Monday, November 28, 2011

Lolita on the road

Another thirteen books to catalogue after a couple of weeks away in South Australia. Even in the tiniest towns there was usually a second-hand bookshop. One was an extension of the elderly lady’s lounge room, where she sold off some of the books that now crowded out her remaining years (I know the feeling!). There was an ancient copy of a history of Australian countrywomen, but I could not bear her to part with it, so left it there. Another bookseller had a few 1950s editions of French classics, in the original. They had been in the shop for six years. I relieved him of the Madame Bovary, but left him the rest. Another woman was keener to sell, assiduous in checking my wish list against her stock. That was how I ended up with Lolita. I was looking for Nabokov’s memoir Speak, Memory, but this was all she had of his. She urged me to read it.
That was how I spent the rest of my holiday absorbed in the rollercoaster ride that is Lolita, following her and Humbert Humbert in their wanton drive across the vastness of the United States, while I and my partner pursued our own modest road trip through South Australia. What remarkable writing! Such lyrical outpourings from a character so flawed. Such a gripping story, full as it is of repetition and meanderings. Such an inspiration for a writer. So, back home and on with the work!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

NY state of mind

OK, so it's ten years on and SBS 1 is screening Man on Wire at 9.30pm today (Sunday)- Philippe Petit's 1974 tight-rope walk between the twin towers. A must-watch for inspiration and to see what humans are capable of creating, as opposed to destroying.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Critics or mentors?

Like most writers, I live with the critic constantly perched on my shoulder. It takes a lot of writing to shake off the creature and regain some self-belief. I got to this point last week as I wrote myself into a short story and finished it. In the process, I think I found the solution to knocking Mr Critic off his perch: appoint a mentor or two to take his place.
In my case, three mentors helped me through my story. First was Tim Winton, whose stories from The Turning I have read and re-read over the past month. My second mentor was Hemingway, who helped me loosen up when my writing was locked up and taught me to strive not for a perfectly crafted story but for depth of insight and emotion. Thirdly Philip Roth brought me back down to earth with his mix of drama and reflection.
With their books back on the shelves, I am interviewing other prospective mentors to help me redraft my memoir. The front-runners are Anne Manne, Penelope Lively and Orhan Pamuk. As long as The Critic doesn’t get a look-in.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Moby Dick and Breath

I can’t forget Breath, Tim Winton’s latest novel about daredevil surfers. I’m reminded of it now as I finish watching Moby Dick on ABC1, also about dying/drowning and manhood. Such strong narrative themes.
I discovered a copy of Breath in a B&B at Mt Macedon and just had to read it. Sex, death and surfing – what a heady mix. It’s meaningful, exciting and scary. When I came to the end and closed the book, I was moved to tears by the power of the writing.
And yes, it is about breath, the breath we take for granted but that is the difference between life and death, as any surfer knows. And if, like me, you’ve never managed to stand up on a surfboard, read the book for vicarious surfing.
Later, in a second-hand country bookshop, I came across a first edition hardback of The Turning, Winton’s book of short stories that I had to have. A perfect weekend!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Boner McPharlin’s Moll

I recently discovered a short story by Tim Winton that blew my socks off. Boner McPharlin’s Moll has the heightened reality and menace of a Flannery O’Connor story, with Winton’s graceful touch. I discovered it in The Australian Long Story, (ed Mandy Sayer, Hamish Hamilton 2009), but it was originally published in The Turning, 2005.
The narrator is a fifteen-year-old girl, Jackie, who gets off with the local bad boy, Boner. He’s been expelled from her high school in a country town. The year is 1970, down to a T, with the boys in their Monaros and Chargers, wearing Levi cords and Dr Scholls. Johnny Farnham is out and David Bowie is in. Jackie accepts a ride in Boner’s car, and from then on their fates unravel.
Jackie has a reputation as Boner McPharlin’s moll, but the reader knows more than her schoolmates about what is really going on. This is a story about innocence and betrayal, about truth and deception. It is moving, harrowing even, and reveals how our actions, however innocent, have consequences. It moves forward on recurring motifs - Boner’s Johnny Reb boots, and his earrings - and springs to life in offhand, deadbeat dialogue. In the last page or two, the mystery lifts and we glimpse the truth. It’s like a punch in the guts for Jackie, and left me reeling.
Unlike most stories, this one is unforgettable. Read it!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

My inner roadie

Still milking my 15 minutes of fame after winning second prize in The Age short story competition. My story 'The Devil's Music' about an ex-roadie living in a rooming house in St Kilda is still up on the Age website if you want to have a look:
The best thing about this win was getting published in The Age A2 (on Saturday 15 January) and receiving emails from my readers. Instead of the usual remarks by fellow writers about the niceties of style, I had some enthusiastic responses from men who have been roadies, musicians or work with the homeless in St Kilda. It was great to hear that in channeling my inner roadie, Billy, I'd hit a nerve with these readers. Makes it all worthwhile. Thanks, guys.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Judi Dench's memoir

'So you got your memoir published?' said one of my writing students when she saw Judi Dench's memoir 'And Furthermore' on the desk. The book was upside down and my student could have been forgiven for mistaking me for the woman with short bleached hair, pale complexion and Botox-free wrinkles on the cover. But I am twice Judi's height, twelve years younger and am not a star. I had to laugh. It was ironic that even someone else saw a connection between us.
Because there are some. That was why I had to read her memoir. The main connection is that I saw her first major performance at the Old Vic, London in 1957, as Ophelia, with John Neville as Hamlet. And again in 1960 as Juliet with John Stride as Romeo. It's fabulous to read her account of the performances and the inside dope on her fellow actors, to read about her passion for the stage which echoes my passion as a stage-struck youngster. I never went on to become a professional actor, but those early experiences of Shakespeare and the theatre have been major influences in my life.
One of her anecdotes echoes my own experience. She was playing Lady Bracknell in 'The Importance of Being Earnest' at the National Theatre, London, when she suddenly skipped half a page - a vital one with the first reference to the infamous handbag - and suffered a miserable Christmas because of it. A few years ago I did the same thing in an amateur production of Wilde's play at Como House in Melbourne where, as Lady B, I asked Miss Prism 'Where is that baby? and then forgot to elaborate the story about the perambulator and the three-volume manuscript, and left poor Miss Prism in the lurch, before I realised I was the one who had forgotten my lines. I haven't done any acting since.
Unlike the formidable Miss Dench. She got over her mistake, has a gruelling work schedule and plans to stay on the stage until she drops dead, like her hero John Gielgud. As I procrastinate and doubt myself as a writer, I can still look to Judi to inspire me to keep on keeping on.