Friday, May 10, 2013

Writing Websites

This is just a short post to collect some websites that I've found, they've been getting mouldy in my bookmarks so I thought I'd leave them to get mouldy here.

Here is a list of resources for budding writers in Melbourne. Shelly Thacker, an author I've never heard of, wrote some tips on writing a readable novel. And this is about standard manuscript format.

And while we're here, this blog is about feminism as a commodity market; here is one about the sweetie-jerk spectrum, and for some crafty stuff...

These bunnies are supes adorbs (I'll make them for next Easter); peruse these colourful crochet examples only if you want to squee out. In the theme of my latest craze, ripple teacosy and daylily teacosy.

Thanks for indulging me!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Anna Karenina (spoilers)

It's been weeks since I finished Anna Karenina and she's still hanging around in my head.
I have never read such a complex character, someone who can do terrible things and still elicit empathy.

I saw the film first, thinking it didn't matter because I was never going to read an 800-page tome with a Russian storyline (they have no plot, I'd heard). As soon as I got home from the cinema I found the book on Mum's bookshelf and dived in.

When I saw the film I thought, oh yeah, Kiera Knightley, let's see how she goes. I was surprised at the depth with which she played the character and impressed...

You know when you watch a film and then you read the book, and because you've already been given visual representations of the characters, you don't form your own mental images? When I started reading Anna Karenina I pictured her as Kiera Knightley, but it only lasted 20 pages. Tolstoy's description of Anna was so much richer than KK could ever act. I was immediately caught up in her world, her personality, her... everything. I saw that ineffable essence of her that makes people fall in love with her: Vronsky, Kitty (in a girl crush way), Levin (as far as he can) and random men to whom she gives her notice.

It is this ineffable quality of Anna's that makes her downfall all the more heartbreaking. It's not like she's some random "bad woman" as people characterise her. She is a woman who feels much and invokes much feeling in people. She is madly in love with two males, her lover and her son, and she cannot have them both. Anna choosing her lover means forgoing the whole rest of the world, and no-one can live only in the company of their lover, not forever. Neither can she hold him entrapped with solely her feminine charm. Jealousy floods her brain and drowns her sanity.

I am too passionate about this book to write as lucidly as I want; it affected me too deeply. Even weeks later I cannot string a coherent thread together. But I have two more things to write about it.

In the film, there is this great scene where Anna wants to go out. She is half-dressed. It took me a long time to realise that what she is wearing is her undergarments, a corset and a hooped petticoat that flounces around impotently. She runs around her apartment like a trapped animal, throwing wild accusations at Vronsky and growing less and less coherent as her restiveness grows. This seemed to me like a strong visual symbol of her wanting to be in society. She is dressed in the trappings of what is supposed to make her look stylish, but her hooped petticoat is transparent. Whenever she goes out, even though she's fully dressed up in a fashionable, expensive outfit, everyone can see straight through her as if she is only in her underthings.

In the book, at the end I cried pretty much from when she leaves to go to the train to when she dies, because I knew it was coming. In the middle of this perfectly penned emotionally heavy chapter, when she going through the city thinking horrible run-on thoughts, she breaks in her inner monologue to notice that some young women have taken a double take to notice her beautiful, well put together ensemble. She thinks something along the lines of, "Yes, they think I'm very stylish." And it is important to her, even as she's thinking of suicide, that men and women alike admire her and are wowed by her.

I probably haven't done a good job of representing Anna Karenina*, of trying to convince you that she's not just a "bad woman".

Anna Karenina got under my skin. And I can't shake her loose.

*I certainly haven't well represented Anna Karenina; I haven't even got started on Levin and Kitty, or Oblonsky and Dolly, or the narrative voice style, or any of the other interesting things in this book.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Less Than Five Hours

"Are you okay?" Darcy asked me, grabbing my arm.
"Yeah, I'm just a bit dizzy, I guess. I think I stood up too quickly."
"Take care of yourself," he said gently.
"What are you even doing here?"
Before he had a chance to respond the doorbell rang and I jumped. "Oh my God, who could that be?"
My first thought was that it would be Bing, but then I remembered that he is in New York. With Jane. Who he would be here to see.
Then I heard Charlotte's voice and realised it was the Chinese food. Of course. That would be an expected arrival at the front door. But these days I've come to expect the unexpected, not the normal.
"What are you doing here?" I asked Darcy. It came out a little harsher than I intended, but I couldn't think of any way to soften it, so I just let my words hang in the air.
"I got your message..."
"And you didn't reply!"
"No, I just, well, I just wanted to see you. Your last few videos have allowed me to hope as I had scarcely allowed myself to hope before."
"Why are you talking like you're from the 19th Century? You sound like you're getting your lines from one of my undergraduate texts."
"I'm trying to tell you something..."
"Well stop talking and put your face on mine, William Darcy."
"Eh, okay."


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Book Recommendations!

I keep hearing about books that I want to read, and I've decided to collate them virtually. Other writers on this blog should feel free to add to it:


Raw Blue -- Kirsty Eagar

Ask the Passengers -- A. S. King

Just One Day -- Gayle Foreman

Code Name Verity -- Elizabeth Wein

Beneath a Meth Moon -- Jacqueline Woodsen

Eleanor and Park -- Rainbow Powell

The Spectacular Now -- Tim Tharp

Peeps -- Scott Westerfeld

The Boyfriend List -- Emily Lockhart


Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future -- Bill McKibben

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

I read A Christmas Carol as a part of my bookclub reading list, even though I didn't actually end up going that particular week. We had decided to read it because not only does it show up in a lot of pop culture (Doctor who!) but one member had heard that week that it was a good Dickens to start with.

Being short I was keen (you would think by now I would have learnt about short books) and wanted to be able to say "I've read some Dickens" whether or not "A Christmas Carol" was *actually* on the list.

I did not like this book. I suspect that was because I was very familiar with the concept. When I was a kid one year we went to the Myer windows and the story was A Christmas Carol (check year?) and while I never really watched any donald duck-type cartoons I knew about "scrooge mcduck" and him diving into his monies.

Knowing the plotline of a book is not necessarily a dealbreaker (I still enjoyed A Picture of Dorian Grey) but I found myself eager to get on with it: "okay okay, next ghost, let's get a move on".
Perhaps because I knew what the ending would be, or perhaps it is a kids book - is it a kids book? - I found the story too simplistic. Dude gets visited by 3 ghosts and then loves Christmas.
Aaaaaand perhaps it is a little because I am not actually the biggest fan of Christmas in the world. I misliked the overarching theme of "you must like christmas and be agreeable because: CHRISTMAS"

There were definitely flaws with the way that Scrooge was living, and people need to be loving and caring ALL year around, not just at christmas.
I just didn't think that the arguments the ghosts made really would have convinced someone so set in his ways as scrooge.

That being said, there were times when I really appreciated the writing. Despite me not being a big fan of the book, I think that perhaps my fellow bookclubber was correct, it was a good entry-Dickens. What it did do was make me interested to read a story of his in which I am less familiar with the plotlines so that I can appreciate
both story and writing. Provided it is, in fact, a good story!


Monday, November 5, 2012

The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man - H.G. Wells
Edited to add a plot synopsis at Emmeline's request:
The Invisible Man is about a bloke who works out how to turn himself invisible but can't undo the effect. The story is about his efforts to fix the issue and how he manages to operate in a world in which one really has to be visible to be interacted with. [/edit]

Having previously watched Warehouse 13 on Syfy [very minor season 2 spoiler] the authorship of The Invisible Man was confusing to me because in Warehouse 13 H.G. Wells is brought back to life* and to almost everyone's surprise is actually a woman, Helena, who goes by 'HG' and used her brother as a cover but was actually the ideas powerhouse. From my brief research (yes, I just glanced over the wikipage), Wells does not appear to have been a woman, but having watched HG run around with Agents Bering and Latimer she was very much ingrained in my head as a woman.

I do believe that you read a book differently if the author is a woman or a man**. So I was doing this weird thing whereby the lens through which I read the book kept switching back and forth between female and male authorship.
Even though I knew the author was a man.

I didn't like the main character, the invisible man. And I don't believe he is supposed to be sympathetic, given that for most of the book we follow the story through the eyes of those around him; Mrs Hall, Mr Marvel and Kemp.
The invisible man was nasty and rude and as the story progresses one imagines that he has always been so, it isn't just as a result of his invisibility.
Later in the book they describe the man that was as having been an albino but the whole way I imagined him as black or very dark-featured because early on someone pointed out he had black legs.

"I seed through the tear of his trousers and the tear of his glove. You'd have expected a sort of pinky to show, wouldn't you? Well—there wasn't none. Just blackness. I tell you, he's as black as my hat."..."That marn's a piebald, Teddy. Black here and white there—in patches."

Even though I knew the reason his leg was 'black' was because what the man was seeing through the tear was, infact, the dark inside of an empty trouser leg.

This book was fairly unpleasant as none of the characters were particularly sympathetic. I was unable to connect with Mrs Hall; with Marvel I merely feared for his life (see below for reasons why); and whilst I liked Kemp he (and everyone) was hardly around long enough to get to know him.
The reason I feared for Marvel's life was because the way I read the back of the book was: Invisible man kills a man and goes to a friend for help. So I was waiting for him to kill someone in a rage or accidentally, which never seemed to happen.


Perhaps I misread and they were talking about when the Invisible Man is accidentally killed. But I spend the whole book on tenterhooks.


On the whole this book was not bad. As I say, the characters were not overly likeable but it moved quickly and was over soon. I wouldn't say that this is something everyone should read, but if you want to be able to say you've read some H.G.Wells you might want to go with this. From Warehouse 13 I was led to believe that Wells wrote about all sorts of fantastical inventions, so I was a bit disappointed in the lack thereof.


* In my handwritten notes (written about 6 months ago) I put an asterix here, but didn't put a corresponding thought anywhere on the page... so now I'm not sure why!
** For example, when I first read Harry Potter I believed that 'J.K.' was a man. I believe I was intentionally misled. Would Harry Potter have been as famous if, from the outset, the books were by 'Joanne Rowling'?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

All the Sneaky Ones Part 7: Embassytown

“I’ve got this book I want you to read,” a friend said to me during a femography meet. “I think you’d be really into it. It’s about language, and… stuff. It’s science fiction. But it’s really interesting.”
So after the meet, we went to her house and got the book. We ended up hanging out most of the afternoon. I was thrilled, because I’d known her for ages and wanted to be good friends with her but never made that leap.
Giving someone a book because it made you think of them, out of the blue, is a pretty special friendship indicator, I think. I felt honoured. So I put the book on my bedside table and after reading three pages from it that night I didn’t touch it for months.
To be fair, occasionally I would read a paragraph from it, before I put it down again. There were always at least three books piled on top of poor Embassytown. The book starts in the middle of a party the reader has no context for, in a world that is not explained, and characters that simply appear without introduction. I desperately wanted to read the book, and find out what it was that made my friend think of me. And, you know, I wanted to enjoy the book as well. But it was tough-going.
Finally, when I was moving to Arnhem Land with only 15 kilos of baggage allowance, I had the impetus to actually read the book. I took it as the only fiction book, so I would be forced to read it. Even so, it took me two and a half months to finish it.
Until around page 50, where there was a massive revelation, I still didn’t understand the story. After that the revelations came in waves as the story picked up pace and the stakes were raised, incrementally but significantly.
I can understand why my friend didn’t tell me too much about the novel. I also don’t want to give much away because it was so hard to earn the revelations and yet so worth it when I did, so I don’t want to take the potential pleasure from you.
This makes it hard to review the book. So I’m going to give you a SPOILER WARNING.
Embassytown, the place that provides the title, is a colony town on the outskirts of a wide-ranging country, comparable to Great Britain, except on a galaxy sort of scale. The story revolves around human (or as they call them, “terre”) relations with the indigenous creatures of the land Embassytown is based in, who are called Hosts, or Ariekei. (As I’m living in Arnhem Land and interacting with Indigenous people encountering colonialism on a daily basis, this was pretty interesting to me.)
Individual Terre can’t communicate with the Hosts because they speak with two voices and they only say what is truth.
Their language is organised noise, like all of ours are, but for them each word is a funnel. Where to us each word means something, to the Hosts, each is an opening. A door, through which the thought of that referent, the thought itself that reached for that word, can be seen. (62)
If I [record] a word in Language, and play it to an Ariekes, I understand it, but to them it means nothing, because it’s only sound, and that’s not where the meaning lives. It needs a mind behind it. (62-63)
Through this interesting premise, Melville is able to explore the idea of truth and fiction. Arieke, the indigenous people, are not able to lie, because to lie would be akin to believing something that you didn’t think was true. It’s a paradox. They can use simile but not metaphor. They say “I am like the girl who ate what was given to her” but not “I am the girl who ate what was given to her”.
Something that comes across is that sometimes you have to “lie”, that is say something that is not factually correct, in order to tell a deeper truth. Whenever we talk about big concepts, we stray from straight fact and reach for metaphor. For an example of this, I use an excerpt from the recently reviewed Julie and Julia:
I believe that calves’ liver is the single sexiest food that there is… The reason people despise liver is that to eat it you must submit to it – just like you must submit to a really stratospheric fuck. Remember when you were nineteen and you went at it like it was a sporting event? Well, liver is the opposite of that. With liver you’ve got to will yourself to slow down. You’ve got to give yourself over to everything that’s a little repulsive, a little scary, a little too much about it. When you buy it from the butcher, when you cook it in a pan, when you eat it, slowly, you ever can get away from the feral fleshiness of it. Liver forces you to access taste buds you didn’t know you had, and it’s hard to open yourself to it.
I think this speaks for itself. (Someone will probably argue this is a simile but I think it blurs the line).
The truth in lies idea also reminded me of a line from this video, by John Green: “Nostalgia is inevitably a yearning for a past that never existed, and when I'm writing, there are no bees to sting me out of my sentimentality. For me at least, fiction is the only way I can even begin to twist my lying memories into something true.”
John Green says it better than I can, but what he’s saying is what fiction is like. Fiction is telling a story that didn’t happen in order to convey truth.
The other most interesting part of the story comes right at the end, so if you’ve coped with the spoilers so far but you don’t want the end of the story ruined, BACK OUT NOW BIG SPOILER COME BACK WHEN YOU’VE READ IT (Highlight to read).
At the end of the book the Arieke have to learn to “lie” in order to save their lives and their world. They have to recognise that terre are sentient beings who can communicate. They have to split the signifier and the signified: “What they spoke now weren’t things or moments anymore but the thoughts of them, pointings-at; meaning no longer a flat facet of essence; signs ripped from what they signed” (365).
This is an incredibly painful process. They are essentially destroying their mind and their worldview and rebuilding it. “No wonder it made them sick. They were like new vampires, retaining memories while they sloughed off lives. They’d never be cured. They went quiet one by one, and not because their crisis ended. They were in a new world. It was the world we live in” (366).
This reminds me of my daily life. People I see every day still remember a time when there were no settlers, when colonialism did not touch them, at least not directly. The process of colonisation is ongoing, and it is sometimes painful. Reading this description of the Hosts’ minds being destroyed and remade instantly made me think of people here trying to adapt to a balanda (white person) way of life. I don’t think it’s impossible to live in both cultures and be considered a success according to both world-views, but it is very difficult. I think the destroying and remaking of the mind is a very powerful… wait for it…