Thursday, December 17, 2009

Read On

It's the silly season and I've not been feeling that inspired. Too busy Christmas shopping and wondering why all the dust in my house is the same colour (that is, grey). I mean, dust is not a thing in itself, is it? It's a sum of its parts, so why does it end up so uniform? (To which most sensible people would say, 'Who cares? Vacuum your floors, you slob. Problem solved.' To which I would reply, Problem not solved, merely post-phoned.)

Anyway, further to a previous post voicing doubts as to the benefits of reading lots while writing, here is a post by Nicola Morgan at Help! I Need a Publisher (very useful blog), in which she gives some quite reasonable reasons for writers reading a lot.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Just Another Day in Parodies

This is a bit lazy of me, because this was written a while ago as part of a Joseph Heller phase I was going through. But talk of imitation yesterday got me thinking of parodies, which are kind of same same but different. They're pretty hot right now (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sound familiar?) and if you've got writer's block they can be a good way of forgetting about what you're stuck on and having fun writing. (I particularly like this reworking of Jane Austen for the social networking age.)

So, apologies to Mr Heller:


Papa Bear, Big Mamma and Baby-face stumbled back through the woods, roaringly drunk. Baby-face peered around him.
  ‘Where’s the house?’ he asked. He was hungry. So hungry he hadn’t had a fight with Big Bad Wolf before leaving the bar, just so they could get home for that porridge.
   ‘What goddam house?’ said Papa Bear.
   ‘Our house.’
   ‘How the hell should I know?’
   ‘It’s gone!’
   ‘It’s there,’ said Big Mama, and she led them into the house.
   ‘You’re crazy,’ said Baby-face to Papa Bear. Papa Bear shrugged and lit a cigarette he’d found on the floor just when Baby-face hadn’t started a fight with Big Bad Wolf back at the bar.
   Their bowls of porridge were sitting on the table where they’d left them. Baby-face pointed at his with dismay. ‘It’s empty!’ he cried. ‘Some punk’s eaten my porridge.’
   ‘There there,’ said Big Mama, ‘have some of mine.’
Baby-face took a spoonful. ‘Ugh!’ he spat it out. ‘That’s too hot.’ He reached over for Papa Bear’s.
   ‘You won’t like it,’ Big Mama warned him. ‘It’s too salty.’ Baby-face ate some anyway then spat it out. ‘It’s too salty,’ he moaned.
   ‘Of course it is,’ said Big Mama. ‘That’s the catch.’
   ‘Catch?’ Baby-face stared at her. ‘There’s a catch?’
   ‘Catch-33,’ she replied.
   ‘Sure. You can tell me when I’m cooking it how you want your porridge, and I’ll make it. But Catch-33 says if you ask for it just right, some little punk’s going to climb in through the window and eat it all up. So if you want your porridge there when you get back you need to ask for it burnt, or salty or lumpy.’
   ‘You mean,’ Baby-face sputtered, ‘either I ask for something inedible and I get to eat it, or I ask for something edible but I can’t eat it?’
  ‘That’s right,’ Big Mama beamed. ‘Exactly right.’
   Papa Bear put out his cigarette and shambled over to the table. He began to shovel spoonfuls of his porridge into his mouth, making great slurping, lip-smacking noises as he ate.
   ‘He’s crazy,’ said Baby-face.
   ‘Of course he is,’ nodded Big Mama. She began to eat her own porridge. It had been heated so much it was burned through-and-through and the smell of it turned Baby-face’s stomach.
   ‘It’s the salt that does it,’ Big Mama said cheerfully. ‘He should cut back.’

Friday, December 4, 2009

To Read or not to Read

We’re always being told to read, read, read. That good writers are great readers. But sometimes I’m not convinced that this is always useful. What if you’re trying to write a serious scene in your novel/short story/feature article but you’ve been reading Douglas Adams and your characters all become slightly weird and start pining for cups of tea? Or if you’re trying to be literary, but you’ve been reading Raymond Chandler and things turn out a bit like this interpretation of Hamlet. Or worse, if you’re trying to write crime fiction and you’ve been reading Raymond Chandler and your work turns out like Raymond Chandler's.

If you’re someone who finds it easy to imitate styles of writing, then maybe it’s better not to read anything at all while you’re trying to write your own stuff. It's difficult to not pick up another author's style, and the stronger a style, the more likely it is to stay in your head and take over your own. I admit, this is just my own experience, and other people might not have any problems of this kind at all (I'm the sort of person who unconsciously mimics other people's accents when speaking to them). Still, despite the mantra about readers and writers, maybe sometimes it's better to declutter your brain and just focus on your own style. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it don't necessarily make good writing.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Word of the Week: Grouse

I wanted to do a little tribute to my favourite piece of childhood Australian slang, the adjective grouse. So I turned to my ACOD, wondering if it rated a mention. And yes - there it was, albeit not til the third entry for the word:

grouse (3) n. (frequently with the intensifier extra) Aust. very good of its kind. [20th c.: origin unknown]

Two things stuck out from this entry. First, the intensifier extra: I have to say I don't remember it being used 'frequently' to intensify an already intense word, but boy, what a compliment. To call something or someone extra grouse - is there any higher praise possible? ('Knock off work early? That, my friend, is an extra grouse notion.')

The second thing that struck me was the little n. right at the start there. It's not a typo - at least not on my part (I might be wrong, but I'm sticking by my definition at the start of grouse as an adjective). But it got me thinking about how one could use grouse as a noun. I thought it could be used in the same way 'star' is used to talk about people who are, well, grouse.

'Thanks for editing my story, mate - you're a grouse.'

But in this example, either you're left waiting for more - a grouse what? - or it sounds too much like 'louse' to be complimentary.

So I may have to beg to differ with the ACOD on this one. Grouse is grousest as an adjective.

(For those wondering what the other two entries were:

grouse (1) n. (pl. same) any of various game birds of the family Tetraonidae, with a plump body and feathered legs.

grouse (2) v. & n. colloq. * v.intr. grumble or complain pettily. * n. a complaint.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Handy Hints

A helpful post on the blog Strictly Writing about what to look for when editing your own work: 'Writing is Easy'.

Well, most things seem easy when you make a list, but I like the optimistic title.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Question: How many writers does it take to change a light bulb?


a) Who needs a light bulb? the glow of my computer screen will do just nicely.

b) Who needs a light bulb? my mind is illuminated from within.

c) Stuff it, it only adds to the heat anyway.

d) Oh look, the light's gone. I'll have a cup of tea, then I'll change it and then I'll sit down and do some work...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Word of the Week: mordant

I was flicking through the Hamilton Wool and Craft Guild's 1974 spinners' guide, Wool Gathering, hoping for inspiration, when I noticed a chapter titled 'Mordants'.

'Mordants?' I thought. 'I know that word. But as a noun? What the hell are they?' I turned to page 59 to find out, and discovered that as far as spinners are concerned, mordants are chemicals (such as alum, chrome, iron, copper) used to fix dyes in fabrics. I was pretty sure however that I'd seen the word used as an adjective.

So, out came the ACOD (Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary - because it's used so frequently nowadays it has been permanently removed from under my desk lamp and has its own corner of the desk to balance on):

'Mordant * adj. 1 (of sarcasm etc.) caustic, biting. 2 pungent, smarting. 3 corrosive or cleansing. 4 (of a substance) serving to fix colouring matter or gold leaf on another substance. * n. a mordant substance (in senses 3, 4 of adj.).'

I love it when words have both a physical and abstract meaning and you can see the link between them. So someone may have a mordant wit (caustic and biting) or they may just need to set their dyed wool with something mordant (caustic and pungent).

I read on about mordants in the guide book and learnt that they are indeed quite caustic. I found out alum is the best, but the hardest to work with, and chrome is poisonous. Then I came across this little bit of poetry from the Hamilton Wool and Craft Guild:

'Iron darkens or saddens colours.'

What a lovely idea.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How to be a Better Writer: 2. Clothes Maketh the Man

I'm not usually prone to sweeping generalisations; however, we all know it is important to Look the Part.

As a volunteer at the recent Melbourne Writers Festival, I was able to keenly observe both writers and punters, and now pass on a list of the sartorial essentials for the writerly type.

1. Red extremities. Whether it's burgundy shoes, a carmine hat, ruby nail-polish or scarlet spectacle frames, red is the devilish detail favoured by writers. Take note that it is not to be worn on the body of though. Your clothes, for the most part, should be black (see below).

2. Black clothing, perhaps charcoal if you're feeling Spring-y. Lady crime-writers should feel free to mix as much purple and green in as they wish, and authors of bloke lit of course reserve the right to blue jeans and a polo shirt.

3. Skinny jeans. A recent addition, but sadly now indispensable for both genders and all body types.

4. Leather bag/satchel with buckles. For carrying around your moleskines.

5. Clever T-shirts, for the younger scribblers, but NO puns unless they are so superbly daggy they're cool (I'm happy to assess puns for those who are uncertain about dag factor).

6. Most important to wear is a faraway look, which indicates creative forces at work. If you also carry around an eye for detail and an ear for conversation, you will find this comes more easily.

For those writers who don't venture out in public that often, the following are acceptable:

Trackie daks, moccasins, woolly jumpers (what do you get if you cross a kangaroo and a sheep?), faded T-shirts, flannies, those check shorts you've had since Year 9.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Word of the Week: Ruin

As in, 'Are you in?' -- my mother's latest favourite text 'word'.

Honestly, where does she get them?

It wasn't so long ago she and Dad were bamboozled by programming the VCR, and while this is still the case, somehow they've both overtaken me in the uptake of txt lingo. And it's not just them. Some of my most highly educated and literate friends will regularly send me text messages with more numbers in than letters.

'Gr8 2 cu lst nt. Will u a10d 2moros 4rum on Clim8 chnge?'

Wtf? (yes, I know that one).

Is this a language I should learn? Sure, it's concise and efficient, but is it effective? Affecting? Or does it just annoy the hell out of me because I'm a bit uptight about grammar?

I once responded to one of Mum's ubiquitous 'Wru's (I believe it means Where are You?) with a message I thought would highlight the laziness and paucity of information this type of language usually conveys: 'aaht'
She didn't reply.
'So did you understand my message?' I challenged her later.
'Oh, yes. You were at Annabelle's having tea,' she said. 'I didn't ring because I didn't want to interrupt.'

That's me in my box.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What I'm reading

Yes -- all at once. I'm not much of a multi-tasker, and it's giving me a bit of a headache - but they're all so good!

Something Happened, Joseph Heller
Just started it so not quite sure what it's about yet.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
, Susanna Clarke
Alternative Regency England with magicians, faeries and quaint manners.

Finnikin of the Rock
, Melina Marchetta
YA fantasy a long way from Alibrandi.

Beloved, Toni Morrison
Ex-slaves haunted by a baby's ghost. Can see why it's a classic.

Catch-22, Heller again
God I love this book! Reading it for just second time, at same time as Something Happened, in an attempt to analyse Heller's style, which I think forms mostly around his talent for the absurd and the incidental.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How to be a Better Writer: 1. You are what you eat.

Some essentials for the writerly diet:

1 latte - extra shot if you're a writer of pot-boilers.
Alphabet soup - for writers who like to play with their food.
Carrots - good for the eyes.
Rice - Cheap, plentiful and quite sustaining.
Red wine. Of course.

Things to avoid:

Too many vegetables
Too much fruit
Whole grains
Dark chocolate

All of the above are said to lower levels of depression, thus hampering the writer's development of a tortured soul to mine for inspiration. If you must eat vegetables, try to balance them with decreased exercise and lots of processed sugar.
Good luck!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Word of the Week: Desert

WOW this week is desert: not the dry sandy place, or the verb meaning to abandon, but the noun meaning (according once more to the ACOD) 'in plural a acts or qualities deserving reward or punishment, or b such reward or punishment.'

As in, 'He got his just deserts.'

Note the spelling, because until recently I was one among many who thought it might perhaps be spelt 'dessert'. This is not the case. Apparently we are all victims of the punning business name industry, responsible for hairdressers named Curl up and Dye, and, yes, about a million sweets cookbooks called Just Desserts.

Desserts is pronounced the same way, and I suppose it makes some kind of intuitive sense because desserts are often used as a reward (though not so often as punishment).

I've said it before and I'll say it again: a pun is a very dangerous thing.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Chelsea Square

I wonder if I had a big crochet project that was due in the next couple of weeks, would I then start doing some writing?

Pretty though, isn't it?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Introducing Word of the Week

I got all keen at the start of the year and bought a beautiful hardback Australian Oxford Dictionary. And rather than just use it to support my desk lamp, I've decided to give it a work out.

The inaugural Word of the Week is shoo-in.

I've seen it spelled 'shoe-in' before, and vaguely thought it might have something to do with shoe horns (which make it easier to get your foot in the shoe, hence the sense of ease signified by the term. This is how my mind works). So when I saw it printed in this morning's paper as 'shoo-in' I decided to do some investigating.

I didn't have to look far. According to my lovely hardback, shoo-in means 'something easy or certain to succeed,' and comes from an earlier use of the term for the winner of a fixed horse race.

As you can see, nothing to do with shoes at all, but I suspect the reason some people spell it as 'shoe' is that shoe is actually a word, while 'shoo' doesn't look like one (though it is in my dictionary: 'an exclamation used to frighten away birds, children, etc.').

Sometimes we just have to accept that the English language can look silly at times.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Crochet Cate

Cate Blanchett in granny squares! Wouldn't be caught dead in it myself, but I spose it's her prerogative as a super style movie star icon to wear what she likes and get away with it (I think).

Hmm, had a blanket very like it that my grandma crocheted for me when I was a kid. Apparently this dress was made by a 'label' though.

PS: it's just one of life's little coincidences that this is my second post in a row about a Cate with a 'C'.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cate Kennedy 'The World Beneath'

Book Launch

This was the most rockin' book launch I've been to in a while. Held in the Union Bar of the Trades Hall, with performances by Shane Howard, the Wikimen and Dan Warner, it was a little different to the usual corner-of-the-bookstore-move-up-please affair.

I was in the company of a bunch of short story writers, there to rub shoulders with the Queen, who has finally turned to the novel. From what Cate said, it sounds like writing a novel isn't necessarily harder than short story, but perhaps provokes greater fits of procrastination.

I'm yet to read the book, The World Beneath, but I bought a copy, which came with a complementary chocolate brownie and a third of a bottle of wine. Bargain.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Be My Vest

What I've been doing while I should have been writing...

A nice easy pattern - make two rectangles and sew them together, except where you want your arms, neck or body to stick out. Revers sc around armholes and bottom (I admit I had to learn this stitch off Youtube).

And here's an experiment that turned out pretty well:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

MWF reprieve

Been flat out like a lizard drinking this week with the writers festival. Because I'm a volunteer I get to see pretty much anything I want, for free. This is great - I've seen many different writers talking about many different things I would probably not have paid to go see. Having said that, there's a whole lot of free stuff going on that everyone can take advantage of. Everyone who hasn't should check out the Festival Club before the show's over.

While I've seen some interesting and thoughtful seminars, workshops and conversations, it sometimes becomes quite obvious that this is not the Melbourne Public Speakers Festival. Don't get me wrong: most of the authors I've seen have been great. Kate Grenville and Isobelle Carmody, for example, were incredibly articulate about their creative processes and just fascinating to listen to. Other speakers relied more on notes, which is perfectly fine by me, I can relate to that need - hate, hate, hate public speaking. 

However when an author is obviously under-prepared, or just there to promote their latest book, it can be really disappointing. This happened in at least one workshop on the weekend, when an author turned up for a six-hour workshop thinking it was only going to be two hours. Due to fly out the next day, her heart wasn't in it, you could tell. I really felt for the people who had forked out $190 to watch someone flounder about for something to say.

But there's plenty of good stuff to look forward to this weekend. I'm donning my red beret one last time tomorrow, then spending the rest of the weekend loitering round Fed Square, sipping lattes and author-spotting. Bliss.

Friday, August 21, 2009

21-31 August

Skinny black jeans? Check.
Black skivvy? Check.
Red beret? Ah, yes. Check.

Melbourne Writers Festival, here I come!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Morning Exercises

My favourite writing exercise learned so far is to write a passage without using the letter e. I picked it up in Kate Grenville's The Writing Book. Considering e is always the first letter I pick in a game of Hangman, you'd think it would be impossible to write proper sentences without it, let alone anything worthwhile. But it actually results in some really interesting stuff. That is, it can transform your writing slant into a most distinct and unusual rhythm. Can turn it cant and out-worldly.

I'm experiencing an enforced such exercise in my life at the moment, as the number 7 button on my phone doesn't work. I spilt shampoo on it, and although it was organic, as my brother pointed out: unless it's special mobile phone shampoo it's probably going to do some damage.

Anyway, writing clear texts to people without the use of p q r or s poses some problems, but I've managed for the last month or so. It forces me to be creative with words (and grammar and spelling) on a daily basis, and I'm considering just living with it. Who knows, it might even be protecting my brain against dementia.

The only words I have trouble substituting others for are 'sorry', 'yep' and 'where', all very useful in text conversations. I have a feeling they will be the reason I get sick of this experiment before long.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Is it possible to spend two hours discussing the correct use of quotation marks and italics?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Oh my God, yes, crikey moses you wouldn't believe it and Dear Lord the tedium. Does it really matter whether or not you must italicise the comma that comes after an italicised phrase? Do we need to spend fifteen minutes wondering aloud about it? Can't we just do what we like and hope that no one notices either way?

Don't get me started on the uses of capital letters and numbers. Maybe I'm not editor material. I like to think I have my eye on the bigger picture - you know, the vibe of the thing.

Anyway, I'm a sucker for punishment, so afterwards I came home and finished off an intricate crochet piece, which was frustrating, tedious and eye-straining. Happy with the result tho.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cheese pie and Austen

You cannot beat a cheese pie from A1 Bakery for value for money and sheer buttery goodness. Washed it down with a nice cup of tea, and I'm now ready to tackle the change in Anne Elliot from Kellynch Hall to Bath. 

I'm talking about Jane Austen's Persuasion - her last completed novel, and perhaps the darkest. Although people have said that about Sense and Sensibility, so I could be wrong there. Anyway, my mind's taken up with ideas of Romance and Reason this arvo, and whether Edward Ferrars is the Austen hero I'd most like to meet. Henry Tilney is sweet and witty, and more of a 'new man', and of course Mr Darcy has the strong silent thing going for him - but I can't help feeling we'd run out of things to say before long.

And of the heroines? Hands down, Lizzie Bennet.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

First, the name. The purpose of this blog isn't certain, but I think it will mostly serve to: 
1. Help me get round writer's block when it strikes; and 
2. Outline the various knitty/crochety things I have on the go which, when finished, I usually block - or not (har har).

The aim to start with is to write, say, 100 words a day. I will try to make them as entertaining as possible, and hope the possibility of an audience will make me craft them better than if I were just scribbling in a journal.