#6Degrees of Separation: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

I have been invited to participate in the 6 Degrees of Separation Meme, an original blog tour created by Emma Chapman and Annabel Smith.  The rules are posted at the end of this Blog.  Before I get started I just have to say…Kevin Bacon.
We start this month with The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.  Here is a picture of the lovely cover, which is as far as I have ventured:
Emma has specified that one does not have to have read the first book in the chain in order to participate and can I just say – thank fuck.  With a ‘must read’ pile that has left the town of Daunting and is now approaching the borders of Unachievable, I reserve the right to bypass a tome the size of a house brick which someone dear to me recently described as ‘like chewing cardboard’.  I have no doubt that Eleanor Catton is brilliant, and well-deserving of the Booker.  But I’m middle aged and no longer read things simply because I’ve been told I ‘should’.
Having said that, I bloody love the idea of The Luminaries.  The synopsis, the description of the intricacies of character and plot, the style – it should read like a chic, Victorian-esque cat’s-cradle of intrigue and people you forget aren’t real.  And I do love a wordy book.   Which brings me to the first book in my chain…
Ah, Wilkie Collins.  How many nights have we curled up together like cats.  The Woman in White (1859) is a wordy book, a Victorian epic, a chilling and picaresque melodrama, and a bit of a feminist shout-out.  Wilkie had an understanding of the Victorian Sisterhood.  It also deals with layers of reality and identity – and I love that.  He’s better than Charlie.  You heard it here first.  Which leads me to…
John Fowles.  Talk about your layers of reality and I’m talking The Magus (1965).  Big, fat wordy book about a narcissist having tea with a nihilist, psychological warfare dressed as salvation and manipulation just another mask to wear to the party.  Simply put.  The fact that a large part of the story involved Conchis’ story of his experiences during Nazi occupation leads me to…
Isaac Bashevis Singer.  Specifically, Shadows on the Hudson (English translation 1998).  Funny and bitter.  It’s dark, but again there are layers of reality – that search for balance between the parameters of orthodoxy, new prosperity and deep grief.  What I remember most about this book was being transported.  Lifting my head from the page and thinking ‘Where am I?’ Of really forgetting these people were not real.  Which brings me to…
Diary of a Young Girl (1947).  I read an abridged version of Anne Frank’s diary as a child, then read the unabridged later in life.  Singer never used the word ‘Holocaust’, but by the time I came to both of these books I was emotionally raw to the word.  This is also a book that deals with layers of reality – Anne’s loneliness and isolation pressed hard against the struggle for a sense of normality in extreme circumstances, where no one actually uses the words ‘I’m terrified’.  Which leads me to…
We Need To Talk About Kevin (2003) by Lionel Shriver.  And can I just say ‘I’m terrified’Again, loneliness and isolation struggling to be understood. Fiction dressed as non-fiction (i.e. a collection of letters) – again the layering of reality.  We have the story of multiple people told through the reminiscences of one biased narrator/letter writer.  And that slow, torturous lifting of the veil, the realization of what’s really going on, the deliberately measured pace which is still too fast because as you’re reading you’re begging not to be taken where you’re obviously being taken.  Which brings me to the final book in my chain…
The Lucifer Effect (2007) by Philip Zimbardo.  I can’t believe I’ve ended up with non-fiction.  Is that allowed? Zimbardo is best known for his controversial Stanford Prison Experiment, and the subtitle of this book Understanding How Good People Turn Evil sort of says it all.  We’re all born with a clean slate.  Sure, genetics may load the gun, but that begs the question – Who or what pulls the trigger?
So there’s my chain.  Please check out the chains of Emma Chapman and Annabel Smith, and everyone else who has taken part.  And have a go! – Here are the rules…

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Emma Chapman has a lot to answer for.   I stayed up well into the night reading How To Be A Good Wife regularly muttering “You won’t believe this!” to an increasingly confused dog.  She then gave me the worst book hangover I’ve had in years – I couldn’t think about anyone but Marta and Hector for weeks.  She screwed with my life and I love her for it.  I await her second novel in much the same way I anticipate my hip replacement: “Oh God I can’t wait!  Oh God the recovery time…”
Emma has invited me to participate in this Writing Process Blog Hop.  You can read Emma’s responses to the questions here.  My answers are as follows:
1.    What am I working on?
Who can say balls?  I’ve got a couple in the air.  First, I am busy editing my second novel due for publication with Allen & Unwin in February 2015.  It has one question at its heart: Does doing something monstrous make you a monster?  I refrain from answering this question myself as I refuse to judge my characters.  People do the best they can at any given time given their histories, hurts, and limitations.  And sometimes they mistake denial for strength.
Secondly, I am busy with the WIP which has a deadline of July 2014 (pause for maniacal laughter…my publisher isn’t reading this, right?)  This one is scheduled for publication with Allen & Unwin February 2016. This is a book which asks the question: What gives a person personhood? What defines us? Is it our ‘selves’ or our history, and what happens if our history is obliterated?
I have also had a sneak preview of the brand new German cover of Creepy & Maud (Fremantle Press, 2012) from Königskinder Verlag (Carlsen) in Hamburg, due for release later this year.
2.       How does my work differ from others of its genre?
It’s not cautious in its representation of people and their foibles and never underestimates the strength or intelligence of young adults.  Which is a nice way of saying I have been known to make some gatekeepers uncomfortable.    And by uncomfortable I mean some place on the outskirts of anxious travelling towards appalled.  I suppose I never forgot what it was like to be a young adult.
3.      Why do I write what I do?
Because I have to.  Because little people have set up shop in my head and are constantly whispering stories at me (I think there’s a medication for that…).  Because the minute you condescend to young adults, or try to moralize their experience, you lose them.
4.      How does my writing process work?
Badly.  I am constantly distra…Oh look! – Something shiny!…
I don’t plan other than to hurriedly pause to scribble a post-it if something pops into my head mid-sentence which I think might be useful at a later point.  I then lose the post-its.  My desk looks like the inside of a skip bin colonized by cats.  When I sit down to write I set a word limit for myself which I really shouldn’t do because it annoys the shit out of me.  I don’t move on to a new sentence until the sentence I’m working on is completely finished, scrutinized, torn apart and reconstructed.  I must have two things: absolute quiet and time.  If the neighbour starts mowing the lawn during the limited time I have to sit down and write it can make me homicidal.
So that’s me.  And now I’d like to invite some other writers to share their processes:
Robert Schofield is the author of Heist (Allen & Unwin, 2013) and the upcoming sequel Marble Bar (Allen & Unwin, 2014).  He makes me laugh and listens to me whinge.  Sometimes he says philosophical stuff at me.
Vikki Wakefield is the award winning author of All I EverWanted (Text, 2011) and Friday Brown (Text, 2013).  I love her books and I love the way her head works.
Rebecca Raisin is the author of contemporary romance and adventure.  She is enjoying crazy success with digital publications Christmas At The Gingerbread Café (Carina, 2013), Chocolate Dreams At TheGingerbread Café (Carina, 2014), The Heart of Bali (Escape, 2014), and Mexican Kimono, under the pseudonym Billie Jones (Really Blue Books, 2013).
If you’d like to take part in this Blog Hop, get in touch with these wonderful people before they tag elsewhere!

Being Naked

“She’s not wearing makeup so her face just looks like skin.” 
― Chuck Palahniuk, Choke 

Due to an unanticipated complication to recent illness I haven’t been able to wear makeup for over a week.  I’m like most women of a certain age – I don’t wear a lot, but I have a look, a finish, a mask.  And I was surprised and intrigued by my own, and others, reaction to the lack of makeup.
I like makeup.  I can hide things, enhance things, and was very excited when my son first introduced me to primer.  I had to ask what it was.  He told me to think of it as polyfiller.   Done!  So when you are accustomed to having an identifiable physical face that you present to the world the consequences of leaving it behind when you leave the house can be quite extraordinary.
From inside my head I still feel like the same person, obviously.  However my reality check first hit me when I stopped for fuel on the way to work.  The console operator, whom I see several times a week, asked me if I was unwell.   I said no.  Then I remembered what I looked like.  And became immediately self-conscious about presenting my natural face in public.  I began explaining that I had no makeup on, and then why.  Even as I was doing this I became irritated.  Not at her.  But at my need to explain.
I felt naked.  I felt unfinished.  I felt…ugly.  The feelings continued throughout the days as people asked me:  Have you been crying?  Are you sick?  What’s wrong with your face?
Like most girls, I grew up believing I was ugly.  We do, you know.  We are bombarded with air-brushed, digitally enhanced bullshit from the moment we open a magazine.  Our acceptance as women in this society is diabolically tied to our being suitably coiffed, waxed, manicured, pedicured, made-up and thin.  And we buy into this not realizing at the time that we have accepted a bill of goods that does not exist within reality.
It’s like being naked in public.  People are uncomfortable.   Here’s the sadness – I’m uncomfortable too.  Every morning I look at myself in the mirror and plan how I will hide my face.
Truth is, I’m not ugly.  I was just sold a bill of goods.

Cankles And The Single Girl…

“The really frightening thing about middle age is that you know you’ll grow out of it.” – Doris Day
I’ve never had a problem with middle age.  I like it.  There’s the grey hair that has forced me blonde, the increasing girth, the hormonal chin hair that you never seem to notice until it’s flapping in the breeze threatening to take someone’s eye out, the deteriorating eyesight, and those sudden internal temperature fluctuations that I’m told are to be expected but which I firmly believe are symptomatic of burgeoning Spontaneous Human Combustion.
I’ve resigned myself to having my hips replaced, and to having to sleep with a mask on because I disturb the neighbours…on Rottnest.   I’m OK with going out for a social drink and feeling it’s been a late night…at 7.30.  I’m OK with my favourite perfume suddenly giving me a rash and no longer recognizing the back of my own hands.
None of this matters in comparison to the wonderful sense of settling into your own self, finally gaining the perspective years of dumb choices has given you, and the pleasure of having your response to the world with the odd “fuck you” accepted as eccentric and somewhat charming.   No amount of peculiar physical changes can compete with the lovely peace you find in your own company, the pride in the achievements of, and friendship with, adult children, and the sense that you’ve earned a right to be here.
However, I was not prepared for…cankles.
Not at this age!  And you know why I have cankles?  Because my arthritis medication causes fluid retention! My feet look and feel like foreign bodies.  I occasionally poke them just to watch the dimple created refill with fluid.  I feel like an Oliver Saks patient.  “These feet are not mine…”
So I’m prescribed diuretics.  They give diuretics to someone who already has to wee twice after a cup of tea.  Not to mention the failing pelvic floor muscles.  I’m going to either wet the bed or turn into June Allyson.
Keep your legs elevated as much as possible, the medical professionals tell me.  The last time someone said that to me I was wearing stilettos and a spray of perfume (the same one now giving me a rash).
I’ve never had a problem with middle age…

When Gatekeepers Meet

The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen – Tommy Smothers

For those of you who follow my goings on, you will remember a post I wrote about being censored at a literary festival in 2013.  You can read that post here.  Having been a Gatekeeper myself, and wanting above all to promote and encourage communication between authors, their readers, and the people who decide what our readers can and can’t read in the YA industry, I gave the following interview to Danielle Binks about my experience…

…and what I’ve learned is:

Gatekeepers are ordinary, sensitive human beings with people to answer to.  Having been a bookseller with the keys to the kingdom and a dodgy lock before me, I know first hand that reflexive antipathy is bred in the buyer (and seller) who fears and anticipates repercussions.

I cannot write with repercussions in mind.  They don’t even occur to me.  I follow the voices in my head, who are real people to me, and my goal is to treat them, and my readers, with respect.  That’s all I can do.

I have been in communication with the festival organizer who made that decision to have my attendance at the festival dependent upon not presenting Creepy & Maud.  I like her and I respect her.  Mistakes were made , fear and indignation met, but the outcome has been a conversation that I would not otherwise have had.  I am grateful for that conversation.

The link to my interview with Danielle is below:


The Latest Book Q & A…

Amanda Curtin tagged me in this questionnaire about my bookish behavior. Some of the questions were easy (we all know that b0ok recommended by a friend which ended up secreted in the recycle bin via over-arm bowl).  But choosing favourites from favourites and all the time feeling I have betrayed those who don’t make my paltry lists? – I needed to drink to get through this.  Please feel free to join in.  You can read Amanda Curtin’s responses here.  Mine are below (no heckling please)…
What are you reading right now?
The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Lombardo
(Several people from my past make cameos appearances in this one…)
Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?
 Mad In America – Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill by Robert Whitaker
(I have a cameo in this…)
What 5 books have you always wanted to read but haven’t got round to?
Room by Emma Donoghue
New York by Edward Rutherford
Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
Herzog by Saul Bellow
(Not necessarily in that order, but they are all here and accusing me every time I pick up something else).
What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now?
None.  And why do people have magazines (and books) in their toilets?  I really want to know.  When you visit a friend’s loo and it’s decked out like a second hand book shop, do you automatically pick something up and start browsing?  No!  And do you know why?  Because you’d get cholera!  I’d rather drive to a gas station than pee amongst literature…
What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.  It may have found its feet further in *whispers* – I didn’t finish it…
What book seemed really popular but you didn’t like?
Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
(Yes, I know that’s two but it’s my Blog, get over it)
What are your three favourite poems?
The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams
The Difference Between Despair by Emily Dickinson
Child by Sylvia Plath
Where do you usually get your books?
Almost exclusively online, both hard copies and downloads.
Where do you usually read your books?
In bed or lying on the couch.  I prefer to read supine.  When the book becomes too heavy I turn on my side until my glasses are skewiff.  Then I roll onto my back again and prop my book up on the dog.
When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits?
If I could find a book then I would read it.
What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?
I don’t like to read into the night, especially if I am loving something – I want it to last.  I have only every done this once.  I pulled an all-nighter many years ago with Possession by A.S Byatt.  (Damn you, Byatt!)  I then re-read it, tasting every word.
Have you ever ‘faked’ reading a book?
I “fake-read” Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews when I was in high school.  All I had to do was read the two pages my borrowed copy fell open to (the sex scene) and I was in with everyone else!  I hear she’s publishing from beyond the grave now…
Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?
Yes – a couple of cook books.  And cook books tend to use that paper that smells so beautiful, and feels so smooth.  I was not disappointed.
What book changed your life?
My life is changing constantly so I am changed by books constantly.  This is an awful question and I had to think about it long and hard.  I came up with Amelia Bedelia  by Peggy Parish.  This was the first book ever read aloud to me.  I was 6.  It was read to me by my primary school librarian, Ethel Watson.  I discovered books that day.
What is your favourite passage from a book?
“You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
Who are your top five favourite authors?
Five?!  You want five.  Jane Austen.  Lionel Shriver.  Graham Greene.  Isaac Bashevis Singer.  John Wyndham.  Colleen McCullough.  John Le Carre.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  (I could go on…)
What book has no one heard about but should read?
Killing Time: One Man’s Race To Stop an Execution by David R. Dow.  Personal memoir that reads like thriller.  Intimate yet universal.  One man fighting against a corrupt and ineffective legal system.
What 3 books are you an ‘evangelist’ for?
Mothers of the Novel  by Dale Spender (and you all thought we were adjusting our bustles and getting the vapours)
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver 
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
What are your favourite books by a first-time author?
The Good Wife by Emma Chapman
(Yes, I know that’s one but it’s my Blog, get over it)
What is your favourite classic book?
There are so many.  Everything by Jane Austen and The Midwich Cuckoosby John Wyndham.
Five other notable mentions?
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Happy As Larry by Scot Gardner
American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis
The Magus by John Fowles
1. Post these rules
2. Post a photo of your favourite book cover (see mine below)

3. Answer the questions above
4. Tag a few people to answer them too
5. Go to their blog/twitter and tell them you’ve tagged them
6. Make sure you tell the person who tagged you that you’ve taken part!