Sunday, August 30, 2009

No group hugs please

Saw M.J. Hyland at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Friday. She's the author of three novels - This is How, Carry Me Down, and How the Light Gets In. She also lectures in creative writing in Manchester where she lives now. She's not an Aussie though she has Australian connections having, studied English and law at the University of Melbourne.


I'd only read How the Light Gets In which I won't go into now because I am meant to be writing about craft and Australia's indigenous population for the huge double issue of GC we're putting together. Suffice to say it was an amazing debut novel, very original and worth getting your hands on. You'll loan out your daughters to worthy causes before they grow into teenagers after meeting the central character in this book.

Anyhoo, M.J. (we're on first name basis now) was talking about trying to instruct her students on good writing and how hard it is now that they all have blogs and access to amateur publishing websites and the like. Argggh, the ongoing blog bashing that feeds my paranoia. (I am thinking this while rushing through writing this post hee hee.) I took some notes but not direct quotes. Suffice to say she felt they were publishing what I believe she termed as "shoddy shit" and receiving group hugs from family, friends and cyberspace pals in response and they were shocked when her slightly more biting critiques were put forward.

Her message here was that good writing cannot be produced in half an hour and that many of the students spin words like fairy floss, and just as quickly, for the Net but that revision and rewriting is the cornerstone of the real deal.

She tooks three years to write This is How (a copy of which I picked up in Readings special MWF bookshop at Fed Square) so she is clearly not one to be rushed. She also received a nomination for the Man Booker prize in 2006 for only her second novel so - yeah - Mrs Underhill will give her words some thoughts.

I don't normally write notes from a one hour talk like this one but, as a character in a project I am tentatively working on is a writer and a festival regular, I thought MJ's real life reactions would come in handy for dialogue. As I started this project almost a year ago and am only five chapters in I am already doing well on any three year plans I might have and can definitely NOT be accused of rushing.

PS: Hosting the Hyland talk at MWF was Michael Williams, Head of Programming at Melbourne's new Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas. He was bloody funny!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mrs Underhill Book Club kicks off with a bang and a snowball

I think it's safe to say that the first IN THE FLESH meeting of the book club went off with a bang and a riesling last night. Thank you to the three book babes who came along. Many topics, outside of Middlesex, were tackled, from the inane (housework) to the profane (adult women having sexual fantasies about characters in Twilight). The main thing was that, as well as a pop quiz about the book (thank you Oprah.com for having the author, Eugenides, on the show at one point and posting Q & As with him afterwards) we also discovered the delights of chocolate covered snowballs and a shared love of Yumis Tuna Mousse.

Yes - if you come along to a future meeting you will be able to taste such literary delights yourself.

So ... next book is Disgrace with the aim to finish around 3 October and then the aim to meet up sometime after that though comments from members 'in the ether' are more than welcomed. Chime in with interest via email or via the blog, http://mrsunderhilldotcom.blogspot.com/ - and we'll be chowing down on some good words soon.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Life illuminated. No wonder I love books ...


Let’s say I list five books here for you and you can see why these bricks of paper and words mean so much to me, how they can alter one's life, dance in one's head and why I can’t see them going the way of the dinosaurs just yet:

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
Meet Me at Mike's by Pip Lincolne
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Number one carries a plot outline (stolen from Wiki) where a South African professor of English loses everything: his reputation, his job, his peace of mind, his good looks, his dreams of artistic success, and finally even his ability to protect his cherished daughter.

This book is going to be the next one to be read by the Mrs Underhill Book Club. Try and finish it by 3 October. The ‘communal' reading of this book forges connections between old and new friends, stimulates conversation beyond work, kids, clothes and current affairs and allows us to see how other people’s heads tick.

Number two is a really gorgeous craft project book featuring the work of 25 different Aussie makers, spearheaded by Melbourne gal Pip Licolne.

This book took me to Brunswick Street Fitzroy yesterday to meet the author and have her bewitch me with her magical eyes. It gave me a chance to see how an open heart and soul affects those around them and showed me a new concept when it comes to the idea of business success.

Number three is written by one of those characters of history that you wonder whether the world is capable of producing anymore. Living in the 1700s, Walpole (son of Britain's first Prime Minister) built Strawberry Hills, a gothic mansion, folly type thing that he seemed to have built stage by stage, sometimes creating fa├žades out of cardboard and so forth from what I can gather.

This is part of a three gothic tales book I ordered on good old Amazon recently. It’s giving me the chance to read a learned and academic intro from an expert in the field of gothic literature plus be reminded of the mad, bad and completely outrageous minds that have gone before us.

Closing the last page on number four - The Little Giant of Aberdeen County – ends an intense reading period I’ve gone through in the last fortnight to finally finish a couple of books I was reading at once. This book is about a girl with a health condition that makes her grow to giant proportions. It’s about acceptance, herbal remedies, euthanasia, it’s about quite a bit. I kept picking it up and putting it down. As Keith Gessen from The Nation said about a Mrs Underhill Book Club book (Middlesex) recently, this one “is a book that's almost impossible to dislike even as you're bored by it”.

And, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, well that was described to me by the gal at Readings in St Kilda as a book that “scared the pants off her” – a great selling point to my way of thinking. However, it’s one that I again picked up and put down. It’s a bit about England after WWII, it’s a bit about class wars, and about old country houses and about poltergeists. What made it special to me though was that Sarah Waters was on the Book Show (Radio National) so I got to walk to the shops (listened to it on an MP3 podcast) and hear her talk about the research that went into it, the mountains of info she gathered about the period and the things that drew her to the topic. Pretty bloody entertaining while you’re walking around the IGA trying to decide which mayonnaise you’ll purchase!

So there you see it – why wouldn’t you make books a big part of your life? If you dive in and use them as more than words on paper, but as living organisms with tentacles reaching out into the world, you begin to live a much bigger life and tip toe through the heads of so many other earthlings … and you don’t necessarily have to even leave the soft drink aisle or even your bedroom.

Oh, did I mention I am reading an instalment of Stephen King's On Writing each night before I start my 'real' book? No wonder I get both no sleeping and no writing of my own done!