On handwriting and Hemingway

Power of the pen

I have written in an earlier blog about how I occasionally resort to writing parts of a story by hand when it starts to become bogged down. Not so much writer’s block as uncreativity. In other words, it sounds boring.

Modern-ftn-pen-cursive

So I was interested to see the results of a survey of 2000 people undertaken by a Deakin University (Australia) researcher in conjunction with the retail firm Officeworks, which found that those who handwrite their thoughts and feelings were two and half times more likely to experience relief from anxiety, fear and worry than those who use a keyboard for the same purpose.

I don’t know that I’ve noticed any improved emotional level in myself, but I do think that the kinaesthetics involved in writing by hand do help to stimulate my creativity (eventually anyway!).

I often find that, when handwriting, I cross out bits, put arrows up and down to show where text might best belong, and write notes or queries to myself in the margin to help guide my second effort when I go back to the keyboard. It can look pretty messy.

keyboard 2

I know that technically I could do the same things on my laptop or my tablet, but the scribbling and scrawling by hand seems to free up my thinking.

That second effort, at the keyboard, then becomes an editing process because I invariably change what I handwrote, hopefully for the better.

rowling handwritingI understand J K Rowling writes her novels by hand first. I wonder if she feels relief from anxiety, fear and worry when she’s finished? Richer in some way, at any rate 🙂

 

Papa Hemingway on writing

ernest-hemingway-typewriterThe American novelist Ernest Hemingway (often called ‘Papa’ by those who knew him) once said he wrote thirty different endings to A farewell to arms. He told this to a distinguished Australian journalist and war correspondent, Alan Moorehead, when the two met in Italy in 1949.

In a biography of Moorehead by Thornton McCamish (Black Inc, 2016), the Australian writer says: ‘I do not know how [Hemingway] talked to other people, but with me he talked books, always of writing, and with the humility and doubt of a writer who reads for five hours or so every day, and who writes and rewrites for as long as his brain will work, knowing that it is only by a miracle that he will ever achieve a phrase, even  a word, that will correspond to the vision in his mind.’

our-man-elsewhere

Fellow writers will know the feeling about getting it right. But how many of us read for five hours a day? And produce 30 different endings?

Clive JamesIn a recent critique of Hemingway’s writing (Yale University Press, 2015), the Australian-born author and literary critic, Clive James, praised the American’s early novels but suggested that Hemingway’s later work was ‘ruined’.  James said that Hemingway, ‘having noticed how the narrative charm of a seemingly objective style would put a gloss on reality automatically, he habitually stood on the accelerator instead of the brake. … He overstated even the understatements.’

Lesson: Don’t overdo it.

 

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

 

What writers say:

Finally you get to an age when a book’s power to make you think becomes the first thing you notice about it. You can practically sense that power when you pick it up.

~ Clive James, Latest readings.

 

Plotter or pantser? The debate continues

Are you a plotter or a pantser? I start off as a not very systematic plotter and end up as a pantser.

In case you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, these are categories of writers – plotters develop their story plan or plot in advance and then begin to write; pantsers write by the ‘seat of their pants’, making the plot up as they go along. There’s ongoing debate about which is best.

I’ve been thinking about these two approaches recently because I’ve been writing short stories to enter in competitions, and finding that the story develops as I write it, even when I have a ‘sort of plot’ in my head.

I first came across ‘plotters’ and ‘pantsers’ when I did the ‘Year of the Novel’ course with Kim Wilkins angel of ruinauthor Kim Wilkins at the Queensland Writers Centre about ten years ago. Kim is a keen plotter, and showed us her planning journal, in which she’d detailed information about plot and characters for every chapter of a book already published.

I was pretty impressed at the time, and I’ve tried to follow that example, but have discovered that my fiction stories seem to develop as I write.

If you’re a writer, the question of course is: does it matter which approach you take? Will being more structured initially mean a better book, a better chance of publication?

If you look at well-published writers, you’ll find there’s no easy answer to that question.

J K Rowling, probably the most well-known and most-published author in recent years, is basically a plotter. She’s been quoted as saying ‘I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write.’

This suggests she’s neither one nor the other, but a look at some of her planning for Harry Potter books suggests she’s well and truly in the plotter’s camp, as in the example below.

J K Rowling planner

Rowling is joined by thriller writer John Grisham, who said, ‘I don’t start a novel until I have lived with the story for a while to the point of actually writing an outline and after a number of books I’ve learned that the more time I spend on the outline the easier the book is to write. And if I cheat on the outline I get in trouble with the book.’

Stephen King, on the other hand, said, ‘Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.’

And he’s also sold a few books in his time J

Siding with King is Margaret Atwood: ‘When I’m writing a novel, what comes first is anMargaret-Atwood-2 image, scene, or voice. Something fairly small. Sometimes that seed is contained in a poem I’ve already written. The structure or design gets worked out in the course of the writing. I couldn’t write the other way round, with structure first. It would be too much like paint-by-numbers.’

So, it seems, there is no agreement, even among our most published writers, about planning ahead or developing the story as they go.

I’ve discovered that I’m essentially I’m a pantser, when it comes to fiction. I now know what writers mean when they say that a character ‘takes over’ during the writing process.

Perhaps I’m a hybrid, what’s been called a plantser.

As for non-fiction, well, that’s another story…

If you’re a writer, which category do you fit into?

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

[Some quotes above are taken from a blog post on Goodreads by Hayley Igarashi.]

 For my blog about returning to the workforce, please see: confident4work.wordpress.com

What writers say

Jane Graves‘I’m cursed with not being able to see the good twists and turns of character and plot until I’m in the middle of writing the book. I can have a sense where it’s going, but absolutely nothing comes alive until the words start going down on the page. ~ Romance author Jane Graves.

 

Dying to be well-read

Did you know that the more you read the less likely you are to die? That’s the claim made by a writer in a recent issue of Wellbeing magazine.

heart-monitor-blips

An item headed ‘Better read than dead’ reported a study of the reading habits of 3635 men and women aged 50 and older over a 12-year period. With such a large sample and a longitudinal study, the results promised to be interesting for both readers and writers.

According to the Wellbeing writer, the results showed that ‘adults who read books for up to 3.5 hours a week were 17 per cent less likely to die than those who did not read books…’.

Wow! That’s awesome. Reading books means you’re less likely to die?

Let me work out the implications of such a finding: If reading books for 3.5 hours a week, gives you a 17% chance of not dying, then reading books for around 18 hours a week should guarantee you immortality!

When people hear about this, there’ll be a rush for books. What a boost that’ll be for booksellers and libraries.

Later in the article, we discover what the Wellbeing writer meant to say: ‘In all, book readers survived almost two years longer than non-book readers [i.e within the 12-year period].’

In other words, this particular bit of research indicates that if you’re over 50, reading books is one way that may help you live a couple of years longer. But no amount of reading is going to make you ‘less likely to die’.

Of course, there may factors other than reading at play in promoting longevity. For example, book-reading and lifestyle might be linked.

bearded-old-man-book

By the way, the researchers also concluded that reading newspapers and magazines is also linked to longer life, but not nearly as much as book reading. Perhaps reading magazines and newspapers is linked to increased coffee intake …?

The ultimate message from the research is: if you want to live a bit longer, reading might help you do so. See you at the library.

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

 

What writers say:

In the best stories, the odyssey from complication to resolution changes the character profoundly. In fact, the resolution often results not directly from the action but from a growing enlightenment – often a sudden flash of inspiration – as the character finally realizes what he [or she] has to do to solve his [or her] problem. ~ Jon Franklin, Writing for story.

The ups and downs of publishing

Digital decline? 

Towards the end of 2016, two of my recent publishers, Hachette Australia and Xoum, sent me their annual updates on their publishing experience in the previous 12 months.

Both reported the same trend: a decline or plateauing in e-book sales. Rod Morrison at Xoum said that the global digital market ‘retreated’ to 20-25% of total sales.

Not all that long ago, there were predictions that e-book sales would swamp sales of print books, but it seems that there has actually been a very small increase in purchases of print books world-wide.

Publishers seem to be struggling to predict the trends. On the demand side I know some independent bookshops in Australia had a tough year in 2016.

Another interesting piece of news was that, after a burst of enthusiasm in 2015, and a brief bonanza for publishers, sales of adult colouring books fell away in 2016.

I’m neither surprised nor sorry to see the demise of that particular fad. It would be interesting to know how many colouring books purchased were actually coloured in by adults.

Books on the move

Whenever I travel, I’m always on the lookout for examples of writing and literature in local communities. In 2016, I came across two quite different examples:

Book crossing

In Italy, boarding a train in the small mountainside village of Santa Maria Maggiore in the north-west, I saw a collection of ‘swap’ books at the station, using the English term, ‘Book crossing’, and an explanation (I assume) in Italian below.

I know there’s are organisations (e. g. http://www.booksontherail.com/) that promotes the idea of leaving books behind on trains and buses for someone else to read, and exchanges pop up in communal rooms in hostels etc, but this was the first time I’d seen one at a railway station. Later I discovered there’s an organisation called ‘Book Crossing‘, that promotes this idea.

Blind date with a book

In Fremantle, Western Australia, Elizabeth’s, a second-hand bookshop (also in Newtown, Sydney) is selling ‘blind dates with a book’. Books are wrapped in brown paper (which was once the sign of a certain sort of book, but no longer), with just a few words on the wrapping to indicate the kind of book it is.

The idea apparently started with some libraries in Australia to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s a sophisticated version of a lucky dip for people who like surprises in what they read, but with a few clues in advance. You can find them online here.

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

 

What writers say

Imagery for me is of paramount importance in a text, not complex imagery that jumps up and down and demands to have its hand shaken, but a more subtle web that weaves its way throughout, often enigmatically, and knits everything together.~ Kate Atkinson

 

 

Roly Sussex Short Story Award Success

Less than two weeks after the launch of my book, The Chalkies: Educating an army for independence, I received a phone call to tell me that I had won first prize in the Roly Sussex Short Story Award for 2016. What’s more if I turned up at Government House, Brisbane, the following Tuesday, the State Governor would present me with the award. And so he did. Paul de Jersey AC shook my hand at an impressive ceremony on 18 October and congratulated me as he presented me with the trophy and a cheque.

My short story, The space between, is a fictionalised account of a woman waiting for her husband when he fails to return from an attempt to be first to fly across the Atlantic, and is based on actual events, as they say in the movies. The title comes from a Celtic belief that there is only three feet between heaven and earth, and that in ‘thin places’, the distance is even less.

The national competition is run by the Queensland Branch of the English Speaking Union, and the award is named after a well-known Professor of Linguistics at Queensland University, Roly Sussex. I am honoured to have won the award.

Unfortunately, no photography was permitted inside Government House, but the photo below shows me with Ann Garms, the ESU (Qld) President, on the steps of this impressive building, after the ceremony. (The sight of me in a suit may come as a shock to family and friends, but that is indeed me.)

It was good to meet with other writers who were runners up or had been highly commended in the competition, which has both adult and school student categories.

The English Speaking Union said it intended to publish the selected stories in an anthology sometime next year.

Meanwhile, The Chalkies made the bestseller list at Avid Reader Bookshop, where it was launched, and also featured on the back page of their Summer Reading Guide (next to the butterfly!)

 

All writers live in hope of being published and then well received, so for a couple of months this author was doing okay in that regard. As all writers also know, however, this is no guarantee that the next piece of writing will be successful. We just keep beavering away, and keep on hoping …

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

 

What writers say:

‘You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.’ ~ Stephen King

 

Chalkies book launched

A sizeable and enthusiastic crowd gathered at Avid Reader Bookshop, Brisbane, on 8 October, 2016 to hear Colonel Katrina Schildberger launch my book, The Chalkies: Educating an army for independence.

It’s amazing how many will turn up when free wine and nibbles are on offer 🙂 Everyone I’ve spoken to said they had a good time, and lots of books were sold.

Colonel Schildberger is Head of the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps, and travelled from Sydney for the occasion. She gave a great speech to launch the book.

The Chalkies tells the little-known story of some 300 teachers who were conscripted into the Australian Army between 1996 and 1972 and quietly sent to the then Territory of Papua New Guinea while Australian troops were fighting in Vietnam. It is published by Australian Scholarly Press, Melbourne.

The conscripted teachers, colloquially known as ‘Chalkies’, were posted to the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps, and their task was to upgrade the educational levels of indigenous troops of the Pacific Islands Regiment in what turned out to be critical years leading up to the country’s independence. For many it was their first year of teaching and their first time out of Australia.

The Director of Army Education at the time, Brigadier Ernest Gould, described the initiative as ‘an educational scheme which for magnitude, scope, intensity and enlightenment is without parallel in military history’.

Yet most Australians have never heard about it.

With the aid of an Army History Research Grant, I drew on the recollections of more than 70 former Chalkies and archival sources to tell the story of how these conscripted teachers (one of whom was me) responded to the challenges of a life most of them never wanted or imagined for themselves. A small go group of ex-Chalkies gave me feedback on my research to help keep me on track.

It was very appropriate that Colonel Schildberger launched the book, because not only is 1966 the 50th anniversary of the scheme’s beginnings in PNG, it is also the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Army Education in World War II.

The jacket blurb says The Chalkies is ‘a unique tale of the good, the bad and the unexpected, told against the background of military and political developments of the day’.

A former Australian Governor-General, Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffery, who served two terms in PNG, wrote the foreword.

If you’re interested in reading The Chalkies, in Australia you can order a copy through your local bookstore, or direct from Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane. Alternatively, you could ask your local library to buy a copy. The ISBN is 978-1-925333-77-0.

Till next time

Darryl Dymock

 

What writers say

By the time you have perfected any style of writing, you have always outgrown it.                                                                                                                 ~George Orwell

 

 

 

New book: The Chalkies

To misquote a well-known saying, the road to publication is paved with good intentions.

I certainly had good intentions about maintaining this blog more regularly this year.

My excuse is that I have been too busy doing other things, including quite a lot of writing.

And I am delighted to tell you that one of those writing efforts has been rewarded with publication:

My non-fiction book, The Chalkies: Educating an army for independence, will be published by Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, on 1st September, 2016.

Chalkies front cover

Here’s the back cover blurb:

‘Two years isn’t a long time in your life, but at age 20 it can be significant.

Between 1966 and 1973, while Australian troops were fighting in Vietnam, some 300 conscripted teachers were quietly posted to Papua New Guinea. Colloquially known as ‘Chalkies’, their task was to raise the educational level of troops of the Pacific Islands Regiment in what turned out to be critical years leading up to the country’s independence.

Drawing on the recollections of more than 70 of those National Servicemen, Dr Darryl Dymock, a former Chalkie, tells the story of how these young teachers responded to the challenges of a life most of them never wanted or imagined for themselves, in an exotic land on Australia’s doorstep. It’s a unique tale of the good, the bad and the unexpected, told with flair and insight against the background of political developments of the day.’

Papua New Guinea flag

Papua New Guinea flag

Major-General Michael Jeffery, a former Australian Governor-General, and an Army officer in PNG twice during the Chalkies’ time there, has kindly contributed a foreword.

The book can be ordered from Avid Bookshop, Brisbane at a special pre-publication price.

The Chalkies: Educating an army for independence

Darryl R Dymock

ISBN: 978-1-925333-77-0

Australian Scholarly Publishing

Format: Paperback

Publication date: 1st September 2016

 

Pre-publication offer: $35 if ordered from Avid Reader Bookshop, Brisbane, by 31st August 2016 (RRP: $39.95)

logo-avidreader

Go to:

http://avidreader.com.au/products/chalkies-educating-an-army-for-independence

Avid Bookshop, 193 Boundary St, West End Qld 4101

avidreader.com.au

or call (07) 3846 3422

books@avidreader.com.au

A different sort of revolutionary road

War and peace

It was 15-year-old Igor Labzin’s first day at high school and he was in trouble for walking on the neatly mown lawn.

‘Stay off the grass,’ the principal said.

‘Thank you,’ Igor said.

The principal frowned. ‘I said, “Stay off the grass”.’

‘Thank you, thank you,’ Igor said.

The principal’s eyes widened. ‘You don’t speak English, do you?’

‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’ Igor said.*

The principal was right. It was March 1962, and Igor and his family had just arrived in Brisbane from Indonesia. He could speak Indonesian, Dutch, Russian and a bit of French, but had no English.

Four years later, Igor graduated from the top class at high school, did an engineering degree, and then embarked on a successful career as a structural engineer in London, Montreal, and Canberra, and he continues to work in that profession.

The other evening my wife and I went to a launch of Igor Labzin’s book, Russia and revolution: My father, the officer, the man.

Igor Labzin

Igor’s father graduated from the St Petersburg Naval Academy in 1918, just months after the start of the Russian Revolution. He had the wonderfully Russian name of Boris Martemianovich Labzin.

The young officer decided to support the White Army rather than the Communists, and Igor’s book traces his father’s life through the ensuing turmoil of civil war and escape to Manila and Shanghai in the 1930s, Indonesia in the 1940s and 50s and finally to Australia.

We knew about the book launch because Igor and my wife Cheryl were in the same class at senior high school and we met him recently at a school reunion. He still lives in Brisbane.

Igor was off the next day to launch his book in St Petersburg, at the invitation of the State Museum of the History of St Petersburg. How’s that for an immediate international audience (although the book has still to be translated into Russian)?

The Australian launch was at the wonderful independent Avid Bookshop at West End, Brisbane, which is a great supporter of new and existing writers. Digital publishing may be gaining ground (and I’ve published online myself), but there’s a lot to say for the smell and feel of a bookshop like Avid, with ‘real’ books.

Igor’s introduction to his father’s life was fascinating, and I’m looking forward to reading Russia and revolution: My father, the officer, the man.

The Hinkler cake

Regular readers of this blog will know of my book, Hustling Hinkler, a biography of the pioneer Australian aviator, Bert Hinkler.

At the abovementioned school reunion, one of my wife’s other former classmates, Narelle McTaggart, told me about a ‘Hinkler Cake’ which had apparently been devised especially for Bert Hinkler’s triumphant return to Bundaberg, Queensland, his home town, in February 1928, after his record-breaking solo flight from England to Australia in a single-engined biplane.

The recipe came from members of the Bundaberg Branch of the Queensland Country Women’s Association, an enduring community organisation that has branches in every Australian state and parallel organisations in other countries, including the Women’s Institute in Britain.

Narelle subsequently sent me the recipe, which is reproduced below. I am hoping to have a go at making a Hinkler cake, but haven’t yet got around to it.

Base

1/4 pound self-raising flour                 2oz butter           

2 teaspoons sugar                               Pinch salt

Mix with a little milk. Roll out paste very thin, put in flat buttered tin and spread with raisins, dates and currants

Sponge mixture

2oz butter                                            2 well-beaten eggs (or 1 egg & a little milk)

½ cup sugar (beaten to a cream)       4 tablespoons of milk Eggs

1 cup self-raising flour

Beat and spread on paste and fruit. Bake in a hot oven. When cool, spread with lemon icing.

I don’t know if Bert himself ever got to sample a slice of the Hinkler Cake. If any reader wants to be the first to try out the recipe, I’d be delighted to hear about it on this site, crumbs and all…

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

* The ‘facts’ of this story are as I heard them, so this retelling may be a version of the truth.

 

What writers say

The true unreliability of everything written down utterly fascinates me. Even the person who has set down the so-called facts will still get it essentially wrong. ~ Sebastian Barry

 

 

 

 

A boulder for a bold pilot

A boulder from a Queensland beach is now resting on the side of an Italian mountain, as a memorial to the trail-blazing Australian aviator, Bert Hinkler.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I wrote a biography of the famous pilot, Hustling Hinkler, which was published by Hachette in 2013.

Bert Hinkler Memorial, Mt Pratomagno, Italy

Bert Hinkler Memorial, Mt Pratomagno, Italy

Australian Ambassador to Italy, Mike Rann, recently unveiled the memorial on the slopes of Mount Pratomagno, in Arezzo Province.

Hinkler lost his life when his single-engined Puss Moth monoplane crashed on the mountainside in April 1933, during his second attempt on the England-Australia solo record.

The local Italian community and aero club paid tribute to Hinkler at the time as a pioneer international aviator, and Mussolini’s Fascist government accorded him a spectacular State funeral through the streets of Florence.

Bundaberg Aero Club memorial at Hinkler Ring, Italy

Bundaberg Aero Club memorial at Hinkler Ring, Italy

So it is fitting that the Australian, Queensland and Italian governments should unite in support of a memorial to the gallant flier at the place where he crashed.

The boulder is now a feature of an eight-kilometre long mountain trekking path, called The Hinkler Ring, inaugurated by the Italian Alpine Club’s Arezzo Branch.

The memorial was the brainchild of Queenslander, Kevin Lindeberg, who met one of the finders of Hinkler’s crashed plane, Gino Tocchioni , in 1974, and so knew where the crash site was.

Bundaberg City Council arranged for the 1.4 tonne basalt boulder to be transported to Italy from Mon Repos Beach, where Bert Hinkler first flew, in 1912, in a glider of his own design.

Hinkler Ring Memorial Walk. Italy

Hinkler Ring Memorial Walk. Italy

A time capsule buried in the base of the monument includes letters from the recently deposed Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. About 200 people attended the August ceremony, including Australian, British and Italian dignitaries, and Hinkler’s great nephew John Hinkler.

Here is an extract from the Prologue to Hustling Hinkler, the only piece of ‘creative’ non-fiction in the book, about Bert Hinkler’s final flight, in April 1933:

When he passed over the city of Florence around 10 am local time, he was already behind the schedule he’d mapped out. By now he’d been in the air for seven hours, and he was weary from the drone of the engine and battling the elements. Hinkler wished he’d been able to leave London three months earlier, as he’d originally intended, when the weather – and Air Ministry officials! – might have been kinder to him.

He could see cloud on the mountains distantly ahead, and the thought of diverting to Rome attracted him for a moment, but just as quickly he dismissed the idea – any diversion would mean less chance of breaking the record, and his future depended on achieving that goal. He continued south towards Brindisi. As soon as he’d made the decision to go on, patchy cloud began to snatch at the cockpit, and he could feel the cold drilling deeper into his bones. Sharp fingers of wind continued to push and pull at the plane, and for a moment Hinkler wondered if he sensed another tremor through the wings, but dismissed the thought as he wrestled with the controls.

Up ahead, through the clouds, he glimpsed the snow blanketing the Pratomagno mountains. He knew the highest point of the range, the Croce del Pratomagno, the Cross of Pratomagno, was just over 5000 feet, but that held no fears for him – after all, he’d crossed the much higher Italian Alps earlier in the day. Just so long as the winds were not too violent, and the plane held together . . .

Till next time

Darryl Dymock

 

What writers say:

Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind. ~ George Orwell

Input vs Output for Writers

The Brisbane Writers Festival (BWF 2015) is over for another year. I was fortunate to be able to get to a couple of the sessions on the Thursday and Friday – a masterclass withBWF-2015 US short story writer, Kelly Link, and another with researcher and biographer, Karen Lamb.

Kelly Link introduced us to The Family Arcana: A Story in Cards by Jedediah Berry. It’s described as ‘a story about a haunted family, published as a poker deck and written to be read an infinite number of ways’. Kelly’s deftness in shuffling this pack indicated either that she spent her childhood in Las Vegas or that she has a fall-back position if she ever tires of writing. One member of the masterclass asked her about the appropriate length of a short story. Kelly said she’d recently written a 14,000-word story, and one of her writing colleagues consequently suggested it

Author Kelly Link

Author Kelly Link

was time she thought about writing a novel…

I bought a copy of Kelly’s latest book of short stories, Get in trouble (Text Publishing, 2015), and when she signed it she warned me that the stories had ‘pretty weird endings’. I’m looking forward to reading it.

I have a few things in common with Karen Lamb – she’s a researcher and biographer, she teaches at a university in Brisbane, and she likes structure in her teaching. So she had a timetable for the masterclass. The value of the class for me was that it gave me new insights into my current draft about the ‘Chalkies’ in Papua New Guinea 1966-73 (see previous blog). Also, Karen mentioned a book by an American writer, the intriguingly named Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer (Harper Collins, 2006), described as ‘A guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them’, which could be worth a look. I bought a copy of Karen’s biography, Thea Astley: Inventing her own weather (University of Queensland Press, 2015), because I’m interested to see how she wrote it, and I also like supporting fellow writers as well as an independent bookshop (State Library of Queensland).Thea Astley biog

There were other potentially fascinating sessions at BWF, but apart from having family commitments over the weekend, I also reach a point at such events where I need to get back to my own writing rather than continue to hear other writers talk about theirs. I strongly support the adage that the best thing a writer can do is write! As a long-time educator as well as writer, I believe external input, whether through writers’ festivals, self-help guides or online tips, can be very helpful, especially if it’s timely, but it can also be an excuse for procrastination.

Book review

I thought I’d share with you my response to a book my wife gave me for my birthday: Between you and me: Confessions of a comma queen by Mary Norris (Text Publishing, Melbourne)

Mary Norris is a copy-editor at the well-known The New Yorker magazine, which publishes news stories, short stories, essays, cartoons, poetry, etc, and includes an audience well outside its host city. It’s also well-known, if not notorious, for its rigorous copy-editing, and Mary Norris is one of the enforcers.

new-yorker-magazine

This non-fiction book is part memoir, part discussion of points of punctuation and grammar, often humourously expressed, and sometimes self-deprecating. Nevertheless, there are clearly standards of English expression to be upheld, and Ms Norris shows she believes has a responsibility as a standard-bearer. She does not brook the use of dangling participles, for example, once objecting to this construction from an author: ‘Over tea in the greenhouse, her mood turned dark’, and she rejects outright the use of ‘their’ in place of ‘his and/or her’. Mary Norris also uses only No. 2 pencils for hard-copy editing and if someone accidentally leaves a No. 1 pencil on her desk and she picks it up, she knows immediately it is not hers, and throws it in her desk drawer.  Part of her story is about being able to find a reliable supply of No. 2 pencils.  You get the picture.

In between, the author gives us a fascinating insight into the backrooms of The New Yorker and her fellow editors, including Lu, who ‘patrolled the halls like a prison warden’. On Lu’s desk sat a small canister she called a ‘comma shaker’, to express her distaste for what she saw as The New Yorker’s over-use of commas.

Between you and me: Confessions of a comma queen is an enjoyable read, and some of Mary Norris’s punctuation examples are guaranteed to provoke discussion among people who care about the use of language. I just hope she doesn’t run her No. 2 pencil over my blog.

Until next time

Darryl Dymock