Saturday, April 28, 2012

My Writing Week: Issue 17, Year 5.

Bryce Courtenay's Embellished Life.

Yesterday I read a large article in the Age Good Weekend magazine from March 17 titled The World According to Bryce Courtenay.  It details many questionable claims Bryce has made about his life. For example, recently I heard that Courtenay invented the mascot Louie the Fly for Morten, not so according to the article, Louie the Fly was around in 1957before Courtenay started in the advertising industry. 

Courtenay, according to the article, claims to have taught English to black South Africans servants in a hall that was burnt down by police. But according to the church that owned the hall it was never burnt down.  Probably Courtenay’s most amazing claim is that while he was running the Boston Marathon he struck up a conversation with another runner who said he too was a writer. When Courtenay asked the writer his name, he told him it was Stephen King.  Stephen King’s executive assistant says King has never run the Boston marathon. 

Bryce Courtenay’s sister says that The Power of One, “wasn’t at all what our childhood had been”.  I read The Power of One years ago, and I thought it was based on fact.  The article also details many more instances where Courtenay seems to have fudged or embellished the truth about his life.

Which brings me to the question:  does it matter if Bryce Courtenay’s seems to have invented a more interesting background for himself? After all most of his novels are fiction. It shouldn’t matter, but it does to me, especially if I am reading a novel, such as The Power of One, and believe the writer is writing from experience and has based the world they have created on fact.

My Embellished Life.

Reading about Courtenay’s embellishments had me thinking how I could embellish my life to make it more marketable to publishers and readers.  I write science fiction, so the first thing I should do is award myself a science degree, but not just any science degree, let’s make it a multi-disciplinary PHD in cutting edge science like nanotechnology or genetics.

Readers seem to enjoy reading writers who have really struggled to make it. So I will tell the world my mother died in childbirth, which my father always blamed on me. He became a drunk after her death and I was left to pretty much raise myself. My drunken father drifted from one job to another, reluctantly dragging me along.  At one stage working as a cleaner at the Parkes’ radio telescope.  

I will always remember him coming home really late one night. I expected he had been drinking, as usual, so when he opened my bedroom door  I pretended to be asleep. He came over to the bed, and muttered something about “they’re  coming,” and then kissed me on the forehead. He had never done that before and it freaked me out.  For a moment I thought I was going to be part of a murder suicide.  But he then went back out of the room and closed the door.

I went to the door to listen for the rattle of the cutlery drawer as he searched for a butcher’s knife.  But then the phone rang, and he rushed outside. I heard the car start up and the tyres screech as he sped off.  I thought he might have forgotten to turn off the security alarm at the radio telescope again. But when his bed was unslept in the next morning, and he wasn’t crashed out of the couch, I thought he might have had an accident. He had. The police said he was drunk, but when I thought about it later, his breath had not smelt of beer or mints.

I was then raised by an Aunty, a catholic missionary, who lived in the jungles in New Guinea. I filled my days exploring and hunting with the local tribe and my nights reading and writing by candlelight. I wrote my first novel when I was ten, it was a three-hundred-thousand word epic about the destruction of an alien homeland by mining companies in search of obtainium.  I sent it off to publishers, including one in the US, but never heard back from them.  Years later the movie Avatar seemed really similar.

On my sixteenth birthday, Indonesian troops came into our village. They accused the tribe of hiding rebels.  At the time I was out in the jungle taking part in an initiation ceremony.  When I returned the soldiers had burnt the village to the ground. There were bodies everywhere. My Aunty’s body was eventually found in the burnt out church. The police came and were suspicious of my white skin. I told them I was  Australian and they put me back on a boat to Australia. Upon arrival, the government authorities didn’t believe I was Australian, so they kept in a detention centre at Villawood until I turned eighteen, when they threw me out onto the streets.

With nowhere to go, and no money, I had little choice but to turn to crime. I lived on the streets, shoplifting, stealing from cars, picking people’s pockets, breaking and entering.  One night I was picked up by this blond haired guy who said he was a social worker. He took me back to this rundown looking terrace house, but inside it was full of all this technical equipment, including a computer, one of the first in Australia. He tried to come on to me, and I ran. The next night I came back with a mate and we ransacked his house.  We took everything we could carry, including the computer.

I taught myself to use the computer, and became a computer whiz. I got into hacking into police databases and intelligence agencies, like ASIO, to see if I could find any information about what really happened to my father and who he thought was coming. My work was noticed by other hackers and a few of us got together and co-founded  Annoymous, which I recently quit after  my girlfriend Caitlin became pregnant. I then used my computer skills to create apps like Doggie Alert. It causes your mobile to bark and remind you to take your dog for a walk. I donate half the proceeds from the app to the RSPCA.

Caitlin literally fell into my arms. I was at a Jimmy Barnes concert, up front near the stage. At the end of the concert one of his back-up singers got her stilettos caught up in a microphone cable and fell off stage. I caught her. She thought I was cute. I thought she was too. So we went out. Had a few drinks, found out we were both into base jumping and we have been together ever since.  

A lot of my ideas for writing come from when I am walking our two golden retrievers, Barnsey and Mossey, in the local forest near Byron Bay.  I have no doubt that I will become a mega selling author whose books change the world for the better. That may sound arrogant, but it is not, I have proof. Recently I converted a police box into a time machine, I call it a Tardis, and it took me into the future.  I discovered that I had written a 666 volume novel called “One Second in the Life of a Single Celled Organism”. The volumes had sold billions of copies and won numerous Booker prizes and even the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The philosophy of the books which included things like eating baked beans and inhaling with only the mouth was followed with religious fever by many.  Singleism, as it became known, eventually supplanted Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Zuckerbergism and Hinduism, even Scientology.  I am eventually elected unanimously the leader of the Earth and the Universe. And yes, aliens did eventually arrive and were repelled by me in…

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Writing Week: Issue 16, Year 5.

Books I Read at High School

I watch the American quiz show Jeopardy on cable and currently they have a Teen Tournament. I am always amazed at the teenagers’ knowledge of literature in these tournaments, and wonder if  they read a lot of the books that appear in the questions as part of the curriculum in American high schools.

I then start thinking about the books that were part of my high school curriculum way back in the seventies. The first book I can remember having to read at high school was The Great Gatsby. If ever a book failed to resonate with a reader, this was one.  The only thing I got from it was a loathing of novels about poor little rich people.
I think somewhere about the same time I read Go Ask Alice, which was about a drug addict who died, I think. As I was not planning to become a drug addict, spending too much time playing golf, it said nothing to me.   

Then I read Macbeth, I remember enjoying the violence in the film they took us to watch, but the book failed to excite my imagination. 

In year ten, a couple of decent books finally turned up. First was Lord of the Flies. Its story really resonated as I was sure if my classmates and I were trapped on a desert island, we would quickly turn against each other in a similar way to what happened in the book. I was sure I would have wound up in Piggy’s group, but I was relieved that I didn’t wear glasses.

Next we read 1984. Now this was a book that changed my life. Someone else had finally noticed that people were sheep. I already knew that Big Brother, in the form of peer group pressure, had a pretty good grip on the people around me.

But then the books deteriorate badly.  I think in year 11 I had to suffer The Watcher on the Cast Iron Balcony. I remember being disgusted by the homosexual elements of the novel. I was still a very na├»ve country lad at the time, the type who went to university and saw that the cinema there had free “Gay” films on. I went expecting to see a comedy.

I had to write an essay about Watcher and I chose a topic which asked whether it was all just crude sensationalism.  I agreed it was. My teacher did not, and gave me an “F”. Thinking the rat was in the cage and I might fail English, I rewrote the essay saying what I thought Big Brother wanted to hear and received a C-, which was a pass in those days.

But then, to my absolute horror, in year 12 we wound up with two very similar novels to Watcher. One was A Difficult Young Man, another poor little rich boy story.  The other was A Kind of Loving, to which my sole response was:  why does the girl eat so many oranges?

So it would seem that most of the Victorian 1970’s English curriculum novels were wasted on me.  I often wonder if that is the case with other people.  If only I had access to information on the web back then, then I could have just co-opted Big Brother’s opinion on them.

Did you struggle to find relevance or empathise with the themes of most of the novels in in your high school curriculum? Did one novel in particular, back then, resonate with you and have you thinking, I always thought that?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

My Writing Week: Issue 15 Year 5

Laptops and Sore Fingers.

I recently had little choice but to buy a laptop computer due to the lack of quality desktops on sale in Wangaratta. One of the reasons I have been wary of laptops is that I had heard that their users were more prone to carpal-tunnel syndrome.  For the past two weeks both my little fingers have been very sore and prone to pins and needles at night. The only thing I am doing differently in my life lately is using a laptop.  

So I have re-positioning the laptop on my desk and raised my seat height.  I hope this does the job because the right-hand pinky can become very painful. There is less pain now, but I have been using the laptop less. I may end up getting a wireless keyboard.   

It would seem that I have manifested a self-fulfilling prophecy with laptops and carpal tunnel syndrome.  Now if I could only convince myself that the world is desperate for science fiction written by me…

Ideas Walking into my Head.

I had been having trouble coming up with new ideas for articles for Divine magazine.  Although I can pretty much write on any subject, the articles have to be relevant to people with a disability. I had come up with one idea about how organisations define a disability, but was having trouble figuring the approach to take.  

Last Sunday, while going on my usual Sunday walk, the article’s angle suddenly came to me.  Just as well I always carry a notebook around with me. I then noticed that I was walking past a particular organisation and another idea sprang into mind. Yay for walks and the ideas that spring into a mind not taking in a constant stream of information.

Book Reviewing Cop-outs.

I heard an interesting debate on book reviewing the other day on ABC radio. The debaters said that the Australian literature scene was so small that reviewers were afraid to give negative reviews that might offend someone they could run into at the next writing event.

Well, the Australian science fiction community seems to be very small. George Turner, who won a Miles Franklin Award way back in the 1950’s and then went on to write award winning science fiction, thought criticism of science fiction writing in Australia was woefully inadequate. This is/was probably due to science fiction writers not wanting to offend their friends. 

Anyway, the debaters then surprised me by saying that they were not against the personal reviews of bloggers, especially because there seemed to be very little genuine criticism in newspaper and other traditional review sources. So maybe my personal type book reviews on this blog aren’t that bad. 

I have recently bought a half a dozen books as a result of good reviews in The AGE. Of those, the ones I have read have been good. I am yet to find a compelling blog reviewer with similar tastes to mine, so blog reviewers have had little effect on my book buying.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review of the Dervish House by Ian McDonald

The Dervish HouseThe Dervish House by Ian McDonald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Dervish House's big plus is its setting, a near future Instanbul, during a heatwave. Its author, Ian McDonald, took me somewhere different from most science fiction novels, he took me away from the west.

McDonald writes such a convincing description of Istanbul that I could believe he is Turkish. I originally bought the novel on the strength of his Hugo nominated “Vishnu in the Cat Circus" which had me convinced that he was Indian. But he is English.

The Dervish house was nominated for a number of science fiction awards in 2011. And I can see why. It is a very ambitious novel with many different story lines and characters. The threads of these stories merge at different stages, some right at the very end.

The characters include a boy who is confined indoors because any loud noise might cause his heart to fail. He explores the outside world with small robots and along the way witnesses an abduction.

There is an antiquities collector who is commissioned to find a coffin containing a honey drenched corpse. Its honeyed flesh is rumoured to have miraculous qualities.

The husband of the antiquities dealer is a hotshot share trader who, along with his buddies, hatches a get rich quick scheme. It involves illegally diverting gas down a disused pipeline and selling it during their artificially created gas price spike.

Another character participated in an unspeakable act against his sister. He seeks atonement, but then starts seeing visions of Gods.

Then there are two partners researching nanotechnology who are desperately trying to engage a venture capitalist so they can change the world with their latest invention. They engage a recent marketing graduate who is equally desperate to succeed and leave behind her rural upbringing.

Finally there is a elderly Greek, who feels that Instanbul is passing him by. He has dark secrets from a past when Greeks were persecuted in Turkey.

There stories take place during a long heatwave where terrorist acts regularly take place.

The Dervish House is a complex book, with the point of view changing every eight or so pages. The constant changing of character means that the story is always fresh, as you wait to find out what has happened to a character or what they will do next.

I very much enjoyed the novel.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My Writing Week: Issue 14, Year 5

Article on Climate Change Submitted to Divine

Last week began well when I submitted my eighteenth article to Divine magazine. The article was about the health effects of climate change. I did a fair bit of research for the article reading large chucks of IPCC and Australian Climate Commission reports.
I had a bit of serendipity while writing the article. A program on ABC radio told me about a disease that increased four–fold in the Darling Downs after the recent floods in Queensland. I then read the disease is on the rise due to climate change, in an IPCC report.

According to the reports, climate change will increase not only deaths due to heat and more frequent extreme weather events, but also increase infections, allergens, diseases and mental illness. And the worst affected state, by a long way, looks to be Queensland.

Hopefully the article will be up on the Divine site soon.

Bookshops Versus Online Buying.

Last week I suddenly realised my mother’s birthday was coming up. I knew she very much enjoyed reading PD James books, so I decided to pop down to my local Collins bookstore and buy a couple. I walked into the store and after searching for a while found only one PD James novel, her most recent release, which I had already given to my mother for Christmas. 

I then went next door to a newsagent that sells a few books, no PD James. I searched a few of the chain stores, one had the most recent release, the other none. Unbelievable.  I was left with no alternative but to buy online.

I knew the Book Depository would deliver within ten working days, so I went to their site. I bought two PD James paperbacks and CD, for $39. If my Collins bookstore had of have the good sense to stock some of the backlist of a major author, the same books and CD would have cost $80-$100.  I wonder if my local bookstore will survive much longer.

Publishers Accepting Manuscripts.

I am way behind in my newspaper reading, the stack is nearly six weeks high, so this might be old news to many. Jane Sullivan in her Turning Pages column on the 25th of February in The AGE mentions a number of publishers are now accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Pan McMillian has a Manuscript Monday, Allen & Unwin a Friday Pitch and now Penguin has a Monthly Catch where manuscripts can be emailed to them during the first week of each month. Penguin promise to read all the manuscripts they receive too. 

Why the change of heart? Are less manuscripts being sent to traditional publishers? Are Australian writers not even bothering with local publishers and submitting them to overseas publishers first? Or are Australian publishers worried that the next JK Rowling will give up after the first three rejections and self-publish an ebook? Ben Ball from Penguin said “the digital world is bringing us closer than ever to readers and, therefore, writers…we want to be an even more active part of the community.” 

Whatever the reason, it is good news for those who have a manuscript to submit. I am still a long way away from that stage. The novel I am barely working on is a long way from finished. Currently I am 82,000 words in, with an estimated 30-40,000 words to go.