Just as high performance athletes need to fill their pipes with easy access carbs -chocolate milk, creamed rice and honey on white bread. As a writer, my pipes when depleted need movies, books, art, fashion images on Insta, music, conversation ... Anything I can get my hands on really that doesn't look like a mountain or a river.
Of late, what I really craved was an under-the-duvet-ALL-day-READ. My beside shelf is piled high with a selection of tomes all bookmarked around page 50. If I don’t empathise with the protagonist by this point, or the writing style isn’t making me stop and re-read sentences because they are just SO good, or the plot hasn’t been set up and NOTHING is happening, I simply put them down. I hate my reading self for doing this. I partially blame our new and not really improved techno world for my puny attention span. I actually turn off my phone and put it in another room while reading now so when my attention sways I’m not tempted to idly screen swipe. We adults moan at our children, but I think it’s fair to say we’re just as guilty of wasting precious moments on this earth as our young folk.
HOWEVER, I’m thrilled to report I have ripped through three fabulous books of late. So make your purchases, wrap yourself in a sarong beside a fire for ambience and get reading.
The Crime Writer, by Jill Dawson. Published by Sceptre Books UK, 2016
I could not put this down. It’s been a while since I’ve sat in my comfy office chair, while the household slept because I had to finish a book. In a day. It’s based on the true story of American crime writer, Patricia Highsmith, hiding out in a drafty cottage in Suffolk, in 1964. I didn’t know it was based on fact until the end. Kind of a grownups creative non-fiction-with-fiction. I’m glad. I love books that involve the writing process. And neurotic authors. Though quite how Pat H manages to write on a manual typewriter with all the whiskey she slugs back on board, or talk during interviews, I cannot fathom. It’s creepy, unsettling, tinged with madness, schizophrenic moments, alcoholic blackouts, supurb setting and effortless scene description, lesbian love, fabulous 60’s fashion, a stalker, a curtain twitcher, suspense, murder, evil parents and an evil husband. It grips like a vice from page one. Read it! (Jill Dawson is the author of 8 novels)
Weird thing: Patsy’s ‘snail raising’ hobby. On window ledges. In her bedroom. It felt slightly implausible while reading tbh. But apparently this is the real deal. Patricia Highsmith used to take her mating pairs to parties in her handbag, on a lettuce leaf. And often carried their offspring around in her pocket. I kid you not. The Snailsitter … Next time I’m in the library or a second hand bookshop, I’ll be looking up PH.
Interesting Sentence (for Sue Copsey!)
“The kitchen curtains were tugged closed, but they were a little short of meeting in the middle: there was always a gap with a slit of dark sky in it.”
Jonathon Unleashed, Meg Rosoff. Bloomsbury 2015
Meg R is one of my all time favourite YA writers. This her first adult novel. This book would make the perfect – set in NY, with goofy but gorgeous English male lead (are their any under 30???), rom com.
In the starring role, we have Jonathan working on a mind numbingly dull stationery account in a young, hip ad agency. Not surprisingly Jonathan loathes his job and is kept only mildly sane by his childhood friend and workmate, Max. – (this theme is based on Rosoff’s job at a similar age at an ad agency before she wrote her first and very successful book ‘How I Live Now’ and became a full time writer). Jonathan is staying in his absentee brother’s flat and dogsitting two increasingly (over the book) anthropomorphic canines. His longtime girlfriend turns up from England. This is the best/worst example of staying in a relationship for the sake of staying in a relationship I’ve ever seen.
When his girlfriend proposes, just so their wedding can be televised live, for the wedding magazine she works for everything escalates. Jonathan's internal, slightly bonkers, monologue keeps this book going for me. I love my dog, but I’m not one of those crazy-dog-lovers. I guess you find them the world over but I’ve only experience true-dogs-before-humans walking around LA with my sister and her three month old baby. People who’d gush and goo and run up to her pram, then ask to give her old dog, Frankie a doggie treat. However, the dogs in this story are cute and play an integral part in saving the hapless Jonathan. Rosoff’s pisstake of hipsterism is funny. And when Jonathan appears to have some sort of stroke and his speech becomes a ‘word salad’ I spent quite a lot of time RFLOL (rolling on the floor laughing out loud).
He phoned Max.
That you, Jay?’
‘How you feeling?’
‘That’s tough, buddy Anthing I can do?’
‘Whirligig freedom toy.’
‘Opal figurine.’ ETC
It’s a lighthearted fun read.
The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson. Hogarth Shakespeare, 2015
This book came highly recommended by the gorgeous Francessca King. I was equally enthralled. Even the cover, with the large red feather on white background and black gloss embossed type had me swooning with cover envy. I still have my copies of Winterson’s early novels, ‘Oranges are Not The Only Fruit’ and ‘Sexing The Cherry’ and have always been a fan.
The Gap of Time is a modern-day retelling of Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale" as part of a larger series of authors doing the same for several of his works. Margaret Atwood for one.
“All of us have talismanic texts that we have carried around, and that carry us around,” Winterson has said. “I have worked with The Winter’s Tale in many disguises for many years ... And I love cover versions.”
For me I loved the first half of the book the most. I was lost in the story. The whirlwind of characters. I wanted to be swept along to the very last page, not be part of a transformation and gap filling. It was a bit like charging along through a steeplechase aka The Grand National, then facing a high wooden wall, which required dismounting, climbing, then going on, on foot. A satisfying ending all the same. And a must read.
This book is the first in the series of Shakespearean rewrites for a 21st century audience, to mark the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death.
Ha I haven’t given much away here – read it and see for yourself.
Talking of classics. I picked up Charles Bukowski’s ‘Women’ in a second hand book stall at the Melbourne Art Centre in May. For $8. The Classic American Bestseller. Yeegods. It was awful. AWFUL. But I read the whole sordid thing.
It’s semi autobiographical. Alter ego, low life alcoholic Henry Chinaski manages to write poems. Often three at a time. Done. Pam. Without editing. He also manages to do open mic. With jugs of vodka and orange. And pursues a maniacal sex life (for a man of 50) with a stream of sad and broken women. I felt like taxidermying and mounting him by the end of it. “He died in 1994 and is widely acknowledged as one of the most distinctive writers of the last fifty years.” Hmmph. It’s kinda 70’s pulp fiction. Approach with caution.
Next, I will be finishing The Night Circus (bookmarked page 201) and looking out for Winterson’s memoir, ‘Why be Happy When You Could be Normal?’ It sounds right up my alley.
Happy winter reading!