Tuesday, December 31

Happy New Year + News for 2014

On this the last day of 2013, I want to thank you for your support and encouragement.  Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm about the things you love.  Thankyou most of all for giving me this space to find and express myself.  

I hope your new year is full of great books and learning and plenty of opportunities to grow and wonder!


Important Changes for 2014

There are going to be a few changes to Bouquets of Sharpened Pencils next year.  
  • The biggest difference is I am going to begin using my REAL NAME and FACE on this blog, replacing my pseudonym 'The Book Florist'.  A few of you have asked to see the real me and at last you'll be able to!
  • I will be linking this blog to all my other social media accounts.
  • New and updated pages to explore on Bouquets of Sharpened Pencils!

I would like you to be aware of the reason for these upcoming changes.  As an emerging writer attempting to get new work published, online presence is extremely important.  My blog and social media accounts will be a way that my future publishers and readers can contact me or learn more about me personally.  

Of course I adore my book blog and never intend to stop doing what I love.  Therefore I'm excited about this opportunity to be more personal and present in it.  Should be good yay! 


Because January is a very busy month in my family, it may be a little while before these updates come into effect.  Expect a big announcement about the changes within this month!  Thankyou again!  



Thursday, December 19

Nothing can dampen my enjoyment of Tampa

Alissa Nutting's debut novel Tampa is a fast-paced, captivating read on a controversial subject.  


Basically, Tampa about Celeste Price - 8th grade teacher and paedophile.  Tampa was published in August just this year and reviewers are hailing Celeste as the modern female counterpart of Nabakov's Humbert Humbert.

After only a couple of sittings, I'm 3 / 4ths in and utterly enthralled.  I feel like the writing itself is invisible, allowing the racing plot to hold its own.  It feels completely unselfconscious.  

I have found the reading process to be effortless.  While my moral conscience sends up warning flares every few chapters, I can do nothing to resist the slow, painless suck of the story.  


I think people expect books like Tampa to challenge conceptions of right and wrong.  However, what this novel details is so obviously wrong - legally and morally - that it makes me wonder if insisting on a grey area is actually the point of it at all...  I guess it still remains to be seen.  

Regardless of the topic, Alissa Nutting has written a book that is utterly readable and nothing can dampen my enjoyment of it.  It's a book I look forward to discussing and arguing about.  




Saturday, December 14

My Summer Holiday Reading List

Reviews for the books on my holiday reading list.  
Please share your summer reads in the comments below.


Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

This is the 2nd book in Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi trilogy, Dune.  Dune is continuously hailed as the No. 1 sci-fi book of all times and for good reason.  

I adored the first book with its epic scale and complex plot weaving prophecy, subterfuge, religion, war and politics on the desert world of Arrakis.  Dune Messiah is just as compelling as the first and a much more manageable length so it can be happily devoured within a day or so.  

While it is a highly entertaining book, it's emotional impact makes it incomparably more important than the common pulp paperback fiction.  It is a series I will return to again and again for its great plot and superb writing.  

  The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket

This is the 12th and second-last book is Lemony Snicket's grim Series of Unfortunate Events.  While I'm yet to finish the series, I've enjoyed every bit of it so far.  

The pace is quick, the wit knife-sharp and surprising.  Snicket's writing is full of ingenious side-steps, upside-down logic and hilariously memorable anecdotes.  The Baudelaire orphans are endearing heroes for whom I cheer for through every turn of their tragic story. 


Filth by Irvine Welsh

Have you heard about the new film adaptation?  As a lover of Welsh's classic Trainspotting, I jumped at the opportunity to read something else of his.  

What I adored about Trainspotting was the constant and confronting grittiness, the Scottish accent that pervades the narrative and the fast pace.  Unfortunately, Filth doesn't have any of these things.  After Trainspotting, it's grittiness seems wane and the voice suffers from its lack of rollicking dialect.  

I'm sure this book is good in its own right and nothing could lessen my appreciation of Welsh as a writer.  I just struggled to enjoy it as my expectations were set on something very different.  


 Esio Trot by Roald Dahl

I was thinking about a new children's story idea I'd like to write during the holidays and the mood of it reminded me of a Roald Dahl book.  Feeling I could use his inspiration, I checked out what my library had on stock.

I've never read Esio Trot before but I'm sure that when I get to it I won't be disappointed.  Roald Dahl is always sure-fire in his voice and imagination.  It's also only a little book so I'll probably enjoy it in one sitting with a cup of tea.  

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan is one of my favourite writers.  You might remember how much I raved about his masterpiece Atonement.  Set in 1972, Sweet Tooth is his latest release and I'm eager to discover how his voice has developed since then.  

It's a story of espionage and seducation.  I'll be definitely blogging about this one.  McEwan's writing is crystalline in its perfection and everything I've read of his has been charged with intrigue.  I was in the mood for a spy thriller, and who better to satisfy this craving than a literary master.  
Tampa by Allisa Nutting

It was this borderline pornographic front cover that compelled me to learn more about this book.  Published this year, Tampa is praised as presenting the female version of Nabakov's Humbert in Lolita with great success.  

Reviews suggest that Tampa will inspire controversy and discussion as a great book club read.  I'm excited to try Nutting's debut novel and see what sort of reaction it inspires.  


I'd love to hear about your holiday reading so leave a comment below to share.

Friday, December 6

Review: Cloudstreet

Tim Winton's modern classic Cloudstreet is unavoidably a masterpiece. But unlike the works that we normally associate with the esteemed "M word", it isn't prim, cold and correct.  

This book is life and grit and salt and sweat.  It is the dirt you build a home on and it is a gift.  


Source: au.news.yahoo.com
My aim in writing this review is to acknowledge the impossibility of summing this book up.  How can I possibly describe a book that has changed my life?  It's futile trying to give you my experience in a nutshell when you can only really know by experiencing it yourself.  

So this is really a lousy stab at revealing my heart. 



Cloudstreet is deliciously well-written.  I read it in a state of constant swoon.  Tim Winton treats Australia like rare magic, and now the sky and earth appears to me imbued with dreams.  

The book is life.  I've never been so shocked and so upset.  Great sadness sits beside great happiness in its swelling tide.  It was real for me, every bit.  

When I finished reading it, all I could do was weep and hold the book tight against my chest.  I felt that for the first time, I had been given a piece of life and hope all my own.  It is a gift I didn't feel worthy to receive, but no one can take it from me because now Cloudstreet is in my veins.  

I never felt alone reading it.  This is a book that deserves to be read in community and togetherness, to be shared and talked about until you're forced to admit that you could never get to the bottom of it. It is an individual and communal experience.  


Cloudstreet for me is an epiphany of what it is to love.  What is it to be a family? And what is home - people or places?  Within it's pages I found an indescribable surety I was alive.  

Thursday, December 5

The X-Ray Car

Tim Winton pounces on his unsuspecting reader with gorgeous passages like this one:

They came home from the river one day to find Lester Lamb waiting for them on the bonnet of an ancient Rugby, dressed in his threadbare suit and gorgeously pleased with himself.  He showed them the car.  It was a dusty, black old banger with tyres smoother than a baby's bum and rust beneath the paint like a spreading cold sore.  He showed them every angle, every virtue, including the side-blinds he's made himself from old X-rays which gave a curious effect of mortality to an afternoon drive: you saw the world through compound fractures, you saw the river in an old soldier's lungs, sky through the skulls of shellshocked corporals.  
It's yours, he said, you need a car.  
We need a car, said Quick.
But this is more than a car, said Rose, it's an experience.

Tim Winton.  1991.  Cloudstreet.  Viking.  p 359.

I found this startlingly beautiful, the last thing I expected to hear and forever memorable.  His imagination is sacred to me.  How does he produce things like this?  

Cloudstreet is so teeming, chockablock full of his insanely beautiful images.  Having finished the book, I hold it now with reverence, unable to escape the feeling that I am holding something living, breathing and invaluable.  

Please watch out for my concluding review of Cloudstreet!

Monday, December 2

Tidbits from Tim Winton

I've almost finished reading Tim Winton's classic Cloudstreet and what an unforgettable ride it's been.  But I want to back track to share with you three tidbits from his beautiful writing.  

1.  
Just near the crest of a hill where the sun is ducking down, the old flatbed Chev gives up the fight and stalls quiet.  Out on the tray the kids groan like an opera.  All around the bush has gone the colour of cold roast.

Tim Winton.  1991.  Cloudstreet.  Viking.  p 25.

The thing that I so adore about this passage is the use of images.  More specifically, I adore how you have to provide your own interpretation as to what those images mean to you.  

"...the bush has gone the colour of cold roast..."  This is pregnant with so much meaning.  For me it means hot turning to tepid cool, red turning to pinky grey, fragrance changing from burnt to wearily smokey.  For you it might bring to mind completely different things.  It might mean anything depending on who is reading it and therefore it is alive.  

2.  
She was at the piano one evening a few weeks after, mulling over the possibilities for diversion, when her heart stopped.  She cried out in surprise, in outrage and her nose hit middle C hard enough to darken the room with sound.  Her nose was a strong and bony one, and there was middle C in that library until rigour mortis set in.  The room soaked her up and the summer heat worked on her body until its surface was as hard and dry as the crust of a pavlova.  

Tim Winton.  1991.  Cloudstreet.  Viking.  p 36.

This is grisly, crunchy and haunting.  "Middle C" becomes a theme throughout the story.  It's a disturbing introduction to the house but so succinctly sets up the atmosphere.  

3.  
Fish Lamb is flying.  The trees pass in a blur as he glides low, and the glass is cold against his cheek. On the back of his neck, his mother's hand feels like a hot scone.  

Tim Winton.  1991.  Cloudstreet.  Viking.  p 46.

In everything, there is a hint of deliciousness - an allusion to sultry, toothsome fragrance.  The world he writes is our world but the magic is brought to the surface.  


I have a few more things to share before I write my concluding review.  This book has been such an experience, such a lifetime, that I can't bear to let it go just yet.  There's so much to talk about and yet so much I can't put into words.  I hope that you will decide to treat yourself to this book.  It is a masterpiece and a gift.

Thursday, November 21

Tim Winton: License to Shock

You want to cover your eyes but you've already seen.  Before you even realise that something is amiss, it's too late to do anything. 

We are reading Tim Winton's modern classic Cloudstreet.  There's this thing that he does in his writing that I find shocking.  I have to talk about it because it's the first time I've experienced something like this in writing.  


The power to shock

Tim Winton keeps shocking me.  We are unsuspecting passers-by, innocently enjoying the scenery.  The same second that we first feel the prickle of something going wrong, it is too late to prevent the tragedy.  

We are now the witness of a horrific accident.  We am scarred.  We would have closed our eyes or run away if only we had known.  But now the trauma of the characters is in part our own.  I am Quick Lamb.  


To resume life

These moments always occur in the middle of a chapter.  This is such a powerful technique.  We become the characters who cannot stop, cannot hide from what they have experienced.  We are forced to continue living the chapter.  There's no time to grieve, only room for moving forwards.  

**SPOILER ALERT**  Quick Lamb witnesses the death of Wogga McBride and because he doesn't tell anyone, he has no choice but to act as though nothing out of the ordinary happened.  This terrible trauma and tension belongs to the reader as well, unable to do or change what we've read, we just keep reading.

In this way, the book mirrors life.  To read Cloudstreet is to experience  life in miniature.  It is not a passive viewing experience, but a forced participation in life.  I will be haunted by every word.


Friday, November 15

1 Cloud Street

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton is hailed as a modern classic and one of the most important Australian books of all times.  My Mum and I are reading it together, chapter by chapter, as a miniature-bookclub.  We tripped down to the library, giddy with anticipation, to collect the copies we had reserved online.  

We didn't read the blurb, didn't know what it was about.  We decided to come to the book with completely clean slates, no expectations.

The pages smell like tealeaves and the edges are just slightly mellowed.  The softness of the paper hints at the passing of many hands.

Cloudstreet.  The title is tipped with enchantment, like a breath of dewy air or the first kiss of waves on hot toes.  And the very first paragraph has etched this book into my soul as a masterpiece of story and language:

'Will you look at us by the river!  The whole restless mob of us on spread blankets in the dreamy briny sunshine skylarking and chinking about for one day, one clear, clean, sweet day in a good world in the midst of our living.  Yachts run before an unfelt gust with bag necked pelicans riding above them, the city their twitching backdrop, all blocks and points of mirror light down to the water's edge.'

Tim Winton.  1991.  Cloudstreet.  Viking.  p 1.

I swooned and sighed "thank goodness".  Falling forwards into the unknown, Tim Winton's words caught and carried me. 

It is so rich.  I want to lick my fingers after every sentence.  I need to wash sand off my ankles and wipe the sweat itching behind my ears.  Even now as I type this post with the book beside me, I can't stop looking at it to make sure that it exists.  It is a box of memory and experience that I open with a mixture of exhilarated fear and enraptured joy, unsure what will happen to me in the next page, the next chapter.

Expect to hear a lot of Cloudstreet this week.





Thursday, November 14

The Spark-Studded Smoke

The grocer opposite had a little daughter whose shadow drove me mad; but with Valeria's help I did find after all some legal outlets to my fantastic predicament.  As to cooking, we tacitly dismissed the pot-au-feu and had most of our meals at a crowded place in rue Bonaparte where there were wine stains on the table cloth and a good deal of foreign babble.  And next door, an art dealer displayed in his cluttered window a splendid, flamboyant, green, red, golden and inky blue, ancient American estampe - a locomotive with a gigantic smokestack, great baroque lamps and a tremendous cowcatcher, hauling its mauve coaches through the stormy prairie night and mixing a lot of spark-studded black smoke with the furry thunder clouds.  

Vladimir Nabokov.  1955.  Lolita.  Penguin.  p 27

Tomorrow, much to my chagrin, I have to return Lolita to the library.  But the plan is to re-borrow it again next year for a re-trial, giving it all the time and attention it deserves.  

I couldn't return it without sharing this passage.  I guess in the grand scheme of the plot its an insignificant moment, but it's just so beautifully described that I swooned over it anyway.  The last sentence is my favourite, that heady image of spark-studded black smoke under furry thunder clouds. It's so sumptuous.  

Anyhow, tomorrow I will open the discussion on Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, the modern Australian classic.  It is bound to be a treat.  

Wednesday, November 13

Review: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Critics agree that Zadie Smith's White Teeth is an outstanding début.  Just listen to this review:
'An impressive début, not only for its vitality and verve, but mainly for the sheer audacity of its scope and vision ... an epic tale ... swooping, funny ... it has ambition, wit and is unafraid' 
- Meera Syal, Express
I read this book with my Mum, holding miniature book-club sessions between chapters to discuss it.  I've thought about it so much that I hardly know how to sum it up for you, but I'll do my best.


Scale

White Teeth is an epic story that starts small.  It covers so many loaded topics - family, relationships, roots of tradition and religion - all tied masterfully together by the metaphor of teeth.  The narrative spans several decades with the effect of showing the incredible reverberations of each character's thoughts and actions.  

Retrospect

It was only in retrospect - reflecting on the book as a whole with all the puzzle pieces added up - that I was capable of fully appreciating its beauty.  There are slow moments.  There are long chapters.  But everything has purpose.  It's only visible at the end, but everything is deliberate, significant, fateful.  The themes of fate, chance and doom are run both through the narrative and the structure itself, startlingly smart.  

An incredible thing to remind myself though, is that every reader's experience and interpretation of White Teeth will be different.  It's exciting to wonder what it meant to others, because to me, it meant so much.  Moments of clarity and stunning revelations are inherent.  It is a beautiful book for deep thinking and discussion, for gaining insight by delving into one's personal experience of the work.  

Voice 

'Quirky, sassy and wise' - The New York Times.  I completely agree with this description of Zadie Smith's unique voice.  Often it feels that the narrator has an almost god-like vantage point over all that takes place, from which she reports with slow-cooked warmth and wisdom.  However this tone is punctuated by laugh-out-loud moments of alarming wit.  It's the sort of book that is a joy to pick up, unsuspecting.    

The images are beautifully fresh.  The observations that stab between the events are authentic, so memorable that I know I'll be constantly prompted to reflect on them.  

Characters

The characters are all so memorable.  It is confronting yet thrilling to discover that people you loved are played as villains and the ones you didn't care much for at the beginning emerge from the fray as heroes.  Their voices are unique, their inner thoughts so complexly described that they became completely alive.  

Conclusion

White Teeth is memorable for all the right reasons.  It has stimulated so much wonder and reflection in me.  I've spent hours talking with my Mum, enjoying the many threads of its beautifully woven storyline and layers of meaning throughout.  It is sadly sweet, funny in a fresh way, and lingering.  It is impossible to unfurl its tendrils from my heart now that I've finished reading it.  I know the experience of it has already enriched my understanding of the world.  


Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth

Tuesday, November 12

The Roots of White Teeth

Before writing my concluding review of Zadie Smith's debut novel White Teeth, I want to share two passages that resonated powerfully with me.  My experience of this book has been an epic journey.  Moments like these are gorgeous and grounding.  
She wore her sexuality with an older woman's ease, and note (as with most of the girls Archie had run with in the past) like an awkward purse, never knowing how to hold it, where to hand it or when to just put it down.  
Zadie Smith.  2000.  White Teeth.  London: Penguin Books.  p 24.


This passage startled me with its modesty and authenticity.  I've seen this, I know what this looks like and I feel that she puts it into words perfectly!  Watch out, White Teeth if full of wit like this.  

*     *     *

This next passage is longer but equally beautiful.  Zadie Smith manages to articulate so many aspects of human relationships.  This struck me as something both sad and enchanting.   
But Archie did not pluck Clara Bowden from a vacuum.  And it's about time people told the truth about beautiful women.  They do not shimmer down staircases.  They do not descend, as was supposed, from on high, attached to nothing other than wings.  Clara was from somewhere.  She had roots.  More specifically, she was from Lambeth (via Jamaica) and she was connected, through tacit adolescent agreement, to one Ryan Topps.  Because before Clara was beautiful she was ugly.  And before there was Clara and Archie there was Clara and Ryan.  And there is no getting away from Ryan Topps.  Just as a good historian need recognise Hitler's Napoleonic ambitions in the east in order to comprehend his reluctance to invade the British in the west, so Ryan Topps is essential to any understanding of why Clara did what she did.  Ryan is indispensable.  There was Clara and Ryan for eight months before Clara and Archie were drawn together from opposite ends of a staircase.  And Clara might never have run into the arms of Archie Jones if she hadn't been running, quite as fast as she could, away from Ryan Topps.
Zadie Smith.  2000.  White Teeth.  London: Penguin Books.  p 27.  


In so few words, she summarises such complex ideas.  I was surprised to hear her put them in a way that was so true to me.  In particular, the image of people having roots, affecting every aspect of their lives including how they choose to start afresh.  

It often worries me thinking about the lives of other people - how what they've experienced affects my ability to relate to them personally and vice versa.  But I wonder if it relates to the idea of everyone being the sum of all the people they've met and the things they've seen and done.  In which case, do people run to me because of that?  And then I empathise and connect to them the best I can through my own well of experience and understanding.  Wow, a bit deep, but I think White Teeth has prompted me to start articulating some things I've been thinking about recently.  Oh well.  

Anyway, expect my concluding review on White Teeth tomorrow!  After that, I have grand plans to begin reading Tim Winton's Cloudstreet.  

Monday, November 11

Bus Ticket Alibis

I'm only a chapter and a half away from finishing Zadie Smith's debut novel, White Teeth (2000).  This excerpt really captured my imagination and I couldn't resist the urge to chronicle it.  

'When I was a kid,' said Irie softly, ringing the bell for their stop 'I used to think they were little alibis.  Bus tickets.  I mean, look: they've got the time.  The date.  The place.  And if I was up in court, and I had to defend myself, and prove I wasn't where they said I was, doing what they said I did, when they said I did it, I'd pull out one of those.'
       Archie was silent and Irie, assuming the conversation was over, was surprised when several minutes later, after they had struggled through the happy New Year crowd and tourists standing round aimlessly, as they were walking up the steps of the Perret Institute, her father said, 'Now, I never though of that.  I'll remember that.  Because you never know, do you?  I mean, do you?  Well.  There's a thought.  You should pick them up off the street, I suppose.  Put 'em all in a jar.  An alibi for every occasion.'  

Zadie Smith.  2000.  White Teeth.  Penguin Books.  p 517.

I am sure that this is something I will always remember, every time I pay for a paper ticket on public transport.  It actually makes me want to start an alibi jar.  It's just a lovely concept, similar to rainy-day or lucky coin collections.

Definitely expect a review on White Teeth in the next couple of days.  I have a lot to share about it!

Saturday, November 2

Intoxicated by Transpotting: A Review

I finished reading Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting a week ago.  It's grittier and grimmer than anything I've ever read before.   It has been such a weirdly eye-opening experience, so I couldn't resist rambling on about it for a little bit longer.  

If you missed my introductory post to Trainspotting, you can catch up on it by following the link: The Idiot's Guide to Trainspotting.


The trainspotting experience

I think the most obviously unique thing about Trainspotting is the fact that it's written in dialect.  It takes patience to get used to it initially, but suddenly you'll find it just 'clicks'.  The vernacular wrecks havoc in your head until even your inner thoughts have a Scottish accent!

I love the 'grit' of Trainspotting.  Anyone who's watched the 1996 film adaptation knows what a raw and grisly affair it is.  But that I think is part of what makes it irresistible.

If you allow yourself to sink momentarily into the lives of the characters, the world that awaits you is terrifying and intoxicating.  

There was one moment that I literally threw the book away from myself mid-sentence, because what I read was so confronting and repulsive.  But no matter what happened to disgust me, I could never abandon it.  I went back for more, over and over again.

Wit and humour are the constants that weave through the story.  The characters are so true to themselves that I felt I knew what they would say even before they said it.

The story is cram-packed with adventure and misadventure, an exhausting yet exhilarating trip into an alien landscape.  I emerged, buzzing from what I had seen, and ready to take on the world, braver and smarter.

I've added Trainspotting to our list of 100 Books to Read Before You Die, because I believe that the experience is something that you can't afford to miss.  

Tuesday, October 22

Humans of New York Book Released

Humans of New York sums up what it is to be human:

As a stranger on the streets of New York.  
As a member of a global community, bound by shared ideas, emotions and experiences.

Readers of HONY become a part of HONY.  



What is HONY?

HONY, as it's called for short, is a book of photography full of stories and images of people from every imaginable background.  It celebrates the beauty of humans and the way  they experience life.  

Brandon Stanton began HONY in 2010, without the slightest clue as to the monumental sensation it would become.  It now has over a million followers collectively on Facebook and Tumblr.

(Scroll down for links.)  


HONY's Impact on Me

Every time that I look at HONY (book or blog) it fills me with a milkshake of emotions.  The stories are sometimes tragic and sometimes delightful.  But one thing that stays the same is that they're always honest.  The stories are authentic, brimming over with individuality.  

This book sums up what it is to be human.  As a stranger on the streets of New York.  As a member of a global community, bound by ideas, emotions and experiences shared.  Readers of HONY become a part of HONY.  

One part of the experience of HONY is that there is always someone that I can empathise with.  Today, I read the diary entry of a 16-year-old girl, which you can also view by following the link.  
A glimpse into the journal of a (quite intelligent) 16 year old girl.
This image reduces me to tears.  It confirms for me that I am not alone.  I am not the only one to think and feel the things I think and feel.  My pain is not mine alone, but an experience and reaction to life that I share with others all over the world.  This is a provider of hope.  


It's useless to attempt to articulate the experience of HONY in a way that does it justice.  It is an intimate and honest book that must be seen to be believed.  Please give yourself the gift of reading this book.  


How to Find HONY 

Official website:  www.humansofnewyork.com
Facebook page:  www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork
Goodreads page:  www.goodreads.com/book/show/17287009-humans-of-new-york




Sunday, October 20

First Look at Lolita

At some time or other, I was bound to read the immortal classic, Lolita.  It seems that hardly a week goes by that one of my lecturers doesn't bring it up in class, emphasising how brilliant it is in so many ways.

So I checked it out from the library and stole a few minutes to read the first few pages.  It didn't take long to get me wriggling in surprised delight.  

For your reading pleasure, a delectable excerpt from page 13.  

Stanley Kubrick film poster
I have reserved for the conclusion of my "Annabel" phase the account of our unsuccessful first tryst.  One night, she managed to deceive the vicious vigilance of her family.  In a nervous and slender-leaved mimosa grove at the back of their villa we found a perch on the ruins of a low stone wall.  Through the darkness and the tender trees we could see the arabesques of lighted windows which, touched up by the coloured inks of sensitive memory, appear to me now like playing cards - presumably because a bridge game was keeping the enemy busy.  She trembled and twitched as I kissed the corner of her parted lips and the hot lobe of her ear.  A cluster of stars palely glowed above us, between the silhouettes of long thin leaves; that vibrant sky seemed as naked as she was under her light frock.  Her saw her face in the sky, strangely distinct, as if it emitted a faint radiance of its own.         
 p 13 of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.  1955.


The imagery is so sensory and delicious.  I adore the playing cards reference, and the suggestion of the sky being as naked as Annabel is under her dress.  There's something so cool, dry, and fluttering about this.  

A word that Nabokov uses later is "biscuity" and I adore this word choice.  It seems to sum everything up for me.  The chapped lips, the cool but dry breeze, her lovely legs (which he goes on to describe)...  

I know many of you have read this book before, so don't give any spoiler away!  However, feel free to share your favourite passages.  I would love to hear them.  

Friday, October 18

My Writing Wishlist: Voices I Wish were Mine!

"Make a wishlist of writer's voices that you envy."  My creative writing tutor set my class this task as homework, and it's got me thinking.  

There are several writers of whom I am intensely jealous.  If only I had that 'thing' that they have.  This homework exercise has prompted me to consider more deeply what it is that I love about my favourite writers.  

This is my wishlist - writer voices that I wish were mine!


F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald is my first true love in terms of voice.  I was floored by his writing long before I could articulate any of my feelings for his work in the technical terms I now know from a year of university.  

The atmosphere and very essence of his era is conveyed in his effortless prose.  His flow is fluid and elegant.  His writing sparkles with sensory experiences - each scene is inhaled and tasted as well as viewed.  

Fitzgerald is on my wishlist of writer voices because it is my ultimate aspiration to have even a fraction of his natural flair for elegance, grandeur, and luxuriant bedazzlement.  I aspire to write with a focus on the senses and I've never seen this done better than in Fitzgerald's work.  


Jonathan Safran Foer

Safran Foer's writing is special is so many ways, as lovers of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close already know.  The visual experience of his experimental work is exhilarating.  

In reference to his voice as a writer, he seems to float through his stories with a heady sense of wonderment for the world and the humans that habituate it.  He articulates so many intimate and authentic observations of the world through sumptuously visual metaphors.  I love his way of constantly questioning the possibilities.  

Safran Foer is on my wishlist of writers voices because I am in awe of his childlike way of experiencing the world with wonderment, from the biggest things like death and love, to the smallest, most intimately unnoticeable things.  I aspire to be a writer who presents wonderment.  

Ian McEwan

McEwan's voice is crystalline, pristine and perfect.  Each word seems fastidiously handpicked so that every image and scene is composed with fragility and delicacy, as though from glass. 

The atmosphere and sensory experience of his writing is sumptuous and heady.  I adore the feeling of entering his worlds, which on arrival, are already perfectly fashioned and refined down to the last detail.  There is a sense of an ingenious omnipotent mind weaving this universe from a thousand threads so that every image is important in the grand scheme.  

McEwan is on my wishlist of writers voices because I aspire to build my characters and story worlds to his level of atmosphere and refinement.  



So, having seen my wishlist, what do you think?  As an aspiring writer, this homework prompt has really assisted me in articulating some of my goals.  


Friday, October 11

The Idiot's Guide to Trainspotting

I started reading IRVINE WELSH'S 'TRAINSPOTTING'.  Perhaps you're better acquainted with director Danny Boyle's 1996 film adaptation.  Having seen and enjoyed the movie, I was intrigued by what the book would be like.  I certainly wasn't prepared for the adventure that awaited me.  


Thinking in Scottish

At uni, we talk about the importance of developing a unique 'voice' as a writer.  Never before have I been confronted with such a shockingly unique voice as that of Irvine Welsh in Trainspotting.  

It is written in dialect.  The first paragraph succeeded in annihilating my expectations:  
"The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling.  Ah wis jist sitting thair, focusing own the telly, trying no tae notice the c***.  He wis bringing me soon.  Ah tried tae keep ma attention own the Jean-Claude Van Damme video."  
Don't take for granted how difficult it is to get used to this.  I normally read aloud to myself, but the dialect made it impossible.   I simply couldn't get my tongue or brain to work fast enough.  

However, after reading in my head for a while, it all began to make sense.  It was slow going, but the words flowed.  I imagine it would feel similar to when you finally know enough of a language to have a proper conversation.  

And the very funny thing is that it became so natural to my brain, that even after I had put the book down, I continued to think in a Scottish accent in my head!  When I spoke aloud, it actually made me feel weird that my voice didn't match the one in my thoughts.  


Irresistible

When I borrowed Trainspotting from the library I didn't intend to read it.  I had it in mind to quickly glance over the first chapter, just as a study in narrative voice.  But I've fallen prey to its irresistibly compelling narration and now there's no turning back.  

Welsh's mastery of language is sensational and obvious.  I'm proud to flaunt the fact that I'm reading this book because it is evidently a classic and at the very least, an adventure I will have trouble forgetting.  

If you need any more convincing to check it out, read on....


Criticism for Trainspotting

'The voice of punk, grown up, grown wiser and grown eloquent' - Sunday Times 

'A novel perpetually in a starburst of verbal energy - a vernacular spectacular... The stories we hear are retched from the gullet' - Scotland on Sunday

'Trainspotting marked the capital debut of a capital writer.  This marvellous novel might feel like a bad day in bedlam, but boy is it exhilarating' - Jeff Torrington 


Links

Tuesday, October 8

The Helsinki Roccamatios

I think it's safe to say that now everyone knows of YANN MARTEL, the author of LIFE OF PI.  Before Pi, however, I knew nothing of this great storyteller.  My creative writing tutor strongly recommended his Man Booker Prize-winning short story collection, The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, so I went and checked it out from the library.  Shall we begin?


 The Size and Shape

It's been a long time since I've picked up any book so irresistibly attractive even before I read the blurb.  It's because of it's size and shape.  I never take for granted a book that just feels 'right' and this book is as close to perfect as it gets. 

This hardcover gem is 19 cm by 12 cm and 3 cm thick.  It is the most warmly welcoming, little brick of a book, the sort of thing you would want to take with you everywhere purely because it's nice to hold.  I'd fallen in love before I'd read a word of it.  



Yann Martel's Introduction

I haven't even started reading the stories yet because the author's note was so compelling!  I knew by the end of the first page that I wouldn't be able to resist blogging it.  

"...  One consequence of this youthful existential crisis was my first creative effort, a once-act play I wrote over the course of three days.  It was about a young man who falls in love with a door.  When a friend finds out, he destroys the door.  Our hero promptly commits suicide.  It was, without question, a terrible piece of writing, irredeemably blighted by immaturity.  But I felt as though I'd come upon a violin, picked it up and brought bow to strings: the sound I made was perhaps terrible - but what a beautiful instrument!  There was something deeply compelling about creating a setting, inventing characters, giving them dialogue, directing them through a plot, and by these means presenting my view of life.  For the first time, I had found an endeavour into which to pour all my energies."

Excerpt from the Author's Note.  Yann Martel.  1993.  The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios.  Edinburgh: Canongate.  2004 Ed.  

Martel articulates such a lovely concept of writing: the wonderment of the form, and the necessity and compulsion to develop in it.  


As soon as I get a break from script-writing, I'm going to devour this little book and hopefully it will provide plenty of fodder for blog posts, so keep an eye out.

Saturday, October 5

Mastering the Art of Book Titles

JULIA CHILD'S LETTER TO EDITOR, JUDITH JONES

Do you remember way back in the beginnings of this blog, we read Julia Child's gorgeous memoir, My Life in France?  (Follow the link to relive it.)  

Well, I stumbled upon a lovely thing today:  Julia Child's typewritten letter to her editor, Judith Jones. 

This relic of  her life takes place just before Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published.  You can see Julia's vision for the title and a list of her suggestions, the last and not least of which is winning title, just pencilled in at the last minute!  

Bon appétite! 



Source: www.slate.com/blogs/the_vault

Thursday, September 26

Who would ever want to read my work?

I went to consult my creative writing tutor about my new story idea and expressed my concern that nobody will want to read it.  She gave me a gem of great advice.

If you're writing something that you would like to read yourself, then that is all that matters.   
There may not be millions, but you will always represent at least a small percentage of other readers out there who like that sort of thing.  So don't stress!

Another thing she mentioned refers back to the idea of there being 3 People in Every Writer: Writer, Reader and Editor. 

THE 3 PEOPLE IN EVERY WRITER.  (Click on the link to read more about their roles and how to use them for maximum productivity.)  

She said that when I'm writing, I'm allowing the Reader in me to be too hypercritical and it's stifling my creativity. 

So to remedy this, I'm going to write wildly and freely, without Reader or Editor looming over my shoulder.  Once I'm done the draft, the Reader can come back and inspect my work to make suggestions for the Editor.  I'm still learning the art of separating these 3 characters, but I'm seeing more than ever how important it is to keep the peace between them so that each can do their job the best they can.  

I'm finding that it's important to trust that there are people out there who like every different sort of obscure thing that exists, and that somewhere there's another person very much like myself who will love what I've written.  Even if I'm the only person who likes it, that might be enough for now... 

Thursday, September 19

To Me. From Me

This week I discovered the amazing, two-storey Dymocks Bookstore in the city.  I spent an hour thoroughly losing myself amongst the shelves, poring over the titles and gulping deep breaths of that book smell that I so miss when I buy books online.  

Obviously, it was useless to resist the store's charms and I ended up buying three books.  

The first one I started reading straight away on the train home.  But the other two, I wrapped in gift paper with a note attached and addressed to myself in the future.  

These two books, gift-wrapped on my bookshelf, are going to be a present to myself when I finish my first year of university.  I'm only six weeks away from accomplishing this incredible milestone.  

Because I've been through so much this year, I thought that the best and truest way for me to celebrate would be to give myself something.  That something is permission to be very proud and happy.  

As great as it is to receive congratulations from my family, it isn't a substitute for telling myself that I'm proud.  I'm the person who I most need to hear that from.  

After all the exhaustive effort that I wrung out of myself to survive this year of study, I just need to admit to myself that 'I did good'.  That I am indefatigable and invincible.  That I can be beaten to the ground and still get back up.  


To me.  From me.  For everything I've been through.  For everything I am yet to dream of doing.  I just need to give myself permission to have this moment of happiness because I deserve it.  No one can take what I've learnt away from me.

Thursday, September 12

The 3 People in Every Writer

In every writer, there are 3 people, 3 distinct characters.  These are:

  1. The Writer
  2. The Reader
  3. The Editor

These 3 people have totally different personalities, and some of them don't get along!  It's a good idea to get to know them and their unique differences so that you can work with them productively.  

I would also strongly encourage you to think of a face that you could give to these 3 people, to help you to separate them and understand their different needs and roles.  


THE WRITER


The writer is a free-spirited, creative, imaginative, wondrous person.  This person writes down everything they think and feel.  They need the freedom to say whatever they want.  

I like to think of my writer as Julia Child.  She is free, funny, and fearless, with a booming laugh!  She isn't afraid to make a mess or laugh at her mistakes.  



THE READER

The reader devours books.  This person learns from studying the work of other writers.  They feed their creative soul with words and have a clear idea of what sort of thing they like to read about.  A helpful motto for the reader is "write the book that you want to read".  


This is the face that the editor makes
when he sees bad grammar
THE EDITOR

The editor is the polar opposite of the writer.  While the writer needs to space to go crazy with their feelings, the editor is a strict and grim-faced person who knows the rules and enforces them.  

It's a bad idea to have these two in the same room together, because they don't get on at all!  The editor can be hyper-critical and plain heartless!  They come armed with red pens.  It is their job to cut, reword and generally prune the imaginative mess that the writer made into an excellent story.  

It's fun to see the editor as a wise, stern, old soul.  Take Gandalf for example.  He's still loveable, but he gets the job done and isn't afraid to do the hard thing (delete bits the writer likes!)  



WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?

These 3 people are 3 roles that every writer has to play at some point.  By creating a strong separation between and unique face for each of them, it makes it much easier to realise what they need.  
  • The writer needs to be free to write anything they think and feel.
  • The reader needs to read and consider what they like to read.
  • The editor needs to look at the writing with a critical eye and heartlessly edit it.  
The writer and editor are the most important to separate because neither can do their job properly while the other is involved.  
  • The writer needs space to make mistakes and get messy, so if your editor turns up while they're working, the writer's creativity is stifled and they feel self-conscious.
  • The editor needs to separate from the writer's enthusiasm and emotional connection with the work in order to perform the difficult task of cutting and editing.  You can't edit properly when the writer is complaining about you tampering with their work!
It really does help to give these 3 people a face and character that you understand well.  

This is particularly helpful when you're writing for a deadline.  When you're rushing, the roles of the writer and editor often get horribly mixed up, and the result is usually not very good writing!


I hope that this is helpful.  Already, I'm noticing how much more proficient I am now that I am keeping this concept in mind.  Take care.  









Monday, August 26

'Portrait of a Love Affair': The Power of Short Stories

"No amount of reading novels will prepare you for writing short stories," said my creative writing lecturer.  

I just couldn't resist the charm of Lorrie Moore's
author profile picture
I rarely read short stories before starting this course, but I have quickly come to appreciate them and the power they hold.  

Short stories are a fantastic medium for "nailing down a single conviction.  Emotionally" (William Carlos Williams).  

Edgar Allen Poe explained that they have a single mood and "every sentence must build towards it".  

My favourite quote on the topic comes from Lorrie Moore: 
"A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage.  A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film."
Basically, short stories are about compressing, condensing and distilling an idea rather than length.  

And this is why I find them so exciting.  Understanding for the first time the power that short story writers hold, I am thrilled to discover that I can wield it, too.  

I'm looking at it as the chance to make a statement or observation, to prove that my perspective is unique and insightful.  My tutor keeps reminding us that no one can tell our story, or even any story in the same way that we would.  

I am in love with little wondrous things, snapshot moments and fleeting images.  Short stories are a beautiful way to fasten upon those tiny things and weave a narrative around them.  
"This is how I see the world."
It's a chance to articulate something I've always felt.  It's a chance to argue my convictions, which is an exciting prospect that I won't be taking for granted anytime soon.  

As I've mulled over my new opportunities for storytelling, I've been nourishing my soul with short stories.  I'm going to include some titles of stories that particularly resonated with me.    Hopefully these will prove how compelling and poignant a short story can be:  

Michael Chabon:
  • S ANGEL
  • Blumenthal on the Air
Nick Earles:
  • Twenty-minute Hero
Hanif Kureishi:
  • Intimacy
Miranda July:
  • The Shared Patio
Etgar Keret:
  • Shoes
Ernest Hemmingway
  • Hills Like White Elephant
Woody Allen
  • Tandoori Ransom


Monday, August 19

Simply Superb Story Starters

A couple of days ago, I posted my DIY Story Idea Generator.  It combines random Places, Characters and Scenarios to inspire creative and engaging story ideas.  


Here's one that Anonymous suggested:
"Some people may find it strange to see a billy goat conducting an orchestra, but at the local stationary store it is a regular occurrence."
I enjoyed this so much, for several reasons.  One, it is wildly imaginative, and two, it would make an eye-catching first sentence for a short story.  


This one-liner has inspired me to take a break from study and try my hand at some imaginative story-starters of my own.  I'm thinking that this hiatus from assignment writing will be good for me, at least if only to let my wonderment have some free-roam.  

Feel free to use any of these story-starters, but hopefully they will inspire you to try your hand at coming up with your own.  

I've skipped the columns, but you can read about the template I suggested in my DIY Story Idea Generator post.  Enjoy.

"It was with many astonished stares and honking horns that commuters of Havisham Road drove past the traffic policeman, perched on the top rung of a ladder by the roadside and playing the euphonium as if it were the most natural thing in the world."  
 "I didn't know that it was possible for a person to have a goldfish's memory, but the night of the axe-murder at Lincoln's Caravan Park was not the best time to find out."   
"When the fire-breathing mouse broke into the secret underground headquarters, it was necessary to commandeer a pair of rollerblades in order to escape to safety."  

Saturday, August 17

DIY Story Idea Generator

I want to share with you a ridiculously simple exercise for coming up with story ideas.  This one was taught to me by my scriptwriting tutor.  I was actually surprised by how well it worked, even though it's so easy to do!  




The DIY Story Idea Generator


Step 1:
  • Fold a blank piece of paper into 3 columns

Step 2:

  • In the 1st column, write a list of at least 5 PLACES that you are familiar with.  
  • For example: a library, an aquarium, Starbucks, New York, Paris etc.  

Step 3:
  • In the 2nd column, write a list of at least 5 CHARACTERS that you like to read about.  
  • For example: a wizard, a bank-robber, a young mother, a film director, a postman etc. 

Step 4:
  • In the 3rd column, write a list of at least 5 SCENARIOS that you find interesting.  
  • For example: unrequited love, a helicopter chase, moving house, a crime-scene investigation, finding a lost puppy etc. 
Step 5:
  • Now all that is left to do is pick 1 thing from each column, and combine them to create a one-sentence story idea.  

Here are some examples:
  • A wizard gets involved with a helicopter chase in New York.
  • A film director finds a lost puppy in Starbucks.
  • A postman conducts a crime-scene investigation in a library.  

Obviously, your lists can be wilder and whackier than mine.  Your only limit is your imagination.  So I encourage you to go nuts with these, and your DIY Story Idea Generator will be a constant source of fun and inspiration.