Archive for January, 2013

January 28, 2013

Not a weird internet plea for friendship, but just a note to let you know that I’ll be doing a couple of things you might be interested in:

Look, Mum, I’m on the Internet! Online Writing and Editing with Estelle Tang

Sunday 3 March 2013

As more readers are going online for news, opinion and entertainment, writers need to adapt to the unique challenges and opportunities posed by the internet. In this course, you will learn how to pitch, write and edit pieces for online publication.

We’ll discuss writing networks, what editors expect, whether it’s ever worth writing for free, and what you might be paid for online writing. In this course, we’ll also explore the various types of publication opportunities – from personal blogs to professional writing for organisations – and how to read as a writer. Importantly in the crowded online space, learn how to promote yourself and your work. At the end of this workshop you will be equipped with the tools and the confidence to pitch your work and get it published online.

Bibliotherapy at The School of Life

The School of Life is opening a pop-up shop in Melbourne during February and March. Check out the rad program here. I’m delighted to say that I’ll be The School of Life’s Melbourne Bibliotherapist — book in a time with me here to explore your relationship with books and new literary directions.

I have been getting right into the library over the past couple of months. We might be moving house in a while so I’ve been trying not to accumulate more books for the moment. Honestly, I think my boyfriend might break up with me if I buy any more before we move. Plus, have you been to the library lately? As my friend Maddie would say, you can get like THIRTY BOOKS FOR FREE. I am a pro at using the library. I get some good stuff there. It is a truly amazing institution.

So I’ll just briefly chat about the titles I have to return soon.

The Diving Pool / Yoko Ogawa

If you’re anything like me, you feel a little heartsick when looking at the spines of your Murakami and Yoshimoto books, remembering how much you loved contemporary Japanese literature and then read so much that you kind of had a brain hernia in response and now get hives whenever looking at book covers that feature brushstroke fonts on white backgrounds. It’s evident to me that I have avoided reading new Japanese writing for this not very good reason, which is totally dumb because The Diving Pool is really good. It comprises three stories that all exhibit Ogawa’s deceptively understated prose, which often gently depicts strange, repellent but morally opaque acts. In ‘The Diving Pool’, the only biological daughter of serial orphan-adopting parents hurries to the pool the same day each week to watch her foster brother, Jun, diving. This hidden obsession is a rare bright spot in her life: she thinks that her blood relationship with her parents ‘disfigures’ her family, and her relationship with its members is by turns callous and derisory.

‘Pregnancy Diary’ tracks the changing moods and diet of a pregnant woman through the eyes of her sister, who makes grapefruit jam to assuage her cravings. But this seeming act of sisterly affection takes on a grotesque malevolence through repetition. A disturbingly slanted take on familial care and the venerated ideal of a gravid woman.

The final story, ‘Dormitory’, sees a young woman revisit the dormitory where she lived while at university. Food is an integral part of each of Ogawa’s stories. This woman takes small cakes and other gifts to the dormitory’s caretaker as a way of showing respect and care, but also as an excuse to be there – or perhaps to excuse her being there, as her visits become more numerous. But food also rots and harbours malignancies; it decays, as do bodies and buildings. This book is more powerful for not pathologising the harms it describes; for its quiet, polite voices that utter terror.

A Single Man / Christopher Isherwood

I have to confess that the 1960s are not my strongest decade. I don’t have anywhere near enough knowledge about the historical context or adjacent literature to make the most of anything I read from that time. But I still enjoyed reading A Single Man, set over the course of one day in the life of George Falconer, an British expat teaching literature in Los Angeles. In some ways it’s a regular day; George wakes up, talks to his friend Charley, thinks about his neighbours, drives over the bridge and to work. But it’s also a day defined by a loss that George has recently suffered – that of his partner, Jim. Moving not only as an intimate portrait of a man psychologically reconstructing himself in response to his surroundings, but also in its frank treatment of aging and sexuality, this novella deals in gear-changes, masks and behaviours. Enjoyable, too, are the academic-novel scenes, in which colleagues bicker and gossip about each others’ wives. And much is changing in LA: a diversifying body of students represent a newish type of America, while Charley reminisces – in a plummy RP that leaps off the page into the ear – about the old country.

Gone Girl / Gillian Flynn

AAAARRRRGGGHHHHHHHHH. Okay, so I shot myself in the foot with this one. For some reason I’d got it into my head that this was a super literary thriller. I’d read about it all over the place and everyone was raving about it, so I thought I was reading a very different book than what I was. When it finally dawned on me that Gone Girl is essentially a grown-up Christopher Pike-ish type thing, I was already sore from having my ear chewed off by two of the most irritating narrators I have encountered in a long time. So please don’t take this as an unbiased opinion.

You probably already know enough about Gone Girl‘s plot or premise, so I don’t need to go into that too much. Perfect wife Amy Dunne goes missing on her and husband Nick’s fifth wedding anniversary, yada. They alternate chapters as narrators. There’s a big twist. Yes, it’s an extremely tight thriller, quite astonishing. I marvel at the structure of this book, and my imagination is not capable of coming up with this kind of story (though there are some stretch-the-imagination bits). I’m actually afraid of Gillian Flynn now. Don’t cross that lady. But I think the horrors here are almost purely structural – or even theoretical – rather than emotional. I felt absolutely nothing when I reached the huge twist (okay, that’s a lie – my attention had been flagging, and it whipped back into place once I reached the twist). And I think many readers would be able to guess what the twist is (though not the specifics, which are mindboggling) – there are enough clues. But Amy Dunne’s voice is so cloying (I don’t want to spoil it too much, but I understand that there’s of course a good reason for this) and Nick’s so lackadaisical that I really couldn’t have cared less what happened to either of them. Plus, he’s the kind of narrator (an ex-writer!!!) who feels the need to tell you all this stuff he knows about grammar and story structure. Cue zombie-style rolling of my eyeballs. Nothing makes me more annoyed. ARGHGH, etc.

When I got to what Peter Craven called a ‘sick-making’ ending in The Age, I was pretty unmoved. I felt more upset in Grade 4 when my frenemy stole my story about a fruit bowl, copied it and handed it in as her own. Okay, that’s a pretty dog act, but still. In conclusion: I admired this thriller. It is surprising and fairly well paced. I read it expecting it to be something else, so that’s just my bad. But I was disappointed and pretty annoyed. Kind of reminded me of Double Indemnity (amazing movie, okay, just wait) in that the suspense kept me going, but the emotional side of the character development was lacking, which made for little emotional punch. (Though Double Indemnity has much better dialogue. Uhhh, I regret bringing this up.) And that’s a genre thing, and that’s okay. Just letting you know how my experience was.

The Lover’s Dictionary / David Levithan

Oh my god, it’s like someone gave me a shot of vodka. I feel so much more calm thinking of this book. This is seriously like a pear and Sauternes sorbet after a main course of rotted monkey brains in terms how comfortable I feel. Ahhhhhh. Okay, here is a book that has heart as well as a creative structure. I’ll just be quick now. The Lover’s Dictionary takes the form of a dictionary: words like ‘caveat’ and ‘flux’ are presented, not with definitions, but memories and wonderings that make up a love story. It’s non-linear, so each ‘definition’ is like a piece of a puzzle that the reader puts together over the course of the book. This concept might be too cutesy for some, but Levithan’s pared-back prose ensures the end result isn’t too saccharine. A nice idea, well executed.

The first thing I read this year was Meanjin. I’ve been tweeting at Sarah Stokely’s fun curated rotation project @WeMelbourne this week, and essentially livetweeting reading the journal (photo above from New Year’s Day) so I thought I’d reproduce some of my thoughts here. What? Stop screwing up your nose. I’m lazy and I had three gins, two wines and a beer last night. OKAY FINE I’ll include some new, not-ever-tweeted thoughts below as well, geez.

Also, disclaimer: I personally know some of the people I write about below, so I’m not claiming to be impartial about their work. However, I don’t think any of their shit smells sweet, know what I’m saying? But it’s up to you what to think about my judgments below. I’ll use first names if I know them, and full or last names if I don’t.

@WeMelbourne @chadparkhill I know it’s a bit early in the day but I just read about Creme Yvette and would like to have some now please.

This is about Chad’s great essay ‘The Bartender and the Archive’, which details the historical meanderings of cocktail recipes and the current trend of authenticity and recreating ‘traditional’ versions of spirits. Chad is a very descriptively dense writer (in a good way), which makes for delicious reading. Lots of interesting research here. Get me to some violet liqueur now.

@WeMelbourne LOLing at @samuelcooney‘s story about ‘the luck gene’ in @meanjin. Esp. description of how genes ‘shoot their wads early’. Sparky, fun read.

Refers to Sam’s story, ‘I Should Be So Lucky’. So I didn’t think I would like this as much as I did. I thought the intro paragraph, which frames the story as the writings of an intern at an online magazine, was hokey. But the tone throughout the rest is perfect for this story, which imagines the discovery of a ‘luck’ gene that makes its bearers much more fortunate than the suckers who don’t have it. Playfully critiquing the media’s/readership’s enthusiasm for biological causation, and our obsession with ‘fairness’, the story is really fun to read.

@WeMelbourne Basically choking up over @ronlddavidscott‘s @meanjin essay about spray tans, growing up and friendship. It’s the heat, ok

I’d already read Ronnie’s personal essay online and loved it, but the second time around I loved it even more. We open on Ronnie in a Hungarian spray-tan salon, solemnly going through with what might have started as ‘a gag thing, but inside the plastic half-shell the laws of humour don’t apply’. Ronnie and some travel companions follow the roads from Budapest to Croatia, where they stay at a huge house on a rocky beach. This is a lovely and bittersweet piece about the postdoctoral mutation of the ‘spring break’ tradition; the transitional stage where the next stop is potentially nowhere or close to it. Not at all about the usual suspects hope and contemplation, but rather just being where you are – in this instance, on a beach with rocks in Krk. Worth two reads for sure.

@WeMelbourne Also loved reading about admirable ‘rule of law advocate’ Debbie Mortimer.

I also know Debbie, but not Lorin Clarke, who wrote ‘Debbie Mortimer and the Forensic Fight’, a profile of the long-time barrister, who has acted in well-known cases including the recent High Court decision dealing with the ‘Malaysia people swap’ deal. Debbie’s a fascinating person with strong ideals regarding the rule of law and human decency, and I loved seeing a woman being profiled for her vital, challenging work, rather than who she’s married to or what she owns.


And so end the tweets that I hath tweeted on the subject of Meanjin. But there are a couple of other things I wanted to mention. Even before I knew Margo Lanagan’s ‘Titty Anne and the Very, Very Hairy Man’ was a Little Red Riding Hood refix, I was totally enchanted. I love her writing so much. I read both Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels last year, and they’re both sublime. She does sex and hunger and youth so very well. The rest of the fiction I found a bit blah, although Wayne Macauley does his usual, effective five-finger death punch at the end of ‘Keilor Cranium’. Also really loved Lyndal Walker’s paean to young adult freedom and share housing, ‘Share Houses’.

Finally, aptly, any Twitter/literature consumers out there are recommended to read Sam Twyford-Moore’s ‘Twitter>The Novel? @tejucole>Teju Cole?’ It’s one of my favourite essays I’ve read about Twitter, as well as a really interesting short history of Teju Cole’s body of work, literarywise and Twitterwise. The other thing I love about this essay is the insight it gives into Sam’s own use of Twitter as a writer’s research tool; he tweets messages to himself about things he wants to follow up.

Something else I tweeted about literary journals today was how incredibly important a role they play in discovering and nurturing new writing talent. I recently found the first issue of Stop Drop and Roll and leafed through it, and there were so many writers in there whom I now consider must-reads, including Elmo Keep, Martin McKenzie-Murray and Rebecca Giggs. I don’t usually play the part of literary journal tragic; I consider their value to be totally apparent, but I know that they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. Still, I’m glad to have some nice evidence for the position that they’re undeniably an important part of the literary ecosystem.


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