Thursday, June 29, 2006

Taking a quiz about what sort of writer I am... instead of writing probably says something about what sort of writer i am already.
Anyway, here's the results:

What kind of writer are you?

You're a Dialogue/Character Writer!
Take this quiz!

Quizilla |

| Make A Quiz | More Quizzes | Grab Code

It's a fair cop. I first saw the quiz here, on Cheryl Klein's blog. Cheryl Klein is Kate Constable's US editor. She also has a site with lots of very helpful articles for writers and editors here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Death of the Reader

I found these essays by Shaun Tan today. The first in particular interested me - his answer to the uneasy question, who are your books for? Shaun Tan writes very strange and very beautiful illustrated books that deal with sophisticated and sometimes quite uncomfortable material. Books that I would really be willing to look at with a child/adult of any age, though for some younger children (around Fred's age) I would want to help guide them through, help them articulate their interpretations of the more complex images and themes the books deal with (like depression).

There is a common preconception that picture books are for a children, often preliterate, where the pictures act as a guide, signposts with which to interpret the text. I would even say there tends to be an implicit devaluing of images, that a binary code exists here where text is of a greater significance than picture. I think some people would probably even think Shaun Tan was irresponsible dealing with adult themes and ideas in this form. Others would be confused, not knowing where the book should be in the library or the bookshop, not sure where to physically place a picture book for older readers (as if the two ideas are mutually exclusive).

When I was seventeen I used to buy picture books (at least in part to satisfy my urge to surround myself with beautiful things). There were a few special offerings for adults. Remember Griffin and Sabine? There was a beautiful book by Patrick Suskind (who also wrote the amazing book Perfume) called The Story of Mr Sommer. It was around this time I discovered The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery and even Jonathon Livingston Seagull (I seem to remember it had photographic illustrations in it) by Richard Bach. But it was kid's books mostly that I had to turn to to fulfil this desire for illustrated texts. I reacquainted myself with illustrated kid's novels like the Winnie the Pooh books (which are much funnier when you're an adult than when you're a kid) and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - you can read the full text online here and look at the marvellous Tenniel illustrations, which is like being hit in the head with a nostalgia sledgehammer. I also bought picture books, intended for children, but so deeply layered, so rich in complexity that they seemed to speak directly to me, as if they had been hand crafted to suit my own needs and desires aas a reader. Books like Window (which is textless) and The Idle Bear by Robert Ingpen. What was I looking for in the relationship between text and image that I couldn't find in other forms of media (though it was about this time I really discovered watching foreign, subtitled films - another relationship between the image and the written word - perhaps not a coincidence)? I certainly never wondered if I was the intended audience or not, I was able to engage with these texts despite any notion of audience that may have been considered in the making of them. I am not an illustrator (nor would I even consider myself an essentially visual person. I tend to remember actors by the sound of their voice - if I'm trying to place someone I always close my eyes). And yet at this particular stage in my development as a reader/writer/adult there was something vital about the images for me, about partnering the written word with illustration.

Now I have a three year old we have the challenge of finding picture books that I can read again and again, that lend themselves to the kind of quiet contemplation we seem to achieve mostly in our evening story sessions, that offer the kind of illustrations that can be read and reread. In addition, Frederique will often "read" her picture books without an adult, the words become superfluous (a disconcerting thought for someone who plies her trade in words) and the narrative is entirely absorbed through the illustration. Actually, to be accurate, the words are not entirely superfluous - remembered fragments are applied to the images, Fred tries to sew language and image together with her own sparkling needle and thread. Many of the books we read are ones I acquired as a teenager.

This notion of audience is already complex. A three year old, a parent, an eighteen year old all looking at the same book for a reflection of themselves, to help them describe and interpret the vastly different worlds each of them inhabit. And this is just in our house, between two of its members. It doesn't factor in Martin (with his own experiences of childhood, books, images and reading) or Una, a one year old with her own multiple ways of looking. It doesn't factor in the other households of readers, or the Infinite Reader each of us is, as we change and grow and re-engage with material read over and over but each time anew as we change and grow. (Though personally I also believe in comfort reading, in trying to recapture a time and place and feeling through multiple readings. I think there is a point where words can stop meaning themselves and become more abstract, like music, if you don't believe me try reading the same picture book aloud ten times a day for many months in a row. I don't think this belies the Infinite Reader but it suggests a desire to deny infinity and difference, the relentless passage of time, and instead seeking sameness and return, a desire to capture a frozen time and place within the covers of a book, where things are predictable and familiar. I comfort Fred with some books, we point to the same things on every page, even my lilting intonations and rhythms are the same. These are the books she returns to, when she is sick or tired or sad. In one book part of the text has been torn out and yet I read anyway, as if it is still there, the sameness of the words heals the gaping wound of the book.)

The upshot of all this hard thinking my brain has been doing is that it can be hard as a writer NOT to think about your audience, it's also hard not to think about a contracted book as object rather than the process of the art. I start thinking I'm writing Rise for the people who have read Undine and Breathe (and I do genuinely care about these people), but really I am writing Rise for Undine herself, to fully realise her world, her experiences. (And I am also writing Undine for 17 year old me, who I know would have loved her). It is easy to read reviews and talk to friends and family and feel swayed by their own frustrated desires for Undine, their own ideas about where she should go and what should become of her. It is hard to walk away from other people's good intentions (for example I've had people with their own troubled relations with their parents scold me for letting Prospero off the hook so easily) but in the end I can't write anyone's novel but my own. I don't always know what's going to happen next but sometimes I think it's because Undine and Trout haven't told me yet. As hard as it not to think about my audience, I owe it to my audience to forget them, to burn effigies of them (to enact the death of the reader instead of the Author) because there is no one Reader only multiple readers, and who knows who they are, or who they will become.

Monday, June 26, 2006

New Website!
Somehow, now that I am a dot com, I feel like I exist just a teensy bit more than I did yesterday. (On an aside, I had a friend who always said if he did drag his name would be Dot Com.) Anyway, exist I do: click here and you can verify my existence.
Martin made it. He did a beautiful job.
We still have some work to do, more content to put on there - some excerpts and reviews perhaps, and maybe some more personal words from me, but for now I like that it's simple and clean.
Thanks Martin

Saturday, June 24, 2006

I've just been reading about Eglantine - the wild rose that is. Apparently it is vigorous, hardy, compact, almost constantly in bloom, and very forgiving, tolerating poor soils and neglect. It propogates easily from cuttings. It is small but it has very showy flowers, bright magenta with prominent white 'eyes'. For all these fantastic traits it is a very rare rose, not commercially readily available.
All in all she sounds like a great character for a children's book. I already love her (she reminds me a little of Fred). Long blonde hair (that kid blonde that is almost white) and pale blue eyes. She's tough, she can take whatever you throw at her.
Sockalicious (slow news day)
I'm thinking of attempting one of these: Sock Dog for Una Pearl (but maybe linking to it is enough to satisfy my possessive urges). I went to Craft Victoria yesterday and saw among other very cool things these which I had only recently been looking at online. I was thrilled to find them, they're so gorgeous. I love knitted Yoda. I have secret fantasies of making something similar - it's the big head small body thing that really appeals I think.
It's not instead of writing, honest. I'm in serious thinking mode at the moment, I am banning myself from writing until I have finished plotting, the novel keeps meandering off into it's own errant direction and I've decided it's time for some tough love. If it was a child it would go to its room.
Anyway, I should start my Saturday. We're going to my best friend Zoe's house for an unpicnic today (in her house, we will probably sit on chairs, Fred will not sit).
Fred listened to classical music all night (Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra) so no doubt will be able to solve complex algebraic equations and recognise flash cards of the outer solar system today. She is currently reading a map.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Things that happen before you wake
I got up to this tragic scene yesterday morning. Her dancing days are over.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Quote of the day
Not building a wall. Making a brick.

Writing day today. Or unwriting. I am unspooling Rise like a ball of yarn, I am pulling it apart, looking for its heart. It disheartens. But it strengthens the core of it.

As I write, I remember. Not building a wall. Making a brick.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

More Knitting, Winter, Baby it's Cold Outside

Why write novels when you can knit? Knitting is the new black, or so I hear. Actually it was the new black a few years ago, it's probably the new beige. Maybe it's the new new black. Anyway, I knitted another thing which involved purling, shaping...fancy. Of course I can't take a photo without Ms I'm So Totally Three inserting herself into the frame. This is a nappy cover. If you haven't used one it can be hard to imagine how wool works as a nappy cover, but it just does. Something to do with the lanolin, wool neutralises urine. It wicks away mositure so baby bottoms can breathe (and we all know how much bottoms like to breathe). Anyway, I am a fan of the wool cover. Unfortunately this one is just a little bit small, not high enough in the waist - I will have to find another little bottom for it.
Winter has hit with a vengeance (leading to cosy evenings inside knitting of course) and we have been using our coonara more and more, and whenever Martin lights it smoke fills the house (disclaimer: this is not in any way a comment on Martin's caveman fire lighting abilities, I am sure it's a defect of the wood). Fred carries the wood in, it's also her job to bring in pinecones (which she collected with her Nana and Papa at Blackburn Lake) to use as kindling. The fire has taken hold of her imagination, she dreams about it. We go out with her and she'll say out of the blue, with just the right concerned tone, 'Do you smell smoke?' She's going to give some nice elderly knitter a heart attack one day.
To foster this interest (well someone has to raise the next generation of pyromaniacs or all those nice firefighters will be out of a job) we took her to a (early) Winter Solstice party on Saturday, with a (small and well-contained) bonfire. The hosts and most of the guests were German and the kids did a lantern parade, carrying paper lanterns strung on sticks, lit up by flickering candles and singing German songs. Fred sang, loudly, with gusto, her own lantern carrying song. Una watched the fire all night and was quiet and self contained. The kids wrapped potatoes in foil to roast in the fire (they cooked perfectly despite the small brazier), and we ate warming bean soup in the winter darkness.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

I love buttons. I remember my Nana had a long flat tin, red, possibly it once had toffees in it. Or shortbread. Whatever the case, the consumables had long since been consumed and in it instead was buttons, a lifetime's collection of oddments, different shapes and sizes. It was the closest thing to treasure any real person I knew owned. The grandchildren had free access to these buttons, I remember trailing my hands through them, sifting them through my fingers like sand at the beach. I don't know where those buttons are now. Possibly my mother has them, or my sister who learned to sew and knit as a child, and did so often with Nana, where I lacked the patience for sitting still.
The buttons above are from a shop called Buttonmania in the city. Martin and I are planning an excursion, so I can revisit buttons, so Fred can ride in a hand operated elevator (and me too) and perhaps while we are there we might find some treasures to take home.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Mmm...Duck Fat
I roasted a whole duck last week. It was an interesting process - I poached it in tea first and then roasted it. The recipe called for a very high temperature and because there was honey in the tea mix the duck went startlingly black but was very crispy and tasty for the first few quickly became somewhat overwelming - under the crisp skin there's a layer of hot liquid fat. The meat however is delicious, dark and gamey, with a slight resistance to the bite yet soft and tender. After we had eaten the bird we made stock from its bones, dark and rich and strange. I'll make a risotto from it I think, with mushrooms and eggplant and parsley and wine.
Also, in a moment of nostagia for my childhood, I poured the liquid fat from the pan into a white cup and kept it. It's in our fridge now, a solid white block on top with a dark jelly underneath. We've used it twice to cook potatoes in - they come out beautifully crisp and flavoursome. As a child I would have had it spread on hot toast, digging the knife in deep to get a good blend of the white fat and the dark rich jelly. This is a treat that no doubt my children will never know, living in a post-cholesterol age. It feels wicked indulging in duck fat, but whatever gets you through these chilly Melbourne winter days.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I love creche day. Fred goes off in the morning (sometimes I take her in on the tram, sometimes she goes on Martin's bike. This morning I think Martin has caved to illness, fatigue and the snap freeze and taken her in the car) and the house settles into quiet. Una is still happy to lie around alone on the floor and kick and have unfettered access to Fred's toys (life with Fred is somewhat dizzying for Una). Some Tuesdays Martin has a placement in a school and Una and I are alone for the day. I work. She sleeps. We go for little walks to the supermarket or we visit. It's funny though because Undine doesn't like Tuedays:

Undine straggled down the stairs to the bathroom. She felt a lump of something, starting at the base of her spine and working its way upwards. It wasn't a physical something, though it belonged inside her body, under her skin, trapped inside the fine network of muscle, tissue, nerve and bone. She knew what was happening because it had happened before, and even though she felt a little shiver of fear, mostly she was annoyed, because it was Tuesday and Tuesdays were - on the whole - not to be trusted.

After I wrote that line about Tuesdays I found a long essay online about Bad Tuesdays in Jane Austen novels. Apparently Tuesdays really aren't to be trusted. I don't know about Austen but I picked the day fairly randomly, though here's Undine's case against them:

Tuesdays were just badly designed, she thought crossly, as Lou danced in front of her with a piece of burnt toast and a coffee. They didn't have the anticipation and freshness of Mondays,when you woke up with the weekend still singing in your mind, and made resolutions to be more organised for the rest of the week, and looked fofrward to school so you could hear who wore what to Nick's party and the various assorted minutiae that coloured other people's lives. By Tuesday the weekend was well and truly down with - old news - and the next weekend felt a long way away.

But here we are all big fans of Tuesdays. Hooray for Tuesdays!

My favourite part about Tuedays? It's when Fred comes home, if she's on the bike she starts shouting halfway down the laneway 'Mama, we're ba-ack, Mama, we're ba-ack.' She runs in and kisses me, if she's tired she hugs too, collapsing into me. The first thing she always says is, 'Where's Una?' (this is what she always says to me if we talk on the phone when she's out too). Then she tells me about her day and I tell her about mine. It's great being three, having news of your own. She seems to have a lot of friends, but there is one special one - Mali. Mali is 4 and an all important half, she speaks German and has a sister called Lily. Fred loves her the best and Mali loves 'Freddie' (creche is the one place she is called Freddie, to distinguish her from a little boy, Frederick, who has the nickname Fred).

So it's almost 9am and I have a whole Tuesday stretching out in front of me. Time for coffee, and then to work.

Friday, June 09, 2006

One day when I'm bigger
Fred (who turned 3 in April) just saw the picture of Breathe in the corner of my blog and shouted 'There's your book mama!' Then she asked if she could read it when she's bigger. I've told her a few times that I write books but I was never really sure how much she got it. All the critics in the world and there's only two little girls I really want to impress. You know, like really. I just want them to think I'm cooool, like any good gen x-er mama.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Knitty McKnit Knit
Look what I made. Isn't she cute? I made the hat too.
Reading and Writing
I am reading a fantasy manuscript at the moment and it's making me think about why Undine isn't fantasy. Magic is there, but the magic is more of a metaphor (a metaphor of becoming, on many levels, of transformation), whereas in true fantasy, magic is a scaffolding, both in terms of world-building and in holding the whole structure of the novel together - it's the glue that makes the fiction work. In fantasy the internal logic very much depends on the fantasy. Whereas in Undine, the internal logic almost resists the magic, the magic is a kind of absurdism, like in a dream where suddenly you're naked and you're carrying a fish, and it all just kind of makes sense. It brings these strange elements into Undine's life that she has to somehow incorporate into her real life - which of course is ultimately impossible, leading to her central dilemma - is she the magic or is she the girl - is she the dreamer or is she the dream? In the dream you just keep carrying that fish. Often you don't even wonder where the fish comes from. That's the way a dream works and in a way it's how magic works for Undine - Trout wants to know the wheres and the whys and the hows. But for Undine, the questions are different. The science of it doesn't interest her, it's more about the way it intersects with the girlness of her, she is curious about the girl inside the magic, even more than the magic inside the girl.
I used to say that Undine wasn't really fantasy, it's a magic book and it's true, it's not genre fantasy. But I don't have anything against fantasy and Justine Larbalestier once said in a talk we did together that all fiction is really fantasy and this is true too. All novels deals with their own self-contained worlds which though they may mimic the real world perfectly, they still have their own gravitational pull - in an Anne Tyler novel for example, the entire world may revolve around the experiences of one American family. Although the rest of the universe is implied, we see only a small part of it and it might seem that suddenly the six people who occupy the content of the novel are grotesquely huge while everyone else seems infintesmal in comparison.
Fantasy writers seem to garner a very loyal following who become deeply entrenched in the world the author has created - perhaps more so even that the authors themselves. I think it's fascinating that readers can become so absorbed in a world so alternate from their own. Are they looking for difference, or are they looking for sameness in difference, seeking to recognise themselves amidst dragons and warlocks and magical acts?
I'll write more about this later, my mate Kate Constable is a fantasy writer and we've been talking a bit lately about kids books and magic. There's a lot to say.

Friday, June 02, 2006

A little personal blog tour
So anyway, I am slowly reaching out into the world of blogs.
I started, as many do with  loobylu a fantastic Melbourne based craft-blogger who makes, amongst other things, really gorgeous soft toys.
I then ventured off from her site, finding an amazing array of other incredibly gifted souls. Somehow I wended my way here Wardrobe Refashion and since doing so have taken the pledge - I will buy no new manusfactured clothes for 4 months. This will be a piece of cake since I can't sew, can knit in a straight line (sometimes) and don't know how to cast off (so will knit forever) and have no 'stash' to speak of (this is a term pertaining to the many accumualted materials sewing and knitting types seem to store under their beds, not a drug euphemism, though I have none of that sort either, cos drugs are bad mmkay?). Anyway. I shall try it out.
Lastly I wandered into sarsaparilla which is a endlessly interesting australian based literary blog with all sorts of fabulous people.
And I've also been knitting. I am a busy mcbee.
Now the brave part - to press publish post and see if all my html links have worked...fingers crossed...