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.