Friday, May 29, 2009

Best Seller

My friend Brett Hoffmann's new book, The Contract, has hit the shops. It's now on display, centre stage, amongst the best sellers. I can't wait to read it - I believe it's a ripping yarn. I'll get my hands on a copy as soon as I arrive back in the big smoke.

You can read an extract here. The Contract is Penguin's Crime Book of the Month and if you don't like it you can get your money back. Sounds a deal too good to resist.

It's Brett's first book but already he's well into his second. I'd say he's set for a long career as a thriller writer. Congratulations, Brett! Hope it tops the charts!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Becoming a Writer

I have a collection of writing books that I return to whenever I need inspiration. One of my favourites is Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, published in 1934.

I've got a lot out of this book over the years, but the advice that has most helped me is Brande's suggestion of early morning writing. She says the purpose of this is to derive 'the full benefit of the richness of the unconscious'. I look at it as getting up before the policeman who censors your work is on duty.

The idea is to wake up and, without talking, reading or drinking coffee, begin to write, allowing yourself to just fall onto the page. Then stand back and watch what you produce.

Throughout your writing life, whenever you are in danger of the spiritual drought that comes to the most facile writer from time to time, put the pencil and paper on the bedside table, and wake and write in the morning.
Another of her suggestions is to make an appointment with yourself to write at a given time of day and then, come what may, write for fifteen minutes at that time. Each day make such an appointment but at a different time, again for fifteen minutes.

There is a deep inner resistance to writing...The unconscious does not like these rules and regulations until it is well broken in to them; it is incorrigibly lazy...and given to finding the easiest way of satisfying itself. It prefers to find its own occasions and to emerge as it must learn to disregard every loophole the wily unconscious points out to you. If you consistently, doggedly, refuse to be beguiled, you will have your reward. The unconscious will suddenly give in charmingly, and begin to write gracefully and well.

Brande has other advice, for example:

Decide for yourself which friends and social activites are good for your writing, and which are not
Discover the reading matter that stimulates your writing, eg poetry, fiction, non fiction
Because old habits are strong and jealous, teach the unconscious to flow into the channel of writing.

All of this is helpful, but the early morning writing is vital I think. It really is a net to catch the unconscious.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Back to Front

I haven't yet read Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, though I will as soon as it's published in Australia. There was an interview with Toibin byRobert McCrum in this morning's Age.

McCrum reckons Brooklyn gets its 'incredible narrative charge' from its author's immersion in 19th-century fiction.

Toibin himself says: 'It's all about keeping the line clear. Look at Austin. In her novels you get a dance followed by an encounter, followed by a letter, then a period of solitude. No flashbacks and no backstory. Let's have no more backstory. Can we please have no more "I'd like to know more about..."?'

Uh oh. I wrote the first draft of my novel, By the Book, in that direct line way and I didn't feel it worked. In this draft, I've tossed out the first five chapters and now I'm trying to reintroduce a lot of the deleted stuff by way of flashback. My intention was that backstory would be woven into the structure of the book.

I wanted to reveal the past gradually as I pushed the action of the present along. Now I'm not so sure.

I'm going to persevere with this version for a while and see what it looks like. Where the book starts now is the beginning of a change in my heroine's life. I like the idea of jumping in there, seeing her for the first time as this person on the cusp of change, and learning more about her background as she reveals it and as she moves forward in her new life .

But Toibin's words have made me think about what I'm doing, and that's not a bad thing. I'll bear them in mind as I work.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Picnic Perfect

On Tuesday Farmdoc and I decided to take advantage of picnic-perfect weather. Maybe the last warm day of autumn. We packed a basket and went through Hayshed Paddock and down to the creek. The goats looked expectant when they saw us but didn't follow.

We chose a flat grassy spot under the pine tree that marks our south eastern boundary and lit a fire.

The water level was high and it was noisy as it rushed over fallen branches. This is the part of the creek where we often see platypus, but this day we didn't see any.

Farmdoc cooked the chops and heated the spuds that I'd baked in the oven.

We ate our picnic and drank red wine out of plastic glasses, reclining on the bank and enjoying the autmn sunshine.

Then I broke a dental bridge. Disaster! We packed up and rushed home to ring around dentists. The earliest appointment I could get was in Hobart so yesterday we drove the six-hour return trip.

'When did you have this done?' the dentist asked me.

'About fifteen years ago,' I said. What I thought but didn't say was that I could work it out exactly because I wrote a short story at the time called 'Teeth', inspired by all the dentistry I had that year.

The story was about the relationship between a dental mechanic and a girl who worked at a post office. While I was writing it I visited a dental technician's workshop and spent an early morning shift at a post office in Armadale, watching the posties sort the mail.

I remembered all this as I reclined in the dentist's chair enveloped in a smock, eyes hidden behind dark glasses, but I didn't say anything because my mouth was wide open and full of equipment.

We came home last night so happy to be back on the farm and now we have to return to the dentist this afternoon. Six more hours in the car. The only good part about it all is that it's cold and grey here and apparently warm and sunny in Hobart. That'll be nice. Almost picnic weather I imagine.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life Be In It

This morning I went with my father to a small ceremony at Holmesglen TAFE where he presented scholarships on behalf of the Mick Young Scholarship Trust.

Mick Young was a much loved member of the Australian Labor Party, Member of Parliament and Federal Cabinet Minister who was greatly mourned when he died aged 59.

The Mick Young Scholarship Trust was formed in his honour, its purpose being to assist financially disadvantaged students to further their education. My father, who was an admirer and close friend of Mick's, has been one of the fund's trustees since its inception.

This morning he mingled with the students and then made a short speech in which he talked of how Mick had left school just before he turned 14, working first as a roustabout and then as a shearer, eventually rising to high office.

Dad joked that although he was nearly 91 he still hoped to hear of many achievements made by this group.

The recipients are studying a variety of courses including English as a Second Language, Aged Care, Hospitality and Tiling.

It was inspiring and moving for me to see the courtesy and warmth on both sides and how well the students responded to Dad.

It was also inspiring to me to see how much my father engages with and contributes to society at his age and at a time when he is so grief stricken by the loss of my mother.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Stuffing the Chook

One of my favourite things to do is write and cook at the same time. Like companion plants, for me these are companion activities. I find that where doing each one separately can leave me feeling frustrated in some way or exhausted, doing them together raises both my energy and creativity levels and helps me see connections I otherwise may have missed.

Today I am preparing shabbat dinner for my daughter E, my father, my aunt, my older brother and his wife. At the same time I am revising an adult novel that has sat in first draft form untouched on my hard drive for nearly a year while I concentrated on my memoir.

I'm finding the time away from the novel has given me the distance I required, so I can see a little more clearly what it needs and I'm quite excited by my new approach. I only hope I can pull it off.

I began my cooking with the challah dough.

First I mixed three cups of bread flour with a teaspoon of salt, a scoop of sugar, and a tablespoon of yeast. Then I added two eggs, a slurp of oil and about two-thirds of a cup of water.

I kneaded this - always the best part - and let it stand till it doubled in size. Then I weighed the dough and divided it into three equal portions. I rolled these into ropes, which I then plaited and laid on a baking sheet to rest.

When the loaf had doubled in size it was time to brush it with beaten egg and sprinkle it with sesame seeds

and bung it in the oven for about 40 minutes. At this stage the aroma made it difficult to concentrate on my work.

As a nineteen-year-old bride, one of the first things I learned to cook was traditional stuffing. My mother-in-law, who was an excellent cook, taught me, and I used to turn up to my university lectures with hands smelling of onion and garlic. I've been making it the same way ever since. Today I'm experimenting with a new method.

Before I began I squeezed my hands into rubber gloves so my skin wouldn't stink for the rest of the day- especially as I typed! I chopped half an onion, a stick of celery and a small garlic clove and softened them in a little margarine.

Then I whirled some stale bread in the food processor and added to this the cooked onion mixture, together with salt and pepper, parsley, sage and rosemary to taste, an egg and a little of my chicken soup to moisten. Then I squished it all together with my hands and stuffed it into the cavity of the waiting chook.

Along with chicken soup, challah, roast vegies and salad we should have a delicious meal. The pleasures of the company are of course assured.

Shabbat shalom to all.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Lost Goats Found

'Leave them alone and they'll come home, wagging their tails behind them.' Isn't that the advice offered to Little Bo Peep when she lost her sheep?

Well, it must work for goats too because the lost goats are now safely returned to their paddock. Our share farmer found them today at the top eastern corner of Truck Paddock. Using feed pellets, she then easily enticed them to follow her down our driveway and through the gate into Hayshed Paddock.

Just in time too, because we'll putting a billy in with the does this month. Maybe they knew. Or maybe they just missed the comforts of home. Who knows. Anyway, the lost goats are found.

For now.