Longing

I am behind on my RAF reading (I am behind on life in general ), and so this will be a write up of four stories. And though I’m aware of that human bias to find connections where there may be none, I think all of the stories have a certain longing in them.

In Issue 3, Ashley Hay describes a young girl’s adventure to find water sprites. It is one of those pieces where the reader possibly understands a little more than the narrator herself. Beautifully drawn, and quite sad: I was worried for the girl’s safety at times. Its companion piece is Sean Rabin’s Old Gods.  A slightly mad, or perhaps maddened, man fills his apartment with books and attempts to deal with his noisy neighbours. It is a paean to both reading and books. Those who cherish a peaceful spot to read will enjoy the protagonist’s unintended revenge.

Two Peter Carey short story winners feature in Issue 4.  Catherine Padmore’s  To Whom it May Concern describes a woman’s reaction to an unexpected email.  Her history and her memories are beautifully evoked. But the story that has stayed with me the longest is  Cameron Weston’s. It is, I am glad to say, a story in which nothing much happens except that a writer falls a little in love with a pigeon. Writing can be a type of yearning, and I think Weston captures that here.

And no matter that I find myself without the time for yearning, or longing, or getting much done at all from the list of things I really want to do. There has been time for a little reading.  And that is a blessing in itself.

Perfume, Rain, and Chaos. Two New Stories from RAF.

There are no super powers in the latest Review of Australian Fiction, but each of the main characters possess an extraordinary ability.

Do you remember Patrick Suskind’s novel Perfume? What if the protagonist had been somewhat less psychopathic (though as completely self-obsessed) and had become trapped in the kind of corporate dullness that ruins many men? And what if you had got to hear from his wife? Equally as gifted, but in a very different way. This is the scenario that underpins  Anna  Tambour and Simon Brown’s Joy. I don’t think it gives away too much to say this is not a happy marriage.

But Laura E. Goodin has a happier view of human nature. She imagines a very wet Australia in Water Cools Not Love.  This  is a story set around cricket and climate change and chaos theory, and it is, believe it or not, a very funny piece. I’m glad to see the phrase, ‘Yeah, no, I’m not real pleased,’ will persistent into Australia’s extraordinarily wet future.

Two Great Stories from Review of Australian Fiction

I’m just delighted to be receiving one of the Review of Australian Fiction’s Reading Fellowships. And it started a few days ago with Volume 22 and two wonderful stories by Angela Slatter and Angie Rega. Two fantasy stories, no less.

Angela Slatter’s A Little Mermaid, in Passing tells the well known Little Mermaid story from the point of view of the sea witch. We learn about the way in which she views the young women who come to her. She laments their attitude, the way in which they are prepared to give up so much for men. I empathised. But then Slatter turns the tale a little, and dives into the complicated and sometimes cruel relationship between mother and daughter, and between sister and sister.

Angie Rega’s story, The Fairy Midwife, is also about the relationship between women. This time, a woman yearning for a child and a grotesque and mercurial fairy midwife. The tale is full of sorrow, desperation, and revenge. The ingredients in the best of stories.

Thank you RAF! I loved them both.

Maps (or what to do when your characters are walking in circles)

When I’m writing I usually have a rough map by my side. Something to show where the characters are, where they’re headed and a few topographical features. If the poor characters are mostly inside, I have a sketch of layout of the house they’re in, so I’m not lost when I’m describing their movements.  I like my maps, but they’re pretty humble and usually as much a work in progress as the writing itself.

But recently I found the work of @unchartedatlas, otherwise known as Martin O’Leary. O’Leary elevates fantasy map making to a whole new level and has designed a process for generating maps with realistic terrain. Impressively, he has also worked on an algorithim for generating place names, so that they sound interesting, but cohesive, as if they had sprung from a real language.  (I usually steal my place names or use Scrivener’s name generator for inspiration)

For a real life version with an arty feel, there’s Map Stack. Here’s the watercolour version of Sydney:

Sydney map

 

And yes, all this is semi-procrastinating and largely because the latest video from Brandon Sanderson’s BYU lecture series isn’t up yet. And my small, only somewhat respectable word count for today, is possibly all there’s going to be. Ah well, let’s call it worldbuilding

Rachel Funari Prize Shortlist

Just a quick jump onto the blog to say I’m thrilled that my short story, An Unexpected Season, has been shortlisted for Lip Magazine’s Rachel Funari Prize. The story is one of my rare ventures into purely literary fiction — no robots, or magic, or any other genre elements! Well, actually, now that I think about it, there may be a little. But just a touch. Congratulations to all the other short-listees. The winner will be announced at the Emerging Writers Festival on 17 June.

Where’s the conflict?

A story I wrote recently came back after some time away on submission, rejected but with several rounds of comments. I’m usually glad of comments, even if the piece is ultimately declined. It’s a chance to learn, to really see your work through someone else’s eyes. Sometimes, of course, the comments come from a parallel universe which appears to have very little in common with your own.

One of these recent critiques struck me. Where’s the conflict? it asked. Why doesn’t the character grow and change? These are valid concerns and good questions to ask, especially if you are to avoid the dread vignette. But conflict can take many forms. Life is not all about arguments and violence. Conflict can be something perceived only by the protagonist, something internal. So can growth and change.

Perhaps I’ve counted too much on the recognition of experience. The reader’s understanding, without too much being stated, that this is how the character would feel, that this is the conflict she would be experiencing.

I’d argue, too, that not everyone grows. We become stuck in our ways, despite the evidence, despite the prods the universe gives us. That’s part of the human condition, often a sad part. I’m tempted to add that the need for overt conflict is a very male trait, though I’m not sure if that’s entirely true.

I’m rewriting that story. But not too much. Sometimes the quietest things are the best.

Onwards and upwards.

woman warrior

Only the good die young

None of us are truly good, most of us aren’t particularly trying. But there are good actions, good intentions. I’ve been wrestling with how to write about them without making them boring or schmaltzy. (not for this current story, but perhaps for the next) Marillyne Robinson does it. And possibly, on a lighter scale, so does Alexander McCall Smith. The TV show Rev manages it too, I think.

There’s an easy fix: the complicated character who does something good. My daughter wanted her nose pierced recently and, because we were on holidays and I, apparently, had made a vague promise in the past, we ended up following Google to the nearest available place. Me, with the articulated thought that if we didn’t like the look of wherever it was we were heading, we didn’t have to go in.

100 metres north, up in a dodgy lift, and we came to a small shop. We were greeted by a woman with multiple piercings (no surprise), wearing a goat’s head ring, a goat’s head necklace and a T-shirt which read something like Drink Coffee and Worship Satan.

I smiled and handed my youngest child over to her. And, as it turned out, she was the most helpful, reassuring, patient body piercer (if that’s the correct term) I have ever encountered.

So that, or something like it, was an easy story.

But we are so drawn to the bad, to the outre, to the shocking, that everything else is so easily passed over. And to be deeply good is profoundly difficult. A life’s calling and never attained. Perhaps the writing of it should be equally difficult. I will let my subconscious cogitate some more.

cemetery at St John's Gordon(The view from my hairdresser’s car park.)