30 October 2009

part 2 of novel

After recovering from a Menieres Disease/fibromyalgia attack yesterday, last night I did an extensive rewrite of the beginning of part 2 - 2300 words. In a documentary style, covering Lucy's father's life to 1957. And this morning, after distraction of central focus to reading a couple of other things, including the Calvino but starting lighter, the way forward from 1957 suddenly appeared in my fringe vision... a flash back from 1975 in her mother's voice, mother telling story to daughter.

I know I am in good shape when I wake with a fresh idea, not a dark idea...

impressionistic writing, evocation

In Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino* presents cities as described, with great difficulty, over barriers of language and culture and credulity, by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan.

It is a book that can be read at multiple levels. According to Wikipedia, it has been an inspiration to architects seeking ways of seeing places in their essences. In my reading, focused on my writing, what Calvino writes about a city could well be a way of seeing a book, or seeing life, or looking at life generally. The first city described by Marco to KK is 'Diomira'. The description is three sentences long. This is the third sentence:

"But the special quality of this city for the man who arrives here on a September evening, when the days are growing shorter, and the multicoloured lamps are lighted all at once at the doors of the food stalls and from a terrace a woman cries ooh!, is that he feels envy toward those who now believe they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time."
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972, translated by William Weaver 1974, Harvest Edition, p 7

Replace the word 'city' with the word 'book'. Yearn to write it. At the same time, see why Calvino had no more to say, needed to say no more, before passing on to describe the second city.

Or consider this as a metaphorical way of describing a novel structure:

"This is the foundation of the city [of Octavia]: a net which serves as passage and support. All the rest, instead of rising up, is hung below: rope ladders, hammocks, houses made like sacks, clothes hangers, terraces like gondolas, skins of water, gas jets, spits, baskets of strings, dumb-waiters, showers, trapezes and rings for children's games, cable cars, chandeliers, pots with trailing plants."

ibid, p 7

*I am going to provide links like that to Better World Books, no income for me, a better deal for you - rather than attach myself to other bookselling sites on the web which encourage a little pyramid selling)

29 October 2009

Vladimir Propp

Going back through my notes from Kathryn Heyman's masterclass, which I attended in May, I realised I had not followed up her recommendation to read Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folk Tale, published in Russia in 1928. Copies are hard to find, check at Better World Books.

Meanwhile the Wikipedia entry on Propp is very helpful and provocative.

28 October 2009

item for silent auction to support Jervis Bay Arts

Jervis Bay Arts are holding a silent auction at Huskisson Picture Framing 1- 28 November, as a fundraiser for next years SeeChange Festival.

I have loosely lined the drawers of the Loose Woman and am entering her in the auction.

AND when I delivered it, they said, oh wow, she looks much better in the flesh!

Happy bidding! :-)

26 October 2009

Novel - sent part one to Nalo

I have (ahead of 1 November deadline) sent forty pages of the draft novel to my mentor,
Nalo Hopkinson, essentially my intended part 1, this introduces the two main characters in scenes in 1975, 1968, 1998 and the present. I have also provided a scoping paper, outlining how I see the story developing (rather than a firm structure). Now to work on next sections!

Image is of a possible cover with working title.
‘Sensuous’ and ‘intersection’ — at the close-in person-to-person level as well as in the broader Australian to Chinese and indigenous to non indigenous connection levels. The difficulty of life intersection at any sensitive level.

Street art in Melbourne

Helen and I went to Melbourne at the weekend for Nick's birthday. I have placed some photos of street art on two web pages, YOU CAN SEE MUCH MORE BY CLICKING HERE.

Those pages predated blogging as a mass activity. The internet offers opportunities to weave art and information. The Ngukurr school mosaic garden covered in the 2005 photos was also covered by a story on ABC RN Bush Telegraph, for which I also offered this spoken commentary, also designing art teacher Simon Normand's web site.

15 October 2009

using the second person, finding perspectives

In text quoted below I am using the second person ["you"] rather than first [I] or third [She] or more abstract ["It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."]

I do not intend to use the second person through the whole book. Nikki Gemmell fiercely uses the second person throughout The Bride Stripped Bare, an extraordinary and difficult piece of writing, teetering in places, needing to be read as a whole, not hunting for saucy bits as some may. The 'you' works, the book to be taken very seriously. Maybe easier to start with Cleave, published in the US as Alice Springs: Gemmell's raw, chafed, hunting, hunted rhythm and style there have been a big influence on me.

I was very pleased when a member of my local writers group, reading my opening second person chapter (see last entry and 'writing fiction', a couple of entries below that) told me he found it very confronting. Excellent, I said, I am delighted that you found it uncomfortable to be inside of the head of an 18 year old young woman on her way back to Beijing from political imprisonment in 1975.

Other voices will be used, to provide different viewpoints and more documentary passages.

the nature of writing, thinking, existing

I was struck by reading this quote, several years ago, when organising a photo diary.
We saw that Life did not narrate, but made impressions on our brains. We, in turn, if we wished to produce on you an effect of life, must not narrate but render impressions.
Ford Madox Ford, writing to Joseph Conrad

It helped me understand what I was doing, organising an impressionistic photodiary with written content... before the rise of Web2 technologies, using the beauty of old html.

The statement also impacts my writing. There is a strange tendency in reading, for many if not most to want a clear story, when in most of our lives, stories around us are far from clear, the inside of our heads are not clear. So one objective in my writing is to stay inside this 'disclarity' or reality, not make it all too easy. It is valuable to read about the unreality of reality to keep balance in all this. Start here perhaps.

This however brings the writer into the arena of consideration of 'tacit knowledge'. We all have things in our head, local, personal, family knowledge that shapes what we say and how we say it and how we interpret what others say. The difficulty in being too impressionistic is the extent to which the writer may fail to make clear the tacit background, without which the impression is meaningless.

As a first step, the impression obligation is to describe rather than put a value on the object. Too easy to poison a text with own values, not just in saying "he was ugly" rather than that "he stood in the shadow and seemed part of the shadow, dark, short, eyes fixed on me, mouth open as if about to damn me." That's pretty obvious, but in writing I am trying to step right away back from judgement; the characters have feelings, that's for them, they are articulate, but their credibility depends also on depth of reader empathy, which means the reader needs to be able to understand why their feelings are thus and be willing to share that. I am now committed (after several other starts) to the opening in my entry below "Writing fiction" (12 October, my time) but it has seemed too mysterious, so I have added this current day reverie ahead of it:

  1. Slow Steam Train, Xining to Beijing, March 1975
You sit on the top of this hill and look to the sea, alone with this view this early morning. You are alone; it is hard every day to connect, hard to connect also with your own life so much of which seems so far away. People around you seem to have lives they regard as complex, they look at you as nothing, as outsider, some as unwelcome; or, some of them, as foreign trophy. You must be, it seems, the refugee who can’t really be a refugee because she doesn’t seem to have anything wrong with her. Wrong with you? What these days is right? What has been right when? You look back to when you were eighteen, to one of the many hinge points of your existence, etched with acid on you at the other side of the earth. Your mind drifts to sharp recall, always you can recall that time. You sit in warming sun and drowse and jerking through your sleep you can recall it all, the cold of the Qinghai plateau north of Tibet, the comfort of routine in the prison farm, the fear of travelling back from there…

13 October 2009

Mentorship - my great good fortune

I am delighted to have been accepted by Nalo Hopkinson for mentoring of my novel. Nalo works mainly in science fiction and fantasy, but the energy and directness, the humour and raw honesty of her writing should make this very valuable. As will Nalo's cross-cultural and social issues perspectives.

I have to have 40 to 60 pages to her by 1 November ditto 1 December and 1 January, have already been at work revising and developing existing text, lots to build, lots to chuck, I did a typo in my acceptance email saying I still needed an ending of a dynamic kink, meant kind, but kink will do better...

Here are pages regarding Nalo:

My daughter Liz (see also here) drew my attention to this opportunity last week, thanks Liz.

... and thanks indeed Nalo :-)

12 October 2009

Writing fiction

  • There are a number of links in this entry. Click to go there, use the back button to come back.
I am endeavouring to construct a novel located around where I live but also (as one of the characters advised me in June) in China.

Here is a piece I wrote in January, as the drawing and painting transformed my writing.

Here a fragment written in March, beginning to build a voice and rhythm and style.
-- noting Italo Calvino's insight:
The novella is like a horse, a means of transport with its own pace, a trot or a gallop according to the distance and ground it has to travel over; but the speed Boccaccio [in text he just quoted] is talking about is a mental speed. The listed [by Boccaccio] defects of the clumsy storyteller are above all offenses against rhythm, as well as being defects of style, because he does not use the expressions appropriate either to the characters or to the events. In other words, even correctness of style is a question of quick adjustment, of agility of both thought and expression.
Italo Calvino, Six Lessons for the Next Millenium, Vintage edition 1988, p 39.
You see how I went looking for rhythm on that train (not horse) - link above.

Here is the current (October 2009) opening chapter, placing the reader in the head of an 18 year old returning to Beijing with her mother from a labour prison in 1975, late in the Cultural Revolution.

And here is an excerpt from a later turning-point in the book (which will not all be in second person)

... getting away from old areas of writing, like this. There is also the challenge in fiction that, unlike a speech, the novel writer must not preach, must not teach, must find other means to express ideas and make minds go tick tick boing

Photo taken Eyre Peninsula, 2006, life has risks, follow the sign...

Full energy

I had the tabletop [90 x 148cm] with "Winter Dreaming" on it.
I needed to hang it outside in my studio space, under cover, so you could see the big garden vision from the door, distance of about 8 metres.

I needed to paint on the other side of the table, a more indoors vision, a summer vision.
So here she is, life sized, enticingly through the lattice:
"No, don't feel you have to keep your shirt on."

That is the view in from my one year old suburban food garden,
where this new arrival has some company, in fact:
a gifted scarecrow, gift from Banjo
and a semi-buried hitchhiker.
The hitchhiker I picked up last year, lying in a somewhat disarrayed
(and incomplete) state, beside a road near Sydney.
Interesting psychological experience to stuff her in the boot and bury her in the garden.
Police helicopters fly by but so far no sudden interest!
When I was planting the Yarrow in broken crevices of the torso I was unaware
that the foliage of this herb Achillea Millefolium is technically described
as hairy pubescent
So here below is
"No, Don't Feel You Have to Keep Your Shirt On"
without the lattice in the way.

charcoal on acrylic on particle board table top
90 x 146cm

I knew very soon after this quick sketch - soon, that it, after I had sprayed the fixative and it was unalterable, that there were things that could have been done better...
but I am pleased my drawing is becoming more free and confident.

and it's really good to draw on a solid surface and life-size

back to table size

I had been trying to understand how to combine light and dark and also physiology and form in painting with acrylic, back mid year. There is an image here showing a photo from the internet and small charcoal drawing [A4] and washy attempt at rendering it with acrylic. I hung this up for some weeks as a lesson to myself, to study, repent, revise... but rather than revise the same - I was getting bored with the look of it anyway - I took this door (120cm x 78cm) back to rough white acrylic undercoat (interior house paint, the base of everything I do) and last Tuesday, while awaiting the arrival of my local Berry Writers' Group, I painted "Waiting for the Rain on Tuesday 6 October 2009". Violent rain and thunder and lightning arrived as I finished. Very pleased with the listless calm and preoccupation in the picture. You will see a slight Caribbean influence, I had been reading the web site of Nalo Hopkinson. It looks like my work will have one continuing factor, of being done very quickly. This may define media I use. There is a current preoccupation with the female form, the highest form of geography in my opinion. It is also a form that it seems one must paint, must acquire competence to paint, or nothing. Later maybe who knows what... but also sensuality will be a constant, I expect.

work above experiment in understanding light and dark and form
painted over as below
acrylic above,
charcoal on acrylic on 120cm x 78cm plywood
click image to enlarge, use the back button to return

11 October 2009

small dark tabletop phase

I found myself with a curious little three legged phone table and another rectangular coffee table, which may have been a TV stand - in days when television sets were smaller - with a 'lazy susan' top, that swivels around.

The first become Violet, the "Loose Woman" [acrylic on wood]... who lent herself to a label for marmalade made from grapefruit given to us by two women with a remarkable sustainable property not far from here. The purpose of making marmalade is the design of labels (in case you were not aware of this).

The second one, the one that turns around, became a much more complex work, with many layers of charcoal and acrylic... "The hands that Turn the Table."

Rotate the computer to get the full picture here!
Many hands and handsfull, bent on turning the tables.

from furniture to structure

I had made a start on pieces of furniture, had other items gathered to work on, scratching my head while walking past them... but meanwhile I had had some found at recycle nineteenth century windows and french doors installed to divide the house in two. I needed to paint around the new work, but painting the frame of the door got out of hand immediately and then.. and then I began reverse painting on glass.

Reverse painting a person on glass is interesting, interesting technical challenge, also interesting psychologically as you have to begin with the make-up, the superficial... and then move onto the skin and in to the deeper tissue. I had, I confess, developed the image of "Greeter" before coming to terms with the need that she needed more on the back than what was on the glass... there had to be a whole person. And it was evident that such a wild spirit needed the support of her Alter Ego - behind the wilder side of each of us, maybe, maybe, is a sterner, assertive, perhaps still precocious Alter Ego.

They have had their impact on the house....


I do expect my work to continue to change.

Here I had gone in a short space from general drawing to landscape in which female forms instantly became evident, to placing the nude in the landscape.. then the landscape disappeared and the business of human form took over, largely with charcoal. With charcoal or acrylic, I might make the all-important line with the instrument, but develop texture and shading with the hand, the primary organ of engagement with human form. In this case another modest back view (the line as pure as possible, this a one minute sketch) and a table painted as "Fallen Woman"

large, larger!

Picking up items from kerbside chuck-out.... And here I found myself with two tables. These presented challenge because of their sheer size, what to do... Here is the evolution of one table, into a painting called "Winter Dreamer". Took months... walking past daily, hiding it away and getting it out again, doing smaller items in between.

no more classes, no more canvas

I have always had a difficulty with boundaries. And always tended in galleries to look at the interesting practical devices (temperature controllers, bugle head screws, fire extinguishers) more than the contrivances of so-called installations.

I began gathering bits of furniture from the tip and painting on them. Here are two works from early 09:
"Mind your Toes" - on a small stool
"Serving Wench" - on a wheeled trolley

modestly drawing from marble image

In January 2009 Clare Vivian had taken me for a walk around the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, where we spent some time admiring the Venus de Milo-like figure of Rosina, in the nunnery courtyard... one could speculate on the role of such a figure in such a place in former times, with generations of nuns passing by... it was an opportunity to photograph and sketch. Light and shade and more difficulty with face than else. As with the writing, one thing to tell a story, another to define and build characters.

art class

I enrolled for an art class in early 09, attended several classes but found it had more emphasis on rules than tools, I got enough tools and left.

We were to do landscape, I found myself seeing human forms in landscape, they seemed to take over... and you can see the influence of my attendance at Joan Miro's workshop at the golf course :-)

To Drawing Group

I spent a little time late 2008 in a drawing group, getting some basics of charcoal and conte crayon, teaching myself largely, in the company of others.

drawing, painting, writing

I had come to realise that the gap between my non-fiction writing and fiction writing – I was edging across the gap here in this web site of mine – required something of a jump from a cliff as required in drawing and painting. A world of difference between developing and editing a text and placing marks on a surface, which seem to develop a life of their own. I had been framing images in the camera for a long time, in 2008 these images became a little abstract, no, that's not the right word, I was pulling the emotion and intensity from the situation, as in these photos taken in the edge of surf at dawn, Coledale beach, June 2008, after a wild storm. More pictures of that are here.

But this is child's play, camera play, using a whole device for capturing an image, not the same as story writing or painting from nothing. Well, maybe not child's play, but a whole different business, the eye and brain with little reliance on the hands. Some earlier photos of mine, in a format more complex than simple blog, are here.

Thanks to Ruth for looking at these images and others from that day and saying: "You have to paint."

to begin at the beginning

Drawing at Crams Road with Ruth, December 2008. Looking down at Ruth drawing, when two teenage boys hastened by to dive into the river, one after the other.