A few lists

I’m off tonight to other climes, colder places with snow and ice. Back in a month.

I haven’t prepared any lists – it is list season. But here are a few thoughts, off the top of my head. I find this works best, especially for books because the ones that are really good stick with you. And that’s what we want, don’t we? Not some list that I’ve carried around, where you might think oh, she’s just saying that.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten things and people. Apologies. Have to go and pack. Haven’t proofread. Just scrawling onto the screen. Happy Christmas, New Year and everything else. Bring on 2018. 2017 has been – despite the following list – pretty sucky. Am ready to leave it behind.

 

CATEGORY | BOOKS, WRITING, LITERARY STUFF

BIGGEST PLEASURES

  • starting the Bad Diaries Salon and having people – readers and listeners – love it SO MUCH (more below, including photos)
  • meeting new writing friends on twitter and in real life
  • receiving two residencies for next year: beautiful Bundanon and Varuna
  • being ‘in talks’ with a literary agent at Curtis Brown, Australia’s biggest lit agency
  • chairing at Perth Writers Festival, earlier this year (was it really this year? Unbelievable) – two sessions. Got to catch up with my awesome wild salty friend Sarah Drummond (whose dark beautiful book THE SOUND has been listed in the IMPAC Prize.)
  • meeting Amanda Curtin in Perth. She is so so lovely. She gave me macarons and a fan to keep cool at the PWF. Did I say how lovely she is? She is the most lovely.
  • being on panel at Williamstown Literary Festival – what a great festival. Make sure you go next year. What a vibe. I’m finding the smaller festivals are just fantastic. But on that, am of course interested to see what Marieke Hardy does with MWF in 2018.
  • appearing at Writers under the Influence at Buck Mulligan’s whiskey bar in Melbourne and reading – among other things – my KYD piece on unrequited love and Lake Eyre
  • getting a writing studio. I have only been there once. Give me a chance.

 

BIGGEST MOST INTERESTING MOMENTS

  • seeing Peter Carey talk at Word for Word in Gee-Town, as organiser Maryanne calls it. Fantastic festival. A bit under the radar but that will change. Also the gnocchi of my LIFE was discovered in the library cafe. I KNOW!
  • seeing not just George Saunders spreading his light and empathy at Northcote Town Hall in winter I think it was, but also Anne Enright, on the same night. My brain was filled and over-flowing after that one, I tell you.
  • meeting Jane Smiley, buying her a cider and telling her about my horse-riding accident at 7 yo

 

BIGGEST FUNNY MOMENT

  • sitting next to Nathan Hill of The Nix fame on a bus and thinking he was Liam Pieper of The Feel-Good Hit of the Year and The Toymaker fame. Making us both embarrassed. Then telling Liam about it later and him laughing. Then telling Nathan I’d told Liam about it and him laughing. Then it turning in on itself and becoming a kind of surreal circular ongoing joke.
  • I’m sure there were other funny moments – probably even funnier. In fact watching Tracy Farr read at the Perth Bad Diaries #REGRETS was super hilarious, as was Laurie Steed‘s reading and Annabel Smith‘s. (Annabel is a natural performer and, just quietly, she and Tracy are amazing karaoke singers too. Just WOW.) (Also, another whisper: Annabel has finished her next project so waiting to hear on what’s next with that.)

 

BIGGEST COINCIDENCE (of my life) (so far)

  • meeting Jane Smiley’s friend David Francis at the bar (see above story) in Perth and him listening to me tell my horse-riding accident story and the slow-dawning realisation on his part that I was talking about his parents’ place, and then I drove down there a few months later to re-visit the scene of the crime, met his dad, went to the house where my mum had taken me afterwards to look at my leg. She saw the hole and took me to the doctor who sewed it up, twelve stitches.

 

BIGGEST RELIEFS

  • acquitting my Creative Vic grant
  • seeing my cover for LITTLE GODS coming soon to a bookstore near you (soon = next April)
  • ‘passing’ my second structural edit. The first one I failed (as a teacher I know this).
  • that I pushed for my book to be published next year not this. Note bene: Flano (everyone writes ‘Flanno’ but surely it’s a single N?), de K, Garner, Carroll, Laguna, Rawson, Patric, Wright, Miller, and all the others. In 2018? Just me, Timbo and Mr Robert Lukins. Oh and Stephanie Bishop, and SA Jones, and and… no year is an empty year, but pretty sure 2018 won’t have 14 big names or whatever it is. There might be a little bit of oxygen for us emergers.

 

CATEGORY | TV

It’s been a bad year for TV and reading. It has something to do with me being busy and with screens and distraction. Am working on a solution because I really don’t like it. But some TV I’ve watched has been really really good.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT in TV

  • The Handmaid’s Tale

 

OTHER DISAPPOINTMENTS in TV

  • GLOW
  • second season of Top of the Lake. It was like they lost an episode

 

OTHER 

 

BOOKS

It’s telling that books are right down here. Below television. Fractured reading best describes the situation. Many started and put down. I tried to stop my knee-jerk book-buying habit, thinking I needed to buy and read all local fiction, all buzzed fiction, everything that people were talking about on twitter. I decided to let things settle. Get some from the library (I did that and returned all pretty much unread). I think it’s because I have been feeling saturated by fiction for a few years now. When I want to read and immerse I go to non-fiction. Also it’s because I’m writing fiction, so there’s something about letting other people’s words and concerns in. These are the books I read, finished with no struggle, and loved:

Bernadette Brennan’s marvellous A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work. I read this slowly. Not just because I wanted to make it last but also because it was so fascinating and insightful I wanted to re-read Garner’s works as they appeared in this book.

Dorothy Porter – The Monkey’s Mask. It was a re-read for ‘book group’. Read it as easily as the first time.

Emma Viskic’s wonderful Resurrection Bay. Great stuff.

Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck. Weird – but not as weird as previous Wrong Turn – and beautiful. I love weird and beautiful. They are a fabulous combination. (This book also gave me intense cover envy. Like INTENSE.)

Joan Didion’s Marching Towards Bethlehem. Don’t need to say anything, just ‘Didion’. Read this after watching the terrific doco made on her by Griffin Dunne – remember him? ’80s movies? The Center Will Not Hold.

I read some Roxanne Gay. I read Lindy West’s Shrill. I read Clem Ford’s Fight Like a Girl. I read Rachel Cusk’s Outline (finally, took about 4 goes) and Transit (one go). Adore her NF, not so sure about her fiction. Read – I think this year – Edward St Aubyn’s Never Mind. Maybe it was last year. Really liked. Really tough and sad.

But the thing that most staggered me, this year, in my reading was just a slip of a short story – 35 pages. Brokeback Mountain. No I hadn’t read it. Yes, I’d seen the movie, several times. But this story. WOW. It made me know more why anti-novelist Ryan O’Neill is always going on about stories. Everything in that story is magnificent. Everything from the movie is in there. It is extraordinary. I am not converted though. I still like long and the immersion of novels. But I’m struggling to read them so maybe it is the key. Short. Concise. Novellas (novellae?) BUT publishers don’t want to publish a novella. Not the main-streamers anyway.

 

CATEGORY | SITUATIONAL READING

I like to read books that are relevant to my travel. I read Metamorphosis in one sitting (lying) in a bathtub in Prague. So for this trip I’m taking THE BOOK OF DIRT by Bram Presser (met him last week, he was a reader at Bad Diaries #SPIN and he was exactly as I’d imagined. Big, loud, frenetic, funny, warm, smart.) I am expecting the airport bookshop has copies. Also I’m taking Maria Tumarkin’s OTHERLAND: A Journey with my daughter. Because I’ll be travelling with my daughter and we are going to Russia, it all makes perfect sense. I love Maria’s writing, and her thinking, and was interested to see recently someone (memory fails) is publishing a book on her next year?

Am also taking Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov plays to read while away. Will be taking notes – for a future project – and trying trying trying to shed the frenetic psychological spaces of the year and the full-on exhaustion. But looking forward to 2018.

I’ve run out of time, so no space for food lists, weather lists, walking lists (went on some terrific historical walks) or newly found passion lists – mudlarking for one.

 

BAD DIARIES SALON 1 #MISTAKES Willows & Wine West Melbourne

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L to R: Imbi Neeme, JA, Jane Rawson, Rosalie Ham and Cassandra Austin

 

BAD DIARIES SALON 2 #TRIPS Cam’s Kiosk, Abbotsford Convent Melbourne

L to R: Jennifer Down, Rose Mulready, Marlee Jane Ward, Jock Serong, Rochelle Siemienowicz

 

BAD DIARIES SALON 3 #REGRETS 399 Bar, Perth

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L to R: Laurie Steed, Tracy Farr, Brooke Davis, Annabel Smith, JA

 

BAD DIARIES SALON 4 #SPIN The Night Heron, Footscray Melbourne

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L to R: Patrick Allington, Jo Case, Bram Presser, Alice Robinson and Jane Rawson

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L to R: Jo Case, Alice Robinson, Jane Rawson, Bram Presser and Patrick Allington

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Willy Lit Fest 2017

 

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It was a good couple of days.

Saturday I saw Leah Kaminsky, Rachael Guy and Andy Jackson talking poetry, the body, chronic illness and disability. It was interesting and moving. All smart people with brilliant things to say, and all gorgeous readers of their own – and other – work.

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Then it was my session, The Age of Experience, chaired by Jane Rawson and also featuring Christy Collins and Paul Dalgarno. We talked about how it’s possible to write while old – no, really. We talked about how being an older debut writer is not so bad, in fact it can be really positive and maybe even better/easier? It was a great session with a good audience who asked questions, especially a certain Mr Kakmi.

I don’t have a pic but here we are afterwards, the best one is with my eyes closed. So be it!

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I look like I’m just so pleased but a bit tired.

Sunday I was in at the festival early to catch Dmetri Kakmi talking to Richard Cornish about his Year Without Meat (book and actual year). I laughed and I cried and this is the truth. It was a confronting chat about where the meat we eat comes from and whether it’s ethical (answer: probably not). Richard Cornish has a blog here and I’m looking forward to exploring it. I eat meat, I love meat, but I don’t want to eat meat in a way that perpetuates the terrible conditions and killing practices of most commercial meat producers.

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After that session I had about half an hour break before starting my two-hour The Editing Hat workshop. It was booked out quite quickly and there were 20 participants, which made it more like a lecture. I had a whiteboard. I had my notes. And I had keen listeners, ranging in age from a Year 9 schoolgirl (so 14, 15 at a pinch) who had already completed 30,000 words of her fantasy novel, to two delightful older sisters. Everyone was interested in writing something – whether for publication or not – and therefore wanting to learn about the editing process, how things work, how it sits within a publishing ‘flow-chart’ and lots of other things. When to stop, when is it too much? When to show to someone else. Who should that someone else be?

The time flew, and everyone seemed happy.

So. Today I had a quiet day with my own manuscript, continuing my structural edit. This Thursday I’ll spend my first day in my new writing studio, which I organised last week. So lucky and feel very happy. It doesn’t have wifi which is a huge attraction.

 

And that’s about it.

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How beautiful have the skies been lately? I remember the skies this time last year, they are stunning.

 

Writers Under the Influence

Are you a scotch drinker or whiskey fiend? Neither? I am somewhat on the wagon these days but I do have a partiality to an occasional snifter of Laphroaig. I have been invited to appear at a series called Writers Under the Influence, at funky Northcote Buck Mulligan’s Bar on Wednesday 7 June at 7.30pm.

Buck Mulligan’s is described as ‘bar and bookshop; Irish whiskey and literature specialists’ and how good is that?

Now a Wednesday night may not be your particular drinking night, that’s fine, but come along for a snack and a chat and a listen. I’m not sure of the format – let’s say it will be loose. I’ll be talking about my influences – bookish – and doing a couple of readings, from an author who influenced and from my own work. Apparently the audience tend to take over and I wouldn’t mind that. I could sit back and let the evening unfold around me.

Looking forward to it.

Details here. No bookings required, a free event.

In preparation for end of year flurry of bookish posts …

the sound

You’ll notice my sidebar to the left <<< has a new image, of Sarah Drummond’s beautiful novel that came out this year, The Sound. It’s a book that should be read widely, get mentioned in the awards (maybe win some, fingers crossed) and one that I really loved this year in a year when I didn’t love a lot. I also loved Sarah’s first book Salt Story which was published a couple of years ago. Salt Story would make a great pressie for anybody interested in fishing, boats, nature, sustainability of the fishing industry out west, but also for people with absolutely NO interest in any of these things. For people who love beautiful, simple prose, a bit of humour, salty characters and like reading about things – it almost doesn’t matter what – as long as it’s written well. You know, the way people seem to feel about Helen Garner’s writing. I wrote a tiny not-review on this blog about The Sound earlier this year, and this is what I said then:

Finished the last few pages in bed last night. … I paced myself with this book because it’s a dark look at the history of Maori and Australian indigenous people ‘working’ with colonial sealers in the west of Australia. I use the quotation marks because working sometimes meant enslaved, forced, used, stole, abused, violated and terrorised. The prose is beautiful, you learn history at the same time, but it’s not overloaded with it. I was entirely satisfied with the ending as well, another reason why I think I was stalling. Another brilliant book from the wild west fisherwoman.

 

Another Australian novel I liked this year was Sam Carmody’s The Windy Season, a really good debut.

My final mention is for a novel I ADORED this year, and it’s Myf Jones’s LEAP. I wrote about it on goodreads I think, let me find it…

Here it is. True to form, it’s rambling and gushy:

*** UPDATE BELOW *** I’m cogitating on my response but you can see how much I loved it from the stars. Not often I give someone I know 5 stars – it doesn’t seem the done thing for Aus writers to give Aus writers 5. But I’m not gonna beat around the bush with this one. I think it’s absolutely brilliant. Stay tuned for more.

*** Well, here is the more I promised above. Here are my notes for this book, some of the things I wrote down while reading. It’s not a review because no time, but my impressions. BEWARE POSSIBLE SPOILERS:

Pliers to turn stove on – we did the same when I was a kid, but it was the television knob that had come off

The complexities of young sexuality, the intimacy between Joe and Jen, there is so much in this book. So deft the reveal of grieving parent and Joe’s grief and guilt. Mates Sanjay and Jack are well-formed characters; Sanjay with his beautiful teeth and his tender care for Joe. We don’t often see tenderness in male friendships. We need more of it, and boys and men need to read more of it too.

I am scared for Joe half way through.

There are so many threads to enjoy in this novel but I never feel overwhelmed as if too much has been stuffed in.

This is a deeply literary book… Leap is a perfect title I think.

So much truth in everything including the things I’ve never experienced, eg page159 you realise or it’s confirmed because you’ve suspected that Joe is going to make a jump. “The jump is pressing up in him” amazing and true and deep.

P 166 just beautiful writing amazing

It’s about art too, the painting of the Tigers, and Elise makes bread but the starter on p 167 is “more dead than alive” such beautiful symbolism as Elise is more dead than alive as well. So sad. The question is I don’t know what will happen, nothing is predictable, but there is no sense of the tricksy here, I am not being manipulated, I am fully immersed and with the characters in the story.

And noticed on p172 that he calls the nurse ‘the nurse’ not by name. Will he ever ? She is at a distance – unnamed – even reminding him of Jen? She is mysterious but so subtly drawn and layered in.

It’s a resonant depiction of the poignant time of turning and becoming, when boys are changing into men. There’s Sanjay with his girlfriend and Jack with the law… Joe has done so well to stop drinking and stay alive you can feel the strength there, and the effort, but there is still an aura of risk about him, slipping, there is a cross-roads psychologically for him, and maybe it will play out in a physical sense too.

I am left with the feeling that for Elise and Joe to heal they need to meet, they need each other so they can move on and perhaps they are moving in that direction.

It’s months since I finished LEAP and it is staying with me, and has become part of my imagination now. It’s a beautiful novel, highly recommended, and while the cover might suggest something light and in the vein of popular fiction, it’s a literary novel that crosses over easily for commercial readers as well. Fantastic book.

UP NEXT: Saturday will be my final four Saturdays in a row not-review, for Ian McEwan’s NUTSHELL.

On rejections

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Michael Hauge and Larry Brooks on story engineering

 

I’m writing this mainly I guess for any writers who might be reading. Rejections (note the plural) are part of the game. And it is a game, not a fun game or one of manipulation, but of patience, perseverance and professionalism. Another thing: it’s a long game.

I wrote about rejection here, for author Lee Kofman, and how me submitting a terribly-written travel article back in 1990 (and getting rightly rejected – and in retrospect it was a LOVELY ‘No’ letter, I have the feeling it came from Jonathan Green) meant that I didn’t submit anything for years. I didn’t stop writing, I’m not that precious or thin-skinned, but If I’d known then what I know now, a slow-dawning awareness that started building once I started writing seriously with a view to publication from 2008 onwards, I would have seen that not only was that piece a draft, wholly unworked and not worthy of appearance outside of my diary pages, rejection does not mean you are shit.

Now, as I am sitting with a completed second novel manuscript, the first draft of a third ready for next-stage development, and fourth in its early stages, I am so glad that not only was that pathetic travel piece denied its place in the canon lol, but also that the first few submissions I made to literary journals were nixed as well. I know now that my novels need a long, long time in the oven, with the preparation of them like one of those crazy recipes that have so many ingredients you almost decide not to cook the bloody thing, but then you think, well, give it a whirl, it’s the weekend, I’ve got the whole day, and you make the hugest mess of the kitchen, use every pot and pan, and you kind of enjoy it but kind of think ‘why am I even doing this?’ And it took me a while to realise that if  I can manage my impatience by thinking ‘the thing will improve, take your time, this is nowhere near finished’ and resist rushing it to readers, an agent, the publisher, then the pressure comes off a bit.

Another thing that helped me with my manuscript development is the idea of a conscious structure and deliberate story points. There are a bunch of people who have written about these (American screenwriting guru Syd Field; Michael Hauge; Larry Brooks) in ways that are clear and helpful. I consider myself a literary fiction writer, but reasoned there was no reason why I couldn’t also incorporate some of these dudes’ systems. (And the story points don’t have to be big obvious clunky ones; they can be subtle shifts, emotional changes or realisations).  It seems there is a move happening, driven by readers, booksellers and therefore publishers, away from novels that are ‘only’ beautifully written, interior and character-driven (all such hard things to do well in the first place) to books that have all those elements but with extra elements of storytelling that publishers believe will sell the novel to larger numbers of readers (cross-over books). I wonder whether this is because of long-form television and how people are accessing their preferred narratives. It’s also possibly because of how we are distracted by our phones and cannot settle to fiction in the way we used to. (Noam Chomsky talks of the perfect dyad between a man and his television set. I think it’s true, but between a human and their phone.)

Wonderful woman and agent Virginia Lloyd (who represented my first novel and sold it to Allen and Unwin two years ago – two years ago on Melbourne Cup Day it was acquired), has written about attracting the attention of a publisher here:

Advice on how to attract a publisher

Virginia is super professional and smart, lovely to deal with and has extensive experience – she worked as an in-house editor for PanMac before setting up as a literary agent, in Brooklyn NYC where I met her in a very hip bar, and now in Sydney. She represents some authors, as well as offering editorial services: mentoring/coaching; manuscript assessments; editorial and structural development.  You can read more about her services here. While she no longer represents my work, occasionally I send a (panicked) email to her and she talks me down, and for people who might feel they need some help and are happy to pay*, I can’t recommend her highly enough. Like I said above, it’s a tough business and it is important to try to build a group of people who will champion your work, be in your corner, make you feel supported to keep going. Much of it is about endurance and not cracking under the strain, not giving up.

Finally, I came across this article about the reasons a manuscript gets rejected by agents, written by an agent’s reader (an agent is often the first person a writer will be submitting their novel manuscript too, although in Australia they are harder to get than a publisher it seems!)

I’d love to know if any writers are reading. I know I have some readers who are readers, and as I still work out what I want to do with this space, in terms of blogging, I’d love to know what people would like to read about. It’s clear my book ‘not-reviews’ are sporadic at best. I do the 6 Degrees posts, and occasionally share articles of interest I come across. It’s a bit of a mess, really, but I guess it’s okay.

 

* Virginia is very clear on her website about how the fee structures work, in terms of literary representation (where there is no upfront fee) and other services. A reputable literary agent will never ask for money upfront, or to take on a client. Lit agenting is done on spec, and sometimes, if you are lucky, they will put in a lot of unpaid work with you to develop the manuscript before approaching publishers with it. This is what happened with me and Virginia, on not one but two novel manuscripts. You can see why I love her so much, she stuck with me and believed in me, even though it took two years to get a book contract.

Literary bits & pieces

This is quite good but the best quotation is the first one from Elizabeth Wurtzel. Never mind the bizarre photo accompanying it. You glance at it: something’s not quite right. You look closely at it. Yep, it’s weird.

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It’s really hard to be a writer. You have to be born with incredible amounts of talent. Then you have to work hard. Then you have to be able to handle tons of rejection and not mind it and just keep pushing away at it. You have to show up at people’s doors. You can’t just email and text message people. You have to bang their doors down. You have to be interesting. You have to be fucking phenomenal to get a book published and then sell the book. When people think their writing career is not working out, it’s not working out because it’s so damn hard. It’s not harder now than it was 20 years ago. It’s just as hard. It was always hard.

− Elizabeth Wurtzel from this post about 19 writing tips from writers and editors for the New Yorker.

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Fantastic article from Geoff Dyer on his recent stroke. This came via twitter and facebook from my agent Virginia Lloyd.

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Chekhov and Tolstoy in Yalta, 1900

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Great essay from Anna Goldsworthy on being told she was in birth denial. (Extract from her book Welcome to Your New Life.)

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A list of 11 under-appreciated literary masterpieces.

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Good news for fans of Emma Donoghue’s Room, a new novel: Frog Music.

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Really interesting post on Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend, looking at why it was a best-seller. It’s got charts and everything! (The post, not the book.)

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And from the Sydney Review of Books, a piece on the value of Australian literary publications: Nimble Innovators.