Poet and Novelist
Melbourne Writers Festival is here again and as usual poetry will get short shrift unless it's more competitive ranting and slamming - just so the punters can recognise it – in the form of bad jokes, comic strain, shouting, cliched and clumsy imagery and, for a quiet variation, whispering kitsch. A few guest poets, this year, more Emily Zoey Baker with performance in highlights? One day they will remember how it used to be and schedule poets to sit among other writers on panels and also simply read and discuss their poems.
Still, the last poetry sit-down-and-listen session I attended in 2011 was hardly encouraging. Called Poetry and Music, and what a waste of money time and talent it turned out to be. Anna Goldsworthy the pianist was on the panel and shouldn't have been, even if her father is a minor poet; PiO was doing his usual thing of getting progressively louder and should have been let loose in Federation Square. They should have retired the too-polite and utterly inappropriate non-poet chair and just... let... Les Murray and August Kleinzahler read their poems. But in 2012 we have Sir Andrew Motion. He's not old. Just an Establishment Poet from England. Oooh.
It is finished bar the shred-fest of in-house editing. Novel number three. It appeared directly on my computer screen at something like 1000 words a day during the last semester of my lectureship at Melbourne Uni. That was 2008.
This writing was to be a two-way negotiation with myself: to create some form in that last hot semester and, for the first time in my experience as a writer, to set a number (or thereabouts) of words per day and write to that number every day and see what accreted. I chose 1000 words for no other reasons than the nice healthy figure and it being (surely) very do-able. The words could take 15 minutes or three hours, time wasn't the issue; that I was impressed by the words was the issue. I would call it a 1000 only when I had achieved something special each time. I had a few characters to play with and quite unexpectedly an eccentric narrator immediately took over the 'writing' and a comic novel began appearing in front of me. I had never before typed my work directly onto the screen. I write poetry longhand and my two previous novels were also done in longhand. I wanted to be a real writer!
I wrote something like 33,000 words that year and in 2009 perhaps 30,000 more and in 2010 I added 60,000 ... so by 2011 I had approx 120,000 words.
2010 also saw the publication of Keepers (it was written in 2006-2007) and in 2011 The Keeper of Fish by Alan Fish arrived, written concurrently with Keepers. In between, I discovered Keeping Carter - a high-spirited and misanthropic burst in 2010, which was topped up in 2011. Now all three books of that dubious trilogy are published and the first two have been re-printed. They are out there on the street bothering people.
So, back to the novel, which has collected another 10,000 words, and falls with a great thud. There does seem to be a line of continuity in tone and especially satirical humour running through all these books I have written since 2006, ending in full madness in the novel. Its provisional title is The Waiting Room. And its ghost writer-ancestors are Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett and possibly Flann O'Brien. If anything of these writers has rubbed off, I'll be very bloody pleased. It's not for me to say. There is little storyline, though some, and there are many eccentric characters, none more so than the narrator - who is not characterised technically but is best described as third-person indulgent.
Everything is in the detail and the observations and the frequent dialogue.These are not people you are likely to meet very often, and just as well!
Good news for readers, listeners and writers who do not want to be bored shitless by long live reading events!
In 2011 a new monthly reading was initiated by Melissa Howard and Oliver Driscoll and held at the Schoolhouse Studios in Abbotsford. The readings immediately attracted a good following and published writers were contacting Melissa and Oliver asking to be on the reading list. That's success.
The idea was novel: four or five guest readers allocated approximately 10 - 12 mins each and no dreaded open section! For 2012 the organisers have announced a new season but have changed the name to The Slow Canoe Readings. The poster is a very Jeanswest in look, and maybe even Deliverance, but the writers are all real people reading their freshest prose, and not a hillbilly in sight.
This line-up includes a new feature - a reading from a writer much admired by the organisers (this week it's Oliver's choice, Aleksandar Hemon).
My home page has a couple of pics from the launch and I will place both video (hopefully) and text of the launch alongside them or on the website somewhere more discrete. Don't want that Carter character let loose, nor the Professor Ross Bennett who isn't. Actually, Alan Fish and M A Carter called to say they couldn't make it. They had absurd excuses but then the day before and the day itself went close to being pretty hot. All the bar tab was drunk. Thank you to all those who attended and I hope the brief comments signed in your books on behalf of Fish and Carter are readable. 'Carter' even signed Kevin Pearson's copy of Keeping Carter in left-handed mirror-writing. He is very interested in mirror-neurons. Or newer morons.
So, always a relief to pass the books on to the public and get back to other works.
Note: The Keeper of Fish sold out just weeks before the launch. Puncher & Wattmann have a good relationship with their printer* and it was re-printed just in time for Melbourne. The Sydney launch was held in December, part of the P&W Xmas party.
* McPherson's Printing Group