December 22, 2010

About reading

I like it when one thing leads to another. For example, Lorna Sage’s Moments of Truth, which was recommended to me by a friend, reminded me of Angela Carter. I have a couple of her books from the eighties, so I reread the collection of her reviews, Expletives Deleted.  Here's a great sentence about American folktale collector Henry Glassie of whom I had  not previously heard: “He is grievously afflicted with fine writing.”

I’ve also got her book The Sadeian Woman which I remember being bewildered by back then. I know more about the surrealists now, who Carter was interested in/ influenced by. Until, that is, as she says in Expletives Deleted,

… I realised that surrealist art did not recognise I had my own rights to liberty and love and vision as an autonomous being, not as a projected image, [so] I got bored and wandered away.

Another connection is with the novel-known-as-Ann where the idea of folktales comes up and it is useful to be reminded of Carter’s interest in them.  While I didn’t know all of the writers she reviewed, I enjoyed Carter’s writing so much I’ve put her on my list of novelists to seek out at the Wellington Public Library.

 Some time ago I became aware of recurring mentions of the essays of Montaigne. I’ve forgotten where, but I picked up an Everyman edition of them in three volumes from a second-hand bookshop and have delved in here and there. Then I noticed reviews of a book by Sarah Bakewell, How To Live, or A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer. Thanks to my good friend, the Wellington Public Library, I have a copy to read over the holidays. Three chapters in and I’m fascinated.

One of Montaigne's answers to the question, "How to live?" is, "Read a lot, forget most of what you read and be slow witted." I haven't read that chapter in Bakewell's book yet, but I think I'll like it.

My other reading just now is Peter Hessler’s Country Driving, his latest about China. More on that when I’ve read more. And then there’s Barbara Kingsolver’s Lacuna  to re-read for our January reading group session.

December 17, 2010

Re-writes & Wrestling with commas

The novel-known-as-Ann has been revised/rewritten over and over. Most people reading it wouldn’t notice much of a difference between versions because the revisions are usually at the sentence level - this word here, that one there, out with that phrase - so the story itself hasn’t changed except in a few places and then not the major plot.

I’m trying for a tone, a point of view, a development in the character that is inherent in the story, not stated. Who knows whether I am succeeding, but I have certainly worked more on this novel than earlier ones. Part of the rewriting involves close attention to punctuation, including commas. (The New Zealand Style Book has a good section on commas.)

Whose hands? Not mine.
When my partner and first reader read my most recently published novel  we had some brisk conversations about commas. Since then, I’ve given commas more attention and now I use them more — and I hope more consistently — while not as much as she would (probably, how do you know what someone else would do?). I like dashes instead sometimes. 

(Last published  novel, Take It Easy, 2008. Email me at pat dot rosier at xtra dot co cot nz if you'd like a copy.)

Today, I am resolved to finish this rewrite of the final chapter, which involves adding a small amount of new material. So, onwards!

November 28, 2010

The book, launched; others read, friend visited

Yesterday the book launch for Out To Lunch happened, in the local Paekakariki Hall. Fifty or so friends and a few relations came, many bought books. Jobs had been shared around, so it wasn’t a big preparation-stress for anyone, I think. 

We each read from our own selection for a couple of minutes, with the partner of, our member who died last year, reading for her. People ate the food, 

prepared by the same partner — her wish — with help from one of us writers and drank the punch and wine, overseen by the partner of another writer, and milled about talking to each other and bought books and had us all sign them. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and the new side doors of the hall were open, looking out to a bank of flowers and the freshly-painted white church, and it was all lovely.

The whole group project, from critiquing each others’ work, to the publication process, to the launch itself has been great. Next year we will meet in late January and continue to critique each others’ writing. As the costs of producing the book were covered, we are banking the money from sales and in a couple of years will think about another project. If anyone is keen to buy a copy of the book (178 pages, $20.00) email me at pat dot rosier at xtra dot co dot nz.

Reading Cynthia Ozick has its challenges. 

She prefers “classic feminism” to what she calls “new feminism.” She’s writing in the 1970s when she says this. If I’m reading her correctly, she endorses feminism as women gaining “access to the great world of thinking, being and doing.” She does NOT go along with any idea of “’male’ and ‘female’ states of intellect and feeling.” She doesn’t, in what I have read so far, address the “how to” of women getting the access she refers to, or being taken seriously and judged fairly when they do. I have a 1993 collection of her essays from the library and am interested to find out what else she has to say about feminism. I’ll look out for her 2010 novel Foreign Bodies, which is a reinvention of a Henry James novel. (Oh dear, do I have to read Henry James?)

Other reading includes Marianne Wiggins’ Evidence of Things Unseen

As this is current reading for my book group, I won’t talk about it in detail, just say that I love the science in it and the detail of time and place. I am learning about the Tennessee Valley Authority, which is fascinating.

My friend in Auckland liked the-story-known-as-Ann and gave me some excellent feedback on it. I’m still unsatisfied with the end of this novel and her comments about it losing emotional drive in the last couple of chapters have given me an idea to strengthen it in a way I like. It will be another week before I get to actually work seriously on this.

The friend I visit who has Altzheimers has read a couple of my short stories and given me wonderful feedback on them. She has read them several times, she told me, and they get better every time. Do I have more? A collection? When am I publishing them? She had made a few notes on the printouts, perceptive and useful comments. We had a great conversation about these stories for more than ten minutes. As I was leaving an hour later, she picked up the pages and said, “Did we talk about these?” My appreciation of her appreciation of my stories was undiminished, but it was all I could do not to cry, as I said something like, “Yes, we did and I’m so pleased that you like them,” and she looked confused and put down the papers. She wanted to read more of my stories, so today I posted two to her address at the rest home where she lives and talks often of getting back to her home and garden, in the country, several kilometres from the nearest town.  What she misses most, she says, is being able to practise her "domestic arts" — her phrase — which include growing flowers and picking and arranging them in her house, cooking, entertaining, spinning and weaving. The one she can do, and does constantly in the rest home, is knitting. She says it is soothing.

She knitted me a scarf. "With love," she said.

We are having this run of sunny, calm weather which is a delight. (Last summer I remember constant wind.) So our decision to spend the summer at home — after all, we do live at the beach — feels like a good one. Any day soon I may even scrub up the barbecue that sat out on our wind-exposed deck all last summer and never got lit once. 

I notice that today is 28 November. It is my sister's birthday. She killed herself at age 56. Today she would have been 73. I am remembering you, Ngaire.

November 11, 2010

Editing again, more reading & Out To Lunch

I printed out the ms of the-novel-known-as-Ann and right away I’m editing again. Those damned sentences keep jumping out at me demanding a tweak. This time, though, I’m starting from the final chapter and working forward a chapter at a time. I figure the early chapters have had much more attention - apart from anything else they’ve been around longer - so this time I’m walking backwards for (not christmas, never!) - well, page 1 guess. It’s way beyond me to work backwards at a page level, so I’m starting at the first page of each chapter and working to the end of that chapter, then starting the first page of the previous chapter. Never done this before. I wouldn’t try it if I didn’t by now know the story really well. 

The reason I printed it was for reading by some Auckland friends we are visiting soon. These friends read the short story this novel/novella arose from, over a year ago. At 52,000 words it’s short for a novel and long for a novella, so I don’t know which to call it. What I do know is that it’s the right length for the story that it is, so will not be messing about with that.  I’m still thinking about the pieces of writing that might go with it I referred to in my last post and whether I can assemble a book from them plus Ann.

I read about Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe somewhere and have forgotten where, but I got one of his many novels from the Wellington Public Library. It's title is Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! and it's about a writer and a son who was brain damaged at birth. The protagonist is also studying the poet William Blake and using Blake to interpret his world, although he, the protagonist, is not christian like Blake. The title is a quote from Blake.  I found it strangely fascinating. Lately I seem to be coming across a lot of books with a protagonist who is kind of the author and kind of not. For example, in the acknowledgements to The Shadow Catcher Marianne Wiggins thanks her sister for, “permission to decorate our shared history.” And there are whole books written about Marcel in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and The Narrator and Proust himself and how separate they are, or not.

We took A Cynthia Osick Reader to Australia last year and never got to read it. Stimulated by news of a new novel from her, Foreign Bodies, I have started it. Issues around being classified as “a Jewish writer” — and hence of interest only to Jewish readers and a standard-bearer for Jewish culture— are a feature of her career, and the editor of this collection from her writings, Elaine M Kauvar, says of this, “No imaginative writer, whether or not she is Jewish, sets out to write a novel to become a spokesperson for a group of people or to become responsible for its culture.” As a lesbian who writes fiction, often with lesbian characters, I heartily agree with this.

Out To Lunch, the book of writings by the writing group I am in, is being printed as I write. We’ve seen a proof copy and everyone in the group is happy with how it is. It’s a good project to be involved with. Here’s an extract from the introduction.

Our meetings are long chatty affairs where we workshop our writing. There's praise and encouragement and many helpful suggestions, and a shared lunch. Food brought to share reflects the bringer just as the writing offered reflects the writer.
Writing without the endpoint of publication becomes unsatisfying after a while. You need an audience, to complete the act of communication. At one of our meetings, we talked about publishing.
“It’s nice,” said Annabel, “to put something out there, not just write into a vacuum.”
“We can give lesbians something about themselves to read,” said Kate.
“It’s good to have things for women who haven’t come out,” Terry added.
Pat thought it would be good for everyone to be involved in a project doing the nuts and bolts of publishing. Judith agreed with all of this. Kate applied to the Armstrong Arthur Trust for some money on our behalf and we were successful.

October 29, 2010

Disappointed, flattered and assembling

Now that I have figured out, again, how to  post pictures to this blog, here is the cover of the book of Virginia Woolf’s essay On Being Ill that I couldn’t post last time.  Both the essay and the introduction by Hermione Lee were a disappointment. HL did little more than summarise the essay, with a bit of context, and the essay itself started off with a fantastic few pages and then rather dribbled along to an ending that HL made rather too much of. If anyone else has read this essay I’d love to know what you thought of it. Please note that my disappointment at this piece does not diminish my admiration of either Hermione Lee or Virginia Woolf overall. I do, also, have the lovely book.

The book this month for my book group is Marianne Wiggins’ Evidence of Things Unseen, which I haven’t yet managed to get a copy of. The library did however have The Shadow Catcher on the shelf so I’m reading that in the meantime. I had not previously heard of Marianne Wiggins, and am enjoying The Shadow Catcher a lot. It’s called a novel, the protagonist is called Marianne Wiggins and one of the major characters is a true historical figure, photographer Edward Curtis. The overblown blurb says that this book, “chases the silhouettes of our collective history into the bright light of the present.” Fortunately the book itself is not written in this ornate style.

Out to Lunch, the book of writings by members of my writing group is almost ready for printing. There’s always some anxiety at this time — what mistakes have we missed? Have we spelt everyone’s name right every time? Will we meet the deadline? Will anything bad show up in the proof copy? Will the printers meet their deadline?

I’ve finished the latest edit of the-book-known-as-Ann. Except I have one more thought about the lead up to the ending. I don’t know what I want to do next about it. I’ve had helpful feedback from my partner, who is so far the only person to have read it all and from my writing group, who have read the first two chapters. More readers, I guess. I’ll just make this one addition, then I’ll print it out again and … watch this space.

Someone I know slightly who is trying to get a book published following the renegging of a publisher who had said they would, is reading this blog from the beginning and taking notes! It’s the self-publishing posts she’s interested in, I think. I am strangely flattered by her interest.

I’ve got all these short pieces of writing, many of them in several versions, so I’m going through the writing folder on my computer and taking the ones that I think have something in them and assembling them into one file. As I go I’m putting pieces together that seem to fit together. There’ll be sixty pieces in all, I think. Not short stories, exactly, although some are. Possibly a prequel, in the same volume, to Ann. There's whole lot of thinking going on.

October 18, 2010

More reading than writing

There's more reading than writing going on here just now. I'm still editing the novel-known-as Ann and did some research in the library the other day, which involved reading Dennis Glover poems in the New Zealand section. He sure wrote some odd poems as well as some terrific ones. I think he had a talent for making unlikely rhymes work. It reminded me what fun doing the research for writing can be when you get off the internet. (Not that the internet isn’t most useful for research.)

My recent reading has involved some heavyweights as well as catching up with New Yorkers and copies of the London Review of Books from when I was away. (Interesting issue about plurals here, which I avoided. I suppose it would be London Reviews of Books. Or not. Or LRBs to cop out.)

The Books
On Being Ill by Virginia Woolf, reprinted by with an introduction by Hermione Lee. A small book, but perfectly formed, with a facsimile of the original cover by Vanessa Bell. (I was going to add a photo of the cover but blogger has changed something and what was really simple is now impossible unless you have files on picasa, which I don't. Grrr.)
Room by Emma Donohue. Shortlisted for, but not the winner of, the Man Booker. A compelling read of a book that is my book group choice so I can’t say more until after we have talked about it.
Freedom by Janathan Franzen. This book is being much-discussed on a number of the erudite blogs I read and was reviewed in LRB. I think it’s a dish with too many ingredients, used too cleverly by half; kind of up itself. It has many characters, much plot, and a large bunch of issues. The theme about wanting to be a good person was one of the most interesting, and ‘goodness’ or lack of it was a big deal for the three main characters, Walter, Patty and Richard, who were all in love with each other one way and another. Another theme is that of title - what does freedom mean, if anything, in America today? It’s clever and very contemporary and has some very quotable sentences, such as: “When you think about it, for a mature organism, growth is basically a cancer, right?” So why didn’t I like it more? As the LRB reviewer pointed out, there’s a lot of sobbing
Self by Yann Martel. He wrote this way before The Life of Pi, which I loved. It’s a self-indulgent, memoirish, sort of travel book and I didn’t finish it. That hardly ever happens.
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobsen. This is the one that did win this year’s Man Booker, against the odds, literally (the UK bookmakers stopped taking bets on another book). I’m only a little way into it, and it’s challenging and takes concentration and even then I think I am missing a lot of allusions. And yes, it is funny. And it is shaping up to be well worth the effort.

Out To Lunch the book of writings by my writing group
We meet on Sunday and will plan the launch in late November. There’s varying degrees of excitement and nervousness among group members. I’m enjoying working with the group on the project.

Nanowrimo (write a first draft of a 50,000 word or more book in the month of November) is about to start. I’m not taking part this year. Doing it last year was how I turned a short story into the-book-known-as-Ann. There are thousands signed up worldwide and over a hundred from New Zealand. Online forums and various encouragements are on the website all the way through the month. Here’s the link if you want to find out more:

October 3, 2010

Holiday reading & ongoing writing

It was a good holiday in Queensland and Melbourne. Saw some new places - Glass House Mountains, for example - and some important people, such as my son and my friends Judi and Margot.

A Glasshouse Mountain

The kookaburra that appeared in our back yard at Dicky Beach

My holiday reading ranged widely:
Solar, Ian McEwen (for my book group). Like it a lot, laughed out loud a few times, enjoyed the “science.” Such an unattractive protagonist, yet still a great stimulating read.
The Thousand Autumns of Joseph de Zoet, David Mitchell. Love DM’s writing. Learnt a lot about 15th century Japan and Holland from this novel, set in the Dutch-run Island in Nagasaki Harbour that was the only centre for European trade with Japan at the time. Also a love story.
The Danger Game by Kalinda Ashton. Australian novel, family tragedy, interesting relationship between adult sisters.
The Periodic Table by Primo Levi What can I say about this inspiring man and his writings? In this book he uses his knowledge of chemistry to talk about some of his life experiences.
The Glass Room, Simon Mawer. Learnt about Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. A story of a family and their friends over several decades. And a spectacular house that over the years is taken over by Nazis and Soviets and the Czechoslovak State.
Isak Dinesen, Judith Thurman. I am such a fan of Judith Thurman’s writing. She has said herself if she was writing this biography now it would be shorter. There sure is a lot of detail. ID had a fascinating and troubled life.

I think I’ve made progress with the ending of the novel still known as “Ann.” I just might be on the final draft. File name: Ann 15. Here’s my list of abandoned titles:
Ann Goes Into Art
The (he)Art of the Matter
Present Tense
Present Perfect
Perfect Present.
I find titles hard. My favourite title of any of the books I have been associated with is the title for the writing group book, and I didn’t think of that. (Yay, Annabel!) I have to come up with a title for “Ann” myself, but so far it eludes me.

"Ann" has a lot of quotes from a lot of different writers in it and the whole business of permissions to quote will have to be faced up to at the point when I am making decisions about publishing it. As I found with wanting to use a line from Emily Dickinson in Take It Easy, long-dead authors can be tricky. A university holds the copyright on ED and wanted me to pay fifty USD to use that line. I used something else, something I didn’t like as much. All the living authors I contacted were fine for me to quote them at no cost, just with the usual acknowledgment. However, I suspect it will be an even bigger issue with the Ann story, because I have included many more quotes and they are essential to the story. Watch this space.

Out To Lunch is well on the way into production. We are reading final proofs, the fabulous cover is nearing its final version, we have an ISBN number. (There’s nothing like an ISBN number to make a book seem real). A launch is planned for 4pm Saturday 27 November, St Peter’s Hall, Paekakariki, New Zealand.

When I think I have a final version of the Ann story, I’ll go back and look at some of the many short pieces I have. Maybe some of them would fit with the Ann story to make a book. Or not, still thinking about that.

This month has a number of friends’ birthdays in it, so my calligraphy efforts are directed at making individual birthday cards, which is a lot of fun. Thinking about them is a big part of the fun. And talking with my partner, Prue, about possibilities - she had a great idea the other day.

August 28, 2010

Publishing Merry-go-round

Prior to heading off on a three-week holiday in Queensland and Melbourne I have competed yet another rewrite/ edit of my fourth novel and printed it out to take with me and have my partner read. Previously I have shown only the first five chapters to anyone.

This is the novel that began its life as a short story and I morphed into a novel during Write A Novel in a Month last November, and wrote about in earlier blogs. I’ve been experimenting with writing in the present tense, and with other aspects of my writing. I’m still not satisfied with the ending to this novel, but the rest of the story is probably done — which doesn’t exclude more rewriting, just means that I think the story elements are there. There is a lot more plot than in the short story, but the key idea of the short story is central to the novel.

It’s around fifty thousand words, which is short for a novel, long for a novella, but that seems to be the size it is. There could be one more chapter, but I’m not convinced about that. The novel doesn’t have a title yet. I call the files of various drafts ‘Ann’ because that’s the name of the protagonist, but I don’t think that will be the title of the book. The current file is Ann15.

I don’t know yet what I’ll do about publishing it. The whole publishing business is in a state of flux. Fewer and fewer big publishing houses control more and more of what one might call ‘mainstream’ publishing, the smaller presses can afford less editing/ marketing support, and so on and on. Self-publishing is less denigrated than it was, ebooks are a potential; options, maybe, certainly a tangled web for writers.

The writing group I am part of is in the process of self-publishing a book of our writings, to be called Out To Lunch. The title relates to group members being lesbians, the fact that we meet on Sundays with a shared lunch, and us all liking the idea of being a bit crazy. We have some funding from a local trust and from one of our members who sadly died last year and help from friends and relations with cover design and typesetting. It will be published at the end of November.

I’m enjoying working with a group on this project. And, I suspect — hope —that when we have Out To Lunch out there I will have decided what to do with my novel.

In my last post I quoted a couple of lines of my poetry in the short story I added. Just for fun, here is a version of the same quote using my slowly-developing calligraphy skills.

July 28, 2010

More reading, some writing

I’ve been reading some writers who write very differently from each other as part of my search for ways of writing that I find satisfying for myself.

I forget what the references to it were that made me interested in Thomas Bernhard, a dead Austrian who wrote in German. His last book, Extinction, which I got from the library, is 326 pages in two paragraphs, one for each section. It took a while to get used to reading pages without any paragraph breaks, it gave the whole book a relentless feel. The setting is largely inside the protagonist’s head. He spends the first half ruminating about the family he hates, having just received a telegram from one of his two sisters saying his parents and only brother have been killed in a car crash. The second half is still in his head but he is physically at the family estate (they are rich). He thinks everyone despises and judges him, as he does them. There are hints that he is an unreliable narrator, as they say. He rails against the action of Austria the country and Austrians the people in WW11. Looking back I am surprised at how much I enjoyed reading it, mostly over several train trips to Wellington. I’m not going to give up paragraphs.

Lydia Davis’s Collected Stories is another matter altogether. Short stories, some a few lines, some a few paragraphs, others several pages. Written over xx years. Again, mainly from inside people’s heads but many different point/s of view and voices. A lot to do with mothers, both being one and having one. The reviewer in London Review of Books (22 July) calls them, “uncomfortably intimate.” Apart from one of the longest stories, which I didn’t get at all and thought boring, I loved reading this book, too. What have I learnt about my own writing? I don’t know, that’s something I find impossible to articulate. I certainly don’t want to write ‘like’ people I read but somehow reading the kind of writing I don’t do informs what I do.

The third book in my recent exploration is Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs. This is a writer who wallows in words, the sound of them, the meanings of them the mis/use of them. It’s a grim novel, with a lot of sub-plots, and it’s funny.

At least part of the impetus for this reading has been Francine Prose’s Reading Like A Writer, (Must read one of her novels.) which I referred to in an earlier blog.

I’m still flopping around with my own writing. Need some discipline to get the latest draft of the novel finished and have some people who read the early chapters read the whole thing. I have some short stories on the go, one of which used to be a poem. I took this to my writing group on Sunday and thanks to their feedback it’s improved a lot. See the end of this post for its current version. Might be a final version.

The writing group is in the throes of publishing a book of our work. More on that in my next post.

On the anniversary of her daughter’s death, she walks to the southern end of the beach, well away from the day-trippers.

Between the rumble of the train
and the waves’ reiterating roar.

She watches two oyster-catchers feeding at the mussel rocks. The afternoon looms appropriately grey, with the hidden sun now and then sheeting arrows of light through gaps in the clouds, making the waves’ white tops flare. A man fishes from the shore. A child climbs the skeleton of a tree dropped on the beach by a winter storm. Last week it had been further along, now it’s lodged in the sand like a climbing frame. She wants that child, whose mother sits on the sand with her knees pulled up to her chin, her arms wrapped around them, watching; the job of all mothers.

Oyster-catchers fly off at the skittering approach of a small black dog. The pied shag drying its wings on a rock scares into flight. The waves come in, the waves pull back, the sun’s rays are shining, then not, birds eat, preen, fly off, bent on their own safety. All are careless of her desolation and she finds a strange solace in their indifferent beauty.

A man approaches, running behind a push-chaired baby, smiling as he guides the three-wheeled buggy in a semi-circle around her and heads back the way he came. Her eyes fill with tears. She laughs, at his heels flicking up sand.

June 24, 2010

why write? why not read?

Why write? It’s the ongoing question. Sometimes I bore myself thinking about it, so I try not to think about it and just do it. Today it popped out of hiding as I was thinking about writing a new blog entry. “Because I have to,” is a silly answer, though it often enough comes to mind. Maybe it’s really, “because I want to.” If I want to I must think I have something (worthwhile) to say. What could that be? A particular way of seeing the world, perhaps. Maybe I read books by writers who write about writing in search of a better answer.

The daily writing diary has been stop-start jumpy. Days when I forgot, others when I just didn’t do it. Being sick with a cold was a credible excuse for only a couple of those days. Still, rambling away to myself about what I am writing — and not — is something I will carry on for July. Along with a new spurt of editing the novel that keeps slipping into the background.
I found and bought a second-hand copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style which I mentioned in my earlier post. Its “do this” and “don’t do this” approach is an antidote to a lot of writing about writing on the web, which is kind of wishy-washy.

Novels made it back into my reading. Alison Wong’s When The Moon Turns Silver, Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy (three short novels from the eighties), Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs.

And a bit of new writing:

…the other side…
I try not to envy Maria. She’s my best friend, after all, and envy is such a corrosive emotion, not too many steps away from resentment, and you can’t be friends with someone you resent. Married to maybe, I’m sure many are, but not good friends with.

We’ve known each other for forty years, Maria and I, been through a lot together — my illness, her divorce, the horror of her son going into the army, the SAS, no less. Not to mention various financial crises, forced house sales, teenage children in various kinds of trouble. All history now. We talk sometimes about how things we lived through, like the ’81 Sprinbok tour and the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior, are the subjects of documentaries about the past. “That’s not history, that’s my life!” we want to say.

We haven’t always lived in the same city or even country, but it never stopped us keeping in touch. How old-fashioned writing and posting a letter with a stamp on it seems now.

It’s so easy to be romantic about something that isn’t and won’t be available to oneself, so easy to think “it must be wonderful to…” and it wouldn’t necessarily be, on a day to day basis,j so wonderful in its happening. But I do envy. Oh, I have my laptop, bless it, that takes me out and about in the world, but it’s not the same as living, as they say, in the bosom of your family.
“Here you go, Helen, here’s your call from Adelaide.” They’re very nice the staff here, mostly from the Pacific Islands, quietly spoken and pleasant

“Hello Helen, it’s so good to hear you.” Maria sounds tired. I can hear her grand-children in the background, arguing with their father by the sound of it. “That’s just started up. I’ll go into the other room and close the door.”

June 1, 2010

More writing, editing and reading

Story A Day May is finished. I posted 29 stories in 31 days. See one at the end of this blog entry.

Have finished the tense-edit of the current novel. One more chapter to write, this time with some of the early story of the mother, Shirley. I’m avoiding thinkng about what to do when it seems finished — apart from having Prue and some others read it. Publishing is an odd beast at the moment, with the big print-publishers looking for fashionable writers who’ll sell vast quantities of books and epublishers talking themselves up like mad and neither side really knowing anything about the future.

I just read an excellent book, Reading Like A Writer, by Francine Prose, a novelist with fourteen published novels, none of which I have heard of let alone read. It’s sub-title is, “a guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them.” She recommends Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style from way back and reading and analysing the best of writers, with lots of examples from Raymond Chandler to Chekhov. Katherine Mansfield is in there, and Gertrude Stein.

What now for daily writing? A writing diary I think, which may include bits of writing. A sort of keeping tabs on myself, not something to show people or put online. I’ll try that for a month and see where, if anywhere, it goes.
And it’s definitely time to read a novel.

Here’s the story:

June had been born in July and was grateful to have been named for her maternal grandmother and not the month of her birth. When she had suggested to her Uncle August that he could use his second name, the harmless John, he’d told her that his father had called him August and that was good enough for him, thank you. June was accustomed to her helpful suggestions being taken the wrong way. It was only the other day at work when Nigel had complained, yet again, about how put upon he was and how Keith and Shona took it for granted that he would clear away all their coffee mugs and she had said, ‘Leaving them there is a good alternative to being a martyr,’ and he hasn’t spoken to her since.

She doesn’t see much of her siblings these days. Not since their parents died. She had suggested, quietly and calmly, that they take turns at choosing something they wanted from their parents’ house until they didn’t want any more and Graham had said okay, he’d go first as the oldest and take everything in the china cabinet and Doris had screamed at him that alphabetical would be fairer and the whole cabinet-full was more than one thing and they had both turned and blamed her for the idea. ‘You always come up with a solution and it’s always a bad one,’ Doris had said and that really hurt her feelings and she ended up not even putting her dibs in for the piano, which was now gathering dust in Graham’s oldest’s spare room and she would definitely have started piano lessons.

Still, she had her pleasures. She liked to think of her small back garden as her courtyard. She had it just as she liked it, from the two metre long raised bed where she grew silver beet and lettuces and tomatoes and the occasional capsicum bush and a crop of broad beans over the winter, to the wisteria along the side fence. All her life she had wanted a garden with a wisteria and a flowering kowhai tree and this year the dwarf kowhai she’d found a space for in the corner had flowered at last. Two magnificent yellow blooms; she had learnt to use the macro setting on her new digital camera specially and now had them as a screen-saver that gave her a small thrill every time she woke up her computer.

The clothes line had been a challenge; there was something particularly domestic about a Hills Hoist that would have ruined the atmosphere of the whole area. It took a while, and she even considered the wickedness of using the dryer for everything and not having a clothes line at all, but in the end she came up with a solution. There was just room along the side of the house next to the driveway to the garage for a non-revolving foldaway that she didn’t actually have to fold away, she could get the car past it easily. The electrician who backed the corner of his van into it and made a significant dent just wasn’t paying enough attention.

No-one could look in to her courtyard. It was private. Occasionally she could hear a neighbour in their garden, but she liked that, as long as it was a background noise and not loud and intrusive. She got on well enough with her neighbours, it paid to, in case of a civil defence emergency or even an accident or heart attack or something. Not that she worried, if she had a heart attack or a stroke she hoped it would be a big one and take her out. She rather liked the idea of coping with the aftermath of an earthquake but not anything that lost her her independence.

The people who had just moved in next door were a bit noisier than she liked. There were a couple of young teens and a toddler and two parents, one man one woman, who both seemed to go out to work all day. It was no doubt a child-care baby; June had no opinion about whether that was a good or a bad thing, she’d never had children. A hysterectomy in her thirties had seen to that, and she never minded. She’d been with Gloria at the time.

So here she was, on her own and as happy as she had ever been. She sank into her chair and opened the Sunday paper.

May 17, 2010

Writing up a storm

In a funny kind of way I am writing up a storm at the moment. And having an extremely good time with it. A Story A Day for May is working out really well, because I am doing what I thought I would and taking a piece from my earlier 250-a-day project and finishing that for the day’s story. Sometimes that involves only a little light editing and a final line, sometimes it’s a major rework and a lot more text. I’ll add a couple to the end of this post.

And the other day, in the midst of running hither and yon to get a new back window put in my car (smashed it myself, by accident of course, closing it on a boot full of wood) I came up with a whole new book idea. Not that I’ve anything like finished the novel I am working on. The new idea would involve using some of the stories I am writing at the moment. No, not exactly a short story collection. More in a later post, when I have the idea better worked out.

I am managing to put some serious time into the current novel. It’s a matter of editing and rewriting at the moment. I like the story, it’s the writing that needs work!

I read the first volume of Susan Sontag’s letters, called Reborn and edited by her son, David Rieff. I can’t say anything about it because it’s my book club choice and some of my book club people read this blog. After we’ve had our book club discussion I’ll say more about this book.

Stimulated by SS, I found Kafka’s diaries in a second-hand bookshop and have just started reading those. (I recently read Metamorphosis because my son mentioned it as an important book to him when he was young but grown-up.) I don’t have a handle on Kafka at all, but am already riveted by his diaries. He is, to put it mildiy, a miserable fellow. Sometimes it hard to tell whether a diary entry is just that, or an attempt at something he wants to write. His lack of belief in himself and his writing is well expressed in this sentence: “My doubts stand in a circle around every word.”

Here are two of my short stories: (I’ve included the first one because Prue liked it.)

When you have parents who don’t get on, and you are an only child, you learn some things. Angela learnt that she could often get what she wanted by playing them off against each other. The down side of that was that she never felt she could quite trust the stability of the situation. Her parents didn’t row, or at least not noisily, and they slept in the same bed, so it wasn’t embarrassing when her friends came over after school.

The worst thing was hard to describe; a kind of tension. It would vanish when she and one parent were together, cooking something, or watching television, or doing her homework, but when the other parent came into the room the air would turn cold and empty-feeling and she would know she had to be careful to not seem to favour one over the other, to spread herself evenly between them.

When her father told her he was leaving, he assumed she would stay with her mother and visit him on weekends; he’d get a flat not too far away, he said, so she could still see her friends. Having separated parents wasn’t anything unusual, but still, she was anxious. I’m thirteen, she wanted to say, I’m the one who’s supposed to change things, you’re the grownups you’re supposed to stay the same until, well, at least until I finish school.

They both went to a lot of trouble to tell her that it wasn’t her fault, she hadn’t done anything wrong. She knew that and she knew that parents always say that, she had known it since Valerie’s parents separated when she and Valerie were six, and there had been plenty of break-ups since then.

Once the separation actually happened, Angela noticed her father fading, gradually getting more and more hazy, seeing her less and less often, paying her less attention when they were together; something about having a new wife and baby. She didn’t mind, the new wife was a terrible fusspot, more concerned about her own makeup and clothes and that people might think Angela was her daughter, and that she was old enough to be mother to a teenager. When Angela got to university and struck Gertrude Stein in third year English Literature, she found an explanation of what happened with her and her father. “Little by little we never met again.” They did see each other occasionally, but they never met in any real sense, they never said more to each other than pleasant nothings. “How are you?” “Fine, thanks. And you?” “Oh, good.”

Being just Angela and her mother in the house was surprisingly relaxed and easy. There was the occasional man who stayed over, but never anything serious, and Angela herself even had boyfriends stay over once she was sixteen and that was never a big deal. Then Angela went off to university in Wellington and her mother sold the Wanganui house and moved to Otaki to live with a man who bred llamas.

Angela completed her first degree the same month that her boyfriend and her best friend broke her heart. Julie, her second-best friend took her off to spend the summer in midst of her own seven-sibling family. With partners, sundry extras like Angela, and children, there were nineteen people in and around the rambling house. Tents on the lawn. Bunks in the sleep-out. Julie and Angela shared a built-in veranda that had two single beds, end to end.

Christmas and New Year were a kind of family chaos that Angela had never known. No solitude. No silence. No pressure to do or be anything in particular, along with an expectation that everyone would lend a hand here and there while Julie’s mother orchestrated the whole. And everyone was responsible for their own stuff. “Leave it lying around and lose it,” Julie advised. “Leave it in your bag or on your bed and no-one will touch it.”

It didn’t take Angela long to notice cracks, jealousies, manipulations. They fascinated her. No-one, certainly not Julie, wanted to talk about any of that, it was like a river, all action and doing on the surface, surging sometimes, quietly pooling some-times, but with undercurrents pulling this way and that, unexpected eddies and blockages making confused and confusing ripples and waves, some of them powerful, none acknowledged.

One of the older brothers, Alan, was taken with her, Angela could tell. When he was around she stayed closed to Jill, mother-organiser.

In the first week of January, when Angela was beginning to think about extracting herself back into her own life, which she could at least bear to think about again, one of the children drowned in the river. The real river, the one flowing past the bottom of the long garden. Kevin was six, one of the kids that ran about all day doing kid-stuff, being hushed regularly by the adults.

Some wanted to know what happened, wanted to blame someone, a parent, an older child, someone. Others went quiet, comforting and being comforted. Two brothers dealt with the police. A sister-in-law and Julie dealt with the media. People swore and cried and went for walks in ones and twos and the departures started. Irritations and squabbles came to the surface. Angela left with the first wave, deciding for herself that her bed was more use to the family than her presence.

She stood in the bow of the ferry as it ploughed through Cook Strait, feeling the wind against her body, the spray not quite reaching her, and thought of her ex-boyfriend and her once friend together and saw that the hole in her life was quite a small hole and diminishing.

Home and Away
Time to go home. She thinks she knows where home is, and it’s not where her heart is, her heart is a tired, dry, shrivelled thing inside her. Home is that familiar place, that place where she can stand and know where thing are; Australia is that way, across the Tasman Sea, for South America she will need to turn east, towards the Pacific Ocean, south is Antarctica (yes, yes, Antarctica is always south). Almost everything else is north of where she stands when she is home. At night, looking up, she will be able to find the southern cross and work out half a dozen other star forms in relation to it. She knows the weather, whatever it is, will change, that there are spaces of countryside between cities and towns, that home is small and underpopulated except around its northern city, and both future-focused and backward-looking. Sooner or later she will run into people she knows, there will be friends who have drifted and friends who will fit right back into her life and she theirs.

She will go home and wear it like an old, comfortable coat, and rest. It will not be the rest that lasts until death, it will be rest to fit her for the restlessness that is just as familiar as home, the restlessness that will drive her on. This she knows, as well as she knows that for now her only option is to rest.

The volume of noise sinks. The helicopter has landed.

May 1, 2010

Bearing Fruit

Oh, the internet!

Now I have joined up for A Story A Day for May. Finish a short story every day (well, I have decided on six days a week, with a movable day off to accommodate the rest of my life.) Any length. As much or as little chat and/or support as one wants to take part in at the website. I might post the occasional story here. This will be my May version of 250-words-a-day. The point remains to keep myself writing new stuff, pushing myself into different points of view (hah!) and experimenting with tenses and generally playing around with the actual writing.

The Novel continues. Have completed the first extra chapter enough to insert it into the manuscript and am working on the second one (I think there will be three extra chapters in all, each expanding one of the secondary chapters.) Not as dissatisfied with the overall project as I was. Thank you Prue for encouragement.

On the reading front, I finished 2666. Worth the effort, I think, quite memorable, but not to everyone’s taste. When the Earth Turns Silver by Alison Wong came in my birthday pile. I really enjoyed it, some good insights into turn of the 19th/20th centuries Wellington and the Chinese community. It’s a story of tragic love of more than one kind and does that tricky thing of giving background history without undermining the story-telling. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffers & Annie Barrows, also a birthday book, is a good book but not a great one. Told in letters from a variety of writers, who all actually write the same, its biggest flaw. I enjoyed reading it and learnt a lot about the German occupation of Guernsey in WWII, about which I was pretty ignorant.

I was moved to re-read Tillie Olsen’s Silences by its inclusion in a list of the 10 books a writer should read. (I didn’t recognise most of the other entries, was intrigued by this one being on the list.) It’s a collection of fragments and a wide range of quotes from other writers, plus transcripts of a couple of lectures she gave from notes. It’s an excellently argued treatise about women writers being diminished and ignored as well as full of ideas about what writers need in order to write. It was first published in 1980 and I remember reading it then. Here’s one of my very favourite quotes. Tillie Olsen is quoting William Blake:

“Blight never does good to a tree … but if it still bear fruit, let none say that the fruit was in consequence of the blight.”

April 12, 2010

Going somewhere, maybe

At the beginning of April I started taking a 250 word piece from March and adding 250 words to it. (The prospect of having 365 beginnings after a year was just too much.) That was okay. Unexciting, but okay. Some of the pieces I had written I didn’t remember at all. Then I decided I wanted to add a chapter to the Ann novel, so started doing that a bit a day, and I have got a chapter, though not one I am happy with yet. Still, it’s some of the way there, so I’ve put it into my novel ms. Then I moved into editing the next chapter, now chapter 4, and I’m really not happy with the whole novel. Not the story, I like the story a lot, it’s about the writing. I guess. I'm looking for a variation of my usual style, I think, but can't articulate it. I’ll keep gnawing away until something happens. The thing to not do, I tell myself, is stop trying, it's always easy to go on to other things, but I think the 250 words a day thing is showing me the benefits of keeping at it.

On the reading front, I am two-thirds of the way through Roberto BolaƱo’s 2666. A very unusual book in five parts and over 800 pages. I struggled in the middle to maintain interest, but Part 4 got me hooked back in. Strange, because Part 4 consists, not entirely, but mainly, of a detailed list of women who were raped and killed. No voyeurism, just facts, and names of policemen and a few other bits. A bit like a wordier Eliot Weinberger list (a lot wordier) it kind of builds up.

Previously read Hicksville, the graphic novel by Dylan Horrocks that has just been reissued by VUP. I read the original version from the Wellington Public Library. A comic about comics, at least in part. Also about New Zealand, and fitting in, or not, and a bunch of other things. There’s an art to ‘reading’ the visual part of graphic novels, which I don’t think I have quite got the hang of. Maybe I didn’t read enough comics as a child.

I have accumulated a great list of writers' blog, which I dip into now and then. Mostly they are interesting and well-written but they can become too much of a good thing. I get sick of them after a while. The best book blog I have found so far, because it is extremely varied (eg, includes notable pictures of books) and has really good writers is the New Yorker's book bench. Find it at: It will also lead you to the book club blog, where a noted author chooses a book to read and it gets talked about on the blog. This month it's Lorrie Moore's choice, which is David Vann's Legend of a Suicide, which I haven't read, but will.

March 22, 2010

Writers and Readers Week, Writing, Editing

As I expected, I loved Writers and Readers week at the International Arts Festival in Wellington. Highlights? Kamila Shamsi, for one. She's Pakistani and writes about wars on terror as an ongoing historical phenomenon, and how fear leads to accepting anything in the name of safety and security. Her novel Burnt Shadows is stunning. Also Neil Gaiman and Margo Lanahan both of whose books have large fantasy elements which I have enjoyed a lot. Audrey Niffenegger was fun, too, talking about Highgate Cemetery and her latest book. Geoff Dyer said he can’t think of stories so his books don’t behave the way readers expect. He admires Allan Hollinghurst, who does tell stories. Dyer looks for “unmediated experience” and tries to reduce the the distance between what he is writing and how he is writing it. I do love listening to writers talking about writing, even if I don’t always understand everything they say. I take notes. Another highlight was Philip Hoare, historian of the decadence of the nineteen twenties and, more lately, his current passion, whales. A very entertaining eccentric.

On my daily tasks I am doing better on writing 250 words a day than I am on editing my book. The latter needs longer periods of time I think, and my days have been very full lately. I am surprising myself with what comes out of my mind in the daily writing. At the end of March, I have decided, I will print all to date - about 40 beginnings - and read them and see what I want to add to and what I can mine for other purposes and review the whole exercise. I’ll keep doing it, might just change the parameters. Or not. Will report.

I’m changing my editing plan to available half days, of which my diary indicates there are some ahead. Interesting how recording these activities makes them concrete.

March 5, 2010

Reading the web, new writing & revising

I’ve been looking at lists and blogs about writing and writers. The best general writing blogs are via literary publications, like the New Yorker’s Book Bench and the blogs at the LA Times and the Guardian They all have links to other places and writers and act as useful filters (for me, anyway) so you can avoid spending hours trawling through individual author websites devoted mostly to bios and promoting their books, which is fair enough, but not what I want to read.

The New Yorker Book Bench is particularly good. It often links to non-nyer sites and, as is the nature of the internet beast, one thing leads to another. The trick is not to spend (waste?) too many hours on the intelligent musings of good writers. It can feel ‘educational’ but actually there is a law of diminishing returns. Lists of writing ‘rules’ and tips crop up often, some of them really useful, but in the end it’s each to her own. I really like to read what published writers say about their routines and habits, and there's plenty of that. Again, I look for the occasional tip that can be useful to me rather than rules to follow. For example, in spite of advice to the contrary I don’t plan to give up semi-colons altogether in favour of full-stops, but I might be more considered about where I use one. I might.

So, to create some discipline in my own writing I have set myself two daily tasks.

The first is to write 250 words of new fiction a day. This isn’t much, about two paragraphs, and can be done in fifteen or so minutes. I started about three weeks ago and so far have 21 short story beginnings. In a year I could have 365 short story beginnings. Yikes! Many of course will never go anywhere and I could try endings and middles in due course. Or even look back at earlier beginnings and add another 250 or so words. The word count is not exact, by the way, it’s not a matter of stopping at 250, it’s that once this number is reached I am ‘allowed’ to stop. It is interesting to have to dredge up an idea/ character/ bit of plot from scratch and get something on the page. Occasionally I surprise myself.

The other task I am setting myself is to spend at least an hour a day revising the novel I first-drafted last November. This is proving to be a major undertaking, which I am enjoying more than I expected. There have been lots of time and other detail issues to sort out, and now I am concentrating on tenses. I want to use present tense a lot and this is tricky. Will write more about this in a later post.

February 18, 2010

Plotting and Quoting

I like to write about someone in their life, the everyday, the quotidian to be pretentious. This means I think a lot about whether or not what I write is interesting enough. I also like to quote from other writers. Showing off? Maybe, depending on whether or not the quote arises from the story/character or I have put it in because and know and like it.

I’d like to quote Gertrude Stein all the time and mostly don’t because it’s self-indulgent to put “there’s no there, there” in every story I write. Another favourite from GS is “little by little we never met again.”

I am writing my fourth novel from the point of view of one protagonist, focusing on her “ordinary” life, which is similar to the approach of the previous three. Themes? How to live a worthwhile life, identity, relationships. This sounds, and sometimes feels, banal, as in why bother? Yet I do bother, I work at writing as well as I can, so I obviously think it’s worthwhile.

To illustrate what I have just said here’s the opening of the novel I am working on at the moment. It’s still a draft. Title? No, not yet. The working title, as they say, is Ann.

Chapter 1

She left. Just like that; announced her intention after lunch and was gone before dinner. Not that Ann wanted any.

“Yes, there is someone else,” she said. “Julie. Sutton.”

Shit. Julie was Ann’s friend. Emphasis on was.

“How long?” That was the wrong question but it was the one in Ann’s head.

“Six weeks.” She wouldn’t look at Ann. “Look, there’s nothing to talk about,” she said, “it just happened and I didn’t know how to tell you. You’ll get over it.” That’s when Ann got mad and shouted and cried for a long time, until her ex-partner — get used to it, Ann — picked up her bag — a small bag for fourteen years — and walked out, saying over her shoulder, “You can stay here for now. We’ll work out the rest later.”

“CAN!” Ann was yelling again. “I thought we were happy! Happy! Silly me!” Her only answer was a quietly closing door.

Ex's laptop was gone, of course. Bella the dog, Ex’s dog, remained.

“She’s abandoned us Bella, for pastures new. Don’t take it personally, but you’re going too. I will find someone to take you to her, and you and she will have a beautiful reunion. Until then, I’ll do my best, but we both know I am not a good dog mother.”

Ann experiences being left as banal. She thinks of an Edna St Vincent Millay poem.

Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike

She finds a mutual friend to deliver Bella and takes advantage of her decade of lecturing a third-year paper on Romantic Literature to re-run last year's lectures and tutorials without revisions. Upheavals in the university, as funding cuts lead to restructurings lead to redundancies, pass her by as she struggles with rediscovering how to live on her own. Ex wants to talk about selling the house.

“You could buy me out,” she suggests cheerfully to Ann. “You earn plenty.”

Not that plenty! Ex will want full market value. Mind you, it's a buyer's market, and would make good financial sense, but Ann is not going to be obliging. Nor is she going to be talked to by Julie Sutton. Ever.

Love has gone and left me and I don't know what to do.

On a dismal Sunday morning, in the house on her own,

And life goes on for ever like the gnawing of a mouse

Ann wanders through the rooms, feeling each one as a cloak, enveloping her. It's winter-cold, a brutal southerly wind whipping branches of the karaka tree against the side of the house. Her hand slides over the red formica of the kitchen table, built into an awkward space, its bench seating giving it the look of retro cafe in downtown Wellington. Ann never liked it much, Ex showed it off. The rest of the kitchen, their first renovation, was slick and modern, including an expensive toaster, for Ann, for whom multi-grain bread, toasted until crunchy at its edges, is a food group. She knows exactly which setting works best for each of her three favourite breads, the ones you can only buy uncut. She slices them herself, with an old, wide, bread-knife, freezes the slit loaf and eases off two slices at a time for breakfast or lunch or dinner; some of these days it's all three.

Whole grain bread and peanut butter together make a perfect protein. She forgets where she read this. A lettuce leaf or two, a tomato, a chunk of aging cucumber from the bottom of the fridge and she can convince herself she's having a balanced meal, never mind the two glasses of wine. Only once has she emptied the whole bottle, on her own, in an evening. Only once, truly.

They had cooked together a lot at first, then, increasingly, they took turns. A senior lecturer and a senior public servant had busy lives, worked long hours.

The dining room centre-piece is a long rimu table with eight matching chairs. They had fought over this table, one wanting it, the other not. Ann can't remember who was on which side. She likes it now, can see it with friends all around, eating, talking, drinking, laughing. The best of times. And meetings. Neighbourhood watch, until too many people moved and their replacements didn't opt in. Ex had tried very hard to keep that going. Occasional end-of-year afternoon teas with Ann's third-year students, never very many, most of them too involved with their own lives. Their book group — no, that met in the living room. Other meetings, she can't think what, but she thinks of this room, dominated by the table, as full of people.

Aah, the living room. Comfort. Big sofas, two. Big arm chairs, two. They'd got into habits, Ann on a sofa, feet up, Ex in one of the arm chairs using a squab as a footstool, watching their favourite television shows. Ann followed 24, which Ex hated. Ex was fixated on Lost, which Ann couldn't be bothered with. They both liked ER, and Outrageous Fortune. Now, Ann would sit on her sofa for an evening channel surfing and have forgotten everything she saw by the time she went to bed.

The bedroom. Theirs once. Hers now. Ann couldn't think about that. The office. A spare room, really, they both worked at home on their laptops, anywhere. Sometimes one of them would spread out papers all over the dining room table. They’d had a kind of two-day limit on that. Now that Ann could leave anything for as long as she wanted, she never used the big table for work. The cubbyhole in the kitchen suited her better; she didn't feel as lonely there.

There's this little street and this little house.

Except the house isn't little. There are two more rooms downstairs, a double garage — probably the only double garage in Wadestown, Ex used to say. But little describes Ann to herself today. Diminished. Bereft. “Oh, fuck it! Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.” She says — shouts — to the house. “Fuck OFF.”

“I have,” says the voice of Ex from somewhere in the back of Ann's mind.

“I mean FUCK OFF HOUSE!” Her mouth is still poised for words, loud words. The thought is somewhere else.

“She can buy me out. Or they. Ouch. Yes, they. She/they can buy me out and I can …” That's an idea with nowhere to go, Ann thinks, but she feels lighter. Ex can decide what to do with this and that. She, Ann, will float free. She spends the rest of Sunday making a list of what she wants to keep from the house and is surprised at how short it is. Monday and Tuesday evenings she makes another list, of chattels, things that they bought together, that she can get bought out of, too.

On Thursday she goes to see Jennifer Ryan, lawyer, who explains the legal situation, which Ann, unusually, doesn't bother to follow. She's still got that floating feeling, as though she was in a Chagall painting. Ann leaves the chattels list with Jennifer. She and Ex kept well organised accounts, so she has the date of purchase and the price they paid for every item.

“How are you?” asks Ex, sitting opposite her in Gotham Cafe, Chews Lane. Her voice is gentle, her eyes are soft.

“Not your business these days.” Ann likes her own reply. “You — and her if you like — can buy me out. Of the house. You always liked it more than me.” That's not true, but Ann doesn't care.

There's no reply, for a long time. Ex looks at the table. When she raises her face Ann can't read her expression. Maybe this is what Ex wanted. That doesn’t matter to Ann, it's what she herself wants now, and she's not going to go cheaply. She thinks of those divorce stories on television where one person tries to do the other down. That's not what she wants, she wants to be fair, but fair to herself as well.

“Well! That's caught me on the hop. I thought you’d want to stay there.”

“You buy me out or the house goes on the market. Soon. By the end of August.”

“I'd have to agree to it going on the market, you couldn't just sell it. We do own it jointly, after all."

“I know that. I'm thinking you'll do what I want because you're guilty about dumping me. And guilty about being a coward and not telling me about you and — her.” Ann is pleased with herself for saying that.

“I'm not sure that Julie and I have much of a future.” Again, Ex can't look at her.

Ann throws back her head and laughs. And laughs. People look. Ex wipes away tears.

“Too late,” says Ann, “I’ve taken your advice and gotten over you and,” she pseudo-sings, “I’m mo-oving on,” then reverts to being crisp. “Let me know about buying the house. Here's my lawyer's card.” She tucks the card under the saucer of Ex's coffee cup.

Ex looks at Ann and says, “I miss Shirley and Keith.” She's still teary and Ann is still refusing to take notice and just looks back and waits, enjoying feeling cool and angry and detached. “I thought I might ring them,” Ex says eventually.

“They're my parents, not my children, you don’t need my permission to contact them. Ring, don't ring, it's your call.” Ann thinks she is enjoying this far too much.

“I thought they might be, you know, angry with me or something.” Ex is practically pleading to know what kind of reception she would get.

“We haven't actually been talking about you,” says Ann as she stands up. Which is nearly true, if you don't count her mother's, “How could she?” or her father's, “I always wondered if she could be trusted.”

Ann doesn't look back as she walks off. She feels tall again, as though she is taking up the right amount of space.

February 4, 2010

Reading, Mostly

I am reading a book about blogging. That’s factual, not an ironic statement. I still learn much of what I know about computers from printed books. The rest comes from, firstly, Miraz's mactips, which I recommend accessing via her blog, which is about technology, science and wordpress, and well worth reading. Find mactips by scrolling down the sidebar on the left. My other source of information etc is welmac, the Wellington mac user's group. Check it out at If you use a mac and live in the Wellington area it's worth the membership fee.

I understand the business of writing a blog, but not how one can ‘distribute’ it, if that is what one wants to do. Part of my problem with learning how to do this is no doubt my lack of conviction that I want to do that. I guess my question is still ‘What’s it for?’

I recently had a birthday and, as is usual, my partner gave me a great pile of books. Yum. I read Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal first because that’s the book our book group is reading this month. Then Kamila Shamsi’s Burnt Shadows, because she is coming to Writers and Readers week in Wellington next month. What a hard, and believable, ending this book has. I recommend it. Now I’m halfway through Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry, which I am liking more than I liked The Time Traveller’s Wife.

I also read the Millenium trilogy over a week. (One of them was in the birthday pile.) They are written by Steig Larsson, the first is called The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and they are best-sellers, in bookshops everywhere. Three long books! Gripping. The Swedish setting helped hold my interest, as did the two complex main characters, and the social context of the stories. The politics gets more depth as the stories develop and by the third questions like ‘What is democracy, and how much secrecy - for example in countering terrorism - is possible without undermining the whole ethos of democrary?’ are part of a series of thrillers. I didn’t like the movie, I thought it skated across the top of all the big ideas in the books and flattened out the two main characters.

And yes, I am still editing my novel. In between other things. I am beginning to wonder whether I should have a writing/editing schedule, like writing between the hours of x and y, but have never done this and am resistant to it. Most of my writing/editing gets done in the afternoons, a reversal of what many writers do. Does this matter, I wonder?