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Tag: writing

The Black Dress, by Deborah Moggach

The Black Dress, by Deborah Moggach, book cover

In American film director David Dobkin’s 2005 movie Wedding Crashers, we see Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, known as John and Jeremy respectively, getting a kick out of showing up at strangers’ weddings. They’re both outgoing and personable, and quickly ingratiate themselves with the bridal party and their guests. Their charade is so convincing, everyone believes John and Jeremy are somehow part of the family.

It could be Prudence, the protagonist in The Black Dress (published by Hachette Australia, July 2021), the sixteenth novel of British author Deborah Moggach saw John and Jeremy in action, and decided to take a leaf out of their book. Instead of weddings though, seventy-something Pru, having purchased a black dress from a charity shop, goes to funerals. It’s not so much that she enjoys funerals, but you know, there’s bound to be a well-off widower or two in attendance.

Right about now you might be wondering what Pru is thinking. But consider: her husband recently left her, her adult children are busy with their own lives, and her friends are also otherwise occupied. What then is wrong with going to a funeral here and there? While Pru’s plan to hook-up with eligible widowers seems like a good idea, she soon discovers, to borrow the words of William Shakespeare, the course of true love never did run smooth…

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What Ann Patchett learned about writing from Snoopy

I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of Snoopy – the canine comic creation of the late Charles M. Schulz – though I still read the comic strip back in the days when people used to buy the news in print. But Snoopy was no backyard pet. He led what today we’d call a rich inner life, variously imagining himself – among other things – to be a World War I fighter pilot, a member of the Foreign Legion, a Beagle Scouts leader, and a sports star.

Snoopy also saw himself as an author, at least an aspiring author, and his efforts to write and be published – along with the all too frequent rejections – were something that American author Ann Patchett, whose novels include Bel Canto and Commonwealth, took inspiration from:

Snoopy taught me that I would be hurt and I would get over it. He walked me through the publishing process: being thrilled by acceptance, ignoring reviews, and then having the dream of bestseller-dom dashed: “It’s from your publisher,” Charlie Brown tells Snoopy. “They’ve printed one copy of your novel. It says they haven’t been able to sell it. They say they’re sorry. Your book is now out of print.”

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Seven and a Half, by Christos Tsiolkas

Seven and a Half, Christos Tsiolkas, book cover

The premise of Seven and a Half (published by Allen & Unwin, November 2021) by Melbourne based Australian author Christos Tsiolkas, reminds me a little of the concept of the Metaverse. In short, an array of technologies, many that are currently still in some form of development, will allow us to live in one world while we inhabit another, or maybe even several, as the case may be.

You could be in Sydney, but sitting in on a meeting of colleagues in London, and feel like you were in the same room. Later you could be “present” at a concert in Los Angeles, again feeling as if you were really there. But back to Seven and a Half. An author has travelled to a small coastal Australian town. Free of the distractions of city life, he begins to write. His novel is about an author trying to write a novel. Here we have meta-fiction, rather than Metaverse though.

The protagonist of Tsiolkas’ “written-author” story is a retired porn star named Paul, who has been offered a chance to make a comeback. The “written-author” seeks to write sensual prose, drawing on the author’s present proximity to nature and the ocean, without becoming sordid. A challenge perhaps, as Paul becomes immersed in the dubious merits of the world he is returning to.

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How to write one hundred thousand words daily

American writer Matthew Plunkett tackles the question of writing one hundred thousand words every day. Put it this way, it’s not for the faint-hearted.

My first blog post appeared online in 2008 when I explained how I attained my top ranking on a popular worldwide online game. Since then, I haven’t stopped writing. If you’re wondering whether this level of output will hinder your relationships with friends and lovers, let me set you straight. Life is about decisions. Either you write 100,000 words a day or you meet people and develop ties of affection. You can’t do both.

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On quitting the day jobs to become a published author like Christian White

Golf buggy driver. Call centre operator. Editor of porn videos. These were some of the jobs Australian thriller writer Christian White worked on the way to becoming a published author. If you want to succeed, and have the requisite determination to succeed, you will succeed, says White, in an interview with Melbourne based journalist Kylie Northover.

White, 40, has wanted to be a writer since he was a teenager, having an “iron-clad plan” to be a best-selling author by 25. “That shifted because 25 came and went, so I changed it to 30, which also came and went,” he says. “When I went past 30 and there was still no career in sight, I made the decision to just focus on writing for the love it – I really do just love the craft.”

And then there’s this nugget of wisdom:

He also realised he’d be better off writing the kinds of books he’d like to read. “Early on I was going to write deep, thoughtful novels – it wasn’t until I started writing thrillers I went oh! Because I love reading thrillers,” he says.

Write what you like reading. I think it’s something many aspiring authors overlook in the burning desire to become a published author. White’s third novel Wild Place was published last month.

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Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke, book cover

Not that it’s my intention to traumatise you with the workings of my subconscious, but the premise to Piranesi (published by Bloomsbury Publishing, August 2021), by British author Susanna Clarke sounds like the sort of dream I might have. The setting is an old, dilapidated multi-level building, and is home to the titular protagonist known as Piranesi, who refers to the enigmatic structure as the “House.”

And dream-like is the best way to describe the dwelling. An ocean floods the lower levels of this labyrinth, providing food and fuel – in the form of seaweed – for Piranesi. The sprawling hallways of the house’s mid-section stories are lined with statues, while the upper floors are shrouded in clouds. Save for an old scholar, whom Piranesi calls the “Other”, who makes brief appearances a few times a week, the building is otherwise deserted.

But one day Piranesi begins to notice messages chalked onto walkways around the House. Do they point to the presence of a third person within the building? The Other sees them a portent of bad things to come. In order to discover the identity of this mysterious third person, and what they want, Piranesi will need to learn more about the House and its history.

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The Sentence, by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence, by Louise Erdrich, book cover

The Sentence (published by Hachette Australia, November 2021), written by Minnesota based American author Louise Erdrich, is a book set in a bookshop. A bookshop with a difference though. The independent bookshop, also located in Minnesota, is haunted by a ghost. And not any old ghost either. No, the shop has become the afterlife abode of Flora, who happened to be the store’s most irritating customer during her (regular) lifetime.

Now she’s back, and back to stay, unless a way can be found to get rid of her. To this shop comes Tookie, a new employee, who’s recently been released from prison after serving a ten year sentence. She’s looking for stability and normality in her life, and has even gone so far as to marry, Pollux, the now former police officer who originally arrested her many years earlier.

Set during a turbulent chapter in the city’s recent history, with Black Lives Matter protests, and the Covid pandemic, Tookie learns she has one year to somehow extricate Flora from the shop. But Tookie has her work cut out for her. The intentions of Flora, who must have a few scores she wants to settle, soon move from the annoying to the sinister…

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The Deep, by Kyle Perry

The Deep, by Kyle Perry, book cover

A rugged coastline. A treacherous, turbulent, ocean. An air current so deadly locals call it the black wind. A remote village, home to the Dempsey family for generations. A family who has a made a name and livelihood for themselves as fishers and drug dealers. And then there are the names. Mackerel. Ahab. Blackbeard. It’s a nautical blend of ingredients indeed.

Such is the setting for The Deep (published by Penguin Books Australia, July 2021) the second novel of Burnie, Tasmania, based Australian writer Kyle Perry. But the inhabitants of Shacktown, on the Tasman Peninsula, wake to a troubling mystery one day. A young relative of the Dempsey’s, Forest, who disappeared seven years earlier, aged six, and long assumed to be dead, along with his parents, Jesse and Alexandra, has inexplicably appeared on a nearby beach.

A cross tattooed onto Forest’s back suggests he has been in the captive custody of Blackbeard, a rival drug lord who is intent on muscling into the illicit Dempsey family operation. But Mackerel and Ahab are reluctant to help the family deal with Blackbeard. Mackerel is on prison release, and any misstep will see him incarcerated again, while Ahab wants to turn his back on the family’s shady business ventures…

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Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr

Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr, book cover

Sometimes I find the synopsis of a book so intriguing I feel compelled to write about it for that reason alone. Cloud Cuckoo Land (published by Simon & Schuster, 2021), written by American author Anthony Doerr, is such a novel. The first point of interest are the settings. Constantinople, now Istanbul, in past times the capital of several large empires, is one.

Here a teenage girl called Anna lives, in the lead up to the fateful 1453 siege of the city, and final remnant of the Byzantine Empire. In her spare time, she reads a book, the story of Aethon, a man who yearned to become a bird, so he could fly to a better place. The next setting is five hundred years later, in Idaho, where Zona, a woman in her eighties, is preparing a group of children to take part in a play based on Aethon’s story. The final setting is somewhere in interstellar space, where Konstance, a resident born on a generational colony ship, is transcribing the story of Aethon, after he father recited it to her.

And here we come to the second point of interest, an ancient story that links people living centuries apart, people keeping – in their own way – Aethon and his story alive, many centuries after its original telling. While the nature of the story appeals to me, like any book, it’s not for everyone, if the comments of some GoodReads members are anything to go by.

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Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu

Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu, book cover

Willis Wu imagines he is an extra in a TV crime show. But he aspires to be more than an insignificant figure lurking in the background, he has his eye on a lead role. Kung Fu Guy would be ideal, but he can’t seem to break out of the part he has become typecast in, that of Generic Asian Man. Is it possible his Taiwanese Chinese ancestry is working against him?

The TV show, named Black and White – the lead characters are police officers, one is black, the other white – plays out in a restaurant called Golden Palace, located in the Chinatown of an American city. It might be though Willis is actually a restaurant worker who imagines he is part of a TV show. But in Interior Chinatown (published by Allen & Unwin, January 2021), the fourth novel by American author Charles Yu, the distinction isn’t really relevant.

Behind the screenplay, or the would-be cop-show, is a story of immigration and assimilation. Of people who leave their homeland and relocate to a new country. A place where their appearance, and the language they speak, may set them apart. See them sometimes relegated to the fringes of society. This may not be a TV show many of us want to be cast in…

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The Quiet at the End of the World, by Lauren James

The Quiet at the End of the World, by Lauren James, book cover

The title of The Quiet at the End of the World brings to mind the line here at the quiet limit of the world, from a poem called Tithonus, written by Alfred Tennyson in the nineteenth century. In my mind the words take me to any deserted stretch of coast bordering the Mediterranean, and carefree summers spent ambling around Europe.

Tennyson’s verse, on the other hand, is about an immortal man yearning for death. Go figure. Needless to say, I decided to learn more about The Quiet at the End of the World (published by Walker Books, March 2019), by British author Lauren James, before choosing an inclination inspired by the book’s poetic title. That turned out to be a good idea. A devastating virus has rendered the population of the planet infertile, and Lowrie and Shen are the last remaining teenagers in the world. They live with a small group of elderly survivors from across the globe congregating in London.

Aside from the fact humanity faces an inevitable extinction, Lowrie and Shen lead exceedingly comfortable lives. But that all changes one day, when a new mystery disease begins striking down the older people around them. The teenagers need to figure out what is happening, and find a way to save the remaining residents of their community, before there they are the only humans left on Earth.

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EnQueer Sydney Queer Writers’ Festival

A late item of news to hand… the EnQueer Sydney Queer Writers’ Festival is on now until tomorrow, taking place in Sydney and online. Read more about the event here:

[EnQueer] aims to bring together people of all genders, sexualities, ethnicities, disabilities, faiths, cultures, and backgrounds at a literary forum which appreciates and acknowledges the power of diversity. Stories and experiences of people with diverse backgrounds truly reflect modern Australian values and the festival seeks to bring them to the fore.

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Deep Wheel Orcadia, by Harry Josephine Giles

Deep Wheel Orcadia, by Harry Josephine Giles, book cover

Deep Wheel Orcadia (published by Pan Macmillan, October 2021), written by Leith based Scottish writer and performer Harry Josephine Giles, is a science fiction story with a difference. For one, it is written in the Orkney language, and is said to be the first full-length book published in the dialect in fifty years. And then there’s the poetic verse with which the story is told.

The setting is a space station called Deep Wheel Orcadia. The station has seen better days, but it continues to function, as it trundles its way through space. To Deep Wheel comes Astrid. She’s an art student on her way home, having recently finished schooling on Mars. She’s also searching for inspiration, but is a space station, somewhere in the interstellar voids, the place to be looking?

But it is here Astrid meets Darling. Darling cannot find acceptance, and is looking for somewhere to hide. Perhaps Deep Wheel is the perfect place for her to be? Deep Wheel Orcadia, with its poems written in Orkney, and translated into English lower down the page, has the makings of an incredible story. I’m also intrigued by the enigmatic space station. I’d like to visit. Anyone know how I might get there?

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Damon Galgut’s The Promise wins Booker Prize

The Promise, by Damon Galgut, book cover

South African author Damon Galgut has been named the winner of this year’s Booker Prize, with his book The Promise. After the shortlist was announced in mid-September it was clear the judges had their work cut out in selecting a winner. Maya Jasanoff, chair of the judging panel, described how they made their choice:

We arrived at a decision after a lot of discussion and arrived at a consensus around a book that is a real master of form and pushes the form in new ways, that has an incredible originality and fluidity of voice, and a book that’s really dense with historical and metaphorical significance.

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Love Stories, by Trent Dalton

Love Stories, by Trent Dalton, book cover

Don’t we all love a great love story? Especially when it’s ours? (I walked into a bar one night. That was lucky because I hardly ever walk into bars…) But walking is what Brisbane based Australian journalist and novelist Trent Dalton did as well. He walked the streets of Adelaide and Brisbane, looking for stories: stories of love.

He’d set up a portable table somewhere, place an old typewriter – left to him by the late mother of a friend – on it, and then stop passers-by to ask them to tell him a story. Maybe you saw him. Did he ask you to tell your story? Would you, if he’d asked? Of all the things you could ask a total stranger at random, I get the feeling it’s a question a lot of people would be happy to answer. Because who doesn’t like telling a story of love? The fruits of this labour, which sometimes saw Dalton at his mobile workstation for eight hours a day, is Love Stories (published by HarperCollins, 27 October 2021).

They say truth is stranger than fiction, and I could only imagine how wondrous, raw, inspiring, and even heartbreaking this collection of stories is. Dalton was recently a guest on Words and Nerds, a podcast show hosted by Dani Vee, where he talked about Love Stories, and what prompted him to write the book. It’s a heart-warming discussion well worth listening to.

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Rock Paper Scissors, by Alice Feeney

Rock Paper Scissors, by Alice Feeney, book cover

Amelia and Adam have been married ten years. Each year, on their anniversary, they exchange gifts in accordance with the occasion. Paper, leather, sugar, what have you. But there’s one gift Amelia has made for each anniversary that she never gives to Adam. Every year she writes him a letter, describing her feelings about him, and their marriage. Without giving too much away, Adam is a workaholic, more devoted to his screenwriting job, than his marriage to Amelia.

On the occasion of their tenth anniversary, being tin, Amelia wins a holiday to a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, in a workplace raffle. By this point, both partners recognise the marriage is struggling, and both see the holiday away from the distractions of home and work as an opportunity to revive their flagging relationship. But something doesn’t quite feel right. Might it be their accommodation, a chapel of all places? Or might it be the power failure just as they arrive?

And why have their phones suddenly stopped working? On top of that, a snowstorm traps them in the old chapel. And then there’s the minor detail about the holiday itself. Winning it seems not to be as random as it looked… Rock Paper Scissors (published by Harper Collins Australia, August 2021) is the latest novel from English author Alice Feeney, and if you’re a fan of domestic thrillers, with what seems like a touch of things going bump in the night, this might be the book for you.

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The Other Side of Beautiful, by Kim Lock

The Other Side of Beautiful, by Kim Lock, book cover

A traumatic workplace incident several years earlier has left Mercy Blain, a former doctor, housebound, in The Other Side of Beautiful (published by HQ Fiction/HarperCollins, July 2021), the fourth novel of South Australian based author Kim Lock. For two years she has not left the safety and security of her home. But when the house burns to the ground one night, Mercy has no choice but to step out into the world.

Her first port of call is her former husband’s place. But he is living with someone else, and Mercy is on the move once again. This time though she goes all out. She buys an old – an incredibly old – campervan, and leaving her hometown Adelaide, in South Australia, with Wasabi, her sausage dog, Mercy makes her way north to Darwin.

But then things begin to change. As Mercy continues towards Darwin, she begins to experience a catharsis of sorts, and she starts to see a way around the anxieties that have kept her shut away behind closed doors. All seems to be going well until she is required to return to Adelaide to resolve a legal matter, where even the mere thought of being back causes to her anxiety to come to the fore again.

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It’s November 2021, that means it’s NaNoWriMo 2021

NaNoWriMo image

It’s November and that means NaNoWriMo is upon us. NaNoWriMo? It’s an acronym for National Novel Writing Month, an annual writing event established by Chris Baty, a freelance writer, in 1999. And if you think you can knock out a mere fifty thousand (50,000) words by the end of the month, you too can take part. As of 2020, over half a million people worldwide were participating in various NaNoWriMo projects.

Originally held in July of 1999, the event later switched to November, a move intended to take people’s minds off the approaching winter, tricky for people south of the equator though gearing up for summer. But heck, summer arrives in December down-under, so why worry? An impressive collection of NaNoWriMo works have gone on to be published, so it’s something worth checking out if you’re an aspiring author.

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