Saturday, 9 November 2013

Better late than never

It's been a while since The Grease Monkey's Tale was released in paperback - well, three years in fact - and an epub version followed shortly after.  However, for one reason or another, a Kindle version was never released... until now.  

Yep, Legend Press have issued The Grease Monkey's Tale in Kindle format, and so The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore has finally got a close friend in that big Kindle Store.

Want to read The Grease Monkey's Tale on Kindle?  You can find it here.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Welcome - new website

www.paulburman.net has undergone a massive facelift. In fact, it's a new site altogether.
No more waiting for Flash player to load and scrolling through pages of a virtual book.
The new site's simpler and cleaner, and it's responsive too: regardless of the device you access it on, it should respond by reshaping itself appropriately - PC to the smallest mobile.  
I've tested it every which way, had to learn how to rewrite a bit of code, and it seems to work well.
So, I'm launching it.  

Monday, 4 March 2013

The Grease Monkey's Tale - an approach #2

Although The Grease Monkey’s Tale is a romance, a mystery and a thriller, it’s also a story about telling stories.  All different sorts of stories: anecdotes, folktales, fairy tales, a rhyme or two and even the odd joke.  It's a babushka doll of storytellers, each with their own stories to tell. 

Initially, I imagined Nic's story as a modern folktale – he would have a quest and problems to solve, a princess to win, but in a modern setting – which led me to research a global range of folktales and fairy tales (D.L. Ashliman’s website was invaluable for this) and to use a piece I’d written earlier (The Man Who Wouldn’t Stop Talking) as an interlude.  It also led me to the traditional folktale theme of characters with a ‘secret identity’ that needs to be guessed, amongst other things.  However, archetypal characters can come across as being flat and undeveloped, and I didn’t want Nic or Siobhan to suffer such a fate, so I let the two of them pull me further and further away from the folktale idea as they grew... even as they dragged me closer and closer to the stories they were busy telling one another.

The idea of stories and how important they are in shaping our understanding of the world and one another – and how we pass them down from one generation to the next, sometimes as cautionary tales, sometimes as histories, sometimes as celebrations, but always as a way of entertaining one another – took hold.  Thinking about how everyone likes to tell anecdotes and jokes, to narrate our memories of each day’s events and incidents (over coffee, over dinner, over an SMS or email) made me appreciate how significant a role storytelling still has in our day-to-day lives – even in the lyrics we listen to, the films we watch, our interpretation of comics and cartoons.  There's little difference between the grisly cautionary tales of childhood and adolescence, it seems, and the stories we listen to each day on the news or read in our newspapers.  All those people glued to their newspapers (or news apps)!  It struck me that almost everyone participates in this process as story-listener and storyteller, without recognising what they’re doing as such, and I wanted to capture an element of this in The Grease Monkey’s Tale.  However, this became even more relevant as Nic and Siobhan’s story grew to be more and more about the nature of truth, the difference between untruths and lies, qualities of trust and deceit – in short, everything that a good story can manipulate.

It was at a time I was trying to resolve how certain aspects of Nic’s tale (and all the interwoven stories) could be drawn together to advance the action that I also happened to be ambling through the streets of my home-town during its annual World Roots & Folk Music Festival – browsing the carnival stands, listening to buskers, observing the theatre of humanity – and came across a regular visitor and performer at the festival: Campbell the Swaggie (Google him).  Here was a guy who’d been on the road for over twenty years, travelling from festival to festival, earning a swaggie’s livelihood from reciting bush ballads, telling stories, bantering with the crowd.  With the appearance of being every inch the bushman – oilskin coat, leather hat, tanned and leathery skin, swag at his feet – along with his amazing repertoire of Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson, here was the inspiration for the storyteller in The Grease Monkey’s Tale and, it dawned on me, a key part of Nic’s own story.  It’s this storyteller who Nic and Siobhan discover on the night of the carnival reciting Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven and this storyteller who forms the mould for so many of the other storytellers in the novel... one inside the other inside the other, until we can no longer be fully sure what’s true and what’s not.

A version of this article first appeared on the Legend Press website in 2010.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Bookshelves at Legend Press

The Legend Press website has been running a series of posts, this last month, featuring the bookshelves of their authors, as well as of the Legend Press team themselves.  You can find mine here.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

James Laidler book launch

I was delighted to be able to help James Laidler launch his second novel, Pulling Down the Stars (published by Hybrid) in Warrnambool last night.  Following my brief introductory talk, James discussed the process of writing this novel - always fascinating as each author seems to approach their work in a different way - and the influence living in East Timor had on him.

I reviewed James' first novel The Taste of Apple for a print edition of The View From Here, a copy of which you can now find on James' website here.  While The Taste of Apple was ambitiously (and successfully) told in over 170 poems, I'm intrigued to see how the more prosaic Pulling Down the Stars works - although it soon became evident last night that there's some wonderfully lyrical prose woven throughout.  I look forward to reading it.

For those people in Melbourne this weekend, there'll be a second book launch in Readings bookshop (701 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn) on Sunday, 10th February at 2:00pm.

A book trailer for Pulling Down the Stars can also be found at the James Laidler website.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Green Man

After researching Leafy George (a.k.a. The Green Man) for The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore, I ended up with a strong image in my head of what he looked like, and of what the corbel stone motif above Kate Hainley's house would look like.  Imagine my delight when I unwrapped a gift sent to me from the UK recently and found him grinning at me.

He now greets me every time I leave the back door.  His is a slightly manic presence - the oak-leafed image of a benign tree spirit or demigod, albeit one with a dark and mischievous streak.  He reminds me to look up at the trees whenever I walk or work in my garden.

I have it in mind to track down a duplicate and position him next to the front door of the house as a greeting to visitors.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Up Yours, George Bernard Shaw! Teaching - A Grounding for Writers

I wrote this article for Idiom, the magazine of the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English. It appeared in Volume 47, #3, 2011.

To begin, let me make one thing clear: I never wanted to be a teacher.  Not at all.  What persuaded me to give it a go was the television adaptation of R.F.Delderfield’s To serve Them All My Days, with its wonderfully idealistic view of changing education from within.  Up until that point, it had never been a career option – my dislike of practically everything associated with school was profound – and to anyone who suggested it, I’d say: ‘Teaching is the last thing I’ll do.’  These days, after chalking up almost thirty years in English, Welsh, South Australian and Victorian classrooms, I hope it isn’t.  I hope there’s life after teaching... and am beginning to suspect there is.

What I always wanted to do was write.  It was that simple.  Novels, short stories, plays, poetry, screenplays – I wasn’t fussy as long as I was writing.  However, at 24, and with enough rejection slips from publishers to paper a small wall, the pragmatic me accepted I had to earn a living, while the idealistic me decided this would have to involve something socially worthwhile (not a matter of generating vast profits for banks and multinationals, nor creating landfill).  Not only that, but whatever I was engaged in from 9-5 (ha!) shouldn’t stifle my need to write, but should positively feed it instead.  From there, it wasn’t such a massive leap to apply for a Post-Grad Certificate in Education, especially with R.F.Delderfield’s romantic view of teaching being screened weekly.  To hell with George Bernard Shaw and his ‘He who can, does.  He who cannot, teaches.’

It’s a decision I’ve regretted at times.  Especially when interminable meetings and endless piles of correction compress one evening after another into only a few minutes of freedom, and when the announcement of yet another ‘Department initiative’ doesn’t so much excite me as remind me to ‘do oxymorons’ with my next class.  However, there’s also been many occasions when I’ve recognised what a smart move it was.

On the whole, teaching has been a worthwhile career and, even though I don’t feel I’ve radically changed institutionalised education from within – more’s the pity – I still feel that I’ve been meaningfully employed in pursuit of something I can believe in, and that, for a few moments of their lives, I may have had a positive influence on one or two students.  While this may seem like a stark reduction, these are elements that have remained important to me nonetheless.  That being said, if I skim too quickly over the joys and frustrations of teaching, it’s because I really want to reflect on whether it was a smart move to enter the teaching profession from an aspiring writer’s point of view... or whether it would have made more sense to work in a bookshop, or as a journalist, or as a bank teller, or manufacturing landfill.

As far as writing is concerned, I didn’t experience any tangible success for many years.  It’s only since 2007 that I’ve been fortunate enough to have two novels published, along with a short story in a paperback anthology, which in turn generated an opportunity to write regularly for a literary magazine.  Without this success, I might argue that teaching got utterly and completely in the way of writing, but four years can make a lot of difference to a person’s outlook, and I’m now in a position where I can recognise what a sound grounding in writing my day job has provided.

Both professions require a degree of stoicism.  Writing novels is fun and relatively easy, but getting them published can be hard and dispiriting.  Publishing houses, as businesses, are conservative and jittery.  For every doorstop-sized manuscript I’ve sent for consideration (and there’s been a few), and for each batch of two-line rejection slips I’ve received in return, I can’t think of a time when at least one of those brief slips hasn’t excused the failure to offer me a three-book contract and a six-figure advance on the grounds that the industry was in a state of collapse.  It seems this is the way publishing always has been and always will be, and maybe – just maybe – working for various resource-starved schools has helped harden me to this and develop a greater sense of resilience than might otherwise have been the case.  Besides, rejection comes in a variety of shapes, and anyone who’s got the patience to work with angry and hyper-critical thirteen-year-olds on a daily basis has to be both resilient and optimistic... or totally insane.  But this is the least of it. 

The biggest advantage of being an English and Literature teacher, as well as a writer, is that, on the one hand, it’s obliged me to regularly reflect on the processes involved in writing, while, on the other hand, it’s exposed me to a broader range of literary texts – and views about those texts – than I could possibly have been exposed to in any other work environment.  I can’t think of another job that would have kept me attuned to both these areas to quite the same extent.

Left alone, our reading preferences are shaped by a number of factors (the bookshops we visit, the reviews and interviews we happen upon, what our friends and family members are reading, our taste in book covers), but being a teacher is like belonging to a rather strict Book Group: every year, curriculum changes oblige us to read texts we might never have otherwise picked up, and every new class requires exploring these texts in different ways.  I delight in this.  Besides all the other responses these texts elicit, each one – good and bad, enjoyed or disliked – engages me as a writer and makes me reflect on different aspects of crafting stories.  And even though a quirk of one British school’s syllabus, coupled with an enduring appreciation of this particular novella, means that I’ve read and discussed John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men well in excess of twenty times, it continues to influence the way I think about writing.  Similarly, although I enjoyed Carson McCullers’ The Ballad of the Sad Café when I read it at university many years ago, I’m not convinced that I’d have found my way to The Member of the Wedding in a hurry if it hadn’t been placed on the text list for VCE English this year.  But I’m grateful it was, for here’s another novel which, as I read, re-read and helped shape class discussions about it, the writer-part of my brain found itself scrambling to run another edit of the novel I was working on at the time.  How could I possibly saturate myself in McCullers’ rich, lyrical prose without being affected by it?

Each novel, film, play, anthology of poems or short stories, offers something of itself, whether in the quality of its language, the use of a particular motif, its structure, character development, pace, narrative voice, or the ideas it concerns itself with, and while I might approach each text as a teacher, I inevitably learn a considerable amount as a writer.  Slaughterhouse-5, Triage, Catcher in the Rye, Chinatown, On the Waterfront, Stand By Me, Radiance, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Macbeth, Jennifer Strauss, John Donne, e.e.cummings, Raymond Carver, Anton Chekhov, Tim Winton... if I listed every single text, poet and author here that I’ve not only got a kick out of teaching, but that’s also had an impact on how I think about writing, then I’d have to steal another page or two.  Sometimes I think we underestimate what we learn from teaching.

Good teaching is rarely a one-way process, and the most successful classes for me are those where I’m not only helping students to develop as independent learners, but where their individual questions, comments and needs challenge me as an independent learner too.  Nowhere have I experienced this reciprocity more keenly than when engaging students in thinking about the way they use language, the conventions associated with different forms of writing, and the ideas they’re trying to convey.  This is particularly true in VCE English and Literature, where so much time can be legitimately spent fermenting and distilling the ideas that grow from texts, as well as looking at the ways in which those texts are shaped, that inevitably one’s own thinking and writing becomes clarified by the process.

And finally, because in every writer is a story-teller, and story-telling is about performance and entertainment as much as anything else, teaching provides a pleasant antidote to the insularity of writing – the loneliness of the long distance writer.  On average, it takes me about three years to write a novel, which is three years without an audience, whereas teaching offers me an opportunity to perform every day, and the opportunity to interact with people who are somewhat different to the characters skulking around in my head.

Kick out the deadly meetings, the endless correction and a few ‘Departmental initiatives’, and I’ll have achieved a fine balance between teaching and writing.  I’ll bite my thumb at George Bernard Shaw, hope my books don’t generate too much landfill, and salute R.F.Delderfield.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

New Year oddity

Last New Year was marked by the discovery of Percy the Puffer Fish, who you can find here.  2013, however, seems set to be the year of the snake and the magpie.

Walking back from the beach on New Year's Day, I (wisely) stopped to give way to a sizeable brown snake slithering across the grass and path.  More remarkable though was the magpie that alerted me to its presence.  The maggie had decided this was the biggest and juiciest worm it had ever seen, I guess, because it was striding alongside the thing, trying to peck at it.  Every now and then, snakey would decide enough was enough and would rear up and strike at maggie, who would squawk and flap out of the way, only to land and have another go.

Persistent, valiant  or stupid, I'm not quite sure.

Very hot, summer days here at the moment - scoring a massive 48 degrees on the back veranda last Friday - perfect for lazing in the hammock and reading, and for getting Number Four under way.

Recent reads include Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ernest Hemingway's Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises.  Both in delicious hard copy - haven't picked up the Kindle for a few months - and both immensely enjoyable.