Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Continuing my aim to read widely, and try authors and genres that I wouldn't normally read, I read Eucalyptus by Murray Bail.
   Rarely is that a novel that is truly unique. So often writers mimic each other, whether or not it is unconscious, but they still stick to a writing style. Eucalyptus is so unique that it is a masterpiece standing on its own. Nothing comes near it.
   My expectation from the title was that the story was based in country Australia, and my expectation from the thickness of the novel that there would be a lot to the story. I was right on the first, and wrong on the second. Murray Bail seems like the kind of slowly moving man that watches everything. I picture him as an observer, taking everything in around him.

   The main character, the father, has been described as gruff and a captor. I don't see him that way. He is a typical Aussie bloke from that era - no expression, little communication, and clueless about women. He thought he was protecting his daughter, and he thought what worked for him would work for her.
   The daughter's fate is likened to a princess in a fairytale, but there is no evil in this novel. There is just realism, life and death.
   One of my expectations was that the story would be substantial, but it turned out that Murray Bail used the main story to weave in lots of little stories and anecdotes. There was also slabs of information about eucalypts, which got a bit boring, but also made me ashamed that I don't know more about our native trees. I skipped through a lot of the information, and the short stories, urgently seeking the next tail of the story line. I get like that - impatient - when I enjoy a story and the characters, and I just want the pace to move a bit faster. If the novel doesn't accommodate the pace, which this one didn't, then I make the pace up myself ... by skipping over whole sections.
   I need to read this novel again, more slowly, and savour it. It is a literary work, not popular fiction, and should be read accordingly.
   Be careful with your expectations when you read this one, and enjoy the beautiful imagery that Murray Bail creates.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Animating the Inanimate

I have started writing the first chapter of my novel this weekend. As a warm up, to get me motivated to write, I decided to do an exercise to get myself motivated. From the book Now Write, I decided to do an exercise by Joan Leegant called Animating the Inanimate.
   Joan suggests that ascribing feelings and behaviours to inanimate objects can add surprising elements to fiction. As well as illuminating a character, it can also add depth and texture to the world of the story by suggesting that all things - living and otherwise - play a role in our lives, even if we are not aware of it.
   The exercise is to try to give a physical object some emotions or behaviours of its own, and see what it does for your character and story. The writer can be as tentative or as full-throtle about the object's feelings and behaviours as they want, and be open to what it can show about the world of the story.
   Because I wasn't writing as part of my story, but using it as a warm up, I decided to write a quick piece from the point of view of the first physical object I saw. Here it is:

Unlike some of the others, who are brought out when they're needed and promptly put away, I have pride of place in the kitchen. I never get put away, because I am needed many times each day.
   Therefore, I am well positioned to know what is going on in my house. It is around me that the morning routine rotates. I am there when the happenings of the day are discussed as the sun goes down and the white florescent light shines on. I am privy to the financial discussions, the arguments, and the expressions of love. I witness many embraces, many tears, and many celebrations. I know all the family secrets before anyone else, because I alone am listening when no one else is around.
   They place a lot of trust in me, and they love me for it. It is me that they listen for as the dawn light filters in. It is my side that they cup tenderly, sometimes pulling their hands away with a shock, feeling my warmth. It is I that gets lifted gently, and then replaced in my cradle when they are done. I am indispensable ... I am a kettle.

It feels very childish - like something I would have written in primary school. But it did the trick, and got me motivated to right. I have completed the first draft of my first chapter.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas

Having just finished Wolf Hall, I thought I would read something quick and light. I chose The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. I hadn't heard anything about this story, and thought it would be easy. It is written from the point of view of a 9 year old, and very refreshing. However, this story is the most shocking and saddening story that I have read in a long time. It was so touching, and I think was enhanced because of the point of view that it was written from.
   The main character, Bruno, who is 9 years old, does seem to be a lot younger in many of his thought processes. He may be a little simple, or the writer may have had difficulty remembering how a 9 year old really thinks ... or he was so protected from the real world by his mother that he was extremely naive. He lived in his own world, and he was the centre of his universe. It is touching how he pronounces things wrong: he calls the Fuhrer the "Fury", and he calls Auschwitz "Out-With".

   Bruno's father is a Commandant in the Nazi party. He tells Bruno that the people in Auschwitz are "not people at all". Bruno is too young to understand racism. But his mother is depressed and (although she seems to like her husband's status) she doesn't agree with what he's doing. Bruno's grandmother is the only person that Bruno has seen stand up to his father, and openly oppose the views of the Nazi party. Bruno, though, doesn't understand what the argument is over. Through the dialogue that Bruno hears, the reader draws this conclusion. Bruno's mother says "we don't have the luxury of thinking", and she means that if they think any differently from the Nazi party that their lives are in danger.
   At the end, Bruno's father seems to realise the horror of what he has done, even if only to his own son. He seems to realise the suffering that he subjected people too, even if he thought of the Jews as less than human. There is a reference at the very end of the book to Bruno's father being taken away submissively by other soldiers. I think this is the allies coming to free to Jews from Auschwitz and taking Bruno's father prisoner. He goes willingly because he thinks he deserves to be punished.
   Such a simple, touching story. Everyone should read this.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My murderer

In Stage 2: Module 1 of the Creative Writing Course, I developed the character that is going to be murdered in my novel. The Creative Writing Course is now finished, and I am working hard on my novel.
   This week, I worked on developing my characters. I developed my main character and his love interest, his parents and his siblings. I also developed my murderers.
   The novel I am writing is based on a historical murder: an unsolved murder. So, after doing some research on the many theories about who murdered Jim Barclay, I have decided to go with the most popular theory: he was murdered by cattle thieves.
   My cattle thieves are John "Jack" Beveridge and James Sidney "Sid" Beveridge. These brothers were the third and fifth children on five, born in Harrietville. They grew up with parents that were too busy for them, running a farm and a guesthouse at the gateway to the snow fields in Victoria. By the time Sid was born, his parents had absolutely no time for him. Jack became Sid's mentor. He idolised Jack, and tailed him everywhere. Jack was a cruel man. Harsh, unsympathetic and ruthless. He was strict on Sid and uncompromising. He beat Sid, called him names, put him down, and broke him. However, he would not let anyone else talk down to Sid, and would not let Sid put up with anyone talking down to him. He would set Sid on people, like a fighting dog. Jack dominated Sid completely.
   Jack worked in a gold mine, saving money to buy a farm. In the early 1900s, he bought a farm at the top of the Buckland valley, with cattle lease rights including the Barry Mountains and Tea Tree Range. Sid and Ada went to live with him, and work for him. Jack would buy cheap cattle all over Victoria, and he would send Sid to collect. Sid became an excellent cattleman, and would steal extra cattle when he was driving Jack's cattle home.
   Sid had no idea of what was right or wrong. He took what he wanted, and wasn't pulled up by anyone because they were scared of him. Sid was scared of no one except for Jack. He was a fighter. Jack wouldn't berate Sid for stealing, because to contributed to his own wealth. Sid often stole to give a gift to Jack.
   Sid was simple. He wasn't interested in anything but making Jack happy, and cattle. He loved cattle. He dreamt about cattle. He loved the calves, how they played, and how they wagged their tails when they drank from their mother. He hated weaning the calves, which he always thought was done too early. He hated selling them, but Jack would hit him over the back of the head and sell them anyway.
   They drank a lot. They never married. They kept their sister like a maid.
   They wanted Jim Barclay's cattle, which were fine cattle and worth a lot. Jack set Sid to kill Jim, and they stole all the cattle. Conveniently, Jim Barclay and Jack Beveridge shared the same initials, so Jack sold the cattle as if they were his own. He got very rich and bought up land all over north-east Victoria.
   Sid was never concerned about being caught. It never crossed his mind that what he had done was wrong. If the police had ever suspected, and come asking questions, Jack would have dobbed Sid straight in and turned his back on his brother. But it never came to this.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wolf Hall

I haven't done a book review for a while, because I have been reading the epic novel by Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall. It won the Man Booker prize in 2009. It took me about three weeks, when I am used to reading a book in a week. At a few points, I was ready to give up. The pace was slow, some of the paragraphs were nearly a page long.  It was also confusing, because the writer kept referring to Thomas Cromwell (the main character) as 'he', even when there were other male characters in the scene. So, I was always having to reread sections to work out you said what, and what Cromwell actually did and didn't do.

   After taking about 300 pages to build up, I did actually like Cromwell a lot. He was a great character. I think I like him because he was modern for his time, and a realist. He was also highly intelligent, and a hard worker. He was fair, and compassionate.  He's also never completely loyal to anyone but himself, and he's not afraid to lie and cheat to get what he wants.
   The other reason I kept reading was that I know and love the story of King Henry VIII. This is the fourth novel about Henry that I have read. I have also watched the TV series: the Tudors. The story of Henry has never been told from a secondary perspective around Cromwell. It portrayed Henry in a different light, too, because of the experiences Cromwell had lived and where he was coming from.
   I think the next novel I should read about Henry will be A Man for All Seasons. Apparently there are some stark contrasts between how the characters are portrayed in each of these books. Sir Thomas More irritated me in this novel. But that is hardly surprising, since I have very little time for extremists. And that's what I consider More to be.
   Another interesting thing about this novel was that it was written in the present tense. It is unique to find  novel that is written this way, especially one that flows well, because I had to have it pointed out to me before I even noticed.
   Readers who are not familiar with King Henry's story, and the people in his court, may find it difficult to keep track of the characters. Other interesting peripheral characters are also introduced, which breathed fresh life into the story.
   The most disappointing thing for me was that I felt the book finished in the wrong place. I thought it was called Wolf Hall because it would continue through until Jane Seymour became queen. The may that Mantel has portrayed Jane Seymour makes me wonder how she ever got noticed by Henry. Answering that question was one of the reasons I kept reading, but not to have that question answered has left me feeling unsatisfied.
   Obviously, if we don't even get to the point when Jane Seymour is queen, then we don't get to Cromwell's lutheran queen, and the beginning of his end. Does that mean that there is room for a sequel to Mantel's epic? I hope not: I can't cope with putting this much effort into reading.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Creative Writing Course - Stage 2 - Module 5

This was the last week of my Creative Writing Course Stage 2, with the Sydney Writers' Centre. We focused on redrafting, redrafting, redrafting, editing, and finding an agent.

The best thing about this course was that it made us focus on the book we want to write, and helped us make substantial progress towards getting started. Some significant scenes were written, characters developed, and plots constructed.

Our assignment focused on the climax of our story. Here's my submission:

This is a very difficult task. Although I have a broad outline of the story in my head, I like it to unfold while I write. Having to write the climax when I haven't fully developed my characters and setting is difficult. I know that I want Harry to find Jim's killers and subtly confront them. But I don't know where or how that's going to happen yet. I don't think I'll end up using this scene, and I've rushed it because I know I won't use it. But the exercise was great, because it's made me think that far ahead.
by Jacqui
He sat in the hard pew at the back of the church, back stiff, and hands folded unnaturally in his lap. Mark sat beside him, leaning towards Harry and whispering gossip about each of the locals as they filed past to the front of the church. Harry was not listening closely. He was watching each man pass, trying to recognise any of the figures that he had seen from a distance, sitting on top of the Buckland spur and watching the drovers. He began to think his intuition was off. He was kidding himself if he thought that Jim's murderer would walk through the arch and identify himself. It was a long shot that the murderer had been sitting comfortably here in Myrtleford, as the police scoured Mansfield, Dargo and Gippsland.
But when Harry saw him, he knew instantly. An average looking man, wearing a suit that was rolled up at the sleeves, and the legs tucked into his boots. The man had forgotten to remove his hat as he entered. It was pulled low over his eyes. As Harry watched, the man reached up and lifted the hat from his head, revealing deep-set eyes and greasy dark hair.
"Jack Beveridge," Mark whispered, continuing his commentary which Harry had not listened to until now. Harry took note to the initials - JB. Jim Barclay. "His family is from Harrietville. A whole heap of Beveridges all over there. He's come into some money recently, because he's been buying up farms and land all over Buckland and Abbeyard. Strange, though. His brother is always trailing close by." As if to prove his point, a taller man ducked into the interior of the church. "There he is. Sid."
The service passed without Harry hearing a word. He murmered "Amen" when the congregation did. He tried to concentrate, but his eyes kept slipping over to where Jack and Sid Beveridge sat. When the priest finally shut his book with a snap, Harry slid from his pew and ducked straight out the back of the church, into the sun. He was letting the warmth soak into his upturned face when Mark found him.
"We're not leaving yet. Let me introduce you around to some of the best cattle men you'll ever meet." Harry nodded.
He shook hands and chatted about weather and calf prices with various landowners and managers for the next half hour. Finally, Mark eased him towards where Jack stood with his brother and a short woman who was cackling away to them.
"Jack," Mark got his attention. "This is my cousin, Harry Smith, from down Eaglevale way." Jack turned slowly towards Harry, his deep eyes slipping across Harry's face and taking in his extended hand. Sid shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and Harry noticed recognition flash across his face. He wondered if this man had sat upon a horse on a ridge and watched him, as Harry himself had done. These were definitely the men droving up the Buckland.
Jack extended his hand and grasped Harry's, his rough palm rubbing on Harry's own, and his thumb calloused from holding a rein. Jack firmed his grip, and Harry also squeezed harder. "Nice suit." Surprise passed across Jack's eyes briefly. Harry recognised the suit as Jim's. It was dark expensive wool, and cut for a man far taller and broader than Jack.

The men continued to hold their hand shake, looking into each other's eyes, each now knowing that the other man knew that he knew. Harry recognised the importance of this moment, and would not drop his eyes first. He would be forever in danger if he did. This man would come and hunt him down. Or send his brother.
Sid shifted again and stepped forward, breaking Jack's gaze and drawing his eyes towards his brother. The moment passed, and Harry released Jack's hand as the other man stepped back. He watched Jack for a moment longer, before turning to grasp Sid's hand for two brief pumps. It was clear that Sid did not see what had passed, and though Harry felt sure that Sid knew who he was, Sid did not suspect that Harry knew who they were. Knew their darkest deeds, and where they had come upon their money. Selling cattle with the brand "JB".
After briefly discussing the lack of rainfall, Harry let Mark steer him away. He felt the deep set eyes burn a hollow into his back, which made him walker taller and stronger. He knew.

Here's my tutor's comments:

To Jacqui
Jacqui, I like the second half of this scene although, like you, I’m not sure it’s the proper climax.

The first half, though, could be significantly improved by giving us some of the gossip Mark is whispering to Harry.

This has a couple of functions: first, it fleshes out the sense of community and closeness you have established earlier (and it may also be very amusing!). Also, when Mark then introduces Jack, it will flow more naturally.

When you do get to write the climax, however, I hope that you will give us a little more than this.  ‘Subtle’ is all very well, but I feel you are being just a little too subtle here. 

For example, we don’t get Jack’s final reaction.  Yes, he knows Harry knows, but what then?  What expressions cross his face?  How does his body language change?  When Harry watches the man ‘for a moment longer’, what does he see?

This is the big pay-off for the reader – they have been wondering and wondering who the killer is, and now they want a good look at him.  A chance of understanding why all this has happened.

Don’t disappoint them.

I love Harry as a character and I love the details of interaction, like hand shakes and chats about prices.  But to give me a reason to have read the story in the first place, you need to show me the killer in psychological as well as physical detail.

Now that my course is over, I really need to knuckle down and write. Next weekend ...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Book List

Last year, before I moved, I was a member in a brilliant book club. I still carry around the book list from the book club in my bag, so that when I am in a bookshop I can look for something rather than just browse.  I use it as a guide. Only one book from each author is listed, so sometimes I will chose a different book by the same author. The aim is just to get me reading a wider variety of books than I ever read before. If I don't like an author, I never had to read their writing again. If I do like an author, then I will find out what else they have written, and form a great relationship with their books.

Here's my list:

ALI, Monica - Brick Lane
ALLENDE, Isabel - Ines of my Soul. I have already read "Of Love and Shadows" by Isabel Allende. I liked her style enough to try one more book by her. Either this one, or "The House of the Spirits".
AMMANITI, Niccolao - I'm Not Scared
ANNEAR, Robyn - The Man who Lost Himself
ARMSTRONG, Lance - It's Not About the Bike. Read it. It's not about the bike - it's about a huge ego.
ATWOOD, Margaret - The Blind Assassin
AUSTEN, Jane - Persuasion. I have read "Pride and Prejudice" and tried to read "Sense and Sensibility" but hated it. I'm not going to try any more Jane Austen unless someone can convince me otherwise.
BAIL, Murray - Eucalyptus. I've bought this book, and have it on my shelf to read.
BAILEY, Sam & Jenny - Head Over Heels
BARBERY, Muriel - Elegance of the Hedgehog. Read it: loved it!
BARROWS and SHAFFER - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Read it: loved it!
BAUBY, Jean-Dominique - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
BENNETT, Alan - The Uncommon Reader
BOTTON, Alain De - How Proust Can Change Your Life
BRONTE, Charlotte - Jane Eyre. I've seen the movie. I'm not interested in reading the book. I have bought her sister's book, Wuthering Heights, so I'll give that a go.
BROOKS, Geraldine - Foreign Correspondence. I've read a couple of books by Geraldine, and have bought People of the Book to read next.
BRYSON, Bill - A Walk in the Woods. I've read Down Under and his history on nearly everything. Great writer.
BURROUGHS, Augusten - Running with Scissors
BYRSKI, Liz - Gang of Four
BURNS, Olive Ann - Cold Sassy Tree. Read it. Liked it. I might try to find the sequel.
CAPELLA, Anthony - Various Flavours of Coffee
CAPOTE, Truman - In Cold Blood
CAREY, Peter - His Illegal Self
CLEAVE, Chris - The Other Hand
COELHO, Paul - The Alchemist
COETZEE - Disgrace
CONRAD, Joseph - Heart of Darkness
CORBETT, Bryce - A Town Like Paris
CUNXIN, Li - Mao's Last Dancer. Read it, and loved it. I also saw the movie, which was pretty good.
DIAMANT, Anita - The Red Tent
DICKENS, Charles - Great Expectations. I have bought this to read. I'm ashamed that I haven't read it already.
DREWE, Robert - The Shark Net
DUNCAN, Susan - Salvation Creek
EDWARDS, Kim - Memory Keeper's Daughter
ELLROY, James - The Black Dahlia. Read it. This was horrible.
ESQUIVEL, Laura - Like Water for Chocolate
EUGENIDES, Jeffery - Middlesex (this is in Oprah's Bookclub too)
FITZGERALD, F. Scott - The Great Gatsby
FLANAGAN, Richard - The Unknown Terrorist
FRASER, Antonia - Marie Antoinette
FYNN - Mister God, This is Anna. I read this. It was endearing, but I won't read anything else by this author.
GARNER, Helen - The Spare Room
GOOLRICK, Robert - A Reliable Wife
GREGORY, Philippa - The Other Boleyn Girl. Read it. Loved it! Read the sequel, and loved it also. I've also bought The Other Queen and The White Queen to read.
GRENVILLE, Kate - The Idea of Perfection
GROGAN, John - The Longest Trip Home
GRUEN, Sara - Water for Elephants. Read it, loved it! I'm not interested in seeing the movie. I will read more by Sara.
GUTERSON, David - Snow Falling on Ceders
HADDON, Mark - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
HAM, Rosalie - The Dressmaker. Read it, and loved it! This is a gothic Australian story - fantastic.
HAMILTON, Clive - Affluenza
HARDY, Thomas - Tess of the D'Urbervilles. I know this story, because I watched the TV series. Not interested in reading it, now that I know the story. I might try something else by this author, if there is anything.
HELLER, Joseph - Catch 22. I have bought this to read.
HISLOP, Victoria - The Island
ISHIGURO, Kazuo - Never Let Me Go
KHAN, Adib - Spiral Road
KIDD, Sue Monk - The Secret Life of Bees
KINGSOLVER, Barbara - Poisonwood Bible
LEE, Harper - To Kill a Mockingbird
LEWYCKA, Marina - A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
MCCALL SMITH, Alexander - No 1 Ladies Detective Agency
MCCARTHY, Cormac - All the Pretty Horses. I have read The Road. I have also bought Blood Meridian. If I also like that, then I will read more of Cormac's writing.
MCEWAN, Ian - On Chesil Beach. I have read Atonement. I have tried to read another book by Ian, but hated it so much that I put it down (I hate putting books down, it feels like a failure). I might try something else by Ian, if it is recommended to me.
MCINERNEY, Monica - A Taste for It
MCINNES, William - A Man's Gotta Have a Hobby
MACKAY, Hugh - Winter Close
MARQUEZ, Gabriel Garcia - Love in the Time of Cholera
MARTEL, Yann - Life of Pi. Read it, and loved it!
MILLER, Alex - Journey to the Stone Country
MONIQUE, Roffey - The White Woman on the Green Bicycle. Read it, and loved it!
MORTON, Kate - The Forgotten Garden
MURAKAMI, Haruki - Norwegian Wood
NEMIROVSKY, Irene - Fire in the Blood
NIFFENEGGER, Audrey - The Time Traveller's Wife. Read it. It was confusing to begin with, and hard to read. But then it flowed well, and I loved it. Hated the movie! I will read more of Audrey's
PICOULT, Jodi - My Sister's Keeper. I have read something by Jodi already. It didn't stand out. It was too ordinary. I'm not in a rush to pick up another book by her, at this point. Unless someone wants to recommend one?
PATCHETT, Ann - Bel Canto
PROULX, Annie - The Shipping News
RANKIN, Ian - Exit Music
REILLY, Matthew - Temple. As an Australian author, I should have read something by Matthew already, but I haven't. I've bought Scarecrow to read.
ROY, Arundhati - The God of Small Things
SCHLINK, Bernhard - Homecoming
SEBOLD, Alice - The Lovely Bones. Read it, loved it. Also saw the movie, and although it missed out a lot (as movies always do), I think the movie was great. It didn't stick to my imagination, either, but it had such an emotional effect on me that I cried throughout most of it!
SEE, Lisa - Snow Flower & the Secret Fan
SEIERSTAD, Asne - The Bookseller of Kabul
SHRIVER, Lionel - We Need to Talk About Kevin. I've bought this to read. Can't wait.
SILVEY, Craig - Jasper Jones. Read it. It was edgy, but I don't think I'll read anything by Craig again. It seems like it is young adult fiction.
SLATER, Nigel - Toast
SPARKS, Nicholas - The Notebook
STEINBECK, John - Of Mice and Men. Read it, loved it! I've also bought The Grapes of Wrath to read.
SUSKIND, Patrick - Perfume
TARTT, Donna - The Secret History
TOOLE, John Kennedy - A Confederacy of Dunces
TRAPIDO, Barbara - Sex and Stravinsky
TSIOLKAS, Christos - The Slap. I've read it. I might try something else by Christos, mainly because he is Australian. I am hopeful that not all his writing is as sex- and drug-obsessed.
TWAIN, Mark - Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Not interested in reading this, at all.
WILDE, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray
WINCH, Tara June - Swallow the Air. Brilliant and disturbing, by a young Australian author. I want to watch Tara's career.
WINTON, Tim - Dirt Music. I've read Cloud Street and Breath. Not interested in reading more of Tim's writing for a while.
WOOD, Charlotte - Submerged Cathedral
YATES, Richard - Revolutionary Road. Read it, and loved it!
ZAFON, Carlos Ruis - The Shadow of the Wind
ZUSAK, Markus - The Book Thief

Can you add any authors to my list? Who should I be reading?