Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Blog Her Award - Shoes, Stones and Triumph

Thanks very much, Rachel Fenton, for presenting me with this blog award ! Some of you will remember that I met up with Short Fiction prizewinner Rachel Fenton in Soho last November for a brilliant Wagamama lunch where we both motor-mouthed for hours. Oh and we also read our stories at the Short Fiction launch at the Plymouth Book Festival. A great time was had. Thanks Rachel!
- Where do you usually write/create?
In my music room/library downstairs which is full of bookshelves and African sculptures and a big gilded mirror and a black piano. It’s my favourite place and I don’t even like people coming in here.

- Describe your ideal writing/making day.
I drop off my son at the bus stop at 6.30am and make a big cup of green tea and shut myself off to the world. I’ll stay there as long as I can.

- What are you really enjoying working on at the moment?
I’m halfway through my second short story collection and things are heating up! I love writing stories, for me it’s a druggie thing. I need to do it. I’ve just had my first piece from the new collection accepted by a review so I’m pushing ahead.

- What, if anything, stops you from writing?
People, family, worry, work, bills to pay. Just like everybody. Sometimes the house is a tip and I really have to wade my way through, or the fridge has been empty for a week. Or I need to recharge and I run away to the Dolomites for a ski or to Venice for a rainy walk.
Blogging is time-consuming but must be done. Also book promotion falls into my hands. A writer's work is never done..

- If you could choose a writer to be your mentor (share work with, chat about the process) who would it be? 
Gosh. George Saunders. I think he would be a great teacher. Or Nam Le. Sarah Hall. Cate Kennedy. I’d probably be too daunted to say a word though.

- Do you believe in writer's block? If you get it, how do you overcome it?
Somebody once told me a story was a wheel or a merry-go-around and you just have to hop on at the right place. I think this is true for me. Sometimes I have to wait to think up the right place to begin. It can be a waiting game. But I just go away or do something else, or work on a list of other themes for stories. Beginnings are so important.

- Tell us a good thing that happened to you today.
A lovely man sent me a beautiful song.

- What's the first thing you do in the morning?
 Like everybody, I check my email. Then I let the dogs out.

- What's your most listened to song?
Mmmm. Overall, it might be ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ but Isaac Hayes or ‘All Along the Watchtower’ by Jimi Hendrix. Lately I’ve been listening to Patti Smith’s Horses in the car to empty my head. I’ve also been listening to Haydn’s piano Sonata no. 53 because I am studying it.

- Who would play you in the movie of your life? 
Isabelle Huppert. She is my queen!

- What would the title of your autobiography be?
I haven’t a clue. This needs some thought.

Apparently I have to pass this on, and the five nominees I've chosen are:

Sylvia Petter - Merc's World
Alison Lock 
Jane Telford – Indulge Divulge
Downith –Write it downith
Lisa Chiodo - Renovating Italy
Ingrid Christensen dreamlifeofmine

Nominees - if you choose to accept the award, here's what you need to do:

    Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.

    Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)

    Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.( I only wrote six.)

    Provide 11 random facts about yourself. (Again, I only wrote six. I don't want to bore you!)

    Nominate 5 – 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 1000 followers. (Note that you can always ask the blog owner this since not all blogs display a widget that lets the readers know this information!)

    Create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.

    List these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then have to:

    Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!)

These are my answers to Rachel Fenton’s questions and my random facts/new questions follow below:
Who or what motivates you? 
Words, a deep love of words
If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you do?
A gardener. A set designer. A pianist.
You’re on a desert island, what have you taken with you?
A man! A big hat and lots of sun cream.
Describe in one sentence your work area.
My office is my nest, my warren, my theatre, my angst, my (shaky) triumph.
What are the barriers to your creativity?
Money. Time.
What’s your definition of success?
Good reviews. Okay sales. A lasting connection with others of this crazy writing tribe.


Here are six lightweight random facts about this skinny writer.
1. I live in the middle of vineyards.
2. I once fell in love with a man because of one word he said. 
3. I love to dance.
4. My first published story was called 'Elton John's Mother'
5. My shoe collection is sublime.
6. I collect stones from Corsica.

And here are my six (slightly more serious) questions for the next set of Liebster nominees:

*Do you think blogging helps or hinders your writing/creative efforts?

*Do you ever regret choosing to write?

*What had been your biggest creative triumph so far?

*Your biggest disappointment?

*Are you working hard enough?

*Who do you share you work with?

Hop to it!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

When I grow up I'm gonna be a cowgirl

I know it's a leopard
What did you want to be when you were an impressionable innocent young thing? A lion tamer like me? Impressionable and Wild Kingdom-lovin' young Cat decided she wanted to be nothing less than a lion tamer after going to see the Moscow Circus somewhere in central Sydney in the 70s. Why that idea flew into her head and blossomed, I'll never know. I think she watched Wild Kingdom too much, which if anyone remembers had an old dude talking about lions and so forth in Africa. Having lived on the continente for quite a few years and even having gone on a safari in Kenya where we saw nothing but Karen Blixen's house, I now realise that there was not a single African person in that television show. I don't remember park rangers. I don't remember villagers. Trips to collect water. Shanty towns. I don't remember Africa being portrayed as anything but a great big lion park, where I wanted to go to buddy up with lions.

Anybody remember Born Free? Elsa and her cubs? The Adamsons in Kenya?
Born free, as free as the wind blows
As free as the grass grows
Born free to follow your heart..
Later I learnt that both Joy and George were both murdered by locals in different circumstances and Elsa died of a tick bite(!)

Despite my love for lions I never had a cat and instead had a crazy cocker spaniel who for some reason made me want to become a vet. This desire dwindled when the hot Australian summers aggravated poor Cindy's (yes I watched the Brady Brunch) continuous ear infections, which meant endless cleaning out of poor Cindy's floppy painful ears. End of veterinary career.

And then? It becomes even more silly. After reading the entire set of Trixie Belden mysteries, over two dozen Agatha Christie books, Seven Little Australians, Charlotte's Web and various other little girl books, I decided that I, too, wanted to write. I remember I even began producing a book at twelve - it was a convict story! I think I was as interested in the drawings and cover and layout as I was in the story itself. And I do believe there was a whiff of sex suggested somewhere. The earliest blogger out there, with a twist.

Marguerite Duras, L'Amant, India Song
During university this desire really kicked in and I remember declaring that I was going to Paris to write books. I had pored over Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Duras, Jean-Paul Sartre, a bit of Hemingway and Henry Miller and Anais Nin, and I wasn't going to miss out. Sometimes I think of Paris not as a city but as a home. Enclosed, curtained, sheltered, intimate. The sound of rain outside the window, the spirit and the body turned towards intimacy, to friendships and loves. One more enclosed and intimate day of friendship and love, an alcove. Paris intimate like a room. Everything designed for intimacy. Five to seven was the magic hour of the lovers’ rendezvous. (Anais Nin, Diaries Vol 3, 1939-44)

I even remember my first story written in my au pair's garret, 'The Camel Hoop Earrings'. Never published. Better that way.

So lion tamer or writer? I also had a stretch of studying graphic design, languages and history, and wrote freelance newspaper articles for a Sydney newspaper, but my heart was in the novel. The short story. Katherine Mansfield. Christina Stead. Patrick White. Stendhal. Tolstoy. Turgenev... Man, the girl was thinking big.

I've stuck to my (much smaller) guns and - foolishly! - am still doing it. But I swear there are many days when I wish I would throw my writing aspirations out the window, along with the computer. And I think I should have been something more simpler, more remunerative, less soul-bashing. A dental nurse who leans over and smiles and has facial piercings and black dyed hair and lots of tattoos. A back-up singer with big frizzy hair who has all the moves and a gravelly voice. Why me? Why do I have to be a writer? How pretentious is that?

And what of you? Have you realised your childish dreams? And what about your kids? Have you had any wild ideas appear in the house? What would you say if you child wanted to be a cowgirl? An opera singer? A ski instructor? A writer???

*  *  *  *
It's - ho-hum! - Valentine's Day, I've heard. As a BIG TREAT The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy is a Kindle Countdown Deal for the next few days.
10-12th Feb 99p on Amazon.co.uk & $0.99 on Amazon.com
13-16th Feb £1.99 on Amazon.co.uk & $3.99 on Amazon.com
(offer ends 8am 16th Feb GMT)

A gift copy for your divorced cousin/sister-in-law/BFF/mother/daughter who needs an Italian escape hatch??

Friday, 7 February 2014

How did I get here? (This is not my beautiful wife)

Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso

I've always been attracted to the author in exile. The 'other' or outsider. Gertrude Stein in Paris, James Joyce in Trieste, David Malouf in Italy. I've always thought that from far away, you can write closer to the essence. Your sense of place will be crystalline because it will not suffer gusts of unrefined normality, your dialogue will not be tampered with by things you overhear, your mission will be clarified and seamless from the outset.

Oh, really ?

Yeah. But what happens when you move country seven times in nineteen years? When each home is a part of you, and a part of you is dissolved in another culture each time. Sure, there is home. There is infancy and childhood and language and the wonderful cradle of family, but when you spend most of your adulthood in another mindset and language your grasp on your original writing material gradually slides. You realise there are disconnected decades where you don't know what was happening in your birth country - what bands were big, who was Prime Minister, which authors were must-read. You knew more about Mitterand than Paul Keating. You knew more about Siad Barre and Jerry Rawlings than John Howard. These days, you know more about Silvio Berlusconi than Tony Abbott.

You've spent years adapting, learning languages, getting the twang out of your accent, being misunderstood... eventually not giving a stuff and dressing like a chic hippie anyway. You accept that you will always be an outsider. Probably that is what you felt in the first place, and are now putting it into practice, living it through and through. Year after year, getting on with it.

In fact, you are so far down the exile road (I hate the word expat, makes me think of fetes and bazaars), that you don't know where to point your telescopic lens and train your exacting vision. Where is home? Where was home? What on earth do I talk about? How did I get here?

You can't write about Australia (although you set short stories there when they come), because it feels a like you are pretending a bit. You can't write about Somalia because the place has overturned since you were living there and it is so dreadfully far from the city you used to walk through with a friend at night. You've written stuff set in Brussels, and Berlin, because stories came into your head from there. But there's a limit to the amount of stuff you can write set in Ghana because you are no longer living there and, well, there are plenty of Ghanaian writers who can take care of that.

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy was the book I wrote when I put aside another novel (set in Ghana!). I never felt equipped to write anything set in Italy, and in this book the main character is also an outsider. In Pelt and Other Stories I tackled much more challenging subject matter and put myself into the hearts of a diverse set of characters, hoping that I could pull it off. Gay blokes from Sydney, a pregnant Ghanaian mistress, a medical student in Brussels... I worried that strings and pulleys might have been visible sometimes, or that I had drifted into places that were over my head.

It is so hard to let go, assume the role, trust your material, scatter doubts, pull through to the end of the story. I'm working on it. Sometimes I feel I will forever be borrowing sets or places, peopling them with dingbats who come into my head, but then I remember the striking words of the great writer Patrick White, who said he always felt like a magpie, snatching up glints here and there, stashing away material. A thief like me (I wish).

This week I am reading Flannery O'Connor whose material is steeped with local characters and sizzling colloquial talk. Apart from pure envy at her language, characters and endings, I wish I had the right to use straight-talkin' vocab like this: 'See theter notice,' Enoch said in a church whisper..He's done murdered somebody, Enoch thought.. (from 'The Heart of the Park, Complete Stories)

But I can't. I'm not Flannery O'Connor and I don't live in the Deep South in the 1950s. I'm a chic wandering hippie with a writing fixation who is going to have to find her own way to knit together truths and words and places, who probably wanted it this way in the first place.

In fact, I know how I got here.

Take it away David.

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself
Well - How did I get here?

(Once in a Lifetime, Talking Heads)