As you may know, I have a separate biography blog, A Biographer in Perth, concerned with the life of Katharine Susannah Prichard and the art of biography, topics slightly more specialised than this present blog, which aims at a more general audience. But some topics fall between the stools, like perhaps Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career. You can read some stray thoughts on it from me, which add up to a partial review; and also a post on its connections with Katharine Susannah Prichard. There’s also a link on the other blog so you can follow it by email.
My novelette, “The Zealot”, is now available from Review of Australian Fiction as an ebook. Set on the streets of Perth in the tumultuous year of 2001, it’s about a student activist torn between his ideals and his love for his housemate. It’s for anyone who’s ever lived in a share-house, wondered what the meaning of it all is, or that matter, been eighteen years old at some point in their life. You can download it to your smartphone, tablet or computer (epub or kindle) for $2.99; it comes with a story by acclaimed writer Ryan O’Neill. I’ve been working on this piece, on and off, since 2002, and I’d be so glad if you read it. You might want to subscribe to RAF – $12.99 for six issues.
Publishing this piece brings a long saga to an end. After I finished The Fur, I wanted to write a short, punchy novel about the activist scene in Perth, with the energy and anarchy of Fight Club (the film and the novel). I was in too much of a hurry, and too eager to saddle my characters with my (then) ideologies. I went through years of rewrites. In retrospect, I’m glad the novel I wrote wasn’t published, as heartbreaking as it was.
I came back to it in December, and with new eyes I saw what was redeemable in it. I cut out 80% of the novel, leaving just the parts written through the perspective of Leo, who hadn’t been the protagonist. I did one more rewrite, feeling a new clarity about what I now wanted to say and do. I felt I’d learned so much about narrative and structure in the intervening years. What has emerged is a 12,000 word novelette, with not a gram of fat on it.
I’ve been very interested in biography lately, and my reflections on that deserve their own home, given they are a little specialised. If you’re interested in my thoughts on the art of biography, please visit “A Biographer In Perth” – http://biographerinperth.wordpress.com/.
It’s been the experience of writing a novel about a biographer over the last five years which has sparked my interest in biography. I’ve realised it’s a genre with such potential, sitting between literature and history. It’s a genre which attempts to recover lost time, and to make the dead live again. Or perhaps it attempts to do neither of those things, but only to put in order the fragments of individual lives, the traces they’ve left behind. It’s a personal approach to the past, and involves assembling a narrative from the archives, testing the writer’s skills of synthesis, structure and theme. It seems a noble pursuit to me.
I will be continuing to update this blog with more general matters, and An Anabaptist in Perth with matters theological.
It is a joy to discover someone who shares your quaint pleasures. I love to find ephemera in old books, a regular occurrence in my library. My theological librarian colleague Philip Harvey shares my interest. I sent him the passage in my new novel which touches on it, and I was chuffed that he quoted it in an excellent and wide-ranging post on the traces left behind in second-hand books. You can find it here.
My novel-in-progress is about im/mortalities; so it’s fascinating to stumble upon the story of Henrietta Lacks, a woman who died in 1951, but whose rare cells have been replicated in laboratories around the world to the point where there are 50 million tons of them. And this without her permission or her familly’s benefit. The tattered black and white photo of her on this post is haunting.
Following on from last week’s review of War and Peace, I stumbled upon a wonderful blog reviewing a chapter a day of War and Peace – http://relentlesspursuit.wordpress.com. Matthew from Sydney is the dogged reviewer, and he’s nearly finished. It’s the sort of quixiotic project that delights me.
I’ve updated my links at the sidebar.
A friend of mine, the editor, theologian and writer Christopher Walker has been quietly keeping an excellent and eclectic blog for quite a while now – but such is his modesty that I only just discovered it! (What do you think of people who relentlessly promote their blogs? Do great blogs sell themselves? Not always, I guess.)
Another friend of mine keeps a blog reflecting on sexuality and cultural history which often challenges me as a christian (when he actually posts!) http://theschoolofmines.blogspot.com.
And I’ve mentioned before neglectedbooks.com. What a wonderful project! To remember forgotten books! An act of recovery, of resurrection, of beauty.
A blog I’ve started following is the superb Neglected Books. Its tagline says it perfectly – ‘where forgotten books are remembered’.
I find forgotten books so poignant. My wife thinks it’s because of my own fear of being forgotten. Maybe she’s right. But it’s so sad to see books which authors have poured their soul into lie unread and unloved in library stacks or dusty book exchanges, and even then only the sentimental kind that don’t throw out books which haven’t sold in a year.
A book seems such a declaration of hope, a pleading to be remembered. At the time of its publication, it is the newest thing; as far as it – the object, the text, the cover, the advertisements for other books in the back – are concerned, nothing has come after it. And this is how old books have a poignancy for me – as a snapshot of their date of publication, as an object that has come down through those years and into my hands.
I hate the way authors are so quickly forgotten in the cult of the new. One of my favourite writers, John Christopher, wrote on a discussion board how when you’re not in, you’re not in. His last novel, published at age 81 in 2003, sold badly. Where are all the people who grew up on his brilliant books? Why are they neglecting him now?
We can only remember so many, I guess. But I’ll keep devoting time to remembering some, at least. I want to discover the hidden treasures of neglected authors, and the Forgotten Books blog is an ally. (There is nothing quite like the smug aloneness of loving an author no-one else knows about. You become the author’s champion and friend.)
My wife Nicole has entered the ABC National Poetry Slam Competition. It’s an excellent political poem called ‘A street called wall’. You can view it online here: http://contribute.abc.net.au/kickapps/_A-street-called-wall/video/372060/32422.html .
I like the interweaving of so many texts in the poem – nursery rhymes, Lewis Carroll, the Beatles, Don McLean, advertisements. For me it captures the milieu of the moment. And I’m in admiration of her rhyme and rhythm.
But I’m biased; judge for yourself.
A new blog I’m following is Literary Minded, Angela Myers’ excellent blog of all things literary from an Australian perspective at http://blogs.crikey.com.au/literaryminded/. I’m overwhelmed by her energy and prolificy, and feel appropriately old and tired. She’s keeping up with everything!
She describes herself as a Gen Y writer and I realise I’m not sure I can call myself this. Not that it wouldn’t be good to be the voice of a generation (until Gen Z comes along and you’re yesterday’s news). But that I feel a perpetual outsider status to be necessary to my sense of self. I guess I’m disloyal to my generation. There’s a lot I don’t like about it. (But I don’t think it’s as bad or as monolothic as commercial media makes out, either.) Maybe I need to find more of a sense of generation as part of my identity.
(Part of the problem is that I’m on the cusp of Gen Y and Gen X and so I don’t belong in either. )