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Archive for the ‘Amazon’ Category

I first met John Macgregor about ten years ago. Turned out he lived down the street from me. John’s over in Cambodia now, having adventures, while I, ever unadventurous, am still in the same street. (Anyone who’s read my trip to NZ post will know that I’m not a traveller, never was.)

 John has recently put his award-winning novel, Propinquity, up on the web. I asked him to write a few words about the book and how he felt about it after all these years. This is what he wrote:

Propinquity cover

 

I tend to think of the 1980s as being quite close in time – a bit like Now With Bulky Devices. But exhuming Propinquity, my 27-year-old novel, revealed just how much Australia has changed in the few years since then.

Propinquity was disinterred for publication as an e-book. This meant I had to read the thing – for the first time since I was a young lad of 36 who regarded it as reasonable behaviour to wear black all the time, and smoke a lot.

I knew I had changed. And I knew my alter ego narrator would have changed (had I attempted anything so gauche as a sequel). Australia was the character which provided the surprises.

To get the difficult bit over with first: during the Mullumbimby section of the novel, my narrator, Clive, regularly goes swimming naked with two girl children (his girlfriend’s kids). That would probably be out these days. Indeed I’m nervous about even mentioning it. I suspect the way this passage was received in 1986 (not a single comment from a reader or reviewer) is different to how it will be read now.

But far more interesting (to me) is that Clive habitually tends to put a negative spin on things. I did not know in 1986  that this “pessimistic explanatory style” is the leading cause of depression. After 35 years of the black dog I was very happy to put it down about ten years ago, thanks to some learned optimism training. Many others have done the same. In my opinion we’re in something of a Golden Age of psychology – an age which lies in Clive’s future. So seeing his episodic gloomfulness now – from that future – is a bit like observing a gloomy adolescent: you feel he’ll grow out of it.

Small, linguistic things have changed too. There are no “awesomes” in the book, but one “whatever”, and one line that made me LOL:

“She laughed out loud.”

And what is it with all these hyphens? Back-drop? Match-box? Stick-figure? Plaster-board? Sun-tan? Heart-beat? Switch-board? Did we ever spell like that? If so, two and a half more decades of Americanisation have ended it.

It’s not just language that’s changed, but diction. After the Loyal Toast at a Melbourne wedding reception, Clive tells us: “The toasting done, assumed English accents at neighbouring tables began to rise again in volume.”

This alludes to a generation of Melbourne society women, who are now all dead. No-one thinks a fake English accent is sophisticated any more, even in Toorak. (One also suspects the Loyal Toast has gone the way of the Divine Right and Charles I’s head.) But it’s remarkable how recently these faux Englishwomen walked (and talked) among us. I can still hear the terrifying, brittle voices which cut the air before them them as they beelined toward you at a party, like the Queen with an icepick behind her back.

The book also suggested how our views on alcohol, diet and health have changed in scarcely a generation. Clive drank a real lot (“we spent a month drinking beer in the Portsea pub”; “The wine was tolerable too, the second bottle tasting better than the first.”), as did his friends. They even did this at breakfast. I don’t drink at all these days, and if I had anything to do with it (which I would) neither would Clive.

And to think that this young idiot also drank iced coffee and ate camembert! Didn’t he know coffee crashes the adrenals, and that dairy is the world’s number one allergen? To make matters worse, on page 126: “I consumed mountains of garlic bread.” These grain foods were the very thing that would soon make me sick for an entire decade, till the arrival of the Internet enabled me to learn that we’re not a grain-eating species. D’oh.

But Clive is incorrigible. He seems determined to submerge himself in over-work, coffee, tax evasion, alcohol, grand theft, garlic bread, procuring perjury and eating dairy – all the vices, not just a few:

“The meetings and telexes and coffees and cigarettes had been endless.” Unspeakable.

Indeed, after he has discovered the divine female at the heart of Christendom, exposed a 2,000-year Church conspiracy, fled Westminster Abbey, been chased by the authorities across the globe, and is finally nabbed by the law in Byron Bay, he tries to makes his escape by slugging a policeman. These days police are armed, and he’d be shot.

The foregoing also reminds me how radically the way people think about God has shifted. Propinquity is saying that everything we have been taught about God is nonsense – a fringe view in 1986, which is now mainstream. The old structures totter on, but the cynicism about them is total.

Finally, for all his sins, my hero Clive was right to suggest a post-revolution firing squad for Rupert Murdoch, for it is his ilk who have ensured that “the old is dying, and the new cannot be born”.

“In this strange interregnum” (to complete the quote from Antonio Gramsci) “many morbid symptoms arise”. Looking around me now at 61, he wasn’t wrong about that.

In 1986 it was thought that we were in with a chance to save civilisation, and the planet that gave rise to it. The ensuing quarter-century saw the ideas and structures by which that could have been done steadily abandoned. Now we’re down to a series of rear guard actions. The emphasis has shifted, with a slow, intricate subtlety, from preventing disaster to adjusting to it. None of that was visible when I was 36, and wore black, and smoked a lot.

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http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00991SMHY

I first met Allan Lloyd in Mullumbimby, way back in the 1980s, when I worked as a volunteer with his first wife Diana; we were trying to obtain a government grant for housing for people with a mental illness in Byron Shire.

In 1994, when I returned from a 2-year stint in Sydney, Allan gave me a ms called The Case to look at. I was immediately struck by his edgy take on life and his clean writing. Now he’s produced an ebook entitled Peace & Love and All That Crap, which has even more of the same.

I’ve always been interested in how authors come to write their novels, so I asked Allan to give me a little rundown on the genesis of his book. Here is what he said:

 

Peace & Love & All That Crap came out of a scriptwriting workshop I was invited to attend in the late 1990s, having had my first film script shortlisted for development funding (albeit unsuccessfully) by what is now known as Screen Queensland. For the workshop, I had to write a treatment and the first thirty-or-so minutes of a new script.

Some relevant personal background: I’d spent much of my life as a walking dichotomy – a left-leaning quasi-hippy working as a freelance advertising copywriter. Talk about a conflict of interests.

And a flashback: Years before, I’d seen a TV news segment showing people protesting about the planned demolition of part of their seen-better-days suburb by dressing themselves in cardboard cartons painted as buildings and being knocked over for the camera by one of their number representing the demolition process. At the time, it had occurred to me that if they’d really wanted to be taken seriously by the general public, they should’ve presented as regular citizens rather than weirdos nobody would want to live next door to.

I based my new film script around that one observation. Drawing on my own advertising background, and people I’d known while living in Mullumbimby, I came up with the idea of a bunch of ageing hippies hiring a cynical public relations expert to help them mount a PR campaign to save a pristine nature sanctuary from private development. The twist was that nobody would take the hippies seriously unless they compromised their principles and faked mainstream credibility.

This script was shortlisted for development funding (again, unsuccessfully) by the Australia Film Commission (subsequently Screen Australia), and then ignored by the Australian film industry. So okay, I figured, if I could write a pretty good unproduced screenplay, it oughta be a snack to turn it into a pretty good unpublished novel.

It was harder than I’d expected. Ninety-odd pages of dialogue needed a narrative. And I wanted that narrative to be in the third-person voice and sounding like the hero’s inner voice, yet not mirroring the style or structure of his spoken dialogue. It took me forever to find what I thought worked and allowed me to have that third-person narrative reacting to the opposing attitudes of the hippy characters the hero has to deal with.

On the upside, the ‘novel’ form gave me room to explore what I’ve found to be a certain integrity and idealism intrinsic to the hippy lifestyle, and contrast it against the delusions and hypocrisy so prevalent in contemporary ‘straight’ society. It also allowed me to include encapsulated back stories for many of the characters, which I believe added extra texture to the story and reading experience. Certain plot elements of the film script, including the ending, rewrote themselves along the way.

When it came to getting published, despite a damn good letter and synopsis (I’m an advertising copywriter, remember) I couldn’t interest a single agent in reading the entire manuscript. The ‘first fifty pages’ highlighted my hero’s unsympathetic qualities without the hippies getting a look in, while the ‘any fifty pages’ option meant that the story’s episodic development became difficult to appreciate.

Did it deserve to find a publisher? I’m the last person to ask. Danielle would say I should’ve had it professionally assessed, and she’d be right. As it was, my partner is an astute reader and often confrontational critic, and she provided perceptive feedback whether I liked it or not. But frankly, I’d had a few years of fun writing it, was by then maybe not mad about any potential hard yards of revision, and in retrospect I think that even my attempts at interesting agents were arguably more about ‘that’s what you do next’ rather than any real personal need to actually see a book published.

So Peace & Love & All That Crap sat around for a few years until I recently decided to self-publish it for Kindle. At the token price I’m asking, I’ll never make any real money out of it even if it sells, but that’s not why I’ve put it out there.

I just figure it’s better read than dead.

Allan Lloyd

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 My guest blogger this month is Ed Griffin, who teaches creative writing at Matsqui Prison, a medium-security prison in Canada. Ed has just released his new eboook – a novel entitled Prisoners of the Williwaw – on Amazon. Over to you, Ed.

 

In the 1980s, my wife and I owned a mom and pop commercial greenhouse. Our business was prospering, but something was wrong. My life was planting seeds, growing tiny plants and selling vegetables and garden plants in the spring. I was becoming what I grew — a cabbage, or maybe a petunia. My mind was dying and I knew it.

          I started playing around with writing. After supper every night I would go out to my ‘office,’ a little added-on room between our house and the garage. It had windows to the front and back and a space heater that was adequate for spring and fall, but not winter. I would sit down at the typewriter and follow my creative muse.

          Whole worlds opened to me. I wrote about the area behind my childhood garage where I practiced pitching, and dreamed of reaching the major leagues. I wrote a short story about a group of prisoners on an island. I wrote a poem about getting along with the Russians. Hours passed. Suddenly, as I wrote, an alarm would sometimes ring in the house. The alarm meant I hadn’t turned the heat on in the greenhouses. I had to shut the door on the vibrant world that grew on the paper in front of me and hurry to the greenhouses to start the furnaces.

          An hour later I’d be back at the typewriter. Type a sentence, stop, look at it, realize it wasn’t quite true and then search deeper. Layers of middle-aged half-truths disappeared, the comfortable maxims I had surrounded myself with — “Business is good. Don’t make any changes,” and “Relax. You’re getting older.” The fires of my youth burned again — civil rights, world peace, a place in the sun for every person. The idealism that had lain dormant for eight years sparked back into life.

          Isaiah was on the scene again, reminding me of the words I read in the seminary and tried to live when I was a priest:

          I have appointed you to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison and those who live in darkness from the dungeon. [Chapter 42-6]

          As I wrote I dug, I searched always deeper, trying to reach the truth. It might be easy to speak a lie, but it wasn’t easy to write one. I started to unravel the tangled skein that was me. These revelations came, not from writing philosophy or self-help dictums, but from writing fiction. Put a man and a woman in a fictional situation. What does the woman really think? What does the man think? Is this real? Is this how people are? Where do I get my ideas? What is human nature all about? Who am I?

          For example, as I wrote about the prisoners on the island, I got to know each one of them. How did they get into crime? Why were they different than me? Did they have a religious education as I did? What did they think about God? Was God a mean father for them or a gentle parent? What did I think about God?

         Amazing. The seminary had tried for twelve years to teach me how to meditate, and here I was doing it while I wrote.

http://www.amazon.com/Prisoners-of-the-Williwaw-ebook/dp/B005S33Q7S/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342834442&sr=1-1&keywords=prisoners+of+the+williwaw

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Before we go any further, I suppose it would be a good idea to let you put a face to this writer, let you know who you’re dealing with, as it were.

This is one of the few photographs I have in which I look even halfway presentable. It was taken in Brisbane in 2010 (I know it’s almost seven years ago; I’m harder to photograph than a yeti) at the 50th reunion of agricultural scientists who graduated from Queensland University in years in ’58-’62 approximately.

What’s a person with a B. Agr. Sc. and a major in Plant Physiology doing writing fiction and editing/assessing manuscripts? It’s a l-o-n-g story …

For more, click on the About section above. For information about manuscript assessments or editing, please see: http://patrickdevalera.com

and click on Manuscript Development Services in the menu bar.

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