There’s nothing like reading a wonderful review that really encapsulates your book. So I loved this piece by Oline Cogdill in the Sun-Suntinel, the paper for South Florida in the US: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/entertainment/stage/fl-book-beneath-the-shadows-07112-20120627,0,5785262.story
This wonderful piece of fiction won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. It chronicles the life of Daisy Goodwill, which spans most of the twentieth century. Each chapter jumps forward a decade, through her childhood, marriage, motherhood, and later life, combining reflection on these broader themes of her life with insight towards the other banal moments that also make up living. The narrative is interspersed with photos, letters, even shopping lists, and we see Daisy through the eyes of those around her, providing fascinating insight into the notion of identity. If you want to study a master of inventive narrative and character construction, read this book!
To begin with, I was drawn to the writers in the session entitled ‘Reverberations from the past’ more than the topic. Natasha Lester is a friend of mine, whose beautifully crafted book, What is Left Over, After, won the TAG Hungerford in 2009, and I’ve read and heard so much about Gail Jones’ and Jon Bauer’s books that makes me want to pick them up as soon as I can. During the session, all three writers breathed fresh life into the over-analysed theme, and every audience member appeared captivated by their eloquence and their ideas. Gail Jones spoke about how other writers, including Virginia Woolf in ‘Sketches of the Past’ addressed the issue; Natasha Lester told us about the wonder tales of the French court in the 14th century and how she used them in her novel; then Jon Bauer read a piece he had written for the event, which was filled with soundbites, such as ‘The past is not a foreign country, nor is it the past. It is you, now.’ In the following discussion they each spoke of how their own experience had found different routes and resonances in their writing. Jon Bauer had used some personal challenges of his childhood; Gail Jones’ drew on the story her great-grandfather, who committed suicide in a Kalgoorlie hotel; while Natasha recently reached out to others in a creative non-fiction piece about her experiences of her daughter’s hip dysplasia (published in the WA journal Indigo). They all discussed how they looked for the subtle but resonant aspects of experience that might be used in storytelling to convey authentic feeling and reflection to greatest effect, whether representing grief in the landscape or manifesting in a character’s physical appearance.
Finally, Jon Bauer answered one audience member’s question in a way well worth noting. When asked about how to move a piece of writing forward, he said he wanted to respect the fact the writer was lost and struggling, as we all are at times in writing, and therefore he wouldn’t answer the question in order to empower the gentleman to find his own way through. Such an eloquent way of encouraging a writer to keep reaching for their own authentic, unique voice.
BUSY WITH… Promotion for Beneath the Shadows. So far I have visited three gorgeous independent bookshops and four libraries proudly supported by Dymocks, and met lots of lovely people. I have only noticed one person nod off briefly during my talks (FTW!), and I think I managed to speak fairly coherently to a brilliant turn-out of 80 at one of my local libraries, Joondalup, on Tuesday night.
THINKING ABOUT… Natural disasters – surely everyone is due for a break right now. My heart goes out to those who has been affected this past month, whether by fires and storms in Perth or the earthquake in Christchurch. I first saw the terrible news from New Zealand on twitter, and it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t a good idea to watch streaming coverage. I’ve been very interested in the subsequent debate about how the media should/shouldn’t report such events, I think it’s a really important issue but a difficult one to resolve. If you are interested, check out these two articles by Jonathan Green on ABC’s The Drum, and the response from Lyndal Curtis on the same site.
READING… I am alternating between Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step (I’m a big fan of the Buddhist monk/Zen master genre!). I’m also desperate to get back to The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.
WRITING… I’ve been working on an article about London-inspired books and films for the holiday goddess travel book that will be out later this year (www.holidaygoddess.com). It’s been a wonderful piece to research, and as a result I now have an extra-long list of books to read and films to watch.
PLAYING… I’ve been building a lot of towers in my spare time, with an array of multi-coloured blocks. I’m busy trying to teach my daughter to understand that ‘per-pol’ is not the default colour of everything, and loving all the new words she comes out with every day.
Lexie Sinclair’s life revolves around the Soho art scene of the 1950s, whereas in the present day Elina is struggling with the demands of motherhood. But despite living decades apart, these two women are connected in ways neither could ever have expected.
I have long been a fan of Maggie O’Farrell, as her first book, After You’d Gone, ranks as one of my all-time favourites. In this, her latest work, her writing is mesmeric, and I was captivated from start to finish. Such overt manipulation of narrative voice is difficult to achieve without losing the reader, but O’Farrell is fearless, and as a result The Hand that First Held Mine is a wonderful, unique piece of fiction.
I’m about to start editing Beneath the Shadows, and I’m very excited about it. It is through this process that my book will gradually evolve from its raw first draft into a finely polished finished piece. With a background as an editor I feel very open to the editing process, which can be pretty daunting and confronting for a writer. Everything from characters, plot and pace, and the strength of the writing itself, is examined thoroughly during editing; and as a result the book can change quite a bit, sometimes in ways the author never envisioned. Come Back to Me was a much better book after editing, and I’m sure that it will be the same for Beneath the Shadows.
Beneath the Shadows is currently at the structural editing stage. So we’re looking at things like how the chapters work, both on their own and with one another; whether the characters are developing fully; if there are gaps that need filling, or sections that need paring back. So wish me luck, and I’ll post some updates on how it’s going.
It is always interesting to see how writers respond to editorial guidance. Some are completely open to suggestions, others are not, and there’s a third category who seem to be keen for a critique, but then either don’t like the reality, or don’t seem to alter anything much as a result. What many writers appear to get stuck on is the ‘Well, I like it’, or ‘It has to happen because…’ response. A writer becomes so attached to a piece of writing, or a certain event in their plot, that they will hold on to it come hell or high water. But I believe that the more malleable you see your work, right up to the point it becomes set in print, then the more likely you are to create a better book. This doesn’t mean you have to follow any or all editorial suggestions, because ultimately, and quite rightly, the author has the final say. However, it is worth remembering that editors are there to help you produce the best finished product you can, not to ruin your treasured script! Therefore their comments should not be dismissed too lightly.
That’s the theory, anyway, coming from an editor’s perspective. But how did I go as a writer? Well, I had this experience with Come Back to Me. The book had a prologue, which was the very first thing I wrote for the novel, and I loved it. Every time I reread the prologue, it made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could get this thing published. So when the script came back with a big pencil line streaking across the first page, I did have a bit of a gulp. And, if I hadn’t had an editing background, I would have probably argued passionately for it to remain – because I loved it. However, the thing is, while I felt it was a fine piece of writing, it interfered with something more important: it delayed the real start to my story. So when I’d had a few minutes to think about it, I knew the editor was right. The prologue was a personally beloved part of an earlier draft, but it didn’t belong in the finished piece. So out it went. And the book is better for it.