Reading just as fast as I can

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Yes, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing these last two months. Like a long distance runner, I’m trying to put as much distance as I can between myself and the first draft of my manuscript Paris Next Week.

Why, you wonder? Well I’m not one of these people that can put a manuscript away for say nine months or a year. (For me that’s like those dreadful people who leave Easter eggs in the fridge for months! It’s just not happening!) Instead I find that the best way to bring new eyes to my work, after a short period of time, is to read a variety of books. As many as possible.

So what have I been reading since 23rd December last year? Well most are in the pic above and as you can see at a glance they are mostly NOT historical fiction. (And that I’m behind in my reviews.) There’s a self help book, an Australian novel written in the 1920s, a short introduction to a trilogy set in 1919 and the first book in the trilogy (yes, I know, historical fiction). There’s a collection of short stories by a popular English author, a biography, an autobiography, a memoir set in Greece, a crime novel set in London in the 1990s and a romance set in the US in the 1960s.

Looking at the list now I can see (although it was done mostly unconsciously) I have selected quite a range. I’m also currently reading a poetry collection and a collection of the Sunday Times 2016 short story competition finalists.

What I’m aiming for is immersing myself with writing that is very different from my own. Poetry is particularly good for this – the unusual word usage, juxtapositions and the sheer mesmerising difference between poetry and prose. Will it work? I’ll get back to you on that shortly.

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Researching Paris and/or another early poem

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

I’m researching Paris in the 1870s and don’t quite know where to start. What part of Paris would a young Australian girl live in during that time? Paris is the early part of a Grand Tour of Europe that Lena Dubois is enjoying when her mother dies suddenly. She is alone in a strange city with only a smattering of French. What arrondissement does she end up living in and as an artist what buildings and landscapes would she chose to sketch? Fast forward to 1924 and ten of these sketches are now hanging up on the wall of her bedroom. But what are the sketches of? Now that’s the question and I’m having a lot of fun working on it.

To kick my research off, I’m currently reading a marvellous book called Paris: a journey through time by Leonard Pitt. Looking through the old photographs of Paris – Maubert and Saint-Severin, Boulevard Saint-Germain and Montagne Saint-Genevieve, From Odeon to Saint Germain-des-Pres, Rue Beaubourg and Nearby Streets, Rue Etienne-Marcel, Avenue de l’Opera and Les Halles reminded me of one of the most famous photographs of Paris – Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 1838. I was so intrigued by the photograph the first time I saw it that I wrote the poem below.

*BOULEVARD DU TEMPLE, PARIS, 1838

In the pages of a book I find
a shoeshiner and his customer
in the deserted street and where
are the doves? Cooing from the
windowsill near the photographer
now a long way from camera obscura
with this picture of a quiet
Paris street. What next? A view
of the Great Pyramid in albumen
and wet plates at the goldfields;
dead blue and grey soldiers
in black and white and now
moving pictures flicker past
until we have battlefields
in our living rooms: our square
argus-eyed friend always on
the spot. Yet I’d rather
discover beauty unadorned, know
the cameramen, the crew have all
gone home and left me to contemplate
how time has slipped away
from a quiet Paris street.

*First published in Muse 

2012: My reading year or fiction vs. poetry vs. non-fiction vs. memoir

LargeWBatduskThe last week of the year or in my case, the last day of the year is often a time of looking back and saying what was the best book, the best photograph, the best film etc . My favourite photograph of 2012? Easy peasy. A quick scroll down my camera roll on my iphone and there we go – the image above, Warners Bay, Lake Macquarie at dusk. Last year’s was trees again – my current gravatar. My son took my favourite photo of my grandchild. My favourite film was the French film The Intouchables. My favourite book – well that’s an entirely different matter and one that I can’t make a quick response to.

Firstly though I thought I’d start by doing an update on my blog from October. It’s the one with a picture of 14 books on it.  The blog was entitled “What I’m Currently Reading”. I have since dispensed with most of the books, some summarily in the manner of a reader in a top publishing house with an enormous submissions pile –Singleton’s Mill being one of those. The White Peacock by D.H. Lawrence didn’t suit my purposes but from Sons and Lovers I was able to glean a line or two of discussion for one of my character’s – Clary, a young doctor and also enough details for my main character Phyllis to decide not to read it:

“Today Clary came to the main lounge where I was having afternoon tea armed with two books. He offered me Sons & Lovers. I opened the first page & came to the opening lines about Hell Row, colliers & gin pits, whatever they were. The book was dreary & long-winded by the looks of it.”

She choses the Buchan instead. I’m with her on that as I also decided not to read the Lawrence.  But here’s my review of The Thirty Nine Steps . Around the same time I officially abandoned Fifty Shades of Grey.

For insight into nurses’ lives during WWI and general conditions of Australian servicewomen caught in the frontlines, I would highly recommend Nightingales in the Mud by Marianne Barker. Although I only read the section on the Aussie girls in Serbia it seemed to me excellently researched and well written.

The River Baptists I thoroughly enjoyed and now have another Belinda Castles on my shelf to read . I also enjoyed Early One Morning, Robert Ryan’s very painstakingly researched book on two famous operatives of WWII. I really admired Jan Bennett’s book The Facing Island when I finally let myself settle between the pages and get used to the fact  that I was reading the words of a dying woman. However, I decided not to read the very much alive Ivana Lowell’s Why Not Say What Happened? memoir. Why? Now that’s a good question!

It seems I really don’t enjoy memoirs unless they are by a woman who has served in Serbia during WWI or an  elderly man from 200 years ago (Jean-Jacques Rousseau) and then they do get read! Why Not Say What Happened wasn’t set in Serbia so was dispensed as quickly as Singleton’s Mill – just not interested, although I thought I might be when I borrowed it. Reveries of the Solitary Walker on the other hand was a gem!

Moving through the pile, the Florence Scovel Shinn and the Dessaix essays are still on my bookshelf to read but during the last two blogs some other books have snuck in and demanded my attention and I’m very pleased they did; a book of poetry in particular beating a few of the fiction titles to the post. Peter Bakowski’s Beneath Our Armour is a wonderful example of simple, clear and precise poetry where every single word counts and after reading the collection I decided I definitely need to read more poetry to feed my fiction writing, if that makes sense.

The other four books that skipped the queue are:
Pandora’s Bottle by Joanne Sydney Lessner which I read on my iphone.
The Music of Chance by Paul Auster, a 1001 book that had to be read quickly for a BookCrossing virtual book bag.
The Ancient Shore: Dispatches from Naples by Shirley Hazzard – an excellent book bought from Maclean’s bookshop at Hamilton.
And an Erotica anthology by Skive Magazine, lighthearted and a lot of fun unlike that other book!

So it seems I need to read more poetry, memoirs of Serbia beat other memoirs simply by subject matter. The non-fiction I choose to read depends pretty much entirely on the setting and time frame of my WIP and lastly fiction wins hands down! No suprises there, really. And my favourite book and most respected read of 2012?

Nikki Gemmell’s With My Body. Beautiful writing on a powerful theme! Highly recommended.