Welcome to my blog!

Why Jacaranda you ask? In case you are reading this the other side of the world and are not sure, Jacaranda is the name of a beautiful tree, which blooms around Oct/Nov, mostly in the Eastern states of Australia. Its flowers are the most exquisite shade of blue-purple, the nearest comparison probably being hyacinth blue, so who could not be inspired to write by such a spiritual colour? When the jacarandas start to blossom, you know it's exam time, but you also know that Christmas is just around the corner. It is said that if a jacaranda flower falls on your head as you walk underneath a tree, good fortune is sure to follow, so guess who did a lot of walking under jacaranda trees! Watch this space for changing images of this lovely tree!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Vanessa and Virginia

Vanessa and Virginia is the title of Susan Sellers' latest novel: a fictionalised account of the life of artist, Vanessa Bell and of her complex relationship with her sister, Virginia Woolf.(Two Ravens, 2008 and Harcourt, New York). Susan is Professor of English and Related Literature at the University of St Andrews, and co-General Editor of the Cambridge University Press edition of the writings of Virginia Woolf. She is also an author, translator, editor and novelist.

I was privileged and honoured to be invited to hear Susan speak at the monthly meeting of the Hemingford Writers' Group in Cambridgeshire, near where I am currently staying.

Not only was it evident that Susan was an eminent authority on the works and life of Virginia Woolf, but from the start it was apparent that she was a charming, engaging speaker with a passion for her specialised subject and for writing in general. (I am sure her students must adore her!)It is the latter concept of writing in general that I shall focus on this posting as I found the gems she dropped about writing and publishing, and her experiences as an author, simultaneously inspiring and daunting. I have rushed home to write them up while they are fresh in my mind as I want to share them with others. I mention them in no particular order but as they spring to my mind.

In response to a question from the floor, Susan said that generally authors have no say in the design for the cover of a book. In the case of Vanessa and Virginia, it was decided to show the backs of two little girls, each with one hand raised, looking out at a view. Shades of powder blue were chosen on the premise that pink would have been too 'girly'. Interestingly enough, the jacket design is also being used to promote a play, based on the novel, the premiere of which will be held in Aix-en-Provence later this year. She also reported that the novel had a different cover in the States, another in the Swedish and yet another in the French translated versions. The importance of a jacket design and title should not be minimised. With the rise of books being sold in supermarkets, she happened to know that the buyers for Tescos gave each book a mere 30 second glance. If the cover and title conveyed sex, action and thriller it would probably make it to the supermarket shelves!

Commenting on the actual writing process from inception to publication, Susan said that she did not yet have a story for her next novel but had a character and setting in mind. (I query whether subconciously she actually does have a plot which has not yet surfaced. What are your views?) Susan said that rewrites were an inevitable part of writing and that a novel often took years to write. She also mentioned the concept of 'displacement', or procrastination, which is very common among writers, where you do anything to avoid putting pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. She quoted one instance where she hemmed the living room curtains rather than commence writing. (Oh, how I can relate to this! How about you?)

Susan remarked that although Vanessa and Virginia was a fictional account of the two sisters' lives, she never messed with history or chronology, but did take artistic licence with some anecdotes. An example she gave was that of a friend's toddler, who, jealous of a new baby, tried to put it in the kitchen rubbish bin! She has included this in her book.

Further on the subject of accuracy and the truth, she said that, despite the services of two editors, there was a mistake in her novel. She had swallows searching for grubs, which of course, they simply do not do, but to date noone had picked her up on that. (I wonder if those New Yorker editors would have done!Would you have?) However, sometimes an author will make a deliberate factual error, assuming, or giving credence to his or her readers, that they will be educated enough to realise this. She elaborated on an incident in Woolf's The Voyage Out, where Mrs Dalloway confuses Clytemnestra as being in Antigone rather than Agamemnon. Some researchers think that this is a deficit in Woolf's knowledge, but she is in fact showing a flaw in Mrs Dalloway's character.

Responding to another question from the audience whether she would like to be able to just write fiction fulltime, Susan said that very few writers made enough money to be able to do this. She now only worked part-time to free herself up a little, but she had only made 10,000 GBP on the sale of her last work, which was not in itself bad. However, when compared with other outlays, that amount soon palled. She mentioned that she had paid for her own publicity shots and to be able to use them she had had to buy the photographer's copyright. She had also funded the costs of promoting her book in the USA herself. (I query whether these expenses could be tax deductible? What do you think?)She added that she thought it was good to work as well as just write, not only from a monetary perspective, but it also kept you sharp.

Susan added that to distribute books to bookshops cost money, including putting on the '2 for 3' tables. She also said that two of her colleagues were reviewers. On any one day they might be confronted with a wall of books and asked to select two to review! Two of Susan's MA students' books had been selected for publication, one by the prestigious Hodder & Stoughton, but only one had been reviewed. With the demise of the printed newspaper and word, book reviews were harder and harder to come by.

Answering a question about writing courses at University, Susan said St Andrews had been one of the oldest Universities to run a writing course, but it then came under the label of rhetoric. Writing courses first started in the States and one of the major proponents of such courses in the UK was David Lodge, who introduced the writing course at the University of East Anglia. Cambridge University had no such course!

To conclude, I shall return to the subject matter of Susan's novel. She admitted that there were several literary works about Virginia Woolf, so why another one. One reason she gave was that Woolf and her husband did their own printing. Virginia would write in the mornings by long-hand, type it up, and then in the afternoons would laboriously typeset it letter by letter, which needed to be done from the bottom of the page upwards, working from right to left. In other words, if the last word on a page were 'look', then the 'k' would need to be selected first, then the 'o' and so on. The next day she would rewrite what she had written by long hand, type it up and typeset it again, which explains why there are so many different versions of Woolf's works. Another reason, of course, is that Vanessa and Virginia takes a different slant on both the sisters' works and is written from the pov of Vanessa.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A walk on the wildside or mid-summer madness?

The wind whooshed through woodrushes,
Whistled through water-reeds
As we wended our way
Through a wealth of white comfrey and
Whorls of watervole mounds,
At Woodwalton Fen
On a wet and wild mid-summer eve
Wearing waterproof wellies and winter coats
Until Rothschild's wooden bungalow on stilts
Gave haven to us weary walkers.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Violence begets violence

Warning: This posting contains a plot spoiler.

Yesterday, I saw the British film Harry Brown,
directed by Daniel Barber and starring Michael Caine. Gary Young wrote the screenplay.

Although critics have claimed this is one of Caine's finest roles, I found the film chilling and terrifying and have several issues with it.

That said, there is no doubt that it is brilliantly shot in the dingiest of colours and settings, which only adds weight to the sombre story. I loved the close-ups of:

- Michael's feet shot from behind under the bed as he laces up his highly-polished shoes, suggesting he is a respectable man who takes pride in his appearance (my mother always told me to check a man's shoes!)

- his breakfast toast, which he lavishly spreads with blackcurrant jam, implying a man who leads a normal, quiet if banal life.

The music which accompanies some of the more suspenseful scenes is spine-chilling. The dialogue throughout is brilliant.

However, the film is so terribly violent - yes, I know it's supposed to be - I had to look away several times or bury my head in my scarf, and it seems to glorify war, killing, and taking the law into one's own hands. Perhaps this was the writer's and director's intention - to question the validity of doing the latter.

The message seems to be that the police force is an incompetent, impotent organisation, which will falsely take the credit for cleaning up a violent neighbourhood, so it's okay to play vigilante. True: many good, innocent people, including dedicated police officers, die at the hands of drug-dealing/taking and gun-wielding youths who control the London housing estate where they live, which, in the end, becomes a peaceful, habitable neighbourhood.

However, I don't think that Caine's character - Harry Brown - should, or indeed, could have survived the whole ordeal. It was too happy clappy Hollywood for me. There is no doubt that he does not advocate violence for violence sake, he has served his country well in the Marine Commandoes, and acts out of the best intentions, the catalyst being when his long-time friend is killed by the local gang. The audience is also shown what a humanitarian he is when he rescues a young girl addicted to heroin, who is kept in a drug-induced state by her boyfriend pimp and dealer/addict for his sadistic and other's pleasure. One of Caine's lines which stood out for me was: 'In Ireland people were fighting for a cause. [Not sure which side he is referring to here - or maybe both.] To these people killing is just entertainment.'

I also have concerns that disenfranchised youth who might view the film think the youths in the film are role models.

Throughout the film I was reminded of Kristallnacht. On hearing of his family's expulsion by the Nazis from Poland (and I understood the rape of his mother), a youth living in Paris, goes to the German Embassy and in retaliation shoots a diplomat. This set off the incident of Kristallnacht , where the Nazi regime gave German youth licence to destroy, burn and loot Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues. While the young Pole's anguish and actions are understandable, his one violent act set off a series of much more violent and serious acts against his people.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

To pitch or not to pitch

I have just rushed home from the 2010 Sydney Writers’ Festival, where I attended a free event, entitled 'So you think you can write'. This was an opportunity for ten people, picked at random from a crowd of 250, to give a 3-minute pitch of their book to two very prominent personalities in the publishing world: Lyn Tranter, proprietor of Australian Literary Management and Shona Martyn, Publishing Director of Harper Collins Australia.
Sadly, I was not one of the ten selected to pitch, but the process and event was an eye-opener. Some people were extremely well prepared and inspiring, but others not so. Some were downright boring.
However, here are some tips and comments which jumped out at me which might be of interest to other aspiring writers.
After the MC, a young female journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald, opened the event, Lyn followed by saying that this was not the usual way in which people pitched a novel. Agents and publishers usually liked to READ an outline and synopsis first. She always judged people's work on the writing. Later, the author might be required to deliver a pitch to about ten people in-house. In that regard authors did need to have good oral communication skills and she suggested that 'Oratory' be a subject on University writing courses.
Lyn also remarked that she would not look at any work which was not complete.
Shona said to make sure that whatever you submitted to an agent or publisher was your best final work - you only get one chance, so don't try to submit your manuscript too soon. However, because one publisher rejected your book, that did not mean that another publisher might not like it. She also said to make sure you did your research well, although if there was not a niche market for your work that did not mean it would not sell, especially if it was well written and had something to offer the reading public that was different.
To a participant who had written a fantasy novel, both judges said 150,000 words was the norm for this type of work, and that fantasy novels usually came in three's, so it was best to have at least the first and second books written, as fans did not want to wait two years for the next book; six months was the maximum. However, as these types of books were very popular at the moment, the competition was intense.
As far as Australia was concerned, crime novels were very well accepted - most readers were female. This was in response to a pitch by a journalist who had written a crime novel and had liaised with the Police Media Unit. This was accepted as a good marketing ploy as it gave her credibility.
Australia had a good range of literary fiction but the middle of the road fiction, such as romantic comedy, especially if people could relate to the themes and identify with the characters, should not be discounted. However, unlike the UK, Australian readers were not interested in the intensely sad and poverty-stricken stories of peoples' lives, of which there had been a plethora in that country.
As I am writing a spy novel I was dying to ask about that genre and also to ask if video pitches were accepted, but there was no opportunity to do so.
Legal issues came up quite a few times, such as someone who claimed they had been damaged for life by the corporate medical world, and someone who wanted to write a true account of events which named well-known people.
All in all, the experience was not as threatening and daunting as I had envisaged. Both Lyn and Shona seemed very approachable and charming people and went to great pains to clarify what they perceived as any jargon. As this Festival attracts people from all works of life, not just writers, they gauged their audience well.
Lyn concluded that she did not think pitching at such an event would work, but she was obviously interested in two or three pitches in particular - the crime one, the romantic comedy, and another which was a true account of someone's life in a mental institution after being operated on, which he alleged had caused him to be able to see into the future, only to be thought delusional and paranoid.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The secret is out.

My idol, John Le Carré's latest novel Our Kind of Traitor will be published later this year. Contrary to what I thought - that it might be about China, Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan - apparently it is about two young lovers who, while holidaying on the Caribbean island of Antigua, encounter a rich, charming, middle-aged Russian millionaire, who wants a game of tennis. What else he wants is what drives John le Carré’s new novel of greed and corruption. I can't wait for it to come out. There are already pre-orders for it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The importance of on-location research

Warning – This posting contains a plot spoiler!

As part of my MA in Professional Writing I have been undertaking research for the novel I am attempting to write. Some of this has concentrated on what I call 'on-location research', i.e. visiting an unfamiliar place to get the look and feel of it.

This type of research activity not only accords with my love of travelling to places unknown and talking to people, but was also heavily influenced by John Le Carré speaking on a YouTube promo video about his most recent book A Man Most Wanted. Le Carré mentions that he travelled to Hamburg and sat in the armchair in the foyer of the Hotel Atlantic, where one of the main characters in his book, Tommy Brue, the 60-year-old Scottish director of a private bank, would have sat when waiting to meet the young German human rights lawyer Annabel Richter. Le Carré also went to the offices of Fluchtpunkt to check the veracity of his tale of an asylum seeker.

Notwithstanding this, it was not until I recently viewed the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, that I fully appreciated the importance of this type of research. Warning: If you have not yet seen the film or read the book upon which it is based, don’t read on!

For those of you who have seen the film, you may remember there is a scene towards the end of the film in which Mikael Blomkvist visits Australia to trace the long-lost granddaughter of Henrik Vanger, the aged former CEO of the Vanger companies. Blomkvist finds her herding sheep in a remote gulley. Everyone, but everyone, (including me - an ex-pat Brit!) in the Sydney cinema where I saw the film said “That’s not Australia!” And indeed it wasn’t as this scene would appear to have been filmed in Spain.

The moral of this story is obvious – don’t fake it until you make it – but go there!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Twenty-four Seven

Such a common phrase these days, but Twenty-four Seven is the title of a book by first-time Australian author Shirley Eldridge, the launch of which I was privileged to attend earlier this year. It was inspired by her time as a telephone counsellor with Lifeline. As Shirley says in her author's note:

'We often see and hear about Volunteer Fire Fighters, Surf Lifesavers and SES workers, who all perform fantastic work and save lives. But, because of the confidential nature of telephone counsellors' work, we never get to see or hear about the thousands of lives they save, nor the peace of mind they bring to many of their callers.
This book honours all telephone counsellors, past and present, and acknowledges the contribution they make to humanity.'

Notwithstanding the above, Shirley's book is a gripping read - yes, about telephone counselling - but also about the female protagonist, Cherie Dexter, as she struggles with the demands made on her by her telephone counselling business Twenty-four seven and those of her ageing father, only to confront a far worse life and death situation.

Dennis Jones & Associates are distributing the books into book shops. Copies of Twenty-Four Seven are available on line from www.shortstoppress.com. Part of the proceeds of sales go to Lifeline Australia.

And a quick note to those of you, who may be members of a book club, there's a bonus in the way of a list of discussion points at the end of the book

Friday, April 9, 2010

Conspiracy or coincidence?

Is it conspiracy or coincidence that three of the world's top English-speaking novelists have recently published new novels? To wit: Sebastian Faulks A Week in December, Don De Lillo Point Omega, and Ian McEwan Solar. (Go to my website to read my reviews of these works.) I suspect it's good marketing strategy. Now, all we need is my idol of idols, John Le Carre, to publish his new novel, which I understand he has been writing. Any guesses as to the subject matter? My money is on China, Iraq, Iran and/or Afghanistan.

Confirmation or coincidence?

I recently went to see the movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which as most of you will know is the screen version of Stieg Larsson's novel by the same name. (As an aside, it is intriguing that the original Swedish title 'Men Who Hate Women' was not adopted for the English-speaking audience in either the print or film version. Is this a cultural 'thing'? I must say I don't think it would have attracted many English-speaking people to either read the book or view the movie.)

Nevertheless, the main point I want to make in this posting is that I wrote a scene (rather badly) for my novel, and nearly jumped out of my seat when there is my scene played out large as life on the screen. I'd like to add here and now, rather ashamedly, that I had not read any of Larsson's post-humously published novels, let alone seen this film before writing my scene. Again, is this one of those 'signs' that I am on the right track? (See previous posting.)

Another admission I'd like to make is that I seem to be developing a bad habit of seeing a film before reading the book upon which it is based - or is it that film producers are bringing out their wares earlier and earlier? What do you think?

Passion, power and politics

Passion, power and politics - so read the poster for Opera Australia's latest producton of Tosca by Puccini, which I was privileged to view recently at the Sydney Opera House. Although familiar with this opera, the rendition was quite unlike any other I had seen and was set during the Fascist era of Italy. However, what really struck me was the similarity between the overarching theme of the opera and my novel - a heroine prepared to sacrifice herself for the man she loves in a world corrupted by power and politics. Rather like the proverbial drowning person clutching at straws, I take some comfort from these revelations that they are a 'sign' to me I'm on the right track with my book!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What's in a title?

Today I viewed an exhibition of photographs entitled Up the Cross , at the Historic Houses Trust of NSW Museum of Sydney with a friend. This exhibition displayed the work of two then young photographers, who took explicit and very human photographs of Sydney's infamous Kings Cross during the decadent decades of the 60s' and 70s'. One of the photographers, who has since passed away, was the son-in-law of a friend of my friend. His widow wanted his work to be immortalised in history.

Among the many photographs and exhibits was the original letter from the publishers of a book about these two artists' works, in which it was stated the original title Poking about the Cross was too racy and suggestive (although by today's standards I think that was a relatively mild double entendre). The book was subsequently published under the title Kings Cross Sydney: A Personal Look at the Cross (from a marketing point of view not nearly so intriguing, and sounds positively dull to me, belying its contents). The book has been reprinted for sale.

However, it did make me think about titles of books. I am more than happy with the title I have come up with for my book and do not think it will cause any controversy but will attract readers. For the moment, it must remain a secret, but I do have some questions to pose, and must check this out with the tutors on my MA in Professional Writing.

- How does one secure copyright on a title of a book not yet completed?
- How long does the copyright on a title of a book last?
I am thinking, in particular, here of Charles Cumming's recent bestseller Typhoon, which was also the title of a much earlier novel by Joseph Conrad .

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dorjee Sun

Do you know Djoree Sun?. Before I even heard him speak, when he delivered the key note address at the recent Asia Education Foundation National Summit in Sydney, which I was privileged to attend, his name alone spoke to me of an unusual person. When I googled his name I learnt it is of Tibetan origin and means 'thunderbolt'. And that is exactly what he is, although he has been variously described as 'international dreamer', 'a social entrepreneur', 'one of the nation's youngest achievers', 'a carbon-trading entrepreneur' and so on.

As soon as he began to speak I realised he was the instigator behind the documentary The Burning Season, which, among other issues, brought the plight of the orangutans to the world's attention.

His many achievements are too numerous to mention here, but listening to him speak confirmed my zeal, that, as writers, whether of screen, theatre, fiction, non-fiction, we can also focus our audiences' attention on 'things that need fixing', and that no subject matter is too hard or too dangerous to tackle.

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
Albert Einstein

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Have you ever had a 'Mr Bean' day Part 3?

Still in the National Gallery of Victoria (see previous two postings) I paid for my ticket to see the exhibition by Australian scultptor Ron Mueck (Warning - his site contains nudity). When I totted up the restaurant bill and the entry fee to the exhibition I could have had the exhibition special - a 2-course meal plus a glass of wine and entry to the exhibition for less than what I had so far paid. However, it was all worth it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Have you ever had a 'Mr Bean' day Part 2?

Still on the same tram (see previous posting) I suddenly espied the National Gallery of Victoria and on impulse, wishing my new-found friend a speedy goodbye, I decided to alight there and then, as there was an exhibition on which I wanted to see - and heh - it would be nice and cool in there!

By this time I was feeling decidedly peckish, but after viewing the rather tired-looking paninis and recycled quiches in the cafe on the ground floor of the gallery, I headed for the other cafe/bistro 'with garden view', which, too late I realised, was the rather swish, expensive restaurant option. However, no-one seemed to turn a blind eye at my attire (see previous posting) although my eyes practically did a somersault when I saw the prices.

I chose the watercress soup with gnocci and something or other - at $16 I thought it would be filling. After bringing me some rather nice bread and a perfect pat of unsalted butter, the waiter placed a huge, white, china soup plate, which was more surround than bowl, on the table in front of me. Two miniscule gnocci, each barely the size of my little fingernail, rested on the bottom of the bowl, accompanied by a sprig of watercress and two wafer-thin rolls of that something or other. He then poured the 'watercress puree', which was the colour of the green, green grass of home, from a tiny glass carafe onto the gnocci, as if it were some sacred elixir: the gnocci and their companions dutifully floated to the top of the liquid. I have to say the 'soup' was absolutely delicious although the whole ritual reminded me of the painting Circe Invidiosa by John Waterhouse, particularly when I compared the colour of my soup with the colour of the water in the gallery's garden pond. To my horror, I also discovered that my white top now sported a nice, green grass stain.

You'd think I'd have had the sense to pay up and shut up by now, wouldn't you? But no, my stomach was not satisfied, so instead of just ordering a skinny cap I acquiesced to the waiter's order, well rhetorical question really, to look at the dessert menu. Mango and grapefruit canelloni with yoghurt, lime sorbet and meringues tempted me - now that would surely quell my gastric juices and not be too calorific.

My waiter (yes, he was MY personal waiter by now) placed another huge, white, china, but this time dessert plate, with more surround than dish, in front of me, which acted as a canvas for an absolute work of art, so much so that I had to resist the temptation to take a photo with my I-phone. There were three little (and I mean tiny) morsels of golden-orange mango jelly canneloni, filled with yummy, milky-white yoghurt, and a dollop of sorbet with just a tinge of limewash colour, but whose sweet/sour flavour was like freshly-picked limes caressing my tingling tastebuds. However, where were the meringues and what were those slivers of pink that matched the flamingo pink stripes in my hair (courtesy of my hairdresser) and what were those crumbs of fragrant purple? With each scoop my spoon made all the colours on the plate swirled together until it resembled an artist's palette. (I might add the green smudge on my white top had now been joined by slightly less than artistic streaks of orange, pink and purple.) It finally dawned on me that the slivers of pink on my plate were the grapefruit, the crumbs of fragrant purple were crushed, crystallised violets, and what I thought were droppings of icing sugar were the meringues!

I asked for the bill - yes of course they took AMEX - didn't have the nerve to ask for a senior's discount - no I was not a member of the gallery as I was from Sydney (I thought too that might explain everything to this mild-mannered Melbournian) - and no I had let my NSW Art Gallery membership lapse - 'Tut!Tut!' - otherwise I could have had a reciprocal member's discount.

I think I redeemed myself though by passing my compliments to the chef on the food, especially that dessert.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Have you ever had a 'Mr Bean' day Part 1?

I was in Melbourne a couple of days ago, where, for that city, it was unfashionably very hot and humid. I offered to take my friends' dog for a walk in the morning to save them from having to get up so early before work - an offer which they and the dog leapt at. Somehow I managed to lose my way in the park and after walking round it twice a very tired pooch and myself finally made it home to flop on our respective 'beds'. To cool off, I decided to take myself off to the recently refurbished St Kilda Baths, so I didn't bother to change out of my rather sweaty walking/gym gear, and trundled off to the city on a tram.

I had only just boarded the tram when it braked rather suddenly and I went flying, only to tumble straight into the arms of a complete stranger, dressed in complete contrast to me in a rather nice suit and crisp white shirt. He seemed rather proud of his gallant act to break my fall and after enquiring if I was okay, held out his hand in a greeting: 'What a great way to meet people! I'm Michael.'

Always on the alert for writing material and being influenced by Lori Gottlieb's controversial book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good EnoughI I thought about writing a book entitled: 101 Ways to Meet Someone. So Tip No. 55 - when travelling on public transport, choose someone you like the look of, stage a fall and stumble into their lap.

No need to add, I'm sure, that this book would be for the gander as well as the goose.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Are you in the mood?

Look at the two images accompanying this posting? They were both taken in Cambridge in the recent big freeze at slightly different times on the same day. However, what sort of different atmosphere or mood does each evoke? For me one is warm and golden, while the other definitely has a touch of the Jackson Pollock's! (This is an Australian slang reference to the painting Blue Poles by the artist Jackson Pollock, purchased by the Australian National Gallery at great expense and causing much controversy a few years ago. I think you can see the connection.)

What does each image say to you?

So if, as Martin Gray in The Dictionary of Literary Terms, says: “Mood is a term used synonymously with atmosphere to indicate in a literary work the prevailing feeling or frame of mind, especially at the start of a play, poem, or novel, creating a sense of expectation about what is to follow.”, as writers, how do we achieve the same mood in prose as these images convey?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Is truth stranger than fiction?

I have just been to the opening of a Japanese photography exhibition. What intrigued me as much as the exhibits was one of the invitees, who reminded me of one of the characters in the novel I am writing. In my novel the female protagonist has a rather colourful drill instructor at 'spy camp', who has tattoos all over his body and who is bequeathing his skin to an art gallery when he dies.

I am not sure whether the person who attended the exhibition has tattoos all over his body, but I suspect he does as they were all over his face, interspersed with studs and piercings, his neck and his hands, which were adorned with rather expensive looking rings. He was probably about 50, and really was a very unusual person. I decided to turn him into a character study and took particular note of how he was dressed: fairly normal dark trousers, shirt and jacket with a purple tie, Doc Martins, dark curly hair held in place with a black bandana, a long pony tail of dreadlocks trailing down his back, and a pair of reflective sunglasses. He made frequent trips to the bar and wolfed down the sushi like it was his last meal. I wish I'd had the nerve to go up and talk to him...

However, what else evolved from the evening was that I learnt there is to be a Tattoo & Body Art Expo in Sydney during March, so I thought I might go along - no not to have a tattoo - I mean I'd love to - but I'm a coward and have a low pain threshhold - henna ones are as far as I will go - but to find some more larger than life characters.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Whose point of view?

Yes, as you'll see from this post's accompanying images, it's a flower arranging day. Despite our tutor's modelling, as usual I started off today's arrangement with no particular design in mind (shame on me, I know!), but it usually works for me, as flowers, like us girls' hair, tend to have a mind of their own when it comes to which way they want to go. Want something curly, that lovely leaf you carefully so picked for its curves, will stand up straight; want a flower to turn its head right, it'll twist around to the left, and so on.

Moving on to the point I'm really trying to make, when I'd finished my composition, on a whim I turned the vase to face diagonally instead of square-on and thought: 'Wow! That works too!'. When I got home I took the usual photos of my creative attempts turning the vase this way and that.

So, as with writing, not only can a piece vary depending from whose viewpoint we are writing, but it can also be interpreted differently depending on what angle the reader takes on the work. I was also strongly reminded today of our Advanced Practice tutor's first lecture, when he referred us to different paintings, which all told a different narrative, and which changed or anamorphed and exposed other details depending from what position you viewed the paintings. Holbein's The Ambassadors is a prime example of this. If you're not familiar with this painting, see if you can find the skull depicted in it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tread gingerly

Today's posting was going to be a hotch potch of scattered ideas, inspired, no doubt, because today was the first day of term for my flower arranging course this year, which always seems to get my creative juices flowing, and which made me get out my camera for the inevitable photo. As this coming Sunday is Valentine's Day today's arrangement figured roses - not red ones - but the most heavenly-scented pink ones. The yellow spiky-looking bloom on the left, whose flowers are still to come out, is Australian ginger. It too has the most exquisite, heady perfume, closest to it is probably jasmine. So why hasn't someone created a ginger fragrance? I'm sure it would be a winner with both genders - I find its aroma intoxicating and addictive - I couldn't stop sniffing one that was in full bloom in class, much to the amusement of my tutor, and can't wait till mine blossoms.

This elusive scent reminded me of the novel Perfume: Story of a Murderer by Patrick Susskind, so I have chosen to just refer to that work in this posting and will leave the other ideas for future postings. (Keep reading over the next few days!) If you have read this macabre murder novel you will know what an excellent job Susskind did in making the reader experience the different scents he wrote about, to the point where I could certainly smell them. I never saw the film version of the novel, but I do question why someone doesn't come up with the idea of a multisensory film or theatre piece, where the cinema or theatre exposes the audience to different sensations, such as cold, heat, smell... Hmm, maybe those ginger flowers had hallucinogenic properties, like Angels Trumpets...

Monday, February 1, 2010

But we speak the same language, don't we?

Two separate events occurred over the weekend, which led me to think about communication between the English-speaking countries of the world.

The first was when a peer, who was critiquing the extract from my novel, which I am planning to submit for the Advanced Practice Unit of my MA in Professional Writing, remarked that she couldn't understand some of the Australianisms I'd used in this piece of work. So, the dilemma is to find a balance between a prose, which the wider English-speaking community would understand without losing the Australian flavour and setting of this particular piece.

The second event took place at the movies (cinema to some). I went to see the British comedy In the loop with a dinky di Australian friend, who complained that they couldn't understand the Scottish accent and missed out on some of the cultural references.

I realise I can easily move between the two cultures (Australian and British), and, as a bit of a lingist, between a couple of others too. As a languages eductor I aim to bring my students to the point where they can do this too - we call this finding the third place, a zone where you feel comfortable between the two cultures, which may not be the same for everyone. You know which form of language to use, how to behave and what is expected in different situations, but may not feel comfortable taking on board every aspect of the target culture even though you respect and accept it. Some examples, which illustrate this, might be bowing in Japanese culture or visiting a public Japanese bath-house where you are expected to be naked, or to non-Anglos - queueing! These customs wouldn't bother some people but they might others.

So, as writers, how do we bring our readers to that third place?

For a review of the film In the loop, please go to my website

Friday, January 29, 2010

Why use multiple narrators?

In the Advanced Practice Unit of my MA in Professional Writing, I have been researching and playing around with using multiple narrators.

So why do authors sometimes use multiple narrators? There are multiple answers.

The most common reason seems to be when it is important to obtain different characters' views on a single matter, such as in mystery or detective novels.

Another use of multiple narrators is to describe separate events that occur at the same time in different locations, rather like the usage of several split screens in some contemporary television series.

Yet another is to introduce or describe a main character from different people's perspectives.

What other reasons do you know?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sebastian Faulks

You probably all know Sebastian Faulks has just published a new novel A Week in December, which I purchased in hardback. (Faulks, MacEwan and Le Carre - still got to find that acute accent - are the only authors to whom I would accord this tribute.) I have only just started to read this book, but as usual I'm already totally engaged by and drooling over his superb writing style. There are no gimmicks, no pithy modernisms, no lazy writing, - just plain, good - supremely good writing using a good old-fashioned third person narrator, plenty of imagery, description, metaphors and similes. The writing just flows. Have a look at my website in a few days for a proper review of this novel. He's still one of the greats!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Glass harmonica

I never thought the day would come that I would feel as miffed about missing something (now that's given me the idea of creating a wonderful tongue-twister!) as I did when I somehow didn't realise that my idol John Le Carre was in town. (Now have to work out how you access an acute accent on this thing - alliteration is alive and well today!)

There has been a performance called Fractured again by Ensemble Offerings the last few days in the Great Hall of Sydney University, as part of the Sydney Festival 2010, which features a glass harmonica and other things glass and plastic.

I have never heard of a glass harmonica, but always one to be intrigued by the exotic and different, I'm spitting mad that I missed hearing this instrument, which apparently has the potential to drive people mad with its eerie tones. In a television interview, one of the players actually said the vibrations through her fingers and the resonance in her head had made her throw up!

Mind you added to the 41 degree heat today it probably would have been the final straw to drive me madder than I am.

If anyone has heard, played or knows more about this instrument or where I could next listen to one, would love to hear from you.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Drafts, digitals and deletions

Have you ever lost photos on your digital camera? I am sooooo upset - I took some wonderful photos (well, with digital cameras you never really know if they're wonderful until you view them on your computer or whatever, do you?) of, amongst other places, Cambridge, in the snow. After convincing my friends that punting on the Cam in the Big Freeze at 4pm was a unique opportunity that may not occur again in our lifetime, we set off wrapped in layers of blankets, clutching hot water bottles and alternately drinking hot chocolate and mulled wine. I promised to let them have images of our adventure, but I now find that something went wrong with the camera. I've either deleted those photos of snow-clad, ancient academic spires bathed in the most exquisite light or the memory card was full.

This led me to think about our delightful tutor's advice to never delete or play with those first, raw drafts of written work without keeping a copy of them intact in their original state, as we might want to revisit them.

I was going to accompany this posting with a delightful image but the fickle finger of fate or the camera operator (moi!) has decided otherwise. Sorry!