Eyrie by Tim Winton

First published 2013 by Penguin Group (Australia)

Eyrie

I read Tim Winton for the first time when I was fifteen, the book was An Open Swimmer, and shortly before reading Eyrie, I had another read to see if I could make head or tail of it this time round. But I am not sure that I did. There have always been parts of Winton’s books where I’m not really sure what is going on or what has happened, but I will continue to read him because I love his broken protagonists and his rich imagery and am as soothed by the sea and the bush as his characters are.

In Eyrie there is less of the bush than some of the other books I’ve read (Minimum of Two, Cloudstreet, Land’s Edge and Dirt Music) as the story is set in central Freemantle. The main character Tom Keely has separated from his wife, lost his job and is clinging to his sanity, while hiding from the world in a crummy flat on the top floor of a crummy high rise.

Enter Gemma Buck, a waif from his childhood who with her sister used to stay with the Keelys when the domestic violence at home got too bad. She is now living a couple doors down with her grandson Kai. Kai is a strange kid who’s seen too much and this is probably why he’s drawn to Keely.

No sooner is Kai on the scene when the tension moves up a notch, and the reader spends the rest of the book wondering whether this child will fall from the tenth floor or not. In the meantime Keely finds himself sucked into Gemma’s crap, but through trying to help her he finds enough goodness in himself to hang onto the shred of sanity he has. It is a gripping tale which keeps you turning pages, but suddenly it ends.

Now Winton has never been the kind of writer who wraps up everything neatly, but he gives us enough to figure out where the characters are heading when we close the book. At the end of Eyrie, we do find out the answer to the main question of whether Kai survives and what makes Gemma tick. However I thought Winton left a few too many questions unanswered this time. We are told what went wrong with the marriage but only get hints about what went wrong at work. We never find out how the wet patch got on the floor at the very start, and I was also wondering if it was just the pills fucking him up or was there something more sinister going on neurologically. Honestly, it reminded me of The Dark Half by Stephen King! And for goodness sake, does he ever wash his towel or what?

 

 

How I write this stuff

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The beginning of the process is always a topic or idea. Some writers have said that the creative process begins when two ideas collide, but one has always been enough for me. That one idea leads to the next and then the next and if I’m lucky all the way around to the original thought.

When it comes to ABC Open 500 word topics, it’s all or nothing for me. I’ll know as soon as I read what the new topic is whether I have anything, and I seem to have something for about 40% of topics. Once or twice I’ve had more than one idea for a topic, and that tells me it’s been a good one. Only occasionally I’ve had an idea for something that has passed its use-by date, so with the current ABC Open website it pays to touch base quite regularly or miss out.

At the start of any piece I will at first muse on what exactly I’m going to include, and I let different thoughts waft around my head for a while, while driving or walking or showering or cleaning or whatever. Then I’ll get an opener, and before I do anything else that first line has to be written down or I’ll lose it. Then at some stage when I have space and time to think I’ll do the rest.

I work best away from the computer with a pad of lined paper and a pen, always Kilometricos. I find I think better this way. Some of the most fruitful locations have been my bedroom and the car. I am frequently amazed at how much more I get done when I am not at home with all those distractions. I love it when the car is due for a service as I usually get loads done in some public place.

With pen in hand I get going, and usually it is silence or the chirring of crickets that accompanies the process, except of course with the piece for ‘Lost in Music’. It’s because I need to hear myself think. What I’ve always done when I write is think it first then put the words to paper. And when I think I’m mostly having a conversation with myself, and that’s where the conversational style comes from. Sometimes I’ll have a coffee or tea sitting there, but that’s actually a signal that the writing process is stalling a little.

When I start writing, sometimes what happens is that after about half a page I’ll find that all I have reeks of narcissism, in which case I will put the pen down and the paper aside. The wankery will either be stored in my filing cabinet or in the bin.

More often, what happens is one of those mysterious processes of parts of the brain that are best left to do their alchemical thing. To delve into the hows and whys is to cut open the goose that lays the golden eggs. All I know is that this is the fun part. What comes out is a meld of quirky little observations and trivia, life’s crap and golden memories, and the fruit of a very Australian upbringing along with a sense of humour as dry as the landscape round here.

After I have two pages written, or more for a post like this one, it’s off to the computer to begin the revising and editing process. I often make changes as I type, and then I will re-read it a couple of times and take out any typos, apostrophes in wrong places, sloppy sentences and bad grammar. Reading it aloud to myself will tell me whether I have repeated any words. For example the other day I’d written ‘our earthly home’ and a few lines later ‘here on earth’, so one of those phrases had to go.

There is also nothing like a second pair of eyes, so if the piece is more important than a slapped together type as I think a blog post should be, I’ll show it to someone. The someone, usually a fellow writer, will tell me where I have rambled on and where I need to explain myself better. Perhaps they’ll make editing suggestions, of which I tend to take on about 50% – I find the other 50% is them writing it their way.

After that it’s preview and publish time, and I’ll let myself sit on my laurels for a day, but after that – God willing – it’s back to work.

(Originally published 20 Feb 2015 on ABC Open.)

A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin

First published 1996 by Bantam Spectra/Voyager.

a game of thrones

When I look back over my book list, which I have kept since I was 12 – 31 years ago, in any of those years the reading has been pretty girly. So this summer, after finishing AWW 2014, I have been reading books by blokes. I have read books by Alexander McCall Smith, George RR Martin, Monty Don, Graeme Simsion, and have some Tim Winton and Cormac McCarthy lined up.

I also tend to read mainly memoir with a little general fiction on the side, so to tackle something like A Game of Thrones was to take a giant leap out of my reading rut. This book sat on my e reader for six months after my son downloaded it, and there was something about the cover which made me feel excited and happy just looking at it. After all, this man has created a world loved by millions, which then became a TV series. Isn’t that every writer’s dream?

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What writers can learn from farmers

Where did the year go?

Suddenly it’s NaNoWriMo again, that time of the year when would-be novelists around the world are scrambling to get 50,000 words of a novel written over the 30 days of November. I’m aiming for 20K. It’s my second attempt and last year I only got 10K written, which was still an achievement considering the crap that was on my family’s plate at the time.

For me here in Quorn this scribbling coincides with the wheat and barley harvest and while I’m trying to gather in words, the headers are out there day and night, weather permitting. There’s a lovely symmetry here, and even as I write this post I can hear the hum of harvesters.

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For years I have thought quite often about what a writer’s life and farmer’s life have in common. The first one is, of course, the irregular income – both writers and farmers need either a day job, or a partner with a steady income, to keep them going in the months between payments.

There’s periods of intense activity during seeding time and harvest time interspersed with months where not much seems to get done.

Writing itself is a lot like planting seeds; what you do mostly is put your work out there and then wait. Months later something might come up. This work is not without risk because crops like books sometimes fail.

Farmers are a lot like writers when it comes to planning, and they can be a cagey lot when discussing what they plan to sow this season, much in the way a writer avoids discussing plot-lines out loud in case it kills the book stone dead.

We also have a solitary lifestyle which we would not have chosen did we not thrive on it, and we get to set our own timetables.

There also does no retirement age – think of the late Max Fatchen or the man behind the wheel in the above photo, Lawrie Fitzgerald, still cropping in his 80s.

Despite this, there are many things writers do which would have your average farmer shaking their head with the folly of it all.

Because the main life lesson a farmer teaches us is to sow on regardless. In Ecclesiastes it says, ‘He that observeth the wind will not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds will not reap,’ (11:4) and any farmer worth their salt sows seeds every year whether they’ve ever opened the Bible or not. No matter what the next growing season may bring, they will be out there sowing at seeding time whether the experts are predicting a dry year or not. The risk is taken every year.

And this brings me to the mistakes writers can make, especially the amateurs. The first one is procrastination. Instead of putting pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard we waste time wondering if these words we’re thinking about writing will ever see light of day, or whether what we write might suck or not, etc etc. Farmer don’t have the luxury of being able to procrastinate, or we would all starve. Have you ever seen a farmer polishing all the silver when they need to get behind the wheel of the tractor? I don’t think so. Or their crop yields would plummet!

Then there is the waiting for feedback, which I sometimes do when I’ve just written an awesome blog post. It would seem at times that the better the post, the louder the silence accompanying it!  But if a farmer ploughed one paddock then waited around for another human being to express their approval of it, we’d probably starve.

Another one is resting on success. This is when we’ve written that awesome blog post and someone else likes it, and maybe it will lead to a new opportunity or whatever.  But how many hours do we waste being in that happy little bubble instead of being like Dory from Finding Nemo and ‘just keep writing’. Have you ever seen a farmer take a year off because last year’s harvest was such a good one? Not around here anyway.

And have you ever seen a farmer endlessly self-promote? Okay you can probably think of at least one, but if they all did, we really would starve.

Study the habits of the writers who are successful and you will notice they are not unlike those of our agriculturalists. This is why they can write for a living and not starve!

(Originally published 12 Nov 2014 on ABC Open.)

AWW 2014 – Challenge Complete

Hurrah, the day I have been waiting for, as the year is almost up and I had to get on with completing what I set out to do, which was the Franklin level – read 10 and review at least 6.

The books I read and reviewed were:

The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny

All the Rivers Run by Nancy Cato

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Am I Black Enough For You? by Anita Heiss

Me of the Never Never by Fiona O’Loughlin

The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement by Virginia Lloyd.

The books I read but didn’t review were:

Playing With Water by Kate Llewellyn (yet again!)

Hannah and the Tomorrow Room by Libby Gleeson (and Hannah the Famous)

A Fig at the Gate by Kate Llewellyn

Tiddas by Anita Heiss

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Writing and reading is so often a one-way street, author writes the book and you the reader reads it, and never the twain shall meet – especially if the author is late. But this year I was blessed with some form of contact with almost all the AWWs on the list (with the exception of Cato (deceased), Gleeson and Kent). This was in the form of emails or twitter conversations, and one face to face meeting when Fiona O came to Quorn last Thursday.

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But the most surreal moment of the year was turning up in A Fig at the Gate by Kate Llewellyn!

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The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement by Virginia Lloyd

First published 2008 by University of Queensland Press.

the young widow's book of home improvement

I had been meaning to reread this book for quite a while, as I had not looked at it for almost five years.

I originally bought it seven months after becoming a young widow myself, and what a happy day that was. I stumbled upon it in a bookshop in Mount Gambier, where I had gone for my first child-free break, and the title leapt right out at me. I had been 37 years old when my husband died. I wasn’t old. He had left me with four children and an unfinished house which we had been owner-building, so I also liked the sound of the home improvement aspect.

Right next to this book was another widow book, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, so I bought both and was absurdly happy for the rest of the day. In fact that moment still stands in my memory as a high point during those early months.

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Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

First published 2013 by HarperCollins

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Here was a book with both my daughters’ names on the front cover so I had to read it. And Isabel partly got her name from Ms Allende.

I first heard of her when I was in Cuzco Peru almost 20 years ago, when a fellow traveller passed on one of her books to me – Eva Luna. And through that book I made a new friend Arturo, when he spotted me with it in the main square and struck up a conversation. Over the years I have read quite a few of her books (12 when I counted), some in Spanish, others translated over to English, but I had not done so for several years.

One thing I like about some of the Latin American writers is the way they are a law unto themselves. We westerners are so bound by rules such as “show don’t tell”, but Allende threw it away years ago and has so far managed to get away with it. Another rule we have is “stick to a genre”; Latin Americans say bugger that and go and invent their own!

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