Monday, May 27, 2013

Endless Revision

I was caught in that labyrinthine trap, endless revision, until these tips in the Huffington Post helped me find an exit.

31 Most Invaluable Pieces Of Writing Advice From Famous Authors

Earnest Hemingway's thoughts were particularly germane.

Monday, April 29, 2013

7 Tips For Aspiring Writers

If you've ever wondered if upping your alcohol intake would improve your writing, this article in The Huffington Post may be of interest.

If the article doesn't get your creative juices flowing, then perhaps Mason Currey's book about the daily rituals of creative people - Daily Rituals: How Artists Work - will give you some inspiration. I haven't read this book, but the Slate Culture Gabfest team was spruiking it pretty hard this week.

Friday, February 8, 2013

May the Shorts be with You

Isaiah Sheffer’s death upset me. I knew Sheffer through ‘Selected Shorts’, a weekly short-story podcast that, right up until his death, Sheffer presented and directed. I say I knew Sheffer, and I feel that I did. He would climb into my car through my iPod, and he would tell me a little about the short-stories I was about to hear. He was a warm and good humoured companion, and I miss him.

Selected Shorts is still being produced, and it still contains many of the qualities that Isaiah Sheffer instilled in it. This week’s podcast includes stories read by Stephen Colbert and Leonard Nimoy. If you like short-stories, if you like being read to, then Selected Shorts is a real treat, and I recommend you subscribe to it.

You can find out more about Selected Shorts here: http://www.selectedshorts.org/

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Wall

On his first day back after holidaying in Germany, a work colleague walked across to my desk and handed me a small piece of Perspex encased concrete. It was a fragment of the Berlin Wall.

As I looked down at that small artefact, that thumb-sized chunk of history, my head began to spin. Here was the world shrunk to Lilliputian dimensions. This trinket gave me a physical connection to a great event, a hopeful and world-changing event, an event that had taken place many miles from my small city in the South Pacific. This object folded space, made the world, for a moment at least, dimensionless.

Ours is a history defined by wars and walls, barriers and brutality. These things may not define us, but they have shaped us for thousands of years. If we have learned nothing from history they will continue to shape us until we do.

Perhaps my colleague’s small gift is not unlike the gift a writer offers his reader. A story draws us close to things that are far away; it reminds us of our interconnectedness; it reminds us of the value and beauty of freedom, and of peace.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Write Something

There is Something looming in the dark, can you feel it? It’s a big footed Something. It’s a pointy toothed Something.

The Something is getting closer - you can hear it breathing now – and, as you sit down to write, you can feel it leaning over your shoulder. You feel its fetid breath upon your cheek as it whispers in your ear.

“What are you going to write?”

“I was…,” you reply. But you find that the foggy breath of the Something has permeated your mind.

“I was…,” you repeat feebly. For suddenly it strikes you that the very thought of writing is ridiculous. The idea that you might have an idea worth sharing is laughable.

The Something is grinning.

You recap your pen. You close your notebook’s cover. You think the pointless thoughts of a writer who sat down to work but who has just recapped their pen and closed their notebook.

You do not turn to the Something and slap it across its furry chops. You do not turn to the Something and give it a big hug. You sit in the silence, and you do not move.

The Something sneaks quietly from the room. You did not confront him. You did not embrace him. But you feel better - for now, anyway.

Writing is nothing but controlling anxiety, says Janet Fitch, author of the best seller White Oleander.

I agree.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Pocket Oxford English Dictionary


Our friends at the Oxford University Press need to turn to page 692 of their Pocket Dictionary and look up the definition of ‘Pocket’. They might be surprised to find that a pocket is not defined as: “a large bag sewn into or on clothing that is capable of holding a 1,100 page hardcover-dictionary.”

I’m suggesting that even MC Hammer would struggle to fit the Pocket Oxford English Dictionary in his trouser pocket.

Perhaps Dr Who stopped in at the OUP and dropped off a pair of Tardis pants. Actually, this would explain a lot, because the Pocket Oxford English Dictionary has a companion - the Pocket Oxford Thesaurus – and it would take a pair of Tardis pants to contain this dynamic duo.

The ‘pocket’ moniker is a misnomer, but this is still an excellent small dictionary. It fits nicely in the hand and is a joy to flick through. Its definitions are crisp and clear. It’s the dictionary you reach for when you think you know the definition or spelling of a word, but you want to be sure before committing to it in writing.

And I bet those folk at the OUP were happy when they closed out the book with ‘Zygote’. The symmetry is almost Zen: the end of words is the beginning of life.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Slate Audio Book Club


I am listening to Stephen Metcalf, Katie Roiphe and Julia Turner discuss Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert on the Slate Audio Book Club podcast.

Metcalf hates Eat, Pray, Love. Did he just say that he hates the book, hates the author, and hates anyone who would try to defend either the book or the author? It’s hard to tell. It feels as if Metcalf makes sentences by pulling words from an enormous bag, a bag that contains adjectives and adverbs in high proportion. He takes these words and flings them into the air, creating sentences of sidereal splendour, sentences that are as inaccessible as the stars – at least for me. He is a caffeinated personality, Metcalf, and I like him.

Roiphe loves Eat, Pray, Love. She has written an article for Slate in which she describes it as “…a transcendently great beach book.” She is suggesting to Metcalf that he take a breath, that his hate is irrational, that the book has heart, even if it is pulseless artificial heart - a Dick Cheney heart. Metcalf can rant all he likes, Roiphe will not placate him; she is not that kind of woman. There is a palpable tension between them, but they have more in common than they realise. And he likes her: of course he does.

Turner likes Eat, Pray, Love. She is ready to talk about Gilbert’s book, but finds herself, rather reluctantly, in the middle of a group therapy session. She wonders if her colleagues, Metcalf and Roiphe, will leave the room holding hands, but she dare not say as much.

Metcalf is vitriolic. He detests Elizabeth Gilbert and tells his fellow book clubbers this in emphatic tones. The listener, in this case me, sees through Metcalf’s wordy criticism. His dislike of Gilbert is simple: she is a manipulator - her book reveals this - and Metcalf will not be manipulated by a woman. Oh no, Metcalf likes women who play it straight - like Katie Roiphe, for example.

I love the Slate Audio Book Club podcast. It’s informative. It makes me laugh out loud - literally. It’s the book club you wish you could belong to. You can subscribe to it through iTunes.