Seasons of Change

Seasons of Change

The moon hasn’t set yet. It’s a white hazey ball – a mirror of the big Chinese lantern still lit as dawn comes to the scene of the wedding, a paddock marked with golden bunting. Sleeping, over-dressed people piled up on top of each other. A Shetland pony eats the remains of the wedding cake. A Border Collie quietly thumps her tail as we walk to the stained and teetering table that served as a bar. The sky, all above as far as our eye can see, is turning a wonderful Royal Blue, the indigo notes highlighted by the white gaze of the moon. It is quiet, with birds just now waking. The dog is beside us now, nose pushed into our hands. A tender, casual gesture that warms our hearts. It was a lovely wedding but we must be off. This isn’t really our scene, our place. The dog follows as we walk softly through the dewy grass to the car park. The sky is lightening. We must go. Tess, the name we have given the dog, nuzzles us one more time and then sits waiting and watching as the engine fires, we reverse and then edge forward. It is morning. The starlings and swallows tell us so. A new day.

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A Chat With Andy Griffiths (courtesy Shearer’s Bookshop)

THURSDAY, 12 APRIL 2012

Just Doomed is the Andy Griffiths’ and Terry Denton’s eighth book in the Just series. Griffith’s’ books have sold over 3 million copies worldwide, have featured on the New York Times bestseller lists, and have won over 30 Australian children’s choice awards. To mark the occasion of the publication of Just Doomed, I phoned him up for a chat. 

Since being introduced to Terry Denton by a publisher back in 1997, the pair have published 24 children’s books together. It has been a productive and inspiring creative relationship. Just Trickingwas their first collaboration in 1997 but overtime their collaborative working relationship has changed. 

‘It used to be, particularly with the Just series, that I would do about 80% and Terry 20%. I’d write the words and then send it to Terry and he would draw all over my words and any empty space he could find’, said Griffiths. 

But The Bad Book really began to change things and how we worked. The Bad Book, followed by The Cat on the Mat is Flat and the Cow Kapow, were much more about both of us creatively collaborating from the start. This continued with The Very Bad Book and The Body Parts Book when I discovered that Terry could draw quite medical drawings. But it wasn’t until, as part of the writing Just Doomed, that I asked if Terry could draw me a tree house. He drew the most elaborate and beautifully idiosyncratic tree house that it deserved its own book.’ This became The 13 Storey Tree House, published last year. 

The Just series works on a number of different levels. The books are all short stories, or lists or diary entries that feature the same characters. There’s craziness and grossness and laugh out loud stupidity throughout and nothing ever gets too dark and emotional – other than the character Andy’s long running crush on Lisa Mackney. 

‘Andy is a tragic romantic’, the real Andy Griffiths says. ‘And his unrequited love is based on my real crush on the real Lisa Mackney when we were at school’, he said. Confused yet? 

‘When I wrote Just Tricking’, Andy says, ‘I never thought it would take off in the way it did, so I wrote the characters with all my old childhood friends names, the streets are the ones I used to live on. The teachers are named and based on my real teachers.’ Has he had any complaints from the now much older Lisa, Danny and the rest?

‘Well, once Just Tricking took off, I had a problem. Some people weren’t happy that their real names were used but others were fine about it and some I had embedded so deeply into the story that I couldn’t change them – like Danny and Lisa.’ Luckily, the real Lisa Mackney is quite happy to be featured in Griffiths’ books and they are good friends again. Danny Pickett has always remained a friend and is, according to Griffiths, ‘absolutely idiotic’ as Andy in the books describes him. ‘He is a great friend. Always up for anything. Always smiling.’ 

Some of the inspiration for the Just series comes from observing children and seeing how they interact with the world around them. ‘There’s a story about a trip to a museum in Just Doomed, Griffiths explains. ‘I happened to see these boys at a museum and they were really not paying attention to anything the guide was saying. They were just doing their own thing and enjoying themselves. They weren’t really learning anything but were having a good time and I thought, that’s what Danny and Andy would be doing at the museum.’

Museum Guide:
 Hi, I’m Chris your museum guide. If there is anything you want to know please ask me? 

Student 1: Have you got a girlfriend?
 Student 2: Do you like cheese?
 Student 3: Were you embarrassed when you pooped in your nappy when you were a baby?

And for those fans of Griffith’s re-writing of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in Just Macbeth, there’s more Shakespeare in Just Doomed. This time, Griffiths does a re-working of Romeo and Juliet. Just Macbeth, Griffiths parody of Macbeth, was very successful both as a touring play for the Bell Shakespeare Company and as a book. 

‘Five years ago, the Bell Shakespeare Company rang me and asked if I’d like to work on a re-working of Shakespeare as they were trying to get younger children into their shows’, he said. During the writing of the play and the book, Griffiths re-discovered Shakespeare as an entertainer. 

‘When I hit Shakespeare in secondary school it was so foreign and I realised that [by re-writing Shakespeare] I could introduce kids to the world of Shakespeare’s stage craft, his words and the idea of performance’, he said.  ‘Once I began looking I found all sorts of parallels with the Just world – unrequited love, friendships, parents’.

Romeo and Juliet features in diary form inJust Doomed and Griffiths has just finished writing the script adaptation for the Bell Shakespeare Company. ‘It was a lot of fun to do especially after struggling in vain for years with a re-writing of Hamlet. Hamlet was too non-linear and dark.’ The Andy Griffith’s version of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet and Danny, Lisa and Me, will be on stage by
2013. ‘Shakespeare really surprises you with how modern and funny he his,’ Griffiths said. For now though, kids (and adults) will have to get their fix of Shakespearean Griffiths in Just Doomed

‘I remember growing up with really special books and that’s what I want to give kids. I want them to read my books and say ‘that was great’ and then run off to get a second one,’ he says. ‘I don’t want to teach them anything other than quite simply, reading. I want all kids to be able to read to a good level so they can live their lives as best they can,’ Griffiths said. He is an Ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) for this very reason. 

‘Resources are so limited in remote Aboriginal communities. Often these kids are speaking four or five languages at home and they don’t meet English until they go to school. They don’t have books until school so their literacy is incredibly limited and limiting. If you can’t read you can’t understand documents that effect your life, or the labels on medicine bottles or have a choice about whether you stay in the community or not. The ILF is in on the ground floor working community by community. It is incredibly significant work,’ he said. 

Out of his workshops with Aboriginal children has come the book The Naked Boy and the Crocodile. The thirteen stories included in the book tell tales of playing with friends, riding motorbikes, picking berries, hunting for emu eggs and wild pigs, terrifying turkeys and angry mamus. All proceeds from sales of the book go back to the ILF. 

This feeds directly into one of Griffiths’ overriding philosophies – ‘words are to be played with and not to be feared’. I have to ask him whether he finds a perverse pleasure in having his Bumosaurus series reach the New York Times bestsellers lists and therefore having the word ‘butt’ (Americans don’t understand the word ‘bum’) published in that august newspaper.

‘Of course’, he says. ‘What was even better though was I went to the USA on a book tour with Zombie Butts from Uranus. It was hilarious, we’d be in some great big Barnes & Noble bookstore for an event and the announcement would come over the loudspeaker ‘if you are here for the Zombie Butts from Uranus event…’ and everyone in the store would just fall apart. It was great.’ 

With the publication of 13th Storey Treehouse last year, it felt as though Denton and Griffiths’ creative partnership had really taken a major creative leap forward. 

‘That’s quite true,’ Griffiths says. ‘Once we had the tree house we began to play with ideas of who and what would live in it’, he said. ‘Kids are always writing to me asking about how Terry and I work together and so we thought it might be a fun idea to create an imaginary tree house where Andy and Terry draw and write together while cooking up experiments in the basement and avoiding the sharks in the swimming pool’, he said.

The 13 Storey Tree House
 contains all the elements of the Just books but with an overarching story. ‘Kids love a narrative and we wanted to capture that energy from the Just books as well,’ he said. 

The 26 Storey Tree House is out in September and The 39 Storey Tree Houseis out next year. Dizzying heights of silliness will be reached but until then, we have Just Doomed, a laugh out loud and crazy passion-filled book for lovers and laughers all. 

You can find out more than you ever wanted to know about Andy Griffiths on his website here: http://www.andygriffiths.com.au/ 

And Terry Denton here: http://www.terrydenton.com/ 

And the Indigenous Literacy Foundation here:http://www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au/ 

This interview first appeared on the Shearer’s Bookshop website.

 

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Interferon Psalms: Luke Davies

Interferon Psalms: 33 psalms on the 99 names of God is the complete title of Luke Davies latest work of poetry and from this alone, we know we need to prepare to undertake a journey with Davies. Pulling from the Psalms, songs of praise, lament and repetition encompassing all elements of faith, Davies has created a dark, shuddering, majestic experience for the reader.

Following on from his uplifting, loved-up TotemInterferon Psalms becomes a metaphysical suite of poems pushing onwards to the silence, the space inside where only words are left. In Davies’ attempt to make meaning of suffering his ‘inner ‘fearin’ becomes meaningful, resonant for all of us. The swooping, whooping energy of his images and the heartbreaking minutiae of his days spent in the grasp of the drug, interferon, used to clean out Hep C, (‘There was, what, plasma flowing through me?’) sent me crashing and tumbling and slowed my reading.

From the Cormac McCarthy quote from Cities of the Plain Davies uses as the epigraph (Cities of the Plain being my favourite McCarthy novel) to the almost peace he finds with his God, his past, his blood, Interferon Psalms engulfed my senses for the week it took me to work through my first reading. The work is ambitious and almost reckless in its submission to ideas, to poetry, to life and to death. My experience of reading this slim (120 pages) book of poetry is unparalleled in emotional intensity and the book has become an inspiring and haunting touchstone for me.

There are also clear moments of insight into writing and what, where, why words emerge and as a writer, I found a number of these transforming for my own writing process. However, while Davies is a master of life and suffering and poetry and words, it is the luminous humanity lying underneath his words that will bring me back to re-read Interferon Psalms. Everyone should read this contemporary liturgy and stumble through the humour, the blackness of guilt and remorse, the light of hope where there should be none nor none deserved, for themselves. Make your own discoveries and disavowals. It is a beautiful, exciting and deeply affecting work.

‘I returned to the poem, the one true place.’

Listen to an interview with Davies on The Book Show here where he talks about the writing and the architecture of the poems.

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My Reading Picks for 2011 and the Australian Women Writers Challenge

I am a month in at Shearer’s Bookshop in Norton Street, Sydney and it has been quite a lot of fun so far. The staff are all lovely, Barbara has been terrific and the customers have been interesting and aplenty. Christmas shopping is heating up and Mark (who does all the online end of the bookshop) has been asking the staff for each of our favourite reads of 2011. Here are mine http://shearersbooks.blogspot.com/ but if you scroll down you will find many other staff recommendations as well. The added bonus of doing lists like this is that it opens up opportunities for discussions that might not have otherwise happened. I was raving to Alexis, a fellow staff member, about Thirty Australian Poets and how eloquent and acute the selection of poets and their work was, and how every bookshelf in Australia needed to carry a copy when who should walk into the shop but the editor, Felicity Plunkett. We had a brief chat about the book and I told her how significant I think it is. I even managed to tell Felicity (without blushing!) that I keep the book on my bedside table for bouts of inspiration and thought provoking reading. 

Yes, as you might have guessed from the my favourite’s list, I read a lot of Australian writing. It is therefore, completely and absolutely logical that I have signed up for the Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading Challenge. I think this is a great way of highlighting not just the lack of women writers being reviewed and female reviewers in general, but also the fact that Australian fiction is not high on many readers’ lists at all. I asked one of the young staff members at Shearer’s what he reads and he listed all the (American) greats: Kerouac, Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson and Ginsberg. I then asked him which female writers he liked…he had to stop and think. He couldn’t tell me a single female writer that he had read, let a lone enjoyed. So, let’s get to it. Get reading, reviewing, discussing and passing around writing by Australian women. Bring on 2012!

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Sydney…

is torrential downpours and flooded gutters that build to flowing creeks under waterlogged cars in minutes. Sydney is sea-green and gun-metal-grey skies clashing into each other in sheets of shockingly white lightning. Sydney is kurrawongs and magpies and flocks of green winged lorrikeets every morning. Sydney is busy. Sydney is thong-wearingly* hot with bare-skinned babes wandering about in sunglasses so big their reflections cause car accidents. Sydney is everything in walking distance. Sydney is traffic lights and traffic gnarls with buses not stopping and trucks careening down every road. Sydney is friends. Sydney is humid, humid, humid. Sydney is full of hand-filling voluptuous white magnolia flowers and velevety soft gardenia petals. Sydney is late night parties and impromputu calls. Sydney is summer. 

Sydney feels new but is familiar: the same but different. Although that hotel has gone, and that garage is now apartments, and no they don’t live there anymore. Sydney is my past but it is also my future. Sydney is now, and again, my home. 

*thong in both senses of the word

 

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Fear in Kabul

I came across this terrific Letter From Kabul by Fotini Christia the other day. She writes about Afghans fears for themselves and their country when the US troops withdraw. Of what state the country will be in economically, politically and socially. Of the diplomatic strategy that Obama is choosing not to use right now. And she says what I think. The deals have been done. The money has been made. The Taliban will be back. People are expecting war. But she also asks this question of the Obama administration:

‘The administration has so far avoided defining what success in Afghanistan actually means and it cannot be vague any longer. There is much confusion on the ground, and the Afghan girls and women attending school and the others sacrificing their lives fighting against the insurgency deserve a straight answer as much as the people in the United States do.’  

I first felt fear, real life or death fear, in Kabul in 2008. While I was there volunteering for Mahboba’s Promise, I was savagely attacked by my guard dog, Mike. No, it wasn’t a Taliban raid or kidnapping. It wasn’t an IED or a shoot out. It wasn’t a roadside hold up or robbery. It was a dog attack. Something that could have happened in my own backyard in Melbourne. Something I never thought would ever happen to me.

It also wasn’t the ‘ordinary’ fear of sending your children across the city to school with the threat of suicide bombers every day. Or the fear of being in a room full of men you don’t know because your last experience of this wound up in rape. Or the fear of neighbourhood men, men you have known your whole life, lording their power over you as you shop. Or the fear of being seen outside your house after dark. Or the fear that all of this (and worse) will return, get worse, in months to come.

I can’t really imagine what it must be to be an Afghan woman (or in fact any Afghan without access to money or power) right now. The fear could almost be debilitating. Paralsying. And yet, Afghans keep going. Afghans are a resilient people. The nation will probably get through whatever is to come, but it would be so much better if they didn’t have to ‘get through’ anything ever again. The Afghan people have been let down by us, their Government, their police and their army. They don’t deserve the widespread bloodshed and terror that is probably inevitable now. And the freaky thing is, that we escape it because we happen to live in this country. Luck. That’s all it is.

You’d think we’d be acutely aware of our luck, everyday, and therefore be more actively empathetic to asylum seekers and refugees of all descriptions. You’d think that, wouldn’t you.

 

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Anger

I should be out jogging right now – I’m even dressed for it – but no, here I sit, eating chocolate, drinking tea and blogging…which I haven’t done in quite awhile. The blogging, I mean.

I find it an interesting thing, the blogging thing. I have bursts of energy and routine where I blog every week. And then nothing comes to mind or I become embedded in other things and can’t extract myself long enough to think to the end of the next sentence. Until something happens and then – here I am.

So, apart from having an all but complete stranger comment on one of my posts and worrying what he might think of my slackness re blogging, I’ve also just read a book that has made me a bit angry. Well, actually, if I’m being truthful, it made me very angry. I don’t like reading books that make me angry – unless the anger is connected to something about me (lack of knowledge, ignorance, assumptions etc) that I can think through and change after having read the anger-inducing book. Challenging and questioning books are terrific – in the end.

But this book, The End of Everything by Megan Abbott, left me decidely uneasy and angry. The book is out in Australia next month and I read it because I reviewed it for the Readings Monthly. The story is of Evie, a missing 13 year old girl and is told by Lizzie, her best friend and next door neighbour. It will be sold as The Virgin Suicides meets The Lovely Bones and Abbott is certainly canvassing the same world of teenage sexuality, sexual vulnerability and paedophilia that those books worked into bestsellers. 

The thing about Abbott’s book I didn’t like is that at the end of the novel I was left with an unease and a sense of distaste that I don’t often acquire from fiction. Perhaps I just don’t choose to read those crime novels that always centre on females being routinely sexually abused, and you may think that that cuts out most of the literary, and non-literary, crime books in the market but I don’t find it does.

For me, its about the authorial voice and where the author makes me look and what I am told to see while I am looking, that makes a successful book. So, with crime novels, I need to know I am in safe hands if I am going to be forced to look at random acts of violence against women, or in the case of The End of Everything, against children. This is why so many crime novels have a police person in charge – an authority, even flawed – provides a perspective on or access to the story being told that feels safe for the reader.

And it isn’t that Lizzie in The End of Everything is an unreliable narrator in any way. It’s just that in the end, Abbott’s manipulative gaze, where she takes me as a reader, is to a place where all female/male relationships can be seen as potentially abusive, but in particular, where father/daughter relationships are inevitably latently sexualised. This is my unease. This is what Abbott leaves me with and I don’t think it’s enough to justify the writing of the book. In a potentially complex story of burgeoning sexuality, I don’t just want to be shown how a paedophile (or indeed the father) looks at 13 year old girls. I really don’t. And I don’t see the point in writing a book that only makes me see them in this way. I really don’t.

But, disappointingly, this genre sells. And sells truckloads. And it will probably be turned into a film as well. I think I have to go jogging now. Or finish the chocolate.  

 

 

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Foster Wallace, Anon and the End

I’ve just spent an hour or so on Twitter and I realised that what I love about this tool, this wise-cracking, mind-expanding, consciousness-raising, pleasure-loving ‘tool’, is that I can follow threads of information, mere snippy snippets of compressed web-links into the depths of knowledge and opinion. This morning, for instance, I followed a link to this emotionally raw and unmediated review (of sorts) of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King which has just been released. Foster Wallace hung himself in 2008 after battling depression. I’ve picked up Infinite Jest but have never made it through, so I can’t really say I’m a fan. Except something he said a few years ago made me sit up and pay attention. It was a line about being a Gen Xer and went something like ‘We are highly educated, highly successful and adrift’. It really struck a chord and I have often picked up his writing, his shorter essays and stories, since – one day I will work through it all.

But Anonymous’ review, which you must all read, has taken me down all sorts of highways (and dull, grotty back lanes) of thought, primarily because Anonymous writes so revealingly about suicide. He* puts the case for death not being an end. Despite death physically stopping us living, he says:

‘that the end is not the point’

and that we (the reader) must: 

‘forgive us our trips to the rafters, and don’t reduce us to that moment’.

Anon is referring to writers, specifically Foster Wallace and himself, when he writes ‘us’ but I think it could speak louder and wider than that. This forgiveness he asks for, speaks of a compassion and heartache for those who find no other alternative than to take their own lives, writers or not. And it implies the recognition that each one of us has a bigger ‘life’ than the physical body we walk around in. We have friends or colleagues or we have written or we think, or we have helped an old lady across the road. Kindnesses and conversations and moments that live on in memory or in hard copy despite our passing.

Near the end, Anon states:

‘The end is just an arbitrary point where we stop telling this one story.’

Here, he is referring to Foster Wallace’s habit of not making obvious or neat endings for the reader but he is also referring to suicide. And to our own eventual deaths. Lying in bed this morning, scrolling through the Twitterverse with my finger, Anonymous made me pause and think about all of this and to question again my ready answers and ‘made-up’ mind about a myriad of things. He made think about compassion in this complex and conflicted world where there is no arbitrary stop button. The story just keeps rolling on. And he also made me think about my place within this world, my power within it, small as that may be, and to remember to keep perspective not matter what. To maintain that knowledge of how lucky and fortunate I am, in thousands upon thousands of ways. And Anonymous pulled this breathtaking quote from The Pale King:

‘It’s all inside me, but to you it’s just words.’

I’m going to give Infinite Jest a go. And then I’ll aim for The Pale King.


*I am fairly sure Anonymous is a he.

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Portia, Patti and Proulx

I’ve been reading some memoir, partly because I think I should read more of them than I do, and partly because these three, Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi, Just Kids by Patti Smith and Bird Cloud: A  Memoir by Annie Proulx appealed.

De Rossi’s account of her battle with anorexia and her eventual coming out as a lesbian (and how the two issues were irrevocably entwined) is a compelling, first person narrative that is, pitch perfect and well written. Almost a page turner on obsession and denial, the book works as a warning to young women who fixate on weight as identity and life-purpose, and in extraordinary tell-all detail, de Rossi reveals her lowest lows and all the accumulative events along the way. We also get an inside look into what the Ally McBeal television show was like to work on (a grim and weight-obsessed place) and the curtain is lifted, to an extent, on how young actresses, seeking careers in Hollywood, are shaped into the ‘right’ dress size for auditions, fittings and characters. De Rossi is also funny and self-deprecating and she knows exactly what she is writing: a self-help, tell-all, not-quite-misery-memoir about confidence, self-belief, responsibility and honesty (and maybe mothers). Unbearable Lightness is a great read and should be widely foisted onto teenagers, as it is, after all, a ‘coming of age’ story. And, it helps that we know Portia winds up blissfully married to uber-celesbian, Ellen DeGeneres, because we know from the get-go that we are in safe hands – Portia found her fairytale, and maybe we can too!

Just Kids by Patti Smith is another type of memoir entirely. Smith purposely set out to document her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe who she met in 1969 in New York, and so, even though the rythmn and rhyme and description and point of view are singularly Smith’s, the story has Mapplethorpe, squarely centre frame. But, having said that, we find out a great deal about Smith, the young wide-eyed and hopeful Smith primarily, along the way. We also have a great slew of secondary characters from Jimi Hendrix to Sam Shepard, William Burroughs, Janis Joplin, Rimbaud and Allen Ginsberg who waltz in and out of diners, doorways and dire apartments and hotel rooms. She refers to Mapplethorpe as ‘the artist for my life’ and the book is a fascinating telling of creativity, inspiration, friendship and perseverance and serves as a brilliant documentation of the late 60s and early 70s music and art scenes in New York. Smith’s love of poetry shines throughout and at the very least, the despair and anger of a young girl growing up in a small town transformed by Rimbaud’s words and images, is an incredible read. The book though, is much more than that, and for any creative soul, struggling or not with the shaping of ideas, there is much to be inspired by and celebrate between the pages. Just Kids won the National Book Prize for Non-Fiction in 2010.

Annie Proulx’s Bird Cloud: A Memoir is the most awkward and self-conscious of these three books. The book covers the buying of 640 acres in rugged Wyoming, her much-loved and written about state, then the design and the build of her dream home, hopefully her ‘final home’, and is presented as an edited diary of the time. Bird Cloud provides a rare insight into the desire for belonging, an almost tangible need to be linked in with the history of a place that seems at once both desperate and quite precious, but it also reveals the prickliness of Proulx’s character, her irritations, her joys and her ridiculously encyclopedic knowledge of the birds, plants and animals that grow and live on her property. Between some beautiful description and language, ‘Walking on the land or digging in the fine soil I am intensely aware that time quivers slightly’, the pace slows and unless you are a die-hard Proulx fan, you might end the book slightly disappointed.

All three writers set out with different aims, scope and reasons for writing but they have all written memoirs that possibly reveal more of them than any of them thought they would. We see the writers as artists, as people living large and pushing through boundaries and also as intimate observers of the societies they live in.  Perhaps this lifting, this resonance, is the marker of a good memoir, of good writing in general, the ability to not only reveal yourself on the page but to lift the writing until it resonates to a wider audience. I have a quote pinned to my wall, I don’t know who said it, that I read whenever I’m struggling with writing the real: ‘The best self-portraits reveal a depth of self-knowledge which speaks of a wider grasp of human nature’. I like it. It’s kind of saying the ‘A life unexamined, is a life not lived’ thing or as I have re-worked that line: ‘a life written, without full self-knowledge, is not writing at all.’

And for Patti Smith fans, I have come across this great website www.thisrecording.com which, apart from having video of a short interview and one of those iconic Smith performance’s of Horses on it, also has a superb article by Ann Freidman all about ‘Girl Geniuses’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Teaching of Amy Hempel

I’ve started teaching this semester at RMIT in the Creative Writing program and apart from it being fun (discussion is always fun) and scary (all those eager faces expecting to hear new things) and a little bit weird (who am I to say anything about writing really), it has also made me think harder about writing again. Specifically, it’s made me think about my writing and my influences.

It also means I get to introduce these eager writers to other writers they have never heard of, such as the delightfully specific and observant Amy Hempel.

Hempel is a short story writer and well-known for it in America. She teaches at a number of New York colleges and universities and her latest collection of short stories, The Dog of the Marriage is a stand out collection of wry, compassionate observations of characters, ‘Hempel people’ as I call them, doing ordinary things in the most ordinary of ways.

My particular favourite story is:

Memoir

‘Just once in my life – oh, when have I ever wanted anything just once in my life?’

Isn’t that great? One sentence and as a reader you know so much about what that person wants, wanted, feels disappointed by. It is a perfect creation. As Rick Moody, in his beautiful introduction to the collection says:

‘It’s all about the sentences. It’s about the way the sentences move in the paragraphs. It’s about rhythm. It’s about ambiguity. It’s about the way emotion, in difficult circumstances, gets captured in language…It’s about survival. It’s about the sentences used to enact and defend survival.’

I particularly love that: ‘…the sentences used to enact and defend survival.’ And it’s a terrific way of looking at Hempel’s work but also extends the idea that Mark Tredinnick in his The Little Red Writing Book uses:

‘…to write is to make sentences, and out of them to make a story or an argument, a business case or a poem.’

If I’m going to get from here to there – I’m going to need a sentence. So, it may as well be a good one.

 

 

 

 

 

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