We drove back to Sydney from beautiful Salamander Bay at the crack of dawn this morning, so I’m rapidly starting to fade though it’s not yet my new Total Collapse Hour of 7 pm. We’ve been up the coast for a long family weekend celebrating Llew’s dad’s 75th birthday. Seventy-five… it hardly seems possible, and you’d agree if you knew P. We had a lovely weekend, the J clan (seven of us – parents, three kids and two wives – with a couple of cameos, as P’s brother and wife live up the road from the rental house), including some seriously foul weather, fiery debates, fireside ruminations, long coastal walks in both rain and shine, a sensational morning swim at One Mile Beach, and of course vast, dedicated bursts of sustained over-indulgence.
As you know, I’m not bad on the tooth, frankly I take some defeating, but man, can these people eat. They really leave everything out on the field. There were three cakes in three days. Cheeses. Seafood. Steak. Salads. More cake. Long, late brunches… my sis-in-law even managed to steam some gyoza last night as we grazed on scant leftovers, and you know what? After Shanghai and the joyous discovery there of my favourite street food of the sojourn, sticky pot dumplings, I have decided dumplings – all dumplings, I’m not fussy – definitely rate among my favourite foods. Love ‘em. Like any self-respecting foodie, I’ve been hoovering delectable Japanese gyoza for years, and while Japanese cuisine is right in the mix in my Chow Down Showdown (whenever I try to pick a winner, my taste buds stampede), those sticky pots were nigh on an epiphany, and I’ve been wanting to dabble in dumplings ever since. When we first got back, I asked my Shanghai-ese beautician Sherie about making my own dumplings, and she stared at me, hot wax dripping menacingly from the applicator in her hand like a schlocky special effect, as though I were certifiably insane.
“Why you want do that?” she demanded, clicking her tongue in exasperation at my loose grip on reality, so I explained my love of cooking, and of sticky pot dumplings, telling her of my ardent desire to bring the two together, in my kitchen, as a matter of some urgency. Sherie nodded vigorously, proceeding to tell me, very slowly – presumably because I was being so dense – that these dumplings are available for anyone who wants them in the freezer section of any Chinese grocer. Conversation closed. She simply couldn’t countenance the idea that I wanted to try my hand at making them; this concept was patently ridiculous to her: any idiot could see someone had already done the job for me, and no doubt with much greater success, so that’s where my tilt at eliciting some local know-how ran aground. For now.
Where was I?
Oh yes. More food.
A mouth-watering Thai nosh kicked off proceedings on P’s actual birthday last Thursday night (the family lived in Bangkok among other Asian cities when Llew was a boy, and the happy consequence is that Thai cooking is Llew’s mum’s speciality and the family’s flat-out favourite cuisine), featuring such Jenkins classics as fishcakes, mussel pancake and Pad Thai (yes, I know, it’s all very trying, such a tough life joining this lot…), and it just went on and on from there until I thought I needed to make an emergency move into elasticised pants.
Home again, I feel like a slowly deflating whoopee cushion, bloated and belching, which is always a sign of a very good weekend.
I’ve just been hit by a vast wave of tiredness… and that’s my chief experience of being pregnant right there. So far, so sleepy. I can understand the exhaustion – it sounds like my body is being very industrious. I can’t really feel all the effort it’s going to, except for how tired I feel, but from what I’ve read, it’s a hive of activity in there. We’re getting these weekly updates from a very handy site called Pregnancy Centre that are blowing my mind, like this one, for Week 10. Fingernails? Seriously – fingernails? All quite amazing – and no wonder I am beat.
I seem to have completely dodged the morning sickness bullet, and the only tears I’ll be shedding over that are soaked in gratitude. I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, and I do feel so incredibly fortunate while all this is going on that I work from home, and I think it’s in no small way contributing to my general physical wellness. I have a new and overwhelming respect for the women whose first trimester coincides with an unchanged, high-pressure, no-relief corporate career. Long hours, commuting, battery hen open-plan offices full of everyone’s winter mucus – ugh – I do not know how they do it, and no wonder some women get really sick.
Because here’s the thing I didn’t know would happen: I’m sleeping really badly. I’d blithely assumed that all this enforced clean living would result in 9 months of blissful slumber, and that I’d be able to store up sleep stamps for that notoriously sleepless event of a baby coming home to stay. Well. Forget about it. What a joke. No one told me I wouldn’t be able to sleep the whole way through, but now I’ve started indignantly canvassing people about this grave omission, the knowing nods are coming in thick and fast. So that’s the first thing high-powered career women have to deal with: the shattered expectation and necessity of a decent night’s sleep. It’s the extra toilet trips, sure, but it’s not just that. I just think this factory’s open all hours, working overtime to meet demand, lights blazing, muzak blaring, strained workers grumbling about conditions.
Then there’s the food thing. I eat whenever I want to. Literally the second I want to. There’s no one standing by my desk talking about last night’s Master Chef, there’s no one calling me into their office for an urgent meeting, there’s no one waiting for me to conduct that big presentation across town, there’s no queue at the sandwich counter down in the foyer. There’s just the very nifty open door policy I have going with my refrigerator. We have an understanding. So I don’t skip a single meal or a single snack or even have to wait until some socially acceptable lunch hour to rip into today’s treat – I can just suit myself, and believe me, I do. It’s like the sleeping. If I’m awake between 2:30 and 6 am, which is what happened the other night, I go back to sleep, and I don’t get up until I wake up, usually around 10 am on the back of these insomnia events. And if it’s 11 am, who the fuck cares? I need sleep. I’m building a person, apparently, and it seems to be quite a big job. This, I tell myself, is me doing that job.
How women take the level of exhaustion I’m feeling and incorporate it into an office job in the CBD, I’ll never know. What Trojans. What legends. Also, most people keep their first trimester a secret because of the risk of miscarriage and all the normality testing that only takes place around Week 12, so can you imagine the pressure of that, added to these other ingredients? Nausea? Pass me a bucket! The stress must be killing, and they must internalise it because they feel they can’t let it show. Oh, ladies. I salute you. I really do.
What do you grab? This is the tag I’ve received from NorwichRocks, so today I shall attempt to name the 10 things I’d reach for.
I’ve already figured out I’ll have to cheat, and assume I can safely remove whole categories of things instead of simply individual items. This fire business just won’t wash otherwise. I can’t possibly whittle down the list just to ten things – that seems a bit too stingy when everything I own is right here. I’m not one of these people who have a storage facility otherwise known as The Parents’ Home in which to dump the worldly possessions I can’t quite be bothered taking with me. Nope, it’s all here. In a way it’s kept me quite disciplined, but it’s true I’ve recently been feeling very, very crowded. It’s paper, mostly. My office spews paper, and I have these fantasies of a vast minimalist space with nothing in it but the desk, my computer, and a chair. But then I know I’d be sick of that in two seconds, because what would I do without all those books?
So that’s category #1. My books. They roll with, no questions asked. I suppose that includes my thesis, unless I can give it the slip at the door.
Category #2: my letters. I have saved every letter I have ever received, and a good number of cards too. They are amazing, precious artefacts, and I adore them. Could not be without them, so make way, make way, we’re comin’ through…
Category #3: My diaries and ‘thought books.’ My life in all its puny unimportance is traceable through these flimsy tomes – their contents mystify, delight, distress, amuse and in some sense define me. If this fire is going to get the go-ahead, then there simply has to be room for me to cart these many irregularly shaped volumes to the waiting truck before the ceiling falls in.
Category #4: our photos. Some of these are stacked in trunks, some in boxes in various hiding places around this apartment (which seems to enjoy its wholly inadequate allocation of storage space; I often feel it sneering at me as I try to get out from underneath all that paper…), some are on the fridge, some are hanging on the wall. All must be rescued and delivered to safety. Here I include my Granddad’s diploma from the Institute of Automotive Engineers. It’s not a photo, but it’s in a frame and it’s him if anything ever was, a career mechanic whose hands never recovered, and I’m having it.
Category #5: our art. We hardly have a Saatchi-esque collection, but what we do have it’s taken years and effort and careful consideration and a bit of madness and the occasional outright folly to acquire. Each piece of art we have has a story behind its presence in our home, and I love them dearly, I appreciate them daily, and they are irreplaceable so must be saved.
Category #6: my jewellery. It’s not that I have any jewellery that is especially valuable, I don’t, it’s that what I do have usually means something to me. The necklace Llew gave me for my 30th birthday. The necklace given to me by my Egyptian best friend on the occasion of our ten year reunion in Canada, the necklace (okay, yes, there is a theme emerging here…) I wore on my wedding day, the necklaces I bought in Venice on holiday with Llew, the cuff I bought in Auckland the weekend we visited friends… the list goes on. They sparkle with memories, and to me, they are priceless, more valuable than any Crown jewel.
I might be running out of categories now and into items:
#7: Llew’s granddad’s record player. My life wouldn’t be worth living if I left this behind, and fair enough too.
#8: My Granddad’s ladder. I use it as a bookshelf now, but it’s covered in paint-spatters from when he and I painted the spare room of his house, and looking at them makes me happy.
#9: the saddle chair. It rocks. I’d rather save that chair than my bed, and that’s really saying something.
#10: the desk. It’s a very cool piece of furniture, and it would be a crying shame if it went up in flames.
Now, must check those electrics…
The Sydney Writers’ Festival is over for another year, and unfortunately my own attendance was poor. I’m not going to lie: it was the weather. I have a very low threshold for inclemency. I had planned going in to festival events both Saturday and Sunday to meet up with different friends, but when I awoke Saturday morning, the conditions were just so bleak and miserable I begged off. Tramping across Sydney on public transport in driving rain is not fun. It’s a damp, mouldy, limp-haired ordeal. And as far as choosing your company goes, I’m about as good saturated as I am sleepless: best avoided. So instead I spent Saturday curled up in the sunroom with an April issue of The New Yorker; the latest scathing short-story edit from my friend T – he really doesn’t spare a girl’s feelings, which is why I love that he’s started reading my work; and a printout of an edit The New Yorker ran in December 2007 of one of Raymond Carver’s classic short stories, ‘Beginners,’ as decimated by his editor Gordon Lish (who’s also an editor/chum of Don DeLillo’s. A piece of trivia: in DeLillo’s 1982 novel The Names, the character of Tap, the young son and delightfully experimental wordsmith of protagonist James Axton and his estranged wife Kathryn, is apparently based on Lish’s son, Atticus, whom DeLillo acknowledges in the opening pages).
At the time, The New Yorker ran the Lish-massacred draft alongside the final version. In a weird coincidence, I had printed out the latter less than two months later – in February 2008 – when I read the story at The New Yorker online. I was so impressed I wanted a hard copy to study, so I printed it, but I entirely missed the version containing all of Lish’s editorial suggestions. My printout of ‘Beginners’ resides permanently on my desk as a reminder of how it should be done, and now Lish’s version will sit alongside it as a salutary lesson about what may be required to get there. Even if you’re Raymond Carver – and yes, that consolation is exquisite. T told me there’s a whole book of Lish’s editing work on Carver’s stories available, entitled, appropriately enough for my purposes and tellingly enough for theirs, Beginners. Talk about a textbook worth having. It’s staggering comparing the two and considering the impact of Lish’s preternaturally alert editorial eye on even just one of Carver’s most famous works – I’m confident an entire collection would be student gold.
So. No festival, but lots of writing and thinking about writing. Sunday I was committed to the SWF afternoon tea – I’d paid my $45, and my writer frind L and I were going. We met thanks to the SWF, after all, so it was good to support the festival by attending something together. L had also raved about the afternoon tea – she went two years ago, the same year we met at the workshop, and said it was so lovely we simply must go. Sold.
In the event, this time – my first – was deeply unimpressive. It was held upstairs in the Heritage Pier, which is a brilliant exhibition space for, say, the Biennale, but less effective for an afternoon tea on a cold day of torrential rain. It’s a cavernous space, arctic and uncomfortable. I’d had rather Victorian fantasies of tiered plates of sandwich fingers and petit four, cups of tea in fine bone china and a cosy fireside reading. A grand old hotel high tea along the same lines L remembers so fondly from 2008, in other words, and not the slapdash demountable disaster we walked into on Sunday.
It was as though they weren’t expecting us.
That’s really the best and only way to describe the scene that greeted the 100-150 mostly female keeners who had braved the elements to be there. First, we queued by the entrance. On crossing the threshold, we were each handed a paper plate. Trays of unpromising-looking food were thrust under our noses by the guard of honour standing just inside the curtains. Uncertain of what lay ahead, L and I inspected these trays and doubtfully made a halfhearted selection. Then we all rushed the tables in a most undignified manner, vying for decent proximity to the stage. Coats strewn, bags protectively guarding seats, we joined our next queue, the one for tea and coffee. Now, why – why, why, why – each table of four was not pre-set with four cups and saucers, and why the entirely inept if sweetly clueless catering staff didn’t proceed to simply come around with pots of tea and coffee to each one, is utterly beyond me. It’s hospitality 1.01. And it’s beyond me from a business perspective as much as from a customer service point of view, because this stupid and entirely avoidable conga line of parched patrons only made their jobs harder – it was infuriatingly inefficient and unprofessional. Oh, and time-consuming. Oh, and unacceptably miscalculated: thank god we got there early enough to nab those boon items: paper plates and an actual crockery cup; those poor souls behind us in the line scored small cardboard boxes and paper cups. Horrible! The final insult? A tea bag, an inch of hot water and a man at the end with a 2L carton slopping milk to the top, so what was in the cup became not so much a cup of tea as another cold, wet, grey unidentifiable thing to be endured much like the largely inedible food.
I tried, and so did L. I hate food wastage, it gives me heartburn and anxiety, so my attempts to ingest the few items on my plate were earnest and, if I do say so myself, valiant in the circumstances. The scraping of jam and fake cream on the dry scone was distressingly mean, but I forced myself to finish at least this, the symbol of a high tea gone horribly, horribly wrong.
Because of the ridiculous beverage queue situation, they actually started the readings while half the room was still standing at the back of the room trying to get refreshment. People paid $45 a head for this privilege, but wait: it gets better. The biggest draw was poet Les Murray; he didn’t show due to illness, and for some reason organisers didn’t have the imagination or reflexes to give another poet his place. This was a sell-out event; imagine what a young poet with a first collection might have made of all these people cheering on a game effort to fill Les Murray’s big boots. It makes me gnash my teeth at the opportunity that went begging. And just like that, a full one third of the promised program was erased. Hmm.
Happily, I thoroughly enjoyed both readings, and I’m sure everyone else did too. I ended up purchasing Brian Castro’s The Bath Fugues because I just loved the section he read out, and really adored him (cheeky, intellectual, but also somehow a really benign, soothing presence), and I also bought Kirsten Tranter’s debut The Legacy, in part because I think it’s crucially important to support newly published authors, but also because the setting and themes of her novel appealed. I’m looking forward to reading them both.
I was much less in love with Geraldine Doogue’s moderation of the event. After Brian’s reading, she launched into a super peculiar “It’s just not us” (as in Australian) argument about the classical, literary and philosophical allusions in his work. We, Doogue said, just don’t really care for that sort of thing in this country. She actually used to word florid to describe it – I can assure you his allusiveness was anything but – and made some comment that sounded very much like she was calling him a big fat show-off for including such references in his novels. I folded my arms tight across my chest and seethed for the remainder of the discussion.
And then: disaster struck.
There was a dreadful lull, no one was asking any questions (perhaps I was not alone in being stunned by Doogue’s speaking for us all in such wildly inaccurate and alienating terms), and just then my arm flew up. Worse, it was seen. Something very strange followed: I was handed a microphone, but found I could barely speak. Indeed, I sounded very much as though I had a serious speech pathology. It didn’t help that I was by now shaking with cold and emotion (some of you may recall this is exactly what happened at the SWF workshop at which I met L), but my voice was so strangled and strange I was practically gagging. My throat has never been so dry, and unexpectedly I found I was also battling… I don’t know what they were… angry tears? Tears of frustration? Panic? Embarrassment? There are so many likely causes of the ducts being so activated at such an inconvenient moment – I suppose it was a colourful combination of factors, not the least being my total and utter horror at having had a rogue limb fly straight up into the air, inviting all this unwelcome and untimely scrutiny. Please, Heritage Pier, please swallow me whole.
Sadly the pier remained unmoved, and I dragged out a rambling, gasping… statement. Yes, it’s true, after all that it wasn’t even a question – I hate people like that at festivals!!! Who cares what I think – I and everyone else in the room was much more interested in what Castro and Tranter thought, so it was just hideous realising I had opened my mouth not to draw them out but to pass an opinion of my own. Make it stop. I won’t relive the experience – shudder – except to say I vaguely recall saying I was ‘still stewing’ about Doogue’s suggestion that ‘it’s just not us,’ and that I thought it a very outmoded attitude. Attendances at writers’ festivals right across the country certainly suggest a much more curious literary appetite, and before I slid under the table on Sunday, I did manage to mention that one of the most popular books of last year was David Malouf’s most excellent Ransom, inspired by the Homeric legend of the Trojan War as depicted in The Iliad. Allusions? Just not us? Now, see here, Cobber, it doesn’t get much more allusive than that, mate.
Yesterday, I was a tight little ball of bright red rage, so I thought I’d spare you good people my spectacularly filthy mood. I went for a walk while the sun was back (at the moment it really can’t seem to make up its mind), and I was giving myself a stern talking to about it, along the lines of, “People want humorous anecdotes about pregnancy and the sexes and the domestic carnage that ensues when a couple’s expecting – no one wants to hear the tough stuff! So shut up! Keep it to yourself unless you can be funny about it!”
And yesterday, I could not be funny about it. I was acutely unamused. So I couldn’t write anything – except a four-page letter to Llew, giving him a piece of my mind in several parts.
And no, I don’t think it’s the exploding pregnancy hormones, although I’m perfectly prepared to trot that out as a convenient excuse for a multitude of sins in the coming months. Indeed, so far this week I have had an uncontrollable giggling fit and a Linda Blair-style temper tantrum, both while in bed, so my moods are certainly oscillating wildly. But this was just me being really, really angry with Llew, and no amount of hormone imbalance is behind the reason why. Nope, he’s the reason why I was so angry with him, plain and simple.
I expect a lot of Llew – it’s a very high bar, and it’s not easy being him. I know that. But I won’t apologise for it – I expect a lot of myself too, and I work really, really hard so as to be the best partner in life I can be. I apply myself to my relationship with Llew the exact same way I apply myself to everything else: there’s a lot of laughter involved, but that doesn’t mean I’m not dead serious. I’m not suggesting Llew doesn’t try equally hard – he busts his balls – I’m only saying that sometimes I have expectations Llew does not meet. And now that we’re (still!) pregnant, some of those expectations have necessarily changed. In fairness, I think Llew’s probably looking around, lost, extremely confused to find himself playing a rather bloody game of catch-up, and here I am charging at him, seconds before I mow him down. Because I, you see, am carrying the ball.
So if we take this metaphor just a little further, this pregnancy is a game changer. The rules have changed overnight. And I guess in such scenarios it must take some players longer to adjust than others – the men on the team, for instance, who may struggle to make the distinction between yesterday’s game plan and today’s. They aren’t quite clear on the implications for the position they have traditionally played. It looks the same, it feels the same… what’s different? On the other hand, the women on the side don’t have to ask. They know the answer because they are instantly living it: everything. Everything has changed.
So what to do? Well, I think the team has to keep talking. That seems pretty vital to me, especially while these adjustments are being made. And I think I have to expect a lot of trial and error from each member of the team. I really don’t like trial and error, I’ve never enjoyed a single one of my countless mistakes, and I hate it when I can’t do something, but I have reached a point of maturity at which I accept that they comprise an inescapable and in many ways invaluable part of life. Failure has benefits – so says J.K. Rowling (courtesy of NorwichRocks, whose reach across the web for the perfect link apparently knows no bounds – much like our friend Fugitive Pieces, who kindly supplied this to help console me about my unbroken losing streak), and I think she’s right.
What else is happening? Well, inspired by Shuckin’ Charlotte’s own snazzy hand-warmers last year, Darkling C hatched a plan with her mum Bundy B to keep the Darklings toasty at the keyboard for the coming season (without question my least favourite of the four. I both feel and dislike the cold). We now each have our very own short version of the writer-friendly hand-warmer that Bundy B knitted for us specially – mine are orange and I luuuurve them – how fabulous is that? They are so nifty and so toasty and I think Bundy B is absolutely tops!
Otherwise, it’s been a week of redrafting. Except for yesterday, when I was too dark to draft. But the first major milestone of this MS redraft is getting closer, and hopefully it will put me in good stead for stage two. I’d like to get the first part of this monster job done and dusted today, in fact, so I’d best get back to it.
Have a great weekend, everyone. Next week: comfort food, the Sydney Writers’ Festival, and what the hell is happening to my body?
Just a short one today from back here in the wings. The spotlight is trained on centre-stage, and it gives me great pride and pleasure to hereby post this link to the winning entries of the 2010 Josephine Ulrick Literature Award, where you’ll find Darkling JB’s name and story heading the bill. Enjoy!
The most horrendous weather today, although very cosy-making if, like me, you don’t have to leave the house…I must say, diabolical downpours are when working from home really comes into its own. I’m delighted not to have to go out there and brave that deluge, especially because I’m someone who really wears the weather. I know people who glide through the most hideous wet as though safely encased in the Pope-mobile or Wonder Woman’s invisible plane – how else to explain the way they arrive at their destination dry, composed, nary a hair out of place, when I am guaranteed to be bedraggled beyond recognition (there’s a recalcitrant child screaming out on the footpath as her father valiantly attempts to make this filthy day fun – I hear you, sweetheart, I do)? I need industrial mudguards on my jeans, for a start, because I always end up with a spectacular spray of mud right up the back of my legs, quite as though I’ve been trekking in the highlands of Papua New Guinea instead of walking to the shops for a carton of milk. And then there’s the farcical umbrella situation. I have a slapstick talent for this contest of wills that invariably sees me lose – it’s like the wind, that bitch, changes the very second she sees me coming. The overall effect is that I look to have escaped from somewhere, in a hurry, and without my medication.
Yes, I think I’ll just stay in today.
I sent off that short story and my Penguin Scholarship application yesterday (although the early signs weren’t good: the clutch of papers kept trying to escape… by the time I got down to the Post Office, only one side of the envelope was still intact, the other three had entirely opened up, as if inviting my MS sample to make a break for it), so that’s two tasks off the desktop. And then I dragged myself back into my MS for the rest of the day and night… it is very slow going this time around. I have really struggled for motivation. But once I’m in there, in that world, it’s okay, and I do just get on with it. It’s just that I have been finding it increasingly difficult crossing that threshold in the first place. It’s actually the main reason I entered the Penguin thing: I need the kick up the arse. If I do advance through to the shortlist, I think I have to provide the full MS (the first 50 pages went off yesterday), so I had better get a wriggle on. Yesterday was a good, solid, productive day, and today is going to be the same, I’ve decided, so it seems to be working already. There’s really nothing like a bit of pressure to put the bomb beneath my bum.
Two other things happened yesterday. First, my copy of the US Writer’s Market Deluxe Edition 2010 arrived. I ordered it a couple of weeks ago after a long, despairing conversation with my North American writer friend L. She’s absolutely convinced I write like an American, that my narrative voice is much more suited to American tastes, and that I’m totally wasting my time in Australia. It’s not that I particularly agree with her assessment, because I am Australian, and I live and write in Australia, so how can any of that be, but it did make me wonder – not for the first time, as long-time readers of this blog may recall – if there may be value in shopping the MS to an agent based somewhere other than here. At the very least, it would be an interesting experiment. Plus I guess it’s not an entirely insane notion that my long obsession with America and with contemporary American literature has had some sort of impact on my own writing… it isn’t something I have consciously cultivated in any way, but the idea that this preoccupation with the States and its writers has influenced me is not a big stretch at all. So maybe there’s something in it, and maybe it’s worth exploring. But first I have to finish the redraft – all else is beside the point.
Second, lovely Priya at The Plumbean Project has passed on a second blog award to me, the Bodacious Blogging Book Reviewers award. Thank you, Priya, you really have been a delightful addition to my virtual-becomes-actual blogosphere friendships. For those of you presently unacquainted with this vivacious island girl, I warmly suggest you stroll over to Hawaii and prepare yourself for a serious dose of sunshine.
Okay, the last five books I read…
I’m currently reading On Beauty by Zadie Smith, but if that doesn’t count then…
Dark Roots, by Cate Kennedy
Point Omega, by Don DeLillo
The Essence of the Thing, by Madeleine St John
The Ice Age by Kisten Reed
And I guess it was a dead heat between Dancing Backwards, by Salley Vickers; An Experiment in Love, by Hilary Mantel; and A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf.
Of these, I’m yet to write any sort of review on the Smith (for the obvious reason that I’ve not finished), the DeLillo (which I plan to reread and reflect upon further), or the Kennedy (which I think I’ll review once I’ve read her novel The World Beneath), but the rest you all know about already, so there’s not much left to do but nominate five Bodacious Blogging Book Reviewers of my own…
Litlove at Tales from the Reading Room, because even though she’s having a blogging break, she is still the book reviewer par excellence.
Lilian at A Novelist’s Mind
Grad at The Curious Reader
Pete at Couchtrip
David at Quotidian Vicissitudes
And warmest thanks again to the gorgeous-inside-and-out Priya at The Plumbean Project for sprinkling some of her magic dust on this cold and dreary autumn day!
I can finally share the latest Darkling success after the longest two-week wait of all time while the news was under embargo: Darkling JB has won the 2010 Josephine Ulrick Literature Prize for her wonderful short story, The Geometry Lesson. Cue rapturous applause! Bravo, Darkling, we salute you! The awards night was last night, which sounds like it went like an absolute dream (how could it not?!), but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until the 18th to read JB’s winning entry – I’ll post the link as soon as it comes online. JB is now rubbing shoulders and clinking martini glasses with the likes of Frank Moorhouse – and we are of course getting many a vicarious thrill from her tantalising updates of life in the fast lane. It sure beats the hell out of losing, and I should know!
Yes, I’m afraid I’ve simultaneously had my own rather different experience with this same competition, so it’s lovely to be able to celebrate JB’s success instead of merely wallow in my own failure to crack the final list. That’s what I’d hoped that one story of mine would manage to do: scrape onto this competition’s long or shortlist, because that would have reassured me that there is a glimmer of hope in this endeavour after all. Writing fiction is very like undergoing fertility treatment, or so some friends and I decided last weekend. In both cases, you must at all times manage your expectations and stay positive enough that you can keep doing what needs to be done. It’s a hell of a trick either way. And just like struggling to get pregnant, it doesn’t mean you’re not ecstatic for everyone else’s happy news, it just means you’re having your own experience at the same time that isn’t so hot. Nothing to be done about that duality – it’s perfectly natural to feel real excitement for a friend and disappointment for oneself side by side. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise, I don’t think, and so I won’t.
Anyway, several people whose opinions I trust responded favourably to the story before I entered it: the Darklings, Llew, my writer friend L. And I didn’t cringe and bite my lip until bursting whenever I read it over – not like I do with all the others, those shameful horrors – so I knew and know still that it’s the strongest short story I’ve been capable of so far – which admittedly isn’t saying much. Imagine the rest of my suite of short stories as grubby-haired bucktoothed bumpkins wearing mis-buttoned cardigans – it doesn’t take much to look pretty foxy among that lot. So it’s not like I placed some shiny deluded value on it or thought in terms of the rest of the field, I only knew that it was my best chance at the time, and I hoped it would be enough. Not to win, mind you, god forbid, just enough to get me on the field for the finals. And so I entered it, hoping, yes, hoping that it would somehow miraculously crack one of those elusive lists. Please, I thought. Please just give me a sign. Some faint reassurance that I am not wrong, that it’s right to keep on trying.
Well, I didn’t get that reassurance when or how I’d hoped. And it wasn’t great. But it turns out that’s okay, because you guys and others like my MS-reading friend S have since stepped in and, without even knowing all this, you’ve fed me those oranges at halftime. I don’t feel so hopeless anymore, so thanks a million – again – from the bottom of my very battered heart!
So. Onwards. I started thinking about redrafting the story as soon as I knew I’d bombed out of the Josephine Ulrick, because there’s another competition closing next week (and on that, I think it really, really sucks that these competitions all stipulate as a condition of entry that stories can’t be in competition elsewhere at the same time. They hold these stories for months and months while they’re making a decision, you’re competing with hundreds of other writers every single time, and at this rate it amounts to entering a story in three places a year – it’s absolutely obscene), and I decided to enter it in that. Then my friend and ex-office buddy from PhD days offered to take a look at it. T was the very first and therefore most intrepid reader of my MS, back at draft #1. Not a job for the faint-hearted. I find T a great critical reader because he’s such a pedant that he doesn’t miss a trick. He’s particularly good on cliché patrol. Unfortunately he weeded out a few from the version of the story I entered in the JU – it’s scary how easily they slide off the fingertips and into the writing without my catching them out. And it stings when you glance across to the red box of a tracked suggested change and see that damning one word comment: cliché. ‘Damn it!’ you think, looking back at the offending phrase. ‘Another one!’
Much consternation and teeth gnashing ensues.
Anyway, T made some excellent suggestions and identified a couple of deadly stylistic flaws that have to be eliminated at all costs from all my writing everywhere for all time. Good, solid lessons to be learned from bad, sloppy choices. So I redrafted it. And then, just to be sure, I redrafted it again. Then came the issue of the title, which was ‘Wind Warning.’ I’d quite liked the title because it worked on a number of levels, but I absolutely knew what T was talking about when he said ‘I can’t decide if I like this title or not. The alliteration is nice, but I worry that it’s maybe overly portentous.’ Fair call – I had worried about the exact same thing myself. So I started trying to think of another title – not easy, in the event. T and I have traded a number of options via email and text over the past few days – I tried Wind Chill; he suggested A Squall, but it soon degenerated into Windsock from him and Frosty the Abominable Smartarse from me. It was all getting very silly, and I was sort of drifting back to Wind Warning by default. Then this morning I had one last thought, so I texted him:
D: What about Windblast? Seriously.
And here’s what happened next.
T: The Wind of Change. Or,The Blasted Wind of Change.
D: They are fucking terrible!
T: Avast! It’s the blasted wind of change! A Pirate Story, by Diana Jenkins
D: Laughing but also sort of wanting to prod you off a plank.
T: You should rewrite all the dialogue in pirate and see how it sounds. A new perspective is often helpful.
T: Maybe Penny was happy because she finally got to steal her husband’s buried treasure. Then she was disappointed when he came back to find it.
D: That’s really a skull and crossbones tat on her neck…
T: Writes itself, really.
D: Just a question of when we have the sword fight…
T: The guy is looking at the TV for so long because he knows about the treasure too. He gets cross with Cassandra because he knows she’ll try to steal it. It’s really sad.
D: So is the state of her petticoat after months of being ravaged at sea.
T: And her efforts to defend her honour from charming ruffians. Could be a sexy pirate novel.
D: The captain’s name is Dick, after all… Hang on. Is this pirate porn?
T: What about ‘Pirate Dick and the Horny Maiden’?
D: I think we all know how he buries treasure…
T: I guess ‘Captain Dick and the Very Able Seamen’ is too obvious.
D: You think?
T: ‘The Maiden Who Straddled Captain Dick’s Plank’?
D: There it is. Or ‘Buried Pleasure: Where X Marks the G Spot.’
Perhaps unsurprisingly, at this point the phone fell quiet. I like to think it’s because I finally defeated him, but I suspect he just had to get back to work.
And now I’d like to end this post by inviting you all to join me in a massive Mexican Wave for Darkling JB – CONGRATULATIONS, darling, we’re so proud of you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
There’s something really, really peculiar and disturbing about the Australian media’s sudden and wholesale negativity toward PM Kevin Rudd. Release the hounds! Something about this reeks – it’s just too slanted in his disfavour, too hysterical, too much, really. There’s the usual opportunism that one has come to know and revile about the very big business of delivering “unbiased reportage” (one of the biggest lies of any industry anywhere), because we’ve got an election year on our hands so let’s stir the profit pot, but it’s interesting just how stridently anti-Rudd the media has suddenly become. The man hasn’t had a positive notice in weeks. Meanwhile the press is feasting on opinion polls, gorging itself on Rudd’s broken promises with a relish that suggests it’s tasting political back-flip flapjacks for the very first time. It’s very strange.
His back down on a promised Emissions Trading Scheme has justifiably hurt him – I think everyone in the country, regardless of political persuasion, takes a pretty dim view of that, particularly as Rudd and his government made a lot of noise about their environmental vigilance and courageous frontiersmen action to SAVE THE ENTIRE PLANET. Oh, really? Well, now you just look completely gutless (in fact, some rightwing nut-job columnist has probably already suggested Rudd’s somehow smeared the ever-emotive ANZAC LEGEND with his lack of heroism in the environmental trenches). The ETS cave-in was definitely an example of over-promising and under-delivering, and it’s painfully obvious he’s pulled out of it now in the hopes that the ozone cloud hanging over his head will clear by Election Day. Surely voters can’t sit with a mouthful of sour grapes until then? Well, watch us. I do think this one sticks in the craw, and I don’t think anyone will soon forget that he rolled over, showing off sadly neutered nether-wares instead of the promised display of big balls.
But this morning’s unflattering comparison with ex-Labor leader and notorious buffoon Mark Latham? What? What are they talking about? How can anyone draw such a flimsy line between what Rudd said on the 7:30 Report and Latham’s well-documented fisticuff blowups? It’s just a blatant character smear, and one Rudd doesn’t actually deserve. I’m mystified by this headline, even more so having watched the footage online because it’s a total non-story. I don’t think he says or does anything inappropriate or hot-headed… I don’t fully understand why he’s being targeted like this, particularly not with so much hot air of the media’s own.
Because let’s not forget Australia comparatively sailed through the GFC. Our economy is in enviably good shape, while other countries are really struggling and no doubt scratching their heads at Australia’s robust health. Now, I didn’t love the Stimulus Package. Doling out money for yet more retail spending didn’t make any sense to me as a prudent economic strategy, it seemed grossly wasteful. Surely so much more good could and should have come of such gigantic spending than what we all suspect was just a cannonball run on flat-screen TV purchases. Sad. Pathetic, actually, if you really examine what it says about this country’s priorities and its fat complacency. But the truth is, we got through the GFC relatively – relatively – intact. The mood is optimistic. People are okay. Restaurants – a faultless index of consumer confidence in a country obsessed with food – are full.
So about what exactly are they foaming at the mouth? I can only think that if our economy was in the toilet, no one would have blinked at the back down on the ETS. The environment? Not now, Kev, can’t you see we care about the environment when we can safely afford to – right now we don’t really give two hoots! Just deal with the economy, would you? Economy first, environment second: there’s a good lad. It wouldn’t have been an issue. But because – and this is just my own speculation as I try to come to some sort of understanding of this toxic atmosphere, this new and potent stench attending Rudd’s every move – the economy appears to be in hand, well then, let’s get him, let’s really go to town. Is that it? It’s the only thing I can think of that makes any sense – the way’s been cleared for a full-scale attack because the biggest mountain – the GFC – has apparently been safely scaled. Why isn’t anyone – including Rudd’s own sultans of spin, it must be said – talking about that? It’s like someone in Rudd’s own press department really has it in for him – not impossible, since it’s well known he’s not a man his staff really like. He’s a bit of a slavedriver, from all accounts, but I don’t know… I personally respect that attitude toward running the country. Hmmm. Working himself around the clock and expecting peak performance from his people? Gee. Yeah. I see the problem.
Finally, I think this whole circus demonstrates the problem with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it three-year terms. Kevin 07 – remember? And that was November 07 and here we are in May 2010 with the entire year given over to pre-election muckraking. It’s too short a turnaround. After so many years in Opposition, a party probably takes about a year to adjust, set and start implementing its agenda. So that was 2008. Then we have just one year of actually running the country. In this case, that was 2009 and the full-scale economic emergency of the GFC. And now it’s an election year, so already we’re back to opinion polls and character assassinations and a whole lot of beside-the-point hyperbole. It’s just too soon. It hijacks the business of actual governance and replaces it with a two-bit beauty pageant of very limited appeal. It’s not good enough, and in my opinion, three years is not long enough – although right now it feels like 2010 is going to be a very long year.
You wouldn’t know it given the absence of a post, but I had a productive day yesterday. It started at sunrise, with a brisk walk and even brisker swim with my friend T, and I must say, it is astonishing what a few extra hours in the day will achieve. More meals, for one thing: get me up at that hour and I expect a few extra snacks to help me stay upright. Yesterday’s early bird treat was a piping hot proper Belgian waffle from my favourite local café, Barefoot. The real thing, you see, is round, even oval, but definitely not rectangular, and more to the point, the American-style waffle is composed of something completely inferior to the delectable dough responsible for the Belgian variety. Frankly, there is no comparison.
I had my first Belgian waffle in Brussels (1999), and I’ll never forget it. First that intoxicating aroma, wafting up the street cartoon-style. Thus infected, my travel buddy S and I joined the street stall’s queue and were soon enough rewarded with our own miraculous morsels of doughy, caramelised perfection. Look, I’m a savoury girl if we’re wearing badges, but Belgian waffles will turn a girl to sugar in seconds. They’re delicious. They’re just s-o-o-o good. They were the foodie discovery of our entire backpacking trip, although that could be because our rapidly diminishing budget of Australian dollars (‘No, please, do set my savings on fire, I insist’) meant a subsistence diet made up almost entirely of Laughing Cow and baguette. Sigh. Anyway, imagine my surprise and delight when years later, back in Sydney, these same waffles turned up to claim their rightful title, stripping the American-style waffle of all credibility and kudos. The bells rang out: there would be Belgian waffles throughout the land! Or, um, at least in Man Town and some select weekend market stalls across Sydney. But enough for my purposes, certainly: there are two weekday vendors walking distance from my apartment, with a third on the weekend. Belgian bliss.
I do get easily distracted by food, don’t I? I had no intention of waffling about waffles today, and yet…
Anyway, because I was walked, watered and well fed by about 7 am yesterday, I finished reading The Essence of the Thing before my workaday started at nine. I ended up feeling slightly flummoxed as to what my friend S was talking about, in drawing a comparison between St John’s writing and my own, so I sent her this text:
Hi honey – finished that book this morning – enjoyed it, thanks, and am completely intrigued that it reminded you so strongly of my MS… I wonder if you would think so now?! But that perception is really interesting regardless…More food for thought! Xx
Her response was a complete surprise to me, for reasons I’ll explain below:
Hi Di, yes I realise that now. I think it was just when I started reading it, with the initial breakup of the relationship it reminded me of when I first started reading yours, which has obviously changed a lot now. But I guess I just didn’t really enjoy the style of The Essence of the Thing and could not believe it was shortlisted for a prize, when I enjoyed the style of your writing so much more. Much sharper, wittier and insightful… that The Essence just annoyed me.
Cue warm fuzzy feelings, which lately have been very thin on the beaten path of this unpublished author’s low-budget journey. A yellow brick road this ain’t. The truth is, I’ve been in a pretty serious morale slump about my writing, so just reading those favourable adjectives from S was such a boost.
I couldn’t care less if she only said it because she’s a good friend – I still really badly needed to hear it. It’s H-A-R-D keeping going in the face of repeated failure – everyone needs oranges at halftime. At least, I do. But what struck me was how differently I’d interpreted what she said on Saturday, so I wrote back (after a slobbering thank you for scraping me off the side of the road and winding me up again):
You know, I took away something completely from this on Sat – really reveals how demoralised I am at the moment!!
To which S replied:
You prob thought that I thought the book was bad and your MS was worse??! Wrong wrong wrong. There might be lots of reasons, the frustration of the MS not the least of them, but don’t forget how full on the pregnancy hormones can be.
See? She’s a good friend. But yes, she hit the nail on the head; that about covered it, only I’d add that I also thought it meant my MS was condemned to be derivative and tired. Yep, whipped. As a writer whose fiction has to date ended up precisely nowhere , I now realise that all the negative reinforcement has casually set up camp as the default position. I can see why people find those dark holes of depression desperately hard to climb out of, because the walls of the well are really slimy. If the majority of received messages are swift kicks to the face, well, it doesn’t take too long before your nose starts bleeding.
What S did for me, in other words, was fetch some ice and hand me some tissues, and now I’m going to try to get back on track. Giddy up. That started yesterday, when I redrafted a short story (this is the only short story of mine I don’t think an abomination, but lo and behold, it bombed too) and continued preparing my application for the Penguin Varuna Scholarship. Now pass me an orange slice, please, and tally ho!