Thursday, 26 February 2009

Road rage

Given the use of Leopardi's poem Silvia in The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore, I should've probably made an attempt to learn Italian a while ago. However, it's finally happening. I bought a Learn In Your Car CD package a couple of months back and am ploughing through the lessons on my way to and from work each day. Well, 'ploughing' might not be the right word. 'Harrowing' is probably a more appropriate word, if I'm going to stick to agricultural metaphors; not only does it suggest breaking down, but has the added implication of lacerating and doing serious damage. Which, despite my good intentions, might well sum up my approach to learning other languages.

I've confessed elsewhere at other times that I drive my way through the French language with the aplomb of a driver at the wheel of a Chieftain tank: a reckless confidence that I really can't be doing too much damage because I can't feel the damage. I used this strategy deliberately the last time I was in France with my daughter. It was several years ago and, at that time, while she could actually converse fluently, she didn't have the confidence too... until I steered myself into conversations I stood no chance of ever reversing out of again, let alone being able to understand the response I
elicited. Time and time again, she came to my rescue, taking the wheel to deftly steer the tank from between whatever aisle of chinaware I'd parked it and making it handle like a nippy little vélomoteur.

Many years before, when I was 17 and refining my Chieftain tank approach, I was at a nightclub in Rennes. Some friends and myself had been taken there by a very friendly couple who lived opposite the house we were staying in, and I thought I was doing well telling the woman how much I liked the music. Stunned silence comes very loud at times, and the stunned silence that followed my comment let me know (along with a quick translation) that I'd just told her how much I loved her. She and her partner were friendly, but I suspect they both thought I was moving a tad too fast. "Get out of that Chieftain tank and learn to walk instead," they might have told me.

And so I'm beginning to wonder what sort of response my Learn In Your Car Italian might provoke.

At the moment, and without even leaving the country, I'm waiting to see how long it is before I become a victim of road rage. How many drivers might think I'm swearing at them as I spit my phrases at the windscreen, waiting for the lights to change, sitting at a junction, leaping into the roundabout flow?

God knows what "Vorrei una camera con bagno e una doccia" looks like to someone reading my lips. And, by the time I've massacred the pronunciation, god knows what I've really said.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Forthcoming interview

I'm delighted at the prospect of a second interview with Magdalena Ball at Blog Talk Radio on 4th April.

Maggie interviewed Mike French and myself
back in September, primarily about The View From Here, although she kindly gave me the opportunity to plug The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore on that occasion. This time, though, I'll have to fend for myself and, as Maggie notes, we'll be talking about the novel, its "characters, déjà vu, about the relationship between teaching and writing, and lots more." We'll have us a smögåsbord.

(Okay, I confess, I used
'smögåsbord' because it's such a wonderful looking word, but we certainly will be covering a feast of topics.)

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Stabat mater dolorosa

As I struggled to write my recent piece for The View From Here (Searching for the Story), I got to thinking about some of the timeless themes surrounding women, mothers, motherhood and grief. It led me to remembering a performance I saw years and years ago at The Contemporary London Dance Theatre in Angel Islington called Stabat Mater Dolorosa.

While I travelled across London as often as I could afford back then in order to catch a performance by this stunning modern ballet group, this was one piece that stood out. Months later, I remember trying to get hold of a copy of the choral piece that the choreographer had drawn on, but ran into the problem of discovering that almost every composer worth their salt had used the Stabat Mater poem as the basis for their own composition: Scarlatti, Palestrina, Pergolesi, Verdi, Boccherini, Dvorak, Symanowski, Rossini...

Perhaps that served as an indication of the power of this image - of the mother standing full of grief - and of its abiding, universal quality. However, YouTube didn't exist back then, but does now! While I couldn't find a video of The London Contemporary Dance Theatre performing Stabat Mater, the Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre obliged. Vivaldi takes the credit for the music, I think.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Posting at The View from Here

Today I'm posting a piece - Searching for the Story - over at The View From Here.

See you there?

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Visitor in the night

I found this fella in the kitchen last night. About five inches wide, but no harm in him. First time I saw a huntsman spiral up a tree, I thought it was a reptile. No point trying to catch him as they can move like greased lightning (not that I understand why anyone would need to grease lightning). He didn't stay for breakfast, but I opened the Cornflakes box carefully today.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Private lawns

Came across this wonderful track from Angus and Julia Stone recently. Very atmospheric, although I don't think the film clip does justice.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Twittering about The View From Here

Putting together article for The View From Here at mo. Seem to find my groove for this about every 4 weeks. BTW, the excellent TVFH print edition now available in UK and Canada, as well as USA.

And so this post reads more like a twitter than a post, which is just as well as I've been pondering Twitter recently
and whether it's something I want to be a part of or whether it'll just be something else that eats up valuable time. Any thoughts on Twittering anyone? Does it produce anything other than superficialities? What is its value? Help me out here.

And now this Twitter has a bit more to it, and so is beginning to resemble a blog post again!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Little things

I know little things please little minds 'n' all that, but here's one that pleased mine: a receipt my wife and I picked up when shopping at the excellent Polyester Books in Melbourne the other week. While the shop touts itself as being whacky and freaky and its website boasts an endorsement from Frank Zappa, it is in fact just a darned good bookshop.

"Polyester Books is full of perverts, throw-backs and degenerate gamblers... this well appointed book store provides a home-away-home for the connoisseurs of fine publishing" - Frank Zappa, U.S. musician

We were browsing the wide range of gonzo and beat fiction, but I'd like to go back to pick up a graphic novel or two. In the event, we bought Haruki Murakami's Dance Dance Dance, both being big fans of Murakami's writing, and I didn't notice the courtesy note on the bottom of the receipt until later.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Moving forward

It's felt inappropriate to blog this week - to post about anything other than the bushfires while so many people in Victoria are suffering. And it's been easy to put off because, as for so many other people, there hasn't been much room in my head for anything else. Almost everybody, it seems, knows at least one person who's been directly affected by the horrors of this tragedy. In a state of five million people, there don't seem to be many degrees of separation. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody.

However, it's important to move forward, so this will be the post that bridges those two places.

Over 300 lives lost.
7000 people displaced.
1830 homes destroyed.

However, within a few days - and at a time of economic hardship - one hundred million dollars donated to the Red Cross Victorian Bushfire appeal alone; numerous examples of the generosity of the human spirit in the face of adversity; so many, many people risking their lives to save others.

I take my hat off to all the members of the emergency services, and particularly to the volunteers who comprise the CFA (Country Fire Authority) and the SES (State Emergency Sevices). Thank you.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Dancing makes the world go round

Because things are pretty tragic here in Victoria at the moment, thought it might be timely to post something that celebrates the human spirit.

A friend sent me a link to this video recently and, yes, it made me smile. Good way to see the world too.

Or follow alternate link here

Sunday, 8 February 2009


The bushfires have been as bad as initially forecast. 66 people have died in Victoria so far and entire townships destroyed. Have cut back my initial post on this because words can seem glib in the face of other people's tragedies.

The cracking of cheeks

The forecast this weekend was for worse bushfire conditions than those that led to the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983. Whilst places like Britain shivered under heavier-than-usual snowfalls, many people here were preparing for mid-40oC (115+oF) temperatures and strong winds. Yes, we're poles apart in more ways than one.

While, touch wood, we've escaped unscathed so far in this tiny area of Victoria, other areas haven't been so lucky, as the ABC has been reporting with its Bushfire Emergency coverage.

Friday evening we went to bed with all the windows thrown open against the heat of the night, but by 1:00am were woken by the clattering of blinds. The wind was wild and seemed to be coming from every direction at once, so that the blinds were rattling on every side of the house. At 5:00 am we were woken by peels of thunder as an electrical storm rolled through, followed by the first rainfall we've had in a couple of months. Although it was dry at 7:00 am, we woke to a cooler day and thought the change had come through sooner than expected. However, the temperature hit 37 at one point, but only lasted a couple of hours before dropping again, so we still got off light...

Friday, 6 February 2009

The first write of the day

One of the things I find about writing early in the morning is that my focus seems closer. As I stare at a page of type and wait for that first cup of tea to kick in, it feels as though my head has a magnifying glass strapped to it. Maybe this is because I'm still half-asleep at 6.15 and so tend to stare at each sentence much longer than I would ordinarily - still edging out of snooze-mode - but I've found it a productive time in terms of cutting out redundant words and phrases, swapping sentences around, and spilling tea across a paragraph or two to discover a new emphasis in that section of writing.

Sometimes, I work through my scribbled notes of an evening or at the weekend and decide to keep the original version, wondering what on earth I was dreaming about when I deleted a sentence or rephrased it, but on the whole the changes usually stay. Quite often, though, in that first session, I'll notice something about a character's tone or behaviour that will lend itself to other, richer possibilities, which is when I reach out for another notepad to start mapping these possibilities, realising full well that I'm going to be late for work again and that draft #32 can no longer be the final draft.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Recent reads

The summer holiday was a good time to catch up with a bit of reading, although I tend to select what I'm reading with a mind to where I'm up to with my own writing. I don't want to read anything that might have a similar storyline or approach to the one I'm pursuing, but I do want to be inspired by the way an author tackles their material or uses language -- I want to be challenged by the quality of what I read.

With this is mind, I'd been looking forward to tackling three titles in particular:
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Picador)
  • A Child's Book of True Crime by Chloe Hooper (Vintage)
  • The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (Vintage)
The opening pages to each of these novels are stunning and immediately hooked me. Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, in giving the narration to a murdered 14 year old girl as she looks from heaven at the effect her murder has on family and friends, has to be one of the most original pieces of writing I've read in a long while. It's a bizarre premise that works from beginning to end. It's an unsettling story at times, but in the best possible way.

Although I think I might have missed one or two of the connections in A Child's Book of True Crime (there seemed to be assumptions made by Kate Byrne, the adulterous narrator and teacher of her lover's son, which left me a little lost on several occasions), again I loved the premise behind the story, as well as the way Chloe Hooper structured it and the way she used language. There was a sparseness about it that I enjoyed, although -- quite contrarily -- I'd have liked some scenes to be more drawn-out.

It was only when I was scanning the front cover of The Time Traveler's Wife a few minutes ago that I noticed the line from the Evening Standard: 'Here's the next The Lovely Bones...' Now, there's a coincidence. I haven't finished this book yet, but I'm finding it difficult to put down. The storyline has gripped me; the characters intrigue me. Audrey Niffenegger's website seems to be under construction (since 2004 by the looks of the copyright notice?), but I've linked to it anyway.

Three bizarre, off-beat tales, with wonderful prose. Lovely stuff.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


I get very excited by those times in writing when, in seeking to replace a reference or a motif, which no longer seems so apt, I happen across an alternative that almost magically appears to draw every single thread together to create a much tighter fabric. When its inclusion moves well beyond what was expected and adds, instead, a new clarity to the layers of story, and looks as if everything may have grown from it rather than the other way round. Magic.

Monday, 2 February 2009

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands

I'm sitting at this here desk crazily clapping my hands (so excuse any typos).

In 8 weeks, 4 days and 4 hours (not that I'm counting), I'll be taking a few months off work to write. Have got a fair whack of Long Service Leave owing, so will be taking that to write and do a bit of other stuff too. Having a solid few months head-space to focus on writing is what I always crave... and it's now beginning to sink in that this is
drawing closer, seeing it finally appear on the horizon.

Hopefully, Number Two will be finished by then and, unless something dire happens (ie. publisher hates it), the title and the blurb will be revealed, and I can use the time to work on a couple of short stories, a couple of articles and, principally, Number Three. (I put an early draft of Number Three aside a couple of years back, and have thought about it regularly - getting the story sorted in my head - but haven't looked at the words since then.)

PS. No need to crack any jokes about having the clap - I got there already!

Sunday, 1 February 2009

The View From Here

Bigger, better, bolder, brighter
more views, more perspectives, more insight, more opportunities

The View From Here has merged with The Hiss Quarterly

Two excellent literary zines have morphed into one outstanding SUPER-zine. Yes, I know I'm biassed, but that don't change a thing! The new zine will still be known as The View From Here and will continue to publish a monthly print edition, have a weekly e-mail subscription and a regular roll-out of daily postings, literary news, short fiction... the lot. But the team will be bigger, have an even broader sweep of experience, and there'll be a new focus on submissions of short fiction in The Front View.

For details, go to The View From Here.