Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Describing the describer.

I didn't see Richard Powers when he came to Wellington (since I wasn't there) but I just received this from the IIML newletter: "On Saturday Victoria’s MA students had a chance to get some one-on-one advice on their novels when he presented a masterclass on narrative perspective, beginning with the notion that ‘a description always describes the describer’. Among the variations Powers offered on this theme was a scene from Damien Wilkins’ novel The Miserables, in which the main character’s view of Wellington from the deck of the interisland ferry reveals much about his state of mind."

Sounds not a million miles from describing the coffin, not the grief. I like his way of putting it, too. I think it's a great writing tip to keep in mind.

A blog I like.

I don't know why I didn't add this one to my blogroll - just forgot I suppose. But Lauren Groff's blog on her website is completely delightful. The author of The Monsters of Templeton - which I bought after reading its lovingly crafted opening chapter in the shop, and which was short-listed for the Orange Prize for New Writing - is in the late stages of pregnancy, so her blog is about books, writing and doing up her nursery or looking longingly at people drinking champagne at awards ceremonies. She really is a smart cookie and makes some interesting observations about books she's writing, reading and that are being talked about, as well as issues such as literacy and freedom of expression. She has also posted some quite refreshingly honest responses to some of the reviews her book has had (some of us try to pretend we don't read ours).

She doesn't have a 'comments' section, otherwise I would tell her I like her blog and how much I relate to so many of her posts.

Because I didn't have her on my blogroll, I only remember to look every few weeks, so there are always a few new posts to entertain me. Now I'm adding it to my blogroll. You can find links on her site to some of her elegant short stories, too, soon to be published in book form (love the cover Lauren!).

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Word Clouds.

Thanks very much to Jim Murdoch for putting me on to this site - a great procrastination tool. You feed a block of text into it and it creates a 'word cloud'. You can also play around with font, colour and layout, but I think it's quite nice to see what you get in a lucky dip. This is the cloud for the first chapter of my new novel. When I get home I'm going to feed the entire Sound of Butterflies manuscript into it to see what it comes up with. I think it's beautiful - it's a bit like a list but more poetic and artistic. These are going on the wall above my computer for inspiration. Not wasting time at all, oh no.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Not Another Bloody Blog!

I will be appearing at a session on blogging with this title at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival, which runs from September 4-7 at the Christchurch Town Hall. On the panel will also be Mark Sarvas of The Elegant Variation (selected by The Guardian as one of the top ten literary blogs on the web - intimidated, moi?) and Donna Robertson from the Christchurch City Libraries blog. Please come along if you are in Christchurch and help us defend our territory!

I will also be chairing a panel of new and newish writers: Mark Sarvas, Anya Ulinich, Christine Luenens and Maxine Alterio. The full programme should be up here any day now.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Grumpy old woman moment #1.

Iconic. The most over-used and misused word in New Zealand today. Just because something is famous or unique, it does not make it iconic.

Montana Book Awards.

A quick but very hearty congratulations to all the winners at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards last night. I confess I haven't yet read Deutz medal winner Charlotte Grimshaw's Opportunity, although I have read a couple of the stories from it that I liked (and one I didn't, but so what?). My biggest and most biased congratulations to our friend Mary McCallum for picking up not only the award for Best First Book (fiction) - illustrious company on that one Mary if I may say so myself - but also the Readers' Choice award which is chosen by the voting public. What a great suprise that one was to her.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

German paperback.

I just noticed that this is up on Amazon in Germany, so it must be all right for me to share! I hadn't seen this cover before, but think it's quite lovely and mysterious. It's the paperback version which is coming out in March 2009 (available here), or if you speak German and can't wait, you could look at the hardback, published by Pendo, here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sunday Salon

I am greedy. I acquire books at a faster rate than I can read them. This has never been a problem for me, as they have always been absorbed by the thousands of books I have on my shelves at home and therefore all evidence of my extravagance disappears. It is quite alarming then, when you move to a temporary home and only bring fifteen or so books with you, when your book collection suddenly doubles and is well on the way to tripling. So I have tried to hold back a bit, only getting books out of the library or not at all, and it has been torture, but my bank balance is no doubt thanking me. I have been walking around bookshops longingly fondling the books I would like to take home with me and love. 

So I was delighted when, after doing a reading at the local UBS bookshop for Poetry Day on Friday, I was given a very generous and welcome koha - a book voucher. With my voucher I bought two books: Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier, which I had checked out of the univeristy library but which had been recalled before I had made much headway into it. Since it is a source of inspiration for my new novel, I thought this is one book I should own rather than borrow. The other book I bought was Emily Perkins' Novel About My Wife. I have wanted to read it ever since it came out, but had been holding out on the actual buying of it until I knew I had the time to sit down and read it. And still it called to me...

The voucher was unexpected, so it was a huge relief to be able to purchase these two books that have been cooing my name for so long.

My greed continues. Not only did I get myself these two books, but as it was my birthday this week, I also got given two new books, both, coincidentally, by Anne Enright: Making Babies, her memoir about pregnancy and motherhood and Taking Pictures, a collection of short stories. I finally finished The Gathering and while I felt a little unsatisfied at the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the writing, and it made me want to read more of her work. Having heard her speak, too, I knew that she would be the perfect person to write an antidote to the What to Expect When You're Expecting/the First Year type baby books. I will definitely be reporting back on that one.

So I have all these new books beckoning to me, but first I have to read Petropolis by Anya Ulinich as I think I can reveal that she is one of the authors on the session I will be chairing at the Christchurch Writers Festival in September. The programme is being launched on Tuesday, so I'll reveal the others anon.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A new look and a day of poetry.

Happy Montana Poetry Day everyone. I just got back from the UBS here on the Canterbury campus, where I invaded the poets and read a favourite poem - Opoutere by Bill Manhire. As I said in my introduction, it's a poem by a poet I love, about a place I love, written for a man I loved (my father) so of course I had to ask to be excused if I got emotional. Which I did but only on the last line, and it was nothing I couldn't contain.

I was joined by some poets I was hearing for the first time: Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, Dora Sharpe-Davidson, Rebekah Eder, Ross Brighton, Marissa Johnpillai and Doc Drumheller with some poets from the Christchurch School for Young Writers. Ben Brown was also ambushed and brought up from the audience and he was a tough act to follow.

A gentleman got up at the end to say that he had enjoyed listening but that he hadn't heard any poetry, just a lot of prose, and that in his day, poetry rhymed*. He then proceeded to read a poem, but I don't know if it was one he wrote himself or if it was just one he liked. I couldn't hear very well from where I was sitting but it seemed to be about the magic of fairies. I am assuming it rhymed.

Regular visitors will notice I have changed the look of the blog. It is partly because the old way seeemed to look like every other blog I went to, but mainly because this new template actually makes administration a lot easier. I don't have to fluff around so much with html codes etc. I think it's rather pretty too, don't you?

*Actually, plenty of the poems read had rhyme in them. But they weren't in iambic pentameter so maybe they didn't count.

Monday, July 14, 2008

An affair.

Well, after waxing lyrical about my 1B5, I'm ashamed to say that I have started an affair. With something sexier and more expensive. A birthday gift from my husband: a three pack of Moleskine journals/cahiers. They are matt black, with lines; the last 16 pages are detachable and they have a little pocket in the back to slip loose notes and whatever else takes my fancy.

Of course, once I have used all three of them I will no doubt be back to my dependable, affordable red books, but for now, my day just got a little bit more exciting.

You have probably noticed that my entries of late have been shorter and more inane. I'm just going through a bit of a dry patch. I'll be back to all my navel-gazing and musing and pondering (three words for the same activity?) very soon. Promise.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Quote of the day (or week or month).

Thanks to the NZ Writers Ezine for this.

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are."
~ Somerset Maugham

How I laughed. Especially as I am going through a particularly difficult week when three magic rules would just do the trick. It reminds me of something I heard back in the dark ages when I sold magazine advertising space. Something about how only 5% of advertising works; if we knew which 5%, we'd all be very rich. The upshot being that you just have to go for it and some of it will stick.

I think I'll just apply that to my writing until the funk has lifted.

Maugham's quote just illustrates how much people want guidance - that if they just knew what the secrets, the 'rules' were, then they could churn out a masterpiece. Bookman Beattie pointed out a quote from Jonathan Coe in the Guardian: "Is there a secret to writing?" Coe: "Yes."

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sunday Salon - and navel gazing.

I am still reading The Gathering. Things have been a bit slow on the reading front this week as I have had a sick child to deal with.

So the book I'm choosing to talk about this week is a new book, of which I have just heard news, by Chris Else, called Gith. Chris was my mentor, through the New Zealand Society of Authors (click on Programmes and Services to find out about the mentor scheme and other useful services), when I wrote The Sound of Butterflies, and gave me lots of very wise and useful writing advice. He also has a blog, which has absolutely no navel-gazing whatsoever. Well, maybe just a bit. Not that there's anything wrong with navel-gazing (Chris, you might want to tell Amanda to avert her eyes more often).

Anyway, keep an eye out for it, I certainly will. Chris says the blurb describes it as ‘An unorthodox love story and a page-turning who-dunnit, written with heart and intelligence’, and I think it's a gorgeous, eye-catching cover, too.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

An example, as promised.

In my previous post, Four Little Lights in the Fog, I promised to return with an example from Stefan Merrill Block's book, The Story of Forgetting, of describing the 'coffin, not the grief'. So here it is. The teenaged narrator's mother, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, has disappeared from the family home one night, and her son goes looking for her.

"But my voice only echoed across the wide, blank pavement, with only the tungsten streetlamps bearing witness, hanging their heads, apathetically dim. I almost turned back to get my dad and the car, but for fear of losing even a second, I just kept running, beyond the staring, skeletal eye sockets of a thousand darkened windows, past the endlessly churning motorized waterfall at the entrance of our neighbourhood..."

I think we can gather from this that Seth is feeling pretty bleak. Taken out of context, it almost seems over-written, but in the novel it works perfectly. I hope this goes some way to illustrate what I was banging on about.

I highly recommend The Story of Forgetting by the way.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A tribute to my 1B5 or, Monday blues vs Friday pizzazz.

On Monday I forgot my notebook. I was lost without it, and spent the day fluffing around, not getting anything done of any substance. On the previous Friday I had bussed and walked home from work with my head pounding with ideas - in fact, my whole body seemed full of my novel (it is a most curious sensation, anyone else had it?) and when I got home I had to lock myself in the toilet and scribble wildly before I could disengage and greet the family.
But on Monday, on the way home, nothing. Wondering what was for dinner maybe.
My probem on that day wasn't that I didn't know what the story was, or that I didn't know what needed researching (although I had made a list of books to get out of the library in my notebook). It was just that without my notebook, I couldn't transport myself back to that place of total supplication I had been in on Friday.
I have trouble enough with the beginning of the week. The weekend always deflates me, and Fridays are by far my most vigorous day, but without my notebook, I couldn't even begin the process of building up the momentum again. That 1B5 exercise book carries my creative life between its thin, blue- and red-lined sheets. I'm using it right now, scribbling away (believe me, it is a scribble - I don't think anyone else could decipher it) in a cafe over a coffee and a bagel, and I will type this into blogger when I get to the office. It's my companion at lunch and coffee time. I will never be lonely as long as I have my 1B5. It makes me feel smart. It's a good listener. I am lost without it.