Review: Herman Koch’s Summer House with Swimming Pool in The Australian

summer houseSummer House is a dark satire, scalpel-sharp and more cohesive than The Dinner, with a more complex unreliable narrator, a compelling structure, and a sutured but festering wound of themes.’

Read my review of Dutch author Herman Koch’s disturbing novel Summer House with Swimming Pool here.

I also reviewed his previous novel, The Dinner, for The Australian.

Flash fiction is like a good dram

Cross-posted from the SA Writers’ Centre blog. I wrote this post ahead of my flash fiction workshop at the SA Writers’ Centre in Adelaide (this weekend: 22 June, book here). I also have workshops coming up at Writers Victoria (see also my interview), the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre, and at Byron Bay Writers’ Fest!

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On my desktop is a whisky wheel, a device that’s supposed to help you with your tasting notes when sampling single malts. Does your drink have a touch of black pepper on the nose? Or is it orange blossom? Is it lactic or nutty on the palate? Is the finish more toward the end of mint or tobacco? And how long does it linger on the tongue?

Those who know me have probably realised I’d eventually get around to using whisky as a metaphor for writing. Flash fictions—stories under 1000 words—are like a good dram. You savour them, roll them around in your mouth, are left with resonant remnants.

Here’s a little guide to tasting flash fiction:

The nose

The tone, voice or mood is set in the first few lines. Or if it’s a really short one, in the first few words. Some flavours the opening might go for: intriguing, dark, buoyant, amusing, suspicious, arresting. Or, indeed, honey, smoke or cloves.

The palate

We’re into the story now. There’s a character or characters. Something happens, has happened or is about to happen. The flavours (if it’s a good dram of story) are working together to create a cohesive effect. Something could be coming through very strong, like smoke or desire. The flavours are setting off little pings of association in your brain: your childhood, your fears, his garden, her lipstick.

The finish

All good things come to an end. But there’s a lingering in a good, complex dram or story. Did it slide down smoothly? Or is there a hint of bitterness left at the back of the tongue? Are you experiencing a jolt of sweet sherbet? There might be a warming in your chest, a sudden clarity, or a fading melancholy.

How powerful some flavours are: fresh cut grass, wet dog, roses, butterscotch. The flavours themselves, and the associations they uncover, can remain in the memory long afterwards.

With flash fiction, you have so few words to work with – 30ml worth, perhaps. There are many different types of flash stories, though a series of them from one author might take on a certain flavour profile (like single malts from a single region). Reading a range of stories from different authors will help to build your palate, help you to find out what you yourself can do.

Join me in the bar and let’s enjoy a dram or two.

Review: Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame in Readings Monthly

owls do cryI reviewed Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame (released with a new foreword by Margaret Drabble in the Text Classics series) for Readings Monthly, with the book still ringing in my head (hence the style of the review). When I read Frame I am reminded, too, that a writer might deliberately eschew grammar rules, in aid of rhythm or mood (and that’s the only nod I’ll give on here to something that happened last week). Here’s an extract:

‘[Frame] pierced the world with her eyes and her senses and we’ll always have the treasure, like this, her first novel, sitting among the best modern novels, so sharp and vivid a voice, so sure so early on, despite the hurt and horror of what she had already been through; a writer and a poet waiting always inside her (and here now) in the place of treasures and darkness, with her own sense of punctuating space, her own way of seeing how the world is like the body and how the body contains a torrent of images and worlds of associated sensations…’

Read the rest here. And then go and buy it (and everything else by Janet Frame).

Interviews in The West Australian and Tincture

Picture by William Yeoman for the West Australian.

Picture by William Yeoman for the West Australian.

In the West Australian:

‘I thought of (Captives) as a pillbox of stories,’ Meyer says. ‘There are different coloured pills – a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one—and they produce different effects and maybe you can’t take too many at once. And they’re a little dark and a little strange. But I think they have to be that way to get across those ideas of fear and that we’re captives within our own minds. We can’t escape ourselves. I hope Captives taps into peoples’ fears—but in a good way.’

Read the rest.

And interviewed by Daniel Young for Tincture Journal (where some of my stories have been previously published):

‘[The themes are] definitely something that emerged organically, although I’ve been aware for a while that my best writing tends to emerge from the place where my anxieties lie (which is not far removed from my passions). There’s a knife’s edge between happiness and melancholy, to paraphrase Virginia Woolf, and my writing is attuned to that. The knife’s edge also separates what is considered ‘normal’ from what is not. That’s something that fascinates me and is another theme that runs through the book.’

Read the rest.

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LiteraryMinded is seven; Captives is born; writing-work balance

CaptivesFCR (1)I missed my blog’s birthday. For the first time. You can imagine why. Something else I’ve written has just been released, my tiny book of short fictions, Captives. 

Actually, there’s more to it than that. I haven’t felt like I’ve had a proper chance to let publication wash over me, that now when I say to someone ‘I’m a writer’, and they ask, ‘what’s your book?’ I have an answer.

It’s just that I’m back in extraordinarily-busy-saying-yes mode… That’s why I truly missed my blog’s birthday. I’m working on two contracts (one editing, one writing), have started an awesome new casual job at Nant whisky bar, have two reviews, one essay and one academic paper due, am judging two writing competitions, preparing to report on a conference, preparing an interview, preparing for a HUGE amount of festivals, events and workshops, and trying to keep on top of social media etc. around my book’s release (and continuing to promote The Great Unknown). I’m a little stressed, admittedly, but I’m also grateful. When I got back from overseas it was so difficult, at first, to find work. I’d much rather have too much work, than too little. And everything feels (almost) balanced: a little reading, some writing, a bunch of emails, some editing, and then whisky.

Except for one thing: not enough creative writing going on. I’m managing about once a week at the moment. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Do many people manage to write a lot when they’re in the throes of promoting the current book? And how do other authors manage balance between book promotion (and career building) and making enough of a living? This is a question that’s been fascinating me, last year (when I finished my doctorate) and this year: what is the ideal job for a writer? Is my bar job ideal, because it’s casual and flexible, and still stimulating (I love the smells in the bar, and hearing people’s different stories about how they came to like single malts—it often involves travel). Or is freelance editing ideal? I just love putting that logical part of my brain to work: problem solving; knitting text, spaces and punctuation into something neat. I get to put the control freak to work, purge her a little. Editing feels powerful, I think. But it does use up a lot of brain power, not exactly from the same area as the writing (at least the drafting) comes from, but close by. Enough to drain you of words for the evening. I don’t think I’d want to edit full time.

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I don’t think I want to do any one job full time.

Can I manage this ‘juggling’, then? And still write, and still pay the bills? I’m going to try.

A grant would be helpful, of course! Or an advance. I am so enjoying writing this novel and it would be great, after some of these contracts ended, to have more time in the week to immerse myself in remote 19th century Scotland.

But hang on, let me take a moment here. I have a book out! (Always thinking of the next thing.) And it’s even receiving some lovely reviews and attention. The other day I received an email from an author whose book I very much admired, telling me she admired my book! It made my day. I couldn’t quite believe that she’d written to me as a peer (I know, but I’ve admitted to my inadequacy complex on here many times over these past seven years).

I’ve linked in the past few weeks to some of the guest posts/interviews I’ve been doing around the book’s release, but recently Captives has also been reviewed in Readings Monthly by Brigid Mullane, and Bronte Coates interviewed me for the Readings blog. Author Annabel Smith also interviewed me (on the writing process) on her blog.

And The Great Unknown is kicking on! It received a review in the Australian last weekend, by Kirsten Krauth, alongside the latest Sleepers Almanac. I still have to put up the last of my author posts from TGU on here. Will do soon…

Please also check out my events page while you’re here!

And while I’m rambling on, I must say that I’m reading some incredible books for upcoming festivals: Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest is bowling me over, and Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals is lingering long in my mind. I put a small note on that one on Goodreads.

But I also feel I’ll never catch up on all the books I want to read: Alex Miller’s Coal Creek, Chris Womersley’s Cairo, Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book (not to mention Carpentaria), Christos Tsiolkas’ Barracuda, Emily Bitto’s The Strays, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign Soil, Clare Wright’s The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, and now Paddy O’Reilly’s new novel, The Wonders, has just landed on my desk. And I have an advance proof of Jessie Cole’s Deeper Water… (!)

All the books.

OK, I best get on with my work for the day. Thanks for coming by, it’s been swell.

Flash fictions: key words and after-images, on Booktopia

franz-kafka

On the Booktopia blog today, I discuss flash fiction and short fiction; my own and others’ stories, intentions and possibilities. Here’s an extract:

In a short story, every word must count. What is left out is as important as what is left in. The writer must create and maintain a particular tone, or mood, and create a piece that feels whole (not a fragment) but that may evoke much outside its confines. With my own very short stories (also called flash fictions or microfictions), I want the characters, images, themes to live long in the reader’s mind. I want them to have some impact.

You might compare a very short story to a complex painting – a narrative-based painting – where the symbols nestled in the setting and upon the figures work together to not only suggest a particular story but hopefully move you to feel something, something you may not even fully, consciously comprehend.

I hope you enjoy reading the rest.

Signing a contract for an unfinished manuscript, on Writers Bloc

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Click here to read my piece on Writers Bloc about signing the contract for Captives before it was finished, and the ensuing writing process (while travelling). Here’s an extract:

I wrote a few of the stories around sessions at the Edinburgh International Book Fest, including a couple which are postmodern or referential. This reflects the fact that, like the narrator of Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman who knows Lolita’s mother better than she knows her own, I don’t like to separate out my ‘real world’ and ‘cultural’ experiences too much, because I’ve spent so much of my life immersed in fictional spaces. Not only in books, but in places like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, or the post-apocalyptic glam world of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs.

CaptivesFCR (1)Captives is available for pre-order from my publisher, Inkerman & Blunt, until 30 April (free postage). And the book will soon be available (or at least available to order) at all good bookstores. The official release is only days away! The ebook will also soon be available…

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