection between the three characters and says of Tadashi,

…there’s a disturbing metaphor of objectification in his story, which echoes some of the actions of male characters in the story threads of Layla and Margot. He has literally replaced a flesh-and-blood woman with a doll who keeps quiet and is available whenever he needs her. She is pretty and poses the way he wants her to. There are parallels with the sex video that Layla makes for Mr C, an older man, and in her relations with her 18-year-old boyfriend, and also in the harassment she suffers—and never reports—from her boss.

What do you see as the connection between the three characters, or what drew you to connect Tadashi to Margot and Layla within the novel?

I see all characters as not-quite connecting, either with each other or the world around them. I liked the idea of Tadashi being a commuter on the same train as Layla, appearing and disappearing, almost as if Layla summons him when she needs him, but with a fragility that never quite extends to friendship. All the characters project their fantasies of what ‘real life’ and an ‘ideal relationship’ should look like onto others. In Margot and Layla, it’s their shared Mr C. Tadashi imagines love and nurturing in the only space he feels comfortable – and takes this ideal to an extreme. In general, I like leaving the threads of narrative untangled so the reader can weave them together how they like. It’s one of the reasons that I love Murakami’s novels (who is a big influence on this book) because he’s not interested in tying all those threads together. All the characters are also exploring sex and power, the way they are cast (aside) sexually, who they can trust, how others’ look at and respond to their bodies, to what extent all of this can be controlled. Angela’s interpretation is terrific as I think it’s about posing: how they present to the world versus how they really feel, and what happens when they are truly exposed.

5                    Leading on from this idea of sexual identity and objectification, in her review of just-a-girl, titled, Are Teenage Girls Just Like That? , Elizabeth Lhuede delves into the portrayal of sexually precocious young teenage girls in literature, and the written compared to actual motivations of girls’ behaviour, whether it‘s born out of early sexual abuse, suffering that shaped the parents who raise them, the invasiveness of the internet, or perhaps simply ‘teenage girls are just like that’. Is this something you explored and constructed in just-a-girl? Or did you write the book as it came to without delving into those themes?

The idea of sexually precocious (or physically precocious) teens came out of my direct experience. I was an early developer, like Layla. I found this intensely challenging, as my body was garnering unwanted attention in public (from older men rather than boys), before I had any emotional or intellectual capacity to deal with it. I wanted to explore this divide. My experience did not come out of sexual abuse, so that’s a realm I didn’t research, but was very moved by Elizabeth’s analysis.  I thought it was an area that hadn’t been explored much in fiction. As with Layla, though, by the time I was fifteen all the other girls had caught up, so it was a very particular timeframe. If you read closely, though, Layla is actually quite naive and inexperienced when it comes to her sexuality, but she masks it by talking about sex a lot, and putting herself in dangerous situations where she has to confront things head on.

6                    Lastly, I hit my elbow in the shower the other day, and instead of my usual expletive I blurted out that word of Layla’s that you mentioned earlier, Fuckadoodle! I’m thinking you’ve started a new catch, what do you think!?

LOL, we are in sync! As I mentioned earlier, I just had to say that word to myself, and I was off in Layla-land. My dad has developed a whole string of profanities that go along after it in a poetic way; quite hilarious. It does make reading in public hard though, if there are any kids around! Feel free to move it along. I love Kath n Kim and J’amie and all those characters who make up their own words. That latest one, ‘quiche’, just absolutely cracks me up.

Thanks Kirsten!

You can read my mini review of just_a_girl here. Kirsten can be found at her blog, Wild Colonial Girl , and on twitter @WldColonialGirl . There is also a great interview over on ANZ Lit Lovers  called Meet the Author, with Lisa Hill and Kirsten.

Just_a_girl is published by UWA Publishing, 2013. I read the E-book.

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.

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