Tag Archives: Fiction

Growing People, Plants & Novels

A grainy picture of flowersDear Blogosphere,

It’s been far too long. I won’t regale you with tails of woe and excuses as to why I haven’t written for the better part of a year. Let’s just put it down to the following, logical, equation:

Family + IVF + Pregnancy + Work + Uni + NaNoWriMo + Maintaining Sanity = Something’s Gotta Give.

You, my dear bloggy space, were de-prioritised.

But, let’s not dwell. Let’s move into a new season – one that will hopefully include more blog posts, but will DEFINITELY include: NaNoWriMo, a feat I am loving; Stephen King novels; Christmas; births and birthdays! Lots of wonderful happenings to enjoy!

Whilst I’ve been growing a person, eating my weight in dry biscuits and writing essays, I have managed to read a few books. I finally finished Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 – an interesting story, though if it weren’t for the sheer size of the thing, I’m not sure I would have hung in there. That doesn’t sound right, I know, but once you’ve committed so many hours of your life, there doesn’t seem to be an Exit Stage Left anymore. The only way out is through. In this case, it was worth it for the simple fact that the world Murakami paints is interesting and I enjoy his quirky writing, though the story wouldn’t make my top 10 and I’m pretty sure I’m disappointed in the ending (though I’m still percolating on that). I’d be interested to hear what anyone thinks of 1Q84?

I’ve also passed the time with some great authors who weave a good yarn. Tom Clancy (rest in peace), Patricia Cornwell and John Le Carre to name a few. I’ve been looking forward to getting into SK’s Joyland and Dr. Sleep, but have been savouring those until I can really sit down and enjoy them. Watch this Space.

You may recall a post in which I talk about my life-long desire to write. Well, I’ve taken the plunge and delved head first into NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I’ve never participated before, but am really excited to be giving it a bash. For some reason, I have this crazy notion that being forced to sit down and write 50,000 words in one month will somehow forge an innate connection to Stephen King. Haha, stalker much? “Cray cray” as the hipsters say? I’m heading down that track, I know, but it’s true! I have loved his books for so long and they have been such a huge part of my reading life, to be writing one of my own does feel like something of a tribute.

Finally, my world has consisted of some fairly intensive gardening. I once started a blog called “Sheco Blog” FYI it no longer exists, but was meant to document my escapades of seeking a more sustainable lifestyle. Well, Shecoblog or not, H and I have been foraging our way through this new terrain, slowly trying to figure out what it means to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle – and how to do it. It’s slow going, but lots of fun. I’d like to keep you posted on that stuff, it’s a big part of our lives.

Well, thanks dear readers. It’s so great to have the head space to blog again. I hope I can keep it up!

Shan

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Dear Virginia Woolf,

Virigina Woolf

 

Dear Virginia Woolf,

Greetings and salutations from the warm summer months of the year 2013. I am writing to discuss with you a rather personal matter – that of my 2012 Reading Goals, in which I did you a terrible disservice, dear Virginia.

Having been deceased these past 72 years, you are most likely unaware of
my resolution to read five of your works throughout the year of 2012. An honourable, realistic challenge, one would surmise. I had other reading goals, of course which I won’t discuss here, but am pleased to have achieved them – more or less .

As I reflect on my reading year gone by, I am filled with a sadness. And, something else, perhaps it is regret. You see, Virginia, my real failure, my greatest reading mistake was to leave my Woolf goal too late. I spent most of the year assuring myself that Time, devious as she is, was on my side. I was wrong, of course, as one often is in a head-to-head against Time. October appeared out of nowhere, tearing her way through my front door and into my life, underdressed, uninvited and without apology before I had read any of your novels.

All I could do was begin. I chose to read Mrs. Dalloway – and what a wonderful choice it was.

I had previously thought that streams-of-consciousness writing was not really my style, finding it a tad uncomfortable to read. However, the day of Clarissa Dalloway’s party was, what is the word? Entrancing. At times I was lost, wondering who or what was being described and how I’d arrived there. At other moments, I found myself swimming in the text, drinking in the way each word, considered with care and lyricism, knitted into narrative. I enjoyed drifting in and out of the minds of several characters, all preparing for the party at Clarissa’s house, all submerged in their own private worlds, with private thoughts and longings. It was a sadly-beautiful experience, if you understand what I mean. I was most confronted by the storyline of a man mid-battle for the remaining shreds of his sanity. In fact, I wonder how it came to be that you should have such an understanding of mental health issues? What had your experience of it been?

Dear Virginia, I found your writing excquisite, delicate yet robust, honest and unapologetic. I loved it, I adored it. But, it was not something I could so easily submerge myself in again so quickly.

I realised that to rush through another four of your novels would:
a/ probably not be possible given the late hour at which I had started my task; and
b/ would be disrespectful. Your novels require something, don’t they? Not just the usual sacrifice of time, laid willingly at the altar of Art by any lover of books. No, your writing requires an investment of another kind. Emotional safety, perhaps. You burrow deep, and deep you must burrow. Into the depths of humanity, into the soul, into what it means to exist and co-exist with others, relating, feeling, experiencing life in the shades granted by context and time.

So, given the above reasoning, I chose not to burl through four more Virginia Woolf works. Thus, I did not complete my reading goal and more importantly, I underestimated you, I underestimated what your writing would cost me – and what it was worth.

For that, I am deeply sorry.

I am so very grateful to have been acquainted with you through your writing, Virginia Woolf. I will read more of your works in future. I will not declare a number, nor will I vow to a timeline, but I need not do so – it’s not within my power to resist the gentle call of your prose. I look forward to where it will take me, and who I will encounter along the way.

Until our next meeting.

Your Reader,

Shan

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2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge

awwbadge_2013In 2012, I endeavoured to become more acquainted with Australian literature. This year, I have taken one step further and signed up for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2013.

Born from the outcry against the gender bias that sees male Australian authors more likely to be read and reviewed than female, the challenge was established to “support and promote books by Australian Women”. Fair play.

So, my challenge is this: I have entered in at the Stella stage. I will read four books  written by Australian women and will review three. 

This is a great challenge, as it will not only broaden my literary education, but will force me to stretch my reviewer legs, which is a challenge I could do with.

So, where will I find these elusive women writers, you ask? Good question. The AWW do have a couple of pages on writers from diverse backgrounds, such as Indigenous and Asian-Australian. As good a place to start as any, I reckon.

Anyone want to join me?

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Bookclub: Australian Literature

bookclub

The classic Australian story is a different kind of beast from your average novel. My limited exposure to Australian literature has shown me that sense of place and the lives of ordinary people far outweigh a strong plot. Would you agree?

This year one of my reading goals was to read more Australian lit, so I dabbled in the likes of Tim Winton, Ruth Park and Helen Garner.  A good start to Aussie literature, I reckon!

I’ll share my reflections on Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South, though some of my thoughts could probably be applied to my experience of Australian novels more broadly.

The cover of The Harp In The South, Ruth Park. Read by Kate Hood

Earlier this year I read The Harp in the South via audiobook. Have you read it? Published in 1948, The Harp in the South is the second within a trilogy that follows the Darcys, a Catholic-Irish Aussie family who live in Sydney’s suburban slums. If you can get your hands on the audio version read by Kate Hood, do it! She’s a fantastic narrator.

Here are some things that struck me about The Harp in the South:

  • The story is a snapshot of Australian history wrapped in fiction. By zooming in on one family and their daily lives in the slums, it tells a larger narative about post-war life in Australia.
  • It reminded me of Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. I imagine Ruth Park’s literature was a significant influence on Tim Winton and other Aussie authors.
  • The descriptions of characters and surrounding environment are vibrant, detailed and quite funny.
  • It felt like the whole world existed within the small hub that contained the Darcy’s life: school, pub, the prostitute-lined street, the market and the fish and chip shop.
  • The struggles each family member faced were raw and honest. From gambling and alcohol problems; finding love in a time where marriage was still a survival strategy; finding a sense of identity; facing illness and soul-scarring grief, all lathered with the Aussie-battler aversion to dwelling on the things you just can’t change.
  • The Harp in the South is beautiful, sometimes uncomfortable and definitely a must read.

So, dear Bookclubbers, what are your thoughts? Have you read any Ruth Park? Are there any particular Aussie novels you’d recommend? Any characters or authors that tickle your fancy? I’d love to hear your thoughts, just pop them in ‘Comments’ section below.

I look forward to chatting with you further in bookclub!

Cheers

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Five Kings

I could read my favourite Stephen King books over and over and over again until the end of time. So, one of my reading goals for 2012 was to read 5 Stephen King books I’ve never read before. I’m happy to say that this has been achieved! I read 5 new Kings, and man, it should become an annual policy.

Here’s what I read:

On Writing (1999)

Source: StephenKing.com

It’s great to read about your favourite author. I’ll admit, there were times when the approach of just plonk on paper any random memory in no order and call it a memoir was a tad irritating, but I  still enjoyed reading the bits and bobs that made SK the writer he is today.

The second half of the book that addresses the craft of writing was excellent. Definitely a great read if you are interested in Stephen King and / or the craft of writing.

Verdict – 6/10

Bag of Bones (1998)

Source: StephenKing.com

Bag Of Bones is a great modern gothic story. After the death of his wife, author Mike Noonan returns to their cabin on the lake, ‘Sara Laughs’ and finds himself in the midst of an extraordinary battle between the living, the dead, and one little girl he must protect. I really enjoyed the sensory aspect of this book, which may have been heightened because of the audiobook format. The gothic elements were a wonderful: location, wild weather, supernatural events, the sound of loons crying on the lake. In fact, that phrase ‘a loon cried on the lake’ is repeated so often during tense moments, that every time I heard it a little shiver ran down my back, keeping me on my toes throughout the story.

The novel contains all the makings of a good King: great characters, an interesting plot, a sprinkling of cool genre and literary devices, not to mention the irony of SK having written Bag Of Bones from the perspective of an author way below his calibre = an ‘I-can’t-put-this-down’ type book… my favourite kind. Yes, definately a good read.

7/10.

11.22.63 (2011)

Source: StephenKing.com

If you’ve read my post ‘11.22.63‘, you know I loved this book. Damn it was good. I’d love to read it again next year and see if the second time round is just as good!

8/10

Full Dark, No Stars (2010)

Source: StephenKing.com

Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of short stories that are more like character studies. And, well, they’re quite dark. Ultimately, each story explores the circumstancial and psychological factors that combine to make a ‘normal’ person decide to murder someone else. It was pretty heavy at times, particularly as it focussed on the darker shades of humanity rather than monsters lurking in the closet.

What is also interesting is the response I had as a reader – there were some scenarios in which I identified with the protagonist and was barracking for them as they went on their rampage of revenge. Other scenarios made me feel sick. I imagine this variety of responses evoked by the stories was intentional.

I have to add that there were a couple of moments where the writing felt a bit like fan fiction, but ultimately it was a good collection. I’m glad I read it.

I’d be interested to know what other people thought. 6/10.

Hearts in Atlantis (1999)

Source: StephenKing.com

Hearts in Atlantis is a collection of short stories that follow a loosely connected group of characters beginning in 1960. One character who gets a mention in all stories is Carol Gerber – though she’s never the main protagonist or narrator. I realised at the end that I’d learned more about the journey of Carol’s life then that of any of the others though she is peripheral through much of it. Clever. But Hearts in Atlantis is not primarily about Carol Gerber. The collection is compiled of a series of stories bookended with Bobby Garfield in 1960 as an 11 year old kid, and Bobby returning home in 1999 (incidentally, these stories are a nice little plug for the Dark Tower series). The Vietnam war plays a major role in the stories, as the protagonists continue to battle through life long after the war has ended.

Great read. 7/10

A word on time:  

So, here are the five Kings I read this year. One thing I noticed through all of them is how SK plays with time. ‘Bag of Bones’ deals with historical events that affect the protagonist’s past and present. ‘Hearts in Atlantis’ follows a timestream for a group of people loosely connected and how their lives spin off in different directions like a spinning top. ‘11.22.63’ explores the concept of time travel and changing history, even ‘On Writing’ plays with time in examining some of the building blocks of SK’s life.

What was my favourite new King you ask? The jewel on the King’s crown?

They were all interesting and captivating in their own ways. I really loved Bag of Bones, but 11.22.63 will have to be the number one King that I read this year, mainly for the emotional response I had to the book, it was such a great story.

What do you think?

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