Sunday, 29 June 2008

Flat chat


Am engrossed in a major rewrite of Number Two at the moment, or what I hope will become Number Two ... if the ideas hold their sense, if the characters continue speaking to me, if the words fall into place. It's all a matter of If. Things are working well at the moment, so I'm making the most of it. And it's good timing because I've just started a fortnight's holiday, and it's winter and raining and cold outside, and I've got the wood fire stoked up inside. I think I've rediscovered the story's momentum and the new places I'd like to go with it, and I'd like to get this latest draft finished by October. That's the plan.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Recent reads

Although I’m a fan of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, I’ve read and discussed it so many times now (it having been on the curriculum for three years) that I was getting close to throwing it out onto the lawn and thrusting a garden fork of my own through it. That’s nothing against the quality of the writing---I still admire it---but I feel pretty much the same way after dissecting any text for a third or fourth time in a row. Defenestration, followed by impalement.


It was partly this that made me hesitate to pick up A Spot of Bother for several months, which is how long Mark Haddon’s second novel has been sitting on my stack of books. This and the fact that I’d heard a few people declare that A Spot of Bother didn’t live up to Curious Incident. And the fact that, at 503 pages, it was about 300 pages longer than I like a novel to be. All the same, the time felt right recently to pick it up and make a start; but, having started it, it soon became one of those books I didn’t want to put down again. Loved it.


A Spot of Bother doesn’t live up to Curious Incident because it doesn’t need to. Its success lies, in part, in the fact that it’s very different, and is, if anything, more entertaining. Comprising 144 very short chapters, Haddon rotates the point of view in every chapter, exploring the unique perspective of each key character in turn, as events unravel---and unravel they do. They may be soundly dysfunctional, these people whose lives we spy upon, but there’s also something archetypal about them, and I feel sure I’ve met each one in real life. Whilst A Spot of Bother might have a lighter and more frivolous touch to it than Curious Incident, that’s exactly what’s needed here. It’s a wonderfully crafted and satisfying novel, with plenty of wry humour and is certainly a compelling read.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

A Word With A View

You‘ve got to love language. It’s such a freaky thing. And it’s amazing what we have words for ... as well as what we don’t have words for. It doesn’t surprise me that there are words like ‘home’ or ‘lover’ or ‘life’ or ‘death’, or words for any event or action or object that we regularly refer to. What does leave me gob-smacked though is that we have a word for the very singular act of throwing someone (or something) out of the window:


How weird is that?

I mean, it’s not like something that happens very often. I don’t know about you, but I can’t recall ever hearing of someone who was thrown out of a window, let alone doing it myself (although now that the word is in my vocab ...). Besides, in Australia, where the majority of houses are single storey, pushing someone out of the window would just make them mad. Madder than a cut snake, as they say in these here parts.

It seems that if ‘defenestration’ exists in the lexicon, then there should be specific words to describe a number of other singular acts that occur on a more (frustratingly) regular basis, such as:

when the toast slides off the plate and lands butter-side down on the floor;

when the biscuit breaks into your hot drink after you’ve dunked it;

when the cork snaps as you’re pulling it out of a bottle of wine.

So, this week, I’m searching for single words to describe any of the above, or for other events that fall into this category, or for other bizarre words like ‘defenestration’ which seem as if they oughtn’t really to exist, but do.

As always, all contributions gratefully received.

To cap it all, I browsed YouTube in the hope of finding a clip of someone being pushed out a window and found this:

Sunday, 8 June 2008

What do you look for in a book?

The_spare_room_2 Helen Garner is a big name in the Australian literary world, but, to my shame, I’d never read any of her books until I was recently asked to read The Spare Room, her first work of fiction in 15 years. Book taste is a very subjective thing and the synopses of her books have never made me want to pick them up and engage with them. That’s alright. We all have different tastes---thank goodness. And she has fans aplenty without me.

I wouldn’t have picked up The Spare Room either, as it’s not my type of book: it’s about the friendship of two women in their sixties and the Bypass difficulties which ensue when one, who is seriously ill with cancer, comes to stay (in the spare room). However, I’m glad I did, even if it was just to see what a fine writer Helen Garner can be and how striking her observations of people and the way they interact can be. That’s pretty much as far as I went though. It was a very readable book and didn’t take long to finish, but apart from the expressions of grief and frustration for the stubbornness of a dying friend, and the strains such an imposition can create, it was not only a little too genteel and staid for my taste, but felt more like the stuff of a short story than 194 pages of novel.

Also finished Michael McGirr’s Bypass, The Story of a Road. I began reading this travelogue---recounting a journey down the Hume Highway on bike---several months ago and enjoyed the many anecdotes and bizarre snippets of information which make up each chapter and each leg of the journey, even though I’m generally not a fan of non-fiction. It would be an ideal coffee table book, if I had a coffee table, as there seemed to be nothing lost in picking it up and putting it down again between reading novels.

Whether you prefer fiction or non-fiction, what do you look for in a book?

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Delivering a book

Pram_with_book Pram_with_watermelon_baby

Some people say that getting a book published is like giving birth. It’s an interesting analogy, but a bit of a stretch, I reckon. My experience of birth is limited to that of being a father, watching on and feeling like a spare part and trying to be supportive, whilst generally gob-smacked and over-awed by the whole birthing experience.

There isn’t the pain or physical strain in delivering a book, although the gestation period is generally longer---much longer. Of course, there’s the similar angst that everything will go smoothly, without complications, and that the book will be well-received, and the sense that once it’s delivered up from the printers it’s pretty much on its own in the world, apart from being able to offer a word of encouragement here and there at launches and promotions. On the whole though, all the nurturing and hard work occurs with a book immediately after conception and prior to its delivery, whereas the trend tends to be the other way with children.

Some people say that giving birth is like spitting out a watermelon, which I’d rather not think about, thank you, and there’s no way popping out a book can be compared to this (although the frustration might be similar). So, here I am, searching for an alternative analogy: something that does justice to the process of one without diminishing the other.

All suggestions gratefully received.

P.S. Now that the agreements have been signed and sealed between PaperBooks, Legend Press and the authors, a delivery date for The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore might not be far away. I’ll let you know.