Abigail’s Party Really is a Gas

April 17, 2009 at 7:46 am (Uncategorized)

You heard the lady – when C says “Now get back to work,” I can but comply. So here it is, Friday afternoon, and I have just spent the past two days going through THE WHOLE THING AGAIN. This is so pathological. Truly. I had dinner with three girlfriends on Wednesday night, and after S asked for an update, T (there’s another one…) gave me a funny look and said, “I never thought writing a book would be all that hard.”

I laughed.

“Well, go ahead and try it,” I said. “It’s certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever done by a million miles. It’s much harder than my PhD.”

“I thought all you had to do was sit down and, you know, write it.”

“Yeah,” I said, gripping the wine bottle. “Me too. But it’s nothing like that. It’s not like that at all.”

And maybe some people do just dash them off. Who knows? I’m not in a position to say (but I doubt it). I only know that I’m basically bleeding out of my eyeballs trying to get this thing whipped into shape. And even just making decisions about all this structural apparatus is TRICKY. C pointed out that some of my chapters were too long, which I knew but was having trouble with, so one of the things I’ve done over the past few days is go back and look at where I break the text. And I’ve gone from 18 chapters to 27, so imagine the difference that makes. Chapters have a nice tightening effect, concise chapter breaks can add buoyancy and help build momentum, so it’s interesting to see the immediate impact on the action and the arc. I’m a fan of chapters, but they’re not arbitrary, no, no, no, and I’m not sure that readers always understand the lengths writers may go to making sure everything is just right. If I told you how many times I’ve changed chapter breaks, you’d probably think I was an idiot, but I prefer to think of myself as slow and steady. Whatever works – and believe me, it didn’t work first go. It didn’t work second time round either. And if it’s all the same to you, I won’t bother trying to figure out what number I’m up to, although I suspect we’ve hit double digits. And so what? You wanna make something of it?! No, I know you guys are all pulling for me – you’re such a gracious, generous, understanding lot I feel you will forgive me my many false starts, and thanks. It makes those conversations with people who aren’t quite so forgiving much easier to endure. 

In other news, Llew and I saw a great play at the Ensemble Theatre last night. We scored the tickets from his parents, who are at this moment punting down Lake Eyre, a crazy desert lake system in the centre of Australia that only rises a couple of times a century. We thought it was once every twenty or so years, but I read this morning that Lake Eyre appeared just once last century. Please tell me that was unusual, because otherwise, we’re missing our chance right now. It’s a freaky little miracle, Lake Eyre. All this life, this perfect eco-system, lies suspended in the desert until conditions are perfect, meaning particular floods flowing down the country from Queensland, and then the waters rise, life begins again, and birds arrive from thousands of kilometres away for breeding. If you’re feeling a little jaded, you could do worse than reading up on Lake Eyre. The will to life – it’s something else in the middle of the vast Australian desert. 

Anyway, they’re incommunicado until they get off their boat (they’re sleeping in swags beneath the stars – how good does this trip sound?!), so we tootled off to the theatre in their place. It’s a Mike Leigh play, Abigail’s Party, and it’s a cracker. It revolves around a small neighbourhood cocktail party of the 70s. Abigail’s teenage party is taking place offstage, up the road, and we’re left with five fraught adults. I expect Leigh wrote it with an English setting in mind, but mercifully they resisted adopting English accents in this production, and so it became incredibly relatable due in part to their different classes of Strine (Australian English). Llew’s parents have season tickets with three of their friends, and discussing it with them during the interval, we realised we all recognised aspects of ourselves and each other. I don’t know if this would have been the case to quite the same degree if the lead actress in particular were playing the part of Beverley as an Englishwoman, because the class system in the UK is so particular and so different to our own. Regardless, I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. Really thoroughly entertaining. I’m more familiar with Leigh’s films – Naked and Secrets & Lies are unforgettable – but this makes me want to hunt around for the rest of his plays, of which there are about a dozen, I think. Gosh it was good. The performances were just spot on, too. There’s usually one person in the Ensemble’s ensemble who lets the side down, but not in this production. Everyone’s on the money. Really great. We were so happy and impressed with the entire experience, and if you ever see this play being staged in your own neck of the woods, go along and put that all important patron’s bum on a seat. 

 


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7 Comments

  1. litlove said,

    I’ve seen Abigail’s Party before and it IS funny. So glad to know you had a good production of it to attend. As for rewriting, there’s a quote I’m very fond of (which I’m just about to misquote, I expect, as I always get the words slightly wrong) that says rewriting is like scrubbing a mosaic floor with a toothbrush. Oh my. But there’s no other way than endless revision, and if someone finds another way, I’d be grateful to be told about it. 😉

  2. Lilian Nattel said,

    slow and steady wins the race. 😉

  3. Pete said,

    Hi there, don’t tell Akismet but I’m still trying to leave comments on your blog! Have cunningly dropped the URL (hah Akismet, you suck). Anyway … yay for the chapter tightening and the Mike Leigh play (Secrets and Lies? Loved it) and Lake Eyre. And have a good weekend with your rewrites and your wine bottle 😉

  4. David said,

    Oooh, I love Leigh. What fun.

    Funny thing, writing … the process isn’t longer, really, than the hours of rehearsal and physical conditioning that a musician puts into a performance … but because the rehearsal is in a more tangible form, it seems more excessive, I think. Writing is such a weirdly backwards art … the rehearsal comes after the production, if you know what I mean, in the form of revision.

  5. Grad said,

    About chapters…they are all-important. They are the stuff by which I plan my bathroom visits when I can’t seem to break away from a good book. So, as I am going to buy your book when it is available, I would appreciate you giving some thought to that issue. Next, the play sounds wonderful, as does the trip down Lake Eyre. I’m going to “read up” on it.

  6. Pete said,

    (Comment take two). That Lake Eyre trip sounds amazing – I’m sure there must be some Internet pics I can find. I’m so curious to read your novel now but will wait for the final and finished version. Good chapter breaks really do work wonders so am extra glad you’re focusing on this.

  7. doctordi said,

    Grad, that’s so true. How does one put the kettle on or relieve one’s bladder when there are no chapter breaks?? It was extremely vexing during Mrs. Dalloway and The Sorrows of an American, dying of thirst and holding all at the same time…!

    I’ll be interested to hear what you uncover about Lake Eyre; like Pete, I think it sounds amazing, and I can’t wait to see Llew’s parents’ photos and get a thorough blow-by-blow of everything they’ve seen. And thanks, Pete, I agree – chapters work wonders. I think they’re definitely helping, and I am definitely thinking about them a great deal.

    David, Litlove, Lilian, I love Leigh too, and yes, you’re right. Endless revision is unavoidable, and David I think it is like a sustained period of rehearsal before a performance. I know what you mean – there’s a burst of writing that feels like a performance in its own right, but really I think it’s that final version after all the redrafts that’s the full expression of all that preparation, so in that sense is very similar to what a musician must go through before finally striking that opening note in front of an audience, however large or small. As an aside, I’ve often wished I played an instrument.

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