Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Joy of Slow: Slow Writing and Close Reading

(I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because it's hard to proofread your own work and it's great to have an extra set of 'eyes'.)

I just finished reading Game of Thrones. Of course, I’m not really finished, but I’ve finished all the books that have yet been published. George R R Martin is still working on the last two novels, and by all accounts it may be a number of years before they appear. Along with millions of other fans, I will wait. When the next book is released, even if that is many years down the track, I will purchase it immediately, and read it hungrily. I’m part of a worldwide captive audience. My reading tastes don’t normally gravitate towards bestsellers. In fact, I tend to avoid them. There’s nothing quite like discovering and promoting a beautiful gem that others have missed. I was, however, heavily encouraged to read this series, and I’m not sorry. Nor am I sorry that Martin is taking his sweet time to complete the books.

Good writing is rarely fast writing. There is slow, hard work involved in creating complexity. There is world building (call it architecture if you want, or setting, or scenes), defining and developing each of the many characters, working up the extensive plot and all of the many threads that bind these people together – some overt and some quite subtle. In such a grand epic, weaving this kind of web can’t be done quickly. There is, of course, talent and skill involved, but above all, writing a rich, complex epic requires application – long, hard, brow-busting work. That Martin refuses to compromise on quality and rush his books out, even though his publishers will almost certainly be pressuring him to do so, is laudable.

Beyond this initial craftsmanship is the extensive, time consuming process of polishing. This ‘revisioning’ process includes ensuring that all of those subtle details are in the right places, foreshadowed correctly (or in a way that will undermine the reader’s expectations – one of Martin’s particular skills), that the underlying thematics are recognisable and that the story elements come together seamlessly. This can be a very time consuming process, involving working through every single word as if it were poetry and condensing, paring back and refining until there isn’t a superfluous word. When you’re producing seven novels, most of which have over a thousand pages, that kind of meticulous detailing is no small accomplishment.

None of this work is quick. There may be moments through the writing process when the author is ‘in the flow’ and things are moving rapidly, but mostly, and speaking from both personal experience and from what many other writers have told me, the writing of a novel is slow, difficult and often painful. Of course, it’s worth it.  At the end of the process, you’ve birthed (and the labour analogy is probably appropriate) something that is uniquely meaningful. Reading work like this is worth taking time over too. Paying close attention to detail or as Julia Alvarez says in her aptly named blog Slow Writing, to "listen patiently, to pay attention, magpie style, to the little details, left and right, to live, to read, to write slowly, the footprints making the path."

All this is to say, in a rather roundabout (call it slow) way, that, just as I’ll have to wait for the next book in the Game of Thrones series, you'll have to wait for my next novel, tentatively titled Tilda’s Song. It’s taking time! That’s time I can’t easily map out or predict, because every couple of paragraphs I’m back to researching. This is all part of the process of working out the story and delving deeper into the truth of my protagonists. It’s hard, slow, painful work, and though I’m not for a minute comparing what I’m doing to Game of Throne, nor do I think that my readers will be waiting as hungrily for my next work as Martin’s readers are waiting for his (in my dreams!), as a writer, I can certainly understand and relate to the difficulties and above all else, the time that Martin continues to put into his work.  Hopefully in the end, the outcome of my time will at least warrant pleasurable attentive reading from my wonderful readers who notice the little details and connect with me on that slow, but meaningful path towards the shared pleasure that only a good, slowly written book can provide.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Writers Festival With A Difference

Writers Festivals are popping up all over Australia – some in the most unlikely places. Those in the capital cities are becoming  crowded with little hope of getting anywhere near the presenting author, let alone being able to ask a question (an indication of how popular they are becoming).

Now in its fourth year, the Whitsunday Writers Festival is unique in that it specifically offers the opportunity of close contact with the authors over drinks and dinner. This year the festival will be held 12-14 July at Coral Sea Resort, Airlie Beach, a principal sponsor of the event.  The Whitsundays are about as beautiful a setting for a writers festival as you can imagine, and yes, the water is really that colour.

This year's speakers include such names as Anita Heiss, a member of the Wiradjuri nation of central New South Wales and author of Am I Black Enough for You, Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters, authors of Journey on the Silk Road, L.A. Larkin, author of Thirst, who will lead a one day thriller writing workshop on Friday 12th July, and marine biologist Tony Ayling.

Previous speakers include David Hill, ex CEO of ABC television and Susan Wyndham Literary Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald who both commented that the festival has a lot to offer everyone, including the guest speakers. As July is peak season for the Whitsundays, this Writers Festival can be combined with a winter holiday. It is a wonderful way to escape the cold weather down South and not as far as Ubud. For further details go to or contact the organizer, Gloria Burley on 0422026793.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Poetry Monday: Lisa Gorton

Flipping through my overloaded bookshelves to decide what to read next is never an easy task.  I'm not complaining one bit, but there are so many good books that come through my letterbox (a reviewer perk), that I sometimes have to make a cursory judgement using a combination of name (have I read and liked their work before?), cover, publisher reputation, and how hard the publicist has worked to get my attention (the good ones contact me personally and tell me exactly why I'll love a book - we all hope for a publicist like that one day...).  Well-respected poetry publisher Giramondo never tries to get my attention, but they do send me great, innovative poetry books on a regular basis and even if I've been swayed and distracted by a great publicist, I'll always try to flip through what they send especially if I've been reading a lot of prose (as indeed I have) and need a poetry break (I do).  In this case the book I picked up was Lisa Gorton's Hotel Hyperion.  I'll be writing a full, detailed review soon, but as has been my tendency lately, I wanted to give you a quick taste of what I've been absorbed with in that fresh flush of discovery, before I synthesise and summarise it.
Gorton could be talking about her own poetry when she says: "Now the reader is walking out into the garden,
into the long rain breaking itself against the glass,
and what was soft tumult
            proves itself new and utterly precise." (15, "A Description of the Storm Glass and Brief Guide to its Use in Forecasting Weather" "VI")  

Following is Gorton herself reading (beautifully) three of my favourite (so far) poems from the book - the first three in the section that gives the book its title "The Hotel Hyperion".  I think, once you begin to listen, you'll see exactly why I love them. The blend of sci fi, desire, a domestic, female kind of longing, and the crispest imagery make these poems both exquisite and powerful.