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: http://www.nanowrimo.org

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.