Monday, 25 March 2013

Who Writes this Drivel? On Universal Appeal and Internet Trolls

Do you remember essay questions in English at high school?

'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.  .. What is the universal appeal in this novel?'

Do you remember doing back flips in rationale trying to explain the universal merits of Jane Austin or Samuel Beckett or William Shakespeare, to your weary English teacher? Do you remember trying to peel back the layers trying to find the nugget of the
work, trying to reconcile characters and context with the author's higher purpose? Do you remember connecting or disconnecting with a novel, trying to understand the writer's purpose, appreciate his or her efforts, and forming your own opinion?

Lovely stuff. But we are not all destined to be Austins or Becketts or Shakespeares. Which can be quite a punishing lesson to learn. Is universal appeal something every writer strives for? Or should do? Or are we so caught up in target markets and Amazon rankings and breaking into the erotica fray?

Obviously anyone who decides to become a writer (or an actor? or a singer?) must have a fairly sustained sense of self-worth. Reviews can be glowing, but they can also be bitter. Internet trolls can pop up to ruin your day. Most of us will fall by the wayside with poor sales and mediocre work but will battle on because we really love what we do. Most of us are not trying to ram messages down throats. Few of us - I don't think - have grandiose ideas, and most are well aware of the struggle to stay afloat, in terms of finances and morale.

Last week I was stunned to receive a Facebook message about a blog post I presume, from a bloke I don't know, who must have had a bad day over there where he comes from. I'm not naming names (but beware I have three sons, two brothers and a host of hot-blooded brothers-in-law) but how lame. How funny. How loser.

Who writes this drivel?

We stared at the message, looked at the guy’s face, laughing uneasily. Why bother? Why a message and not public criticism - a lively debate, a much braver thing. Come on mate, put your energy out there and justify those thoughts. If you don't like the female 'drivel' you find here, you know, we don't have a problem with that. Maybe a game male with strident ideas could be a minor thrill in this (I think) intelligent and mostly female arena. Come along! Be welcome! Cast us the first stone! Show us your rocks...

***This does highlight one of the hairier aspects of Internet exposure, doesn't it? The kooks, the creeps out there. This one almost received a virtual battering with a pair of my designer stiletto heels.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Too old to go clubbing?

On Sunday morning I woke up with three hard rockers on the pull-out divan in the kitchen. I couldn't even make my cup of morning green tea. (I'm now thinking I should have photographed the little angels.) I stood there thinking, Why do these things happen to me?? Why me?

A few years ago I got talking to a young Italian guy who played in an AC/DC 'tribute' group. Quite a dude. Being the only Australian in the tiny mountain valley where we spend most of the winter, I was seen as a representative of what AC/DC has passed on to the world. What a joke. I was even serenaded at a concert - if you call having Angry Angus circle you with an electric guitar and go spinning about on the splintery wooden floor - and always seemed to be the only one with a handle on the English (strine) language. What a laugh. AC/DC queen for an instant.

The thing is, I might dress like a skinny rock chick now, but Davide/Angus still doesn't know I was a hardcore Bee Gees fan in those years. AC/DC? Nope. I was such a disco snob.

So this is how it went. On Saturday night I had my disco nap and pulled on my jeans and walked up to the club where the guys were playing. My sons were there - hard Aussie/Veneto drinkers - as were a bunch of twenty-year-olds plus a few drunken goons in ski goggles. Most of my friends had hit the couch at home and didn't turn up. Argh! So I watched the musicians scream and head bash in the smoky air, the sound thumping through my heart, until they sang 'You Shook Me All Night Long' (an old fav) and I decided to bail out.

I spent the rest of the night half awake as people staggered into the apartment and fell into beds. Then my alarm went off and it was time to take Fin to ski training.

That is when I found myself standing there looking at the three sleeping rockers. As I looked at them I thought of my uneasiness on the edge of the young crowd that night. Too old to go clubbing? Maybe that night, that club - yeah. Then I remembered all the alcohol, all the crazy dancing, the hangovers, the naughtiness and dirty deeds of my own clubbing years. I remembered the sweating crowds and the delirium, the swollen feet...

And I felt relief. Hangover-free, I picked up my ski boots and we left the house.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Happy Booker-Alternative Book Award*

I'm sitting here in my favourite room of the house looking at my bookshelf and about to start raving. This is where my piano is stationed and I have a cabinet full of my favourite Fante horsemen. No children are allowed in and guests only by invitation. I would invite Downith for a chat though - Downith has nominated me for the Alternative Booker Award where I share my five favourite books and pass the baton to five blogger mates. More lovely books to add to all of our lists - some of my newest favourites have been through recommendations on blogs!

My all-time Favourite: Nobel Prize winner Patrick White published Voss in 1957 and I am lucky enough to have a hardback 1st edition US copy. It always sits by my bedside, in the hope that some of his brilliance will cross over into my sub-conscious. No harm in hoping. I read all of White's books in an obsessed flush in my teens and twenties and last year read Voss again to see how my older self would respond. It was just as powerful and mesmerising. Ah! The inelegant German explorer Johann Ulrick Voss sets out to cross the harsh Australian continent in the 1850s, but not before finding his soulmate in the niece of his sponsor, Laura Trevelyan, and examining the plight of man through his exquisite doom. White deftly paints the mores of the early colonial settlement and provides a vision of the unflinching landscape and its stark inhabitants. Not an easy read, but transporting, all-encompassing.

A brilliant book: I ordered The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow because a contemporary author I was reading (Peter Salmon, The Coffee Tale) said it was his favourite book and I was made to feel very ignorant. Another complex read, with shifting narration - a device that served to deepen the characters in a colossal and complex way. The central character made me weep; Doctorow's language is breathtaking. The story of the Rosenbergs might have been told in many ways but the disordered time frame, the change in pace and thrust, and again the monumental language which may irritate you or send you into a drugged trance. I think I will have to reread it.

A contemporary master: I have long loved T.C. Boyle's masterful story-telling skills and swift language, his lingering character studies. Water Music, his account of Scottish explorer Mungo Park's search for the source of the Niger River, overturned my world. Last year I read The Women, his story of the women in Frank Lloyd Wright's life. Each woman represented an architectural phase of the great man's life. From tragedy to ruin, from landscape to creation and back. This is a book to remember from a writer who has bottomless talent and drive.

A political case: It is well-known that Ogoni environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed in 1995 by the Abacha government for his protest against the appropriation of the Niger delta by petroleum companies (Shell - don't buy it). But I read Sozaboy without wanting to think of this appalling deed. Sozaboy is an African classic, as widely read as Chinua Achebe's essential Things Fall Apart (which it is time I introduced to my kids). Told in the first person using pidgin, the novel is also called a novel in rotten english, and captures all the immediacy, humour, pathos and injustice of life during the Biafran war in  Nigeria. A powerful and chilling anti-war statement. 

A wonderful newbie: I wanted to include Chika Unigwe because she is a writer who is going places. I also picked up word of her novel online and ordered it quickly. On Black Sisters Street tells the stark, cruel story of four exploited African women who are transported to Europe to work in the sex trade in Belgium. The beauty of the book is its failure to brandish these women, or succumb to melancholy or stereotypes. I lived for ten years in West Africa and met many, many strong women. Women whose situations are so different from ours in the West, and yet so fundamentally alike. The wish to live purely, to survive, to raise our children well. **Chika captures this.

Now for five other bloggers who I'll invite to tell us their favourite five:
Whispering Gums (I've only mentioned one Australian and only one woman I realise!)

 *Thank you Downith, my mate in London downpours! 
**Thank you Chika who generously wrote my cover comment for my next book!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Friends with Benefits

Last weekend I was at the Barry White bar looking out for a friend, slowing down after a gazillion slopes on early beers, and half-looking out for my youngest kid. I saw a guy whose daughter is a friend of my son's, sitting alone in the crowded bar. I thought I would be a good girl and go and talk to him. I don't really know him, I just had tired legs and was filling in time, and anyone who knows me knows I am a chatterbox and will talk the leg off a chair.

In less than five minutes he'd out-talked me with some very slick ideas. He also used the word 'power', which is a word I'm not really acclimatised to, given I don't really wield any in most situations (perhaps over my cats?). He mapped out his life very quickly. He was successful, free enough, with a great villa and smashing career (not so great-looking however). Where was this headed? I looked nervously to the bar to a mate wagging a glass of beer in my direction. The nth of the morning.

Then he said the words 'Friends with Benefits' and I spluttered.

He'd started the conversation with, 'I think you are intelligent and anti-conventional.' Big booby trap there. I should have grasped his gist then. And when he dropped 'Friends with Benefits' I almost laughed, 'Oh, I call them F*** Buddies', before realising there was no need to take the conversation any further.

No, I'm not a prude. But back off mate!

Can I just say something, on this International Women's Day? I know this happens everywhere. And will do forever. We all remember Robert Redford's 'Indecent Proposal' to a leggy Demi Moore. His one million dollar will-you-sleep-with-me-one-night. Well, would you? For a million dollars I might (remember I'm a poor writer here), but all I could think last week was that this is where Berlusconi has placed us girls (and I'm not even young and booby!). We are there for the pickings, expected to be silly enough to be swayed by power and cash, by a guy who can't even tell a good joke!

My son came up behind me then. A big squeeze and a giant kid in a bright green ski helmet. Safety. Run girl. Run!
Give me a guy with some attitude and a paisley shirt