Thursday, November 5, 2009

...and the books that were read in the meantime...

Here are some of the books I've read this year. I can't remember if there were others, but if they were, they were obviously highly forgettable.

Swimming, a beautiful, evocative novel set around the suburbs of Melbourne I know so well. The novel centres on one woman's journey through the experience of childlessness. There are many gut-wrenching scenes here, and the theme is sensitively and honestly explored. This first novel is capably handled by a talented and promising new writer, Enza Gandolfo.
At a writers' conference a couple of years ago, I heard one of the writers say she had put off reading any of La Vyrle Spencer's books because she thought her name was so awful. I confess I had the same impression. And how wrong we both were. After reading That Camden Summer, I have nothing but praise for Spencer. Though there is so much head-hopping in this book that it was sometimes difficult to know whose thoughts I was reading, it hardly got in the way. The story was wonderful, as were the characters. Un-put-downable.

Oh, dear. After hearing so many wonderful things about Isabel Allende, I must confess I will probably never read one of her books again. Allende's writing is masterly, there is no doubt of that, and though Daughter of Fortune told a story full of intrigue and promise, a rushed ending left far too many loose ends for my liking.The story of Laura Bush was a fascinating peek into the private life of a very public person. I thoroughly enjoyed American Wife, for its competent, smooth writing, but mostly for its voyeur quality.

What Scribbly Didn't Do

Scribbly started out this year with such promise, and then completely dashed all her hopes of being able to sustain a steady blogging stream.

It seemed so easy when there were holidays and loads of free time to commit to frequent posts that would continue throughout the year.

Here we are, in November, and the posts have not even been far and few in between. They have been non-existent.

A quick update on other activities might explain why Scribbly has been absent from this page:
  • Building project at home has been all but completed (only concrete paths and water tanks left to be poured/installed).

  • Work has been busy, but very, very rewarding this year, with much wonderful outcomes achieved. This is not in a writing field, but challenging and important nonetheless.

  • As always, life gets in the way. Children, husband, home and marvellous friends must be fitted in. It's imperative! I know this is not an excuse for not keeping up the blog, but it's a valid choice I make.

  • Any spare time is taken up with writing, which this year has taken a slightly different direction. More info to follow in future posts...!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What Scribbly Did...

... since the last post.

Oh, my. I have done it again, haven't I? Two and a half months without posting. Well, I've been a busy girl. First there's been the duty type stuff. That tends to creep in until there's not much room for other things. Then there's been the building project that is only weeks (fingers crossed) away from being finished. Kids are well and truly back at school and almost through second term. I've been re-assessing my writing goals with some very nice writing friends and rediscovering the joy (and sometimes the angst) of putting words together.

As I said, I've been fairly proactive with the writing, but I'm happy to say the reading hasn't been neglected either. Since my last post, I've been through a few fabulous books, and am now enjoying 'The White Tiger' by Aravind Adiga. This is the second book I've read about India, and funnily enough, both books won the Booker for their authors. I also believe - though I'm not sure - that both authors were first timers. What a way to explode onto the writing scene, hey?

But compared to 'The God of Small Things', this book is quite tongue-in-cheek and irreverent. Both books paint a picture of India as a fascinating, enigmatic, infuriating land of great disparity and mystery. For now, it's a place I prefer to read about.

While I was reading this book, I read from cover to cover, Denise Scott's hilarious autobiography. I also tried to read 'March', but it was from the library, and I took longer than the measly 3 weeks they allow you to borrow a book. I returned it and will borrow again when I've finished this one.

Oh, and I absolutely loved 'The Movie Girl'. I can imagine it being made into a movie. The heroine would probably be played by Miranda Kerr, and the leading man, well that could be, perhaps... oh, I don't know. Someone young and gorgeous like Chase Crawford. It was light-hearted, fun and well written. I was glued to the story throughout and I was impressed at how well the author managed to create a strong romantic conflict and high emotional stakes without the whole thing turning to mush. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and I look forward to reading more of Kate Lace's work.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What is conflict, anyway?

Yeah, what is it, really? Is it this?
Or rather something like this?

Perhaps this is more like it...

It seems simple. Lots of things do, when they're done well.

Good writers do it all the time, putting their characters at odds to create an inescapable conflict of motivation. The characters' goals may be the same or different, but in pursuing those goals, each will negate the other's chances of succeeding.

A few nights ago, I watched the old classic, 'Irma La Douce', with my family. What a great partnering of Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon. We thoroughly enjoyed it. As we watched, I was explaining to my husband how inescapable the conflict was.

Irma, a prostitute, falls in love with Nestor, an ex-policeman. Nestor replaces Irma's abusive pimp, and to show her gratitude, she sets about earning as much money as she can to dress him in the finest clothes and look after him in a way that will make her proud among the other prostitutes in the district.

Nestor is flattered, but his love for Irma makes him insanely jealous of her clients. He can't stand the thought of her with other men, so he invents an alter-ego, Lord X, who will engage Irma's services twice a week to do nothing more than play double-handed solitaire, paying her so much money she doesn't need to see other customers.

Problem is, to make a thousand Francs a week, Nestor works himself to the bone at the local produce markets and arrives home early each morning to fall into bed exhausted. Irma thinks he's losing interest in her. One day, after a quick change from Lord X to his real-life self, Nestor meets Irma in the local bar for a drink. She sees a lipstick mark on his cheek - the one she had placed on the Lord only a few minutes earlier - and accuses him of having another girl. She then announces that she has fallen in love with Lord X and plans to elope with him.

There seems nothing left for Nestor to do than to dispose of Lord X. But when Nestor throws Lord X's clothes and belongings in the Seine, noisily proclaiming his joy at being finally rid of the Lord, he is spotted by Irma's old pimp. The police are called and Nestor is arrested and subsequently convicted for the murder of Lord X.

I won't spoil the ending, as there are a few more complications before Irma and Nestor are happily reunited, but I thought this was a splendid example of inescapable emotional conflict. Irma's and Nestor's motivations for getting what they wanted were diametrically opposed. In the status quo, no resolution was possible. Thankfully, unfolding events provided the stimulus for character change, and that in turn enabled the protagonists to change events so that they could be - happily - together at the end.

There. Now wasn't that confusing?

Last night I drew Jennifer Crusie's conflict grid on a page and tried to nut out the conflict of my current characters. I haven't yet given up on them, as I think they've got potential. It was harder than I thought to get the conflict grid working so that each of their motivations prevented the other's goal from succeeding. I must have drawn that grid at least fifteen times before I hit on a workable conflict. But for this to happen, I had to change the story I'd originally planned to write. It was a difficult process that kept me up past midnight. It was worth it, however, as I feel more satisfied with the new plot than I have for a long time. What this means, though, is that I have to wipe everything I've written so far and start again. And I thought this writing caper was going to be easy...!!!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

State of flux

My current novel has ground to a halt.

Several weeks ago, I received yet another rejection from Harlequin for the manuscript I'd sent them most recently. Now I have no irons in the fire, and since the rejection letter was identical to the last, I think it's time to stop and take stock.

All sorts of questions are running through my head. Am I writing for the right publisher? Is my work more suited to a different line, or to another genre of writing altogether? Clearly, there is something about my writing that isn't working, so now is a good time to stop and consider what I'm doing.

Over the last few years, I've built up a bit of knowledge about how to structure a novel. My writing - hopefully - has improved. So what is it about it that's going to take it to the next level? I think this is a crucial consideration at this point, and the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced I need to be more strategic about what I write, how I write it, and to whom I pitch it.

When I think about my current novel, there are several elements that don't sit quite right with me. I have the emotional conflict worked out... I think. But is it as clear in my mind as it should be? Perhaps not enough to provide that clarity for the reader in a way that's going to make them want to turn the page.

Part of the problem could be that in trying to 'fit' into a certain genre - and Romance has been the genre of choice thus far - I am perhaps not able to express myself in the voice that comes most naturally to me. If this is in fact the case, then I might be sabotaging myself in a way that will always prevent an editor from seeing who I really am.

So I'm going to take some time to mull all these issues over and come up with a plan. I feel a great sense of affinity for romance, for the breadth of storylines available, which provide endless opportunities to explore character and emotion. If I'm totally honest, what attracts me the most to romance is being able to explore women's issues in great depth.

With this in mind, I'm going to analyse what I've done so far, see what possibilities lay ahead, and make a plan of attack. There will be setbacks along the journey, but I'm more than willing to persevere, since there's something inside me that urges me on. I don't know if Harlequin is the right fit for me, but I know there's something out there that is. It's my passionate and resolute aim to find it.

The Slap

Apologies for the long posting absence. And after such a valiant start, too! I knew this would happen as soon as work got going again.

I finished reading Christos Tsiolkas' 'The Slap' quite a while ago, and have been in a quandary about what to write. This is, after all, not a critic's blog, and I - as an aspiring writer - feel I don't have the credentials to give it a hiding. In particular, I don't want to be the kind of aspiring writer who likes to tear other writers' work to shreds. Everyone has their own individual voice, and their own message to convey, and thank God for that. Wouldn't it be boring otherwise? Still, I guess that as a reader - and a discerning one at that - I do have the right to voice an opinion.

First, I would like to commend Christos Tsiolkas on his strong and convincing voice. The novel reads easily, and is very graphic in its attempt at realism. A few of my friends have read it and we discussed it while it was still fresh in our minds. These friends are intelligent, well-read, professional women, and though each of us had a slightly different take on where the novel took us, we pretty much all agreed on one thing: how the book made us feel.

Tsiolkas' realism was a tad too brutal and ugly for me. Though I'd felt sympathy for almost all the characters in the beginning of the novel, as the story unfolded and each character was placed under the microscope, fatal character flaws were exposed, which made it difficult to find any redeeming qualities. Above all, I felt sort of dirty after reading this book. The language was unnecessarily foul. This observation isn't made because I'm a prude who's averse to swearing - quite the contrary. I think the odd, well-placed swear word can express emotions with great economy. I just don't think people generally swear as much as the characters in 'The Slap'. Bad language was used so often that it became redundant. Consequently, the impact was lost, and all that remained was a general feeling that the novel was coarse.

The sex scenes were mostly unpleasant too. Well-written and spare, but again, the sex was ugly except for one scene where one of the characters is being unfaithful to her husband. I couldn't help wishing she'd take off with him, seeing as her husband's regard for women seemed to border on misogyny.

Drug use among young people was another facet to this novel that I found disturbing. Again, I'm not naive on the subject. I know young - and old - people - do drugs. There's no shock factor there. However, I found the portrayal of young people just out of VCE, languishing in an empty, directionless world to be quite depressing.

For these reasons, I found it difficult to suspend disbelief while reading. The obnoxiousness of the characters and the grim situations in which they found themselves, continually pulled me out of the story. As such, 'The Slap' was hard to reconcile as a true depiction of contemporary suburban life in Melbourne. Though Tsiolkas' cast of characters spanned a wide range of cultural and socio-economic groups, they were all alike in one sense. The glaring disparity of their lives was bridged by a common sense of pessimism and wariness that drove each character to commit acts of destructive recklessness.

Tsiolkas has been commended for this work, and I agree it was a mildly compelling read. For me, what kept me going was more the level of my investment in the novel than pure joy of reading it. Like one of those slightly weird SBS movies that come on late at night and keep me glued to the screen because I'm too tired to get off the couch, turning the pages of 'The Slap' was a case of hanging on until the end in the hope of some kind of redemption. Sadly, that was not to be.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Postscript on The Prince Of Tides

I finished this sumptuous book while still on holiday down the beach. Picking it up and taking myself down to the sunroom for some unlimited reading time was more luxurious to me than a visit to a day spa. The mornings were chilly while away, and I'd get under the doona of the sofa bed and snuggle while Pat Conroy's evocative words transported me to a world far away, see-sawing between the lowlands of South Carolina and the stylish streetscape of Manhattan.

Since finishing the book, I've raved about it to anyone who'll care to listen. I've already passed it on, and I have two on the waiting list to read it. All for a book that cost me 50c at the school fete.

Quite simply, it was one of the best books I've ever read, and I did little analysing while I read. I was too busy being mesmerised by the rich prose. Never one for poetic descriptions of scenery, I found that Conroy's long passages on the sea islands of South Carolina never became tiresome. Infinitely fascinating would be a more fitting description. With a masterful stroke of his pen, he was able to convey in a depth rarely seen in many novels, the love Tom Wingo felt for his beloved island and surrounding coastline.

While I still had access to the computer, I posted a few 'Literary Gems' from the book. These were passages that entranced me with the beauty of words or by the deep insight into character or situations. Some novels are lucky to possess only one or two of these types of moments, but in the case of The Prince Of Tides, I could have picked out a passage of such brilliance every two or three pages - sometimes more. If I hadn't been computerless, I could well have kept on posting, and I'm sure by now I'd be up to 'Literary Gem # 159). But by the time I returned home, I was already into my next novel, which was a good thing, since posting the 'Literary Gems' was more intended to tease and entice than to spoil the experience for others.

I wish I hadn't seen the movie before reading the novel. Admittedly, it's been many years since I saw it, and that helped me to think more in terms of the story rather than the screen adaptation. As with many great novels, the book was far, far better than the film, since it concentrated in greater detail on the life of the Wingo family as the children were growing up. The entire point of the novel is the backstory, and Conroy houses the novel in the past more than the present. From memory, the film did the opposite. There is so much told about the family that couldn't be covered in a two hour film, and it's these events, so sensitively conveyed, that enrich the novel in a way that is beyond a film-maker's limitations.

Now I look forward to my friends reading it so we can discuss it. I wholeheartedly give this book 5 stars!