Shatter it with mammary power: writing with intelligence and wit.

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I recently finished reading Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson. It’s so good to read intelligence and wit bound in one place. In the middle of a breakup scene, she is funny, descriptive, uncomfortable and sad:

I nodded, twisting the cake fork between my fingers, pushing my knees against the underside of the doll’s house table. Nothing was in proportion. My voice seemed too loud, Jacqueline too small, the woman serving donuts with mechanical efficiency parked her bosom on the glass counter and threatened to shatter it with mammary power. How she would skittle the chocolate eclairs and with a single plop drown her unwary customers in mock cream. My mother always said I’d come to a sticky end.

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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The fighter pilot excise of those mousy little words

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Working diligently through my current WIP, I find that I’m honing in on and attacking specific words, busting them off the page like a fighter pilot. These pesky words are triggers for me that I’m not happy with the sentence they find themselves inhabiting. Little cancer cells of a healthy body of work, they are. There’s nothing wrong with the words, they’re innocent and they have a right to be there. I just don’t like them. The list of excised words includes these mousy little culprits below. I’m interested to know if you have a similar list. Add your culprits in the comments below. There’s also a list of favourite words that I like to include in every MS just for the fun of it, words like GUSTO, but I only include them once, let’s not get carried away, and that list is for another day.

Things

Seems

Knows

Sits

Somehow

Somewhere

Something

Some

What

Goes

Go

Just

Does

Got

Is

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.

 

 

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