Reading, watching, listening

The City Kino in Wedding

Reading is what fuels my writing, and possibly since deleting my Twitter account I’ve gotten back into it big time. Here are a few books I’ve adored recently.

How to End a Story by Helen Garner
Oof. Helen Garner’s account of her marriage breakdown to ‘V’. Beautiful writing, as always, and so much narrative tension I had to stop and focus on my breathing a few times. A masterclass in the power of crafting simple, lovely sentences, but also in handling a stressful life event with aplomb and also getting a book out of it.

Love and Virtue by Diana Reid
Everyone loved this one and it’s easy to see why. Just a great campus novel with a beautifully realised narrator and Sydney and academics behaving badly and and sticky moral questions without simple answers. She has a new one, Seeing Other People, coming out soon.

Locust Summer by David Allan Petale
A fellow Fremantle Press author, this is his story of a family’s final harvest in rural Western Australia, narrated by the journalist son who has left home for the big smoke. I raced through it in a couple of days – the women characters are really strong, particularly the mum, and it has a kind of gentle aching sadness throughout that stayed with me.

Born into This by Adam Thompson
An entire book of short stories doesn’t always work for me but these ones did – such polished writing and deft characterisation and some unexpected twists that reminded me a little of Roald Dahl. This book made me remember how much I love a short story, well-told, and made me think in new, different ways about this place we call Australia.

Edith’s Diary and The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.
Edith’s Diary was published in 1977, and tells the story of a middle-aged woman living with her disturbed son, a wayward husband and said husband’s malingering uncle. When her husband leaves Edith for another woman, he doesn’t take the uncle with him. So she is essentially caring for two men, while keeping a diary where everything is far more rosy. It’s a sad, thoughtful book. It reminded me a lot of Revolutionary Road.

I then read The Talented Mr Ripley and it was amazing to see how much freer Highsmith’s voice was when she slipped into the character of Ripley, a man, a con artist, a murderer. And then of course I had to watch the film again and swoon over every scene, costume and interior, and the evil brilliance of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Falling by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote the brilliant Cazalet Chronicles, a semi-autobiographical account over five volumes of a solid British family who fall from wealth in the war years, set between London and Sussex. I adored these books – Hilary Mantel wrote about why they were so important in The Guardian – and so does pretty much everyone who reads them. Falling is based on an experience the author had late in her life of being taken in by a romantic conman, and it takes you back to a time when such characters had to do their conning in person and not online.

Two great interviews for writers: first up was Natasha Lester on Writing Historical Fiction with The First Time Podcast talking about moving from university to poetry and literary novels to the best-selling historical fiction she now writes, and how she works.

And the second was this one between Astrid Edwards and literary agent Melanie Ostell on The Garret on what she is looking for in authors. Given her background, she’s also talking about what publishers are looking for, and her thoughts here on things like authorial control and voice and the time-pressured nature of the publishing industry are worth hearing. I absolutely nailed a lasagne while listening to this one, so that was a bonus.

I also attended an online talk on writing kids’ fiction with the Australian Writer’s Centre. I’ve got a middle grade chapter book I’ve been working on for a while with my son and am tempted to take their Writing Children’s Novels course to get inspired once I’ve finished my current draft.

And on Monday nights I’ve also been doing a prose poetry course online with poet Carrie Etter. These run for an hour at night – we read a few prose poems by a particular author, talk about why they work, and then write for twenty minutes or so using an exercise based on that particular poem. Then we have a quick chat and say goodbye.

It’s such a great approach – Carrie is so knowledgeable and enthusiastic and you come out of that hour with a few pages of writing. Although I write prose I find studying poetry useful because it really makes you focus on each individual word, and on editing your work right down. You can follow her on Twitter where she posts when her next course is starting.

Berlin has some wonderful old Kinos or cinemas and I’ve been getting out a bit with my friend Kyra, also from Perth, to see them. We watched Navalny, a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who was treated in Berlin after an attempted poisoning attempt by the Kremlin before returning to Moscow. Brilliant and worth tracking down.

Last night we saw Klondike, a Ukrainian film about a couple living on the border of Russia and Ukraine, and the downing of the Malaysian Airlines flight in 2014. Very simply told and beautifully acted, and an insight into the individual family conflicts and people behind news footage and what we’re told about Ukraine through the media. This was at the City Kino in Wedding – a beautiful old Sixties building.

Jurassic World Dominion – this was so much fun, I am going to make the most of this time when my kids are at an age where they can sit through an entire movie and will happily go with me. I loved it.