Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How to Breathe Underwater

I picked up ‘How to Breathe Underwater’ up on a whim. It was at the bottom of a book trade and swap box at a hostel, covered in a thick layer of bodice ripping romances and dust. To be honest I rarely read short story anthologies; it’ll be even rarer that I would consider laying out some moola for one. Yet I loved this book so much I continued to carry it, despite risking herniating a disc from hulling around a ridiculously heavy backpack. The characters are so vividly flawed and fragile I just couldn’t them sit idle, dusty and unloved. Greedy I suppose; I promise to lend* it out I swear.

There are nine short stories, ranging in setting from a vineyard in Italy to a local swimming pool to San Francisco. None of the stories are particularly uplifting. In fact the stories are so bleak they leave a thin film melancholy over you, that sits there even days after finishing the book. Despite the sober stories, I couldn’t help but jump from one to the next.

The writing in ‘Pilgrims’ is so pared back and exacting, you’re drawn into the confusion of Ella dealing with her mother dying of cancer, which is an emotionally raw topic but then the ending of the story is so violently shocking and dark, I probably almost popped a lung from holding my breath. Then there’s poor Isabel in ‘The Isabel Fish’ who is literally drowning under misplaced guilt over a car crash. Whereas Tessa in ‘Care’ had me so riled up I could have slapped her. But then I also want to make her tea and toast, lend her a pair of shoes and a coat. I would also invite over Mira (from ‘When She is old and I am Famous’) to help her forget her condescending cousin. See, Orringer has created characters that not only breathe underwater, but leap off the page.

I can’t recommend this short story collection highly enough that if you ask nicely enough I may even lean out my copy**.

* ‘lend’ being the operative word

** Actually no, I think I am still much too attached to the characters - perhaps if you offer them tea and toast too then I'll consider it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Day of Yester

I'm missing ten days in the outback; and fret over a slew of threadbare days from Kathmandu. I only have mere fragments of time from Hungry and Bucharest. Then there are vast tracts of unaccounted days from London. For sections of my travel journal are so bald and patchy it makes John Lithgow look like a spokesperson for ‘The society for ridiculously lush manes of hair’*

I wrote with the upmost regularity whilst on the truck**. Flicking through the pages the legibility is poor, reflecting the state of roads in third world countries, and the content enormously over-wrote. Some entries I thought would only take up a handful of lines, but rambled forth into two or three pages; typically incoherent ramblings, rehashing the most mundane details of the day. Though looking back on it, the ‘mundane’ occurrences are often the most memorable, like - storing toilet paper in every pocket, communal peeing on roadsides around the world, pouring buckets of water into squat toilets (to be clear my whole journal is not solely about bowel motions and toilets), border crossings with stony faced guards armed to the teeth, broken conversations with friendly Iranians, tea with Turkish mayors, meeting local militia, sleeping in a sleeping bag brimming bottles of drinking water in Tibet or cooking on a Yak dung fire.

It wasn’t always a bed of roses on the road. In fact, many beds where literally fields of thistles and faeces. So there were the hissy fits but also absolute hilarity. I tried to include these aspects in my journal as in the words of Oscar Wilde ‘I never travel without my diary. One should gave something sensational to read in the train.’ So I tried to get to the guts of daily life and record sensational snippets of campfire chat as well as the smells, sounds and sights. I tried to recapture the smell of rotting fish, not just airy fairy wisps of happenings.

Now that I’m back in Sydney, I intend to keep journaling. I face the dilemma of lack of discipline and fear of nothing to write – the same issues as on the road. Does anyone else have these issues? I’m putting together a post with tips about how to successful keep a journal.

*‘The society for ridiculously lush manes of hair’ is an entirely fictional entity. Though if you feel compelled to start said institution please do consider me for membership, even just for the novelty factor of having a founding member with a bird’s nest of frizzy locks a la Ron McDonald esque

** I was part of a group who spent six months driving Overland from London to Sydney, camping on roadsides, beaches, abandoned airstrips and quarries

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How do you do?

I've tentatively dipped my toe into the world of writing with some success, however I want to submerge myself.

Ballpoint Arcade is my office. My desk space. This is a place where I will sharpen my pencils, rifle through my tatty, torn notebooks, surreptitiously sniff crisp new paper before rigorously wrestle with words. It currently looks shiny and somewhat sparse. But fear not, there will be reams sheets of scribbles, piles of dog-eared books, rainbows of post-its, stacks of yellowing newspapers and inky ballpoint pens rattling about. But unlike my real world desk you needn't worry about the sweet smell of decay from the occasionally forgotten banana skin, wedged beneath a raft of papers.

The intention of the blog is to pull up my socks and step up my game. Move past half finished stories and create a new system of filing ideas that doesn't involve napkins or cereal boxes, so budding ideas may bloom. I'm getting professional. Not just aiming to get published but also to hone my writing and editing skills.

I have drawn up a calendar of writing competitions to act as deadlines. They include a range of genres from fiction, essay, creative nonfiction, poetry - as I want to push myself. I'll be taking direction from those who know best - writers. By reading and reviewing books of all sorts from writing how-to guides, cozy murder mysteries, sic-fi, chick lit, classics, nonfiction, fantasy to speculative fiction.

Whilst I plan to write daily, I'll only be posting here three times a week. I'm currently balancing a couple of other writing projects including a travelogue about my recent 9month overland journey from London to Sydney.

Please stop by, nibble on an iced vovo, sip on a cuppa and stay for a chat. Book recommendations are warmly welcomed as well as opinions on the weather and writing.

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