curiosities & shiny things
This is my new Author pic and bio. Miss 7 did it. It pinched my heart because right now she is at the stage where she leaves love notes for me everywhere and I know it can't last, but, man, I am going to miss it when it's gone. In case this is getting too soppy I should balance things by saying that this is the same child who typed 'deth' into the search section of the National Geographic Kids site. One of her current interests, along with 'merder'. And both my kids have been home sick all week, so that's been tremendous fun, and my writing is going amazing, thank you. (Gave the 'ly' to Potts, @kristenbecknutrition)
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Yes, I know, I know, I am still keeping up the conceit of having a reading alter ego. I can’t believe me either. But it’s the visuals, you see. I love those photos.
Anyway, this will be fast and furious and filled with bad grammar (writer, I am) but I am solidly of the opinion, sometimes, that it’s better just to post than to wait until I have more time. Basically, better to have posted and sounded inarticulate than never to have posted at all.
Here is a smidgen of the books I’ve been reading lately. If they have anything in common, they all offer the reader multi-faceted perspectives. I am going to deliver this in a style that I’m calling stream-of-consciousness response (see points made in previous para):
Del, the main character, is so beautifully drawn, and even when she’s in the wrong you’ve already forgiven her, because who hasn’t said awful things to their friends sometimes when everything is arse about. The conversations between Del and her good friend Charlie are so funny and ring so true – ah, the luxury of lying around with your best friend talking shite! And there is such a sense of fun – after economics I never wanted to see another graph again for as long as I lived, but I really enjoyed their addition to this narrative. What I love, too, is the way sexuality and exploration are dealt with as integral to life. Del is figuring everything else out, but as far as her own sexuality is concerned, she knows firmly who she is, which is a nice counterpoint to some of the other characters and where they’re at with things. Anyway, go read it. It’s warm, funny, and will make you feel good.
I rushed out and bought this, and then, when I held it for the first time, thought, What a shame we don’t get to have more hardcovers in Oz. This one is especially well designed, with special little bits of play in terms of what’s behind those cut outs. But I digress! Ooh, shiny. Okay. I can still run with the perspectives thing on this one, because for the first half of this book you see the same events play out from the perspective of different characters as they enter into a mind fuqqing version of a haunted house. That’s all I can really say without giving too much away. Of course David is brilliant, blah blah, but it struck me reading this book that where he’s brilliant is in vertically integrating his stories. I’m not sure that even makes sense but I’m running with it. What also struck me, though – and this applies to everybody’s gothic and horror novels, including my own (Night Beach), is that the set up and scary stuff is always more fun before it’s explained. What I want to try one day is writing something where you just don’t bother to explain it (yes, critics, I know; I’ll say it for you: You already have! :))
Okay, I read this as an ARC (advanced reading copy). Guess what? It’s the first official ARC I have ever read, or even held for that matter (apart from my own, which I didn’t read). So, you know, things are looking up! But that’s more digression. This. Book. I badly want to talk to someone about this book. SOOOOO many talking points. Which should tell you that Justine has been hugely ambitious with this story, and she has NAILED IT. Rosa is a ten-year-old psychopath. Che, the main character, has to deal with that, daily, because he’s her seventeen-year-old brother. But it’s also about many, many other things – religion, race, ambition, to name a few. I want to say so much more but I can’t because I also don’t want to commit the cardinal sin of spoilering. Put it this way – you’ll be thinking about it for a long time after you put it down.
Bet you didn’t see that one coming. I thought I should mention this because it’s quite unusual for me to read many thrillers, but I have been on a Robotham rampage these last few months. I think I’ve now read all of his work. I read somewhere recently that he’d discovered that JK Rowling was a fan (just before he met her face to face, I think) and I wasn’t at all surprised that she was a fan of his. They share similarities in their ability to plot an incredibly good story. Anyway, that sounds under baked. If you’ve read her, and you’ve read him, you’ll know what I mean.
This has nothing to do with perspectives. I put it in here because some of you who are writing as well will find it interesting. Or, more to the point, interesting in that I bought it because I was completely and utterly stuck on my current work in progress, hoping for something that would unstick me. (Also, I have loved E Gilbert’s podcasts and TED talks on creativity, so I knew at the very least it wouldn’t hurt). I’m actually only up to the third chapter. BUT! I am happy to say I am no longer stuck. What worked for me was 10 minutes (daily) of sitting on the floor of my office, with no music going, keeping my eyes closed, concentrating on my breathing and not following the thoughts that arose. If you think that sounds like meditating, you would be right. I’m not sure I can call it that, though, because I’m not that great at it, and, as evidenced above, easily distracted (who knew there were soooo many thoughts?). But it has helped tremendously for some reason. PS The meditating has absolutely nothing to do with me buying BIG MAGIC other than me trying to become unstuck. Either might work for you.
Okay! Over and out.
Weird way to start this, but Tyler Wright just won the Roxy Pro in France. Why is this important? Because she’s Australian, she’s superbly talented, she’s down to earth, her career is predicated on athleticism not arse shots (seriously, I feel for some of the top women surfers, because I can’t even remember what their faces look like. That dig is aimed at the brands, by the way. Don’t show me my fave surfer looking swaybacked: show me her fuqqing surfing).
But I also took note because Tyler said some interesting things in her acceptance speech (I’ve cued it):
I think that point she makes about caring is everything. At times, I reckon all of us have wished we didn’t care so much about whatever it is that we’re investing ourselves in: whether it be parenting, working a job you love, working a job you loathe, the stupid pressing need to make stories in the hope that they connect with other people … whatever it is.
But then it’s some kind of double-edged sword, isn’t it? You don’t get the ups without the downs. I think where it gets painful is when you look the downs right in the eye, but don’t even allow yourself to feel the wins. You can’t be in the moment because you’re always looking ahead. And there’s that constant gnawing feeling that you haven’t done enough: you can’t really be working unless you’re absolutely flogging yourself. Hell, you don’t even know if you’re on the right path; if there will ever be another win.
This morning, someone did me the absolute kindness of saying, “Yeah, I know what that feels like. I was there a couple of years ago. It’s hard. It will take time. Be kind to yourself. You won’t care less, but you’ll care differently.” (Krissy B, if you ever happen by, it’s YOU I’m talking about, you excellent human being.)
And I got to thinking about how you always hear people saying they went through this AFTERWARDS. (I’m not referring to Tyler here – she’s been vocal about it the whole way – or the mysterious Krissy B – we didn’t know each other back then). Or, if you happen to drift onto social media, you might be mistaken for thinking that NOBODY else ever gets down. EVER. Everything is all happy-lah-lah, win after win.
I think it’s a societal thing. Like you can’t just say things are shit. We’re not allowed to express that – not really. We have to say, ‘Well, things were shit, but now they’re looking up.’ Or, ‘Things are shit, but I’m actually really grateful for all the non-shit things in my life.’ Or, more often than not, you don’t vocalise it at all, because you’re well-mannered, and you don’t want the other person to feel like they have to solve it for you.
Then, when I came home, I found my mum had sent this through in a group email. It seemed timely. And like information that must be shared: https://mindspot.org.au/
If you’re feeling anxious and/or depressed, and you need some help, check it out. In brief, this is what it is about:
I’ve been wanting to write about this book for a while now. But every time I went to do it, I felt like I hadn’t articulated my response strongly enough. So what I’m going to do instead is offer you an edited version of the email I sent to Vikki:
Apropos nothing – here are three things I’ve viewed lately.
First: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Got to see this courtesy of Allen & Unwin’s advanced screening. It’s a lovely film. The icing was the parents – Connie Britton! – and the real-boyness of the main character. I haven’t read Jesse Andrews’ novel, but I will, and I greatly admired his screenplay. Thumbs up. It made me achey over the fact that we really do deserve films made for an audience who enjoy YA stories in Australia (you can understand why that sentence was a bit longwinded if you analyse it properly!).
And then two flashbacks:
Tonight, I watched: Sixteen Candles
Probably my favourite John Hughes’ movie, but watching it now, years later, some of the humour is definitely OFF, and not in a good way (all that stuff about taking advantage of Jake’s comatose girlfriend. Jesus.) One thing that struck me, though – Anthony Michael Hall – what a gem. And, of course, that penultimate scene when Jake and Samantha finally connect. Perfection:
And then, earlier this week, I found this on SBS On-Demand: Girls Just Want to Have Fun.
Sarah Jessica Parker fidgeting like she’s never fidgeted before. Helen Hunt doing that adorable diagonal-eyebrow smile thing she does. And the lead guy dancing like Kevin Bacon did in Footloose, right down to the gamer shoulders. Controlling fathers, evil rich girls, and a Solid Gold rip off show.
Anyone else catch any of these three?
Yes, I know it’s a conceit to have an alter ego just to talk about what you’ve been reading but I can’t seem to stop and I have such great pictures of Reading Guy. They make me love him a little bit more every time I look at them. So he is here to stay, or at least until I run out of pictures.
DAZED and CONFUSED does not refer to the books themselves. It refers to my reading choices, which, as you are going to discover, are a bit all over the shop.
The Swiss Family Robinson
Bet you didn’t see that coming. I read this because I have an insatiable appetite for Survivor Lit, and Survivor Viewing – including Survivor the TV show, The Walking Dead, and Bear Gryll’s islands. I stayed with this story up until the halfway point, when I felt it had become completely absurd. I think it was when they were using their pet monkeys to harvest pineapples out of trees. That made me question everything I knew about life, because where I’m from, pineapples are harvested out of the GROUND by pet monkeys. So this book … unintentionally really, really funny. And lest I’m giving you the wrong impression – I did love things about it. I just got a bit tired.
Quick side note: if you are of the writing persuasion and you have been seeking good examples of information drops, this book is full of them. Dad knows EVERYTHING:
‘Indiarubber,’ I replied, ‘or, more properly, caoutchouc, is a milky resinous juice which flows from certain trees in considerable quantities when the stem is purposely tapped. Caoutchouc can be put to many usees, and I am delighted to have it here, as we shall, I hope, be able to make it into different forms; first and foremost, I shall try to manufacture boots and shoes.’
The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women
Yeah, Holy-Shit-Whoa is right. Things are getting serious around here! I read this because I want to take over the world, AND because I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. Not sure I can actually say anything sensible so I won’t try. Parts seemed to resonate with me, but I have no recall on them now, so they obviously didn’t stick. Also, this book made me want to write a Business/Self-Help book that is chock full of parables that make NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. Or maybe that’s just my problem. I don’t speak Parable.
Quick side note: as far as self help goes, if you be needing some, listen to these fantastic podcasts featuring Cheryl Strayed, which I only know about because I have a fantastic editor called Jen Dougherty who tells me such things.
This is the fourth book in the Rephaim series, and the last, so if you haven’t already, GET ON THE TRAIN. Woo woo! What Paula Weston has achieved with this series, in terms of scope and rigour of world building and story, is mind blowing. But the characters are the beating heart of it all. They are so real, and I love, bow down and say thank you to Paula for what she does with female sexuality. I ate this book up so fast it didn’t stand a chance.
Another book with tremendous scope and world building. This time, a mix of the historical and the supernatural. I was drawn to this story because it revisits a place and time that haunts the the Australian literary mind thanks to Ruth Park and a kind of urban mythology existing around the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But what I loved were the women in this story, their desperation and determination. And their power. Complex, layered, impeccably rendered – stretches YA in all the GOOD ways.
Another side note: I lived for a time in Surry Hills, so Justine has enriched that place for me. I did a video once with Melina Marchetta for Chachic’s Book Nook where we visited and checked out old haunts:
Again supernatural, but this time in a contemporary setting. I love Rebecca Lim‘s writing: what she does is utterly unique, with a very Australian sensibility. (For some reason pubs loom large in the national fabric, or maybe that’s just in my mind, because regional Queensland is full of them, operating or otherwise. I was thrilled that part of this story is set within a pub.) The main character, Sophie, is smart and resourceful and real – and has to deal with some truly gritty situations. I’m hoping a series or sequel is planned, but I can’t say more than that without blundering and giving something away. So surprising, so different, so compelling.
Yes, we’re back to left field. I read this as a kid, and I was recently back at Mum’s so I pulled it out again. AND THEN REVERTED TO CHILDHOOD COMPLETELY by largely skimming it for the dirty bits. One thing struck me though – I love the ground Alther covers here: a person’s ability to shed skins. Either prompted by their life choices, or via their lovers.
The Girls from Corona Del Mar
I bought this novel on the strength of this beautiful, funny essay by Rufi Thorpe that made me want to pass it on to every writer I know, published or yet to be, first time around or otherwise. She is such a GOOD WRITER. The first few chapters of her novel crackle with the same electricity. I love the fact she is exploring female friendship, but in a real way, allowing us to see the teeth and schadenfreude. (If you ever read it, then check back in and tell me what you thought.) This mightn’t make sense without the context, but:
‘Lorrie Ann’s a rock star,’ I said, once Franklin had gotten himself a beer and settled down to watch football.
‘Oh dear,’ he said.
Pretty much sums it up. I also applaud Thorpe for writing about birth. I often think that it’s surprising we don’t have more birth stories in our literature, given it’s a pretty major event for those who go through it, whether a good or bad experience.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
I’m not going to compare this one to We Were Liars because I think they’re completely different animals. This is a terrific book. Solid and satisfying and truthful. Brilliant narrative voice. I learned things. My heart ached in recognition. I used to be that girl who wanted to compete with and stick it to the boys.
Okay. I’ve been reading more than that, but my fingers are sore. More later!
I have a little girl called Harper, named after you know who. But I haven’t read Go Set A Watchman. I haven’t even read the first chapter of Go Set A Watchman. I will probably read the book, but there are many books to read, and it’ll be something I do one day, when the opportunity arises. The only real impact GSAW has had on me has been many conversations with people who know I have a daughter named ‘Harper’. Which, in turn, has made me think about the flip side of having a longstanding relationship with a book, that being: the relationship, much like any longstanding relationship, changes.
Here’s the thing: I love Harper Lee’s VOICE. In TKAM, I think it’s perfect. I’ve never even seen the movie because to do so would mean I’m somehow disloyal to that voice. For me, the magic in TKAM is primarily to do with the way Harper Lee captures the innate free thinking/wtf bewilderment of childhood. I also like the idea of Boo Radley’s character, and get a bit wistful for a father-daughter relationship like the one portrayed between Scout and Atticus, but I stopped thinking about TKAM as a story linked with social change well before my daughter was born. TKAM, to me, is a book that makes white people aspire to be better, or maybe just to feel better. Nothing wrong with the former, but let’s call it for what it is.
Basically, TKAM cannot enable you to do what Atticus himself suggests:
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
With that in mind, if you haven’t already, I’d highly recommend reading Maya Angelou. You could start with I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. In some ways it’s kind of a mirror book to TKAM. Just as beautifully written, but one with a totally different perspective on what it means to be heroic.
She stood another whole song through and then opened the screen door to look down on me crying in rage. She looked until I looked up. Her face was a brown moon that shone on me. She was beautiful. Something had happened out there, which I couldn’t completely understand, but I could see that she was happy. Then she bent down and touched me as mothers of the church “lay hands on the sick and afflicted” and I quieted.
It was brutal to be young and already trained to sit quietly and listen to charges brought against my color with no chance of defense.
I say, Preach it.
So, I’m on a movie jag at the moment, and I feel the need to throw this one out there because I’m so perplexed! I cannot understand the wave of bile this film attracted. I didn’t have any expectations, but it’s a shitload better than the trailer suggested it would be. Let’s shortcut the whole thing and say it like this: maybe we need more female reviewers. Yes, ennui isn’t always attractive or sympathetic, but the film isn’t pretending that it is for a second. The main character’s mum wants her out of the house, for god’s sake! (Actually, on that, I really liked what was done with the mum, and also the strange, manipulative, loyalty-testing triangle happening between main character, Leigh, and her mum and her dad). I think Leigh’s character was refreshing. She doesn’t do stoicism, or even angst. She’s selfish, and daydreams instead of watching over kids at her pool, and yes, that’s bad, but why can’t her CHARACTER do it? Why do female characters always have to be responsible? I’m pretty sure the boys in a Judd Apatow type flick mightn’t notice a kid drowning either.
The other thing was, I thought her getting involved with someone too young was handled really well – not comically or tritely, at all. Shit gets real. Each character eventually realises that going forward in life is their only option, and that, of itself, is hardly startling, but definitely handled in a way that feels authentic and fresh.
Oh, a side note. The sex scenes are so well done – another reason why we need more women behind cameras. Actually what we need is for Salma Hayek to run Hollywoodland. (Read her thoughts on things here, if you haven’t already).