book review: Eyrie by Tim Winton

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winton eyrie

the author and the book
Who doesn’t know Tim Winton. OK, if you don’t. Tim Winton is an iconic contemporary Australian author. Having earned his “chops” (a Winton-ism) through both study and practice, he holds a very substantial place on the Australian literary landscape. Words are his art and you will always be astounded by his talent. Other books include, one of my favourites, Cloudstreet, along with Dirt Music, The Riders, An Open Swimmer, Shallows, Breath and The Turning which has recently been made into a 3 hour series of the 17 short stories.

Published in 2013 by Hamish Hamilton (imprint of Penguin Books) it is 424 pages of gut wrenching drama, so not a breezy, little read by any stretch.

the blurb
“Tom Keely’s reputation is in ruins. And that is the upside.
Divorced and unemployed, he’s lost faith in everything precious to him. Holed up in a grim highrise, cultivating his newfound isolation, Keely looks down at a society from which he’s retired hurt and angry. He’s done fighting the good fight, and well past caring.” (excerpt only)

the review
Did I like this book? – in some ways, no. Did I respect this book? – absolutely, yes. I don’t think the subject for this book was meant to have us walking away in a cloud of fantasy of a utopian world (may be an understatement), but it certainly left us in no doubt about the circumstances. Tim Winton is gritty, and so is this story. It doesn’t powder coat the realities of the life of the protagonist, and that you have to admire.
Tim Winton’s sense of place and characterisation are the strongest attributes of this novel (as with his others).

No one and I mean no one can evoke place like Winton. If you don’t get a sense of Western Australia and its life from a Winton book you need to rethink your reading skills. We get to understand the micro-environment in which Keely lives, as well as the macro. From the descriptions of the apartment building (flats) to the descriptions of Perth and Freemantle you cannot be anywhere else, it may not be the description from the latest tourist brochure but it certainly paints a picture. Such descriptions as “And there she was at his feet. Good old Freo. Lying dazed and forsaken at the rivermouth, the addled wharfside slapper whose good old bones showed through despite the ravages of age and bad living. She was low-rise but high-rent, defiant and deluded in equal measure……” (p.5). Beautiful!!!

Winton’s characters are drawn like portraits on an artist’s easel. We get to know them through all their positive qualities and equally their foibles (and there are many). You will have to decide how you see Keely as a character, I vacillated between really liking him for his persistence to wanting to give him a good kick up the rump to get him to see reality, his disillusionment is palpable. But that is the virtue of Winton’s ability to draw his characters. Gemma the ‘down on her luck’ early age custodial grandmother and her enigmatic grandson, Kai provide a fantastic frustration for Keely and also a heavy-duty human experience. And although I loved the elusive sense of Kai’s character, I was drawn to Doris, Keely’s mother. Winton wants us to respect Doris, as she is of a generation of real grit and character, (as were his parents) not softened by the temptations of current society. A strong woman that loves her son but can also see his flaws, “Doris could read him in five languages and scan him in Braille. Since his cataclysmic truth-telling, he’d felt the eloquence of her every withheld judgement and longsuffering stare” (p.41), she has understandable fears and yet a determination to make a better world.

There are familiar themes that run through Eyrie. Faith is a big one and having not so long ago reading The Turning, it is easier to recognise in this book. We also see class (see favourite quote), family, the decline of our society and even gun ownership among the key issues explored. And it wouldn’t be a Winton novel if it didn’t contemplate the environment and in this case examine the effect of the mining industry.
In the end you are dropped off a cliff and left to wonder, satisfying?…….. maybe not, but is it an author’s job to completely satisfy you or should you take some control and ponder what the present and future may hold?

I go back to the question I originally posed, did I like this book, it really doesn’t matter in the end because it is a must read if you love Australian contemporary fiction.

favourite quote
Other than those already mentioned, I thought a quote/s from Keely’s mother when having quite a discussion with Keely around the subject of class, was wonderful.  “Tom love you have such romantic ideas about the working class.”…………………………………….”The further you got away from Blackboy Crescent, the more you wore your blue collar on your sleeve.”…………………………………….”But why wear it like a badge of honour? As if your achievement rather than the result of government policy? The way all these people here seem to think the state is swimming in money because they invented iron ore, planted it, watered it. It’s sheer luck. And it’s luck that got you to university free of charge. You’re the product of an historical moment, a brief awakening. Tom Keely: My Struggle – it doesn’t wash, love. You were generationally privileged. You’re just another sulky Whitlam heir.” (p.211-212)

If you want to keep up with what is happening with Tim Winton try his facebook page https://www.facebook.com/timwintonauthor?fref=ts

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Workshop: ‘How to Write a Picture Book’ with Aleesah Darlison

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From time to time you will see me ‘bang on’ about the importance and value of the public library in a community.  It can be a repository for bound paper and other paraphernalia or it can be a vital hub for the community it represents, but often that depends on the community demand not just the employees of the council or body who manages the library.

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop held by The Hills Shire Library.  This library is certainly the epitome of being the hub of the community.  A number of services are available at the library such as JP, internet etc. (and a really good coffee shop) and from time to time they hold author events.  These events usually have a small fee attached to attend (and I do mean small, not quite zero dinero but close enough!) and are well worth it to gain an understanding of an author and their craft.

A Feast of Speakers’ presented a number of authors; due to time the only session I could attend was a workshop about children’s picture books, ‘How to Write a Picture Book’.  This caught my eye because I had just completed a subject at university about Children’s literature……….so I thought why not, I may not actually write a children’s book but it will give me some insights into the writing process (although now it is that voice inside my head that says, go on you really have always wanted to have a go at writing a children’s book).

Aleesah Darlison, a successful Australian children’s author presented 2 hours of information and thought provoking exercises to get budding writers on the road to understanding what it takes to ‘duke it out’ to get a picture book published.

A mix of tips such as how to plan your book, structures, building the plot, the actual target number of pages (which I couldn’t believe that had never before twigged to before), number of words, working with illustrators, where to get some ideas and some information about support networks.   Aleesah also gave us some small but practical exercises to get us thinking, used her own work as valuable examples of how it works and then generously allowed time at the end of the session for those who were prepared to read from their own creation.

An event like this brings the best sense of community; a lively library that is willing to run events, a community who will attend the event and of course a speaker willing to give their time. Well attended by people who were vitally interested and willing to engage in the subject made the learning all the more valuable. The only wish was that it had been given a little more time.

Let’s face it, it is a tough business getting published and is highly competitive, however, with some of the down to earth advice generously given by Aleesah, at least those attending would be that little bit wiser as to how it just may be possible.

Great tip: Think about what is in the school curriculum for the Grades you want to write for as this will help in framing your stories and also longer term in the marketing.

Aleesah Darlison, has written numerous chapter books/novels (I Dare You, Little Good Wolf), book series (Unicorn Riders, Totally Twins) and picture books (Barely There, Warambi,  Puggle’s Problem). Importantly, Aleesah travels to schools to give author talks, that I am sure ignites the imagination of her audience.  For more information about Aleesah see her web page http://www.aleesahdarlison.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/AleesahDarlisonFanPage

For more information about The Hills Shire Library

http://www.thehills.nsw.gov.au/Library.html

Weekly Word Wrangle: Scrofulous

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Ah… the word for this week (or fortnight as I am running late already on the ‘weekly’ idea) is scrofulous.

Ponder the sound of this word for a minute; what does it make you think about?

I found it while reading the latest novel of another of my favourite Australian authors, Tim Winton, Eyrie (review soon to be found on this blog). I just loved how it rolled around my mouth before it came out, but I also thought that it didn’t sound like a particularly complimentary term.

Winton is a master of words and uses it in the context of his protagonist walking around a dock area and teams it up with the word ‘strakes’. Not being a boating aficionado I really had no real clue as to its meaning, which was refreshing. ‘Scrofulous strakes’ (see alliteration can be good!) is part of the description of boats in the dock area.  So now I had to find out not only the original word ‘scrofulous’ (adjective) but also the noun that Winton paired with it – ‘strakes’.

I hear you saying get on with it; tell us what it really means. Skipping into my synonym and thesaurus search on my computer tells me nothing.  So off I went to the trusty old (or not so old) Macquarie Dictionary (online), which tells me that ‘scrofulous’ has two meanings, the first is to be affected by scrofula, I hear you say what the?? This is where the picture can really start forming in your mind because scrofula is a “disorder of a tuberculous nature” which involves the swelling and degeneration of glands.  The second meaning has us thinking about moral corruption, so I am going with the first meaning.  To narrow it down I went in search of the meaning of ‘strakes’, which in this context relates to the planking on the side or bottom of a boat.

There you have it, the boats had bulging, swollen or degenerated planks (not sure if they were also morally corrupt!). To give you the full context, I am providing the sentence in which I found these little beauties so you can judge whether I should have worked it out without a dictionary. “He sidled between buffed hulls and scrofulous strakes, beneath stepped masts and exhaust-blackened transoms as drills and sanders wailed in the bellies of launches, ocean racers, gamefishers.”(Winton, p.120).

Not sure that I will find a use for this description in my own writing but you have to hand it to Tim Winton it does conjure a picture.

 

Source of definition

http://www.macquariedictionary.com.au

Also referenced,

Winton, T. Eyrie. Penguin Group. 2013. Print

book review: Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson

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the author and the book

Inga Simpson has an affinity with nature.  She has been a professional writer within the public service, writes non-fiction articles, short stories and of course now, Mr Wigg.  Currently undertaking a PhD in English Literature in Queensland, Inga also teaches writing and is focusing on a nature writing project.  I understand that she has previously written a novel but I could not find it referenced anywhere.  Mr Wigg was published by Hachette Australia in 2013 and is just a small bite at 296 luscious pages.

the blurb

“It’s the summer of 1971, not far from the stone-fruit capital of New South Wales, where Mr Wigg lives on what is left of his family farm, Mrs Wigg has been gone almost a year and he thinks about here every day. He misses his daughter, too, and wonders, when he’ll see her again.” (excerpt only)

the review

Maybe it is just me or where I was at the time Mr Wigg was published, but I wonder if the book was launched in the quiet, unassuming way of Mr Wigg himself.  I had heard of the book release but it certainly didn’t receive the fanfare it probably should have, as an Australian beauty.

Soft and sweet as the fruit it explores, as I read this book I had an overwhelming sense of nostalgia.  Not because I grew up on a farm but because so many of the images and emotions bring the period back to life, engaging all of my senses – heart and head were pumping as I worked through the seasons with Mr Wigg. Harking back to the 70’s when life seemed to be so much simpler, yet the complexities of relationships and families are ever present, it provided a backdrop at once familiar yet different to my own life experience.

Mr Wigg is a man of routine, so much of him reminds me of all that is good about the past.  There is no pretence or expansive neediness. He just gets on with it. Through all of the ups and downs of life, each day seems to bring him a gift of the land and he gives as much back.  We learn a little bit more about many of the fruits we take for granted now and in a very charming way.  Who knew that fruit could have such personalities!

The act of entwining a fairy tale being told by Mr Wigg to his grandchildren into the narrative gives an almost otherworldly sense to everyday life. Drawing parallels between the fruit trees he nurtures and the magic of the story gives us a real sense of Mr Wigg.  You cannot help but feel that you would want this man as a Grandfather for your children. Love is infused in his daily life, whether it be the love of his wife, his children, grandchildren or his beloved orchard.

It is also a story about lost opportunities which we should all heed when going about our daily lives and the search for what we believe is important. What price do we pay for the ‘things’ we want and is it really worth it in the end? The difficulties Mr Wigg faces with his family could be our very own, not necessarily with the same players or circumstances but with raw emotion of the relationships we must deal with as a family.

A book that can cover you like a warm quilt on a Winter’s afternoon or a breathe of sweet, peach scented-air on a Summer’s day, it provides a feeling of comfort as you discover the story of Mr Wigg.

favourite quote

There were so many ‘little pearlers’ through the book that I had difficulty choosing just one. You really can’t go past Persimmons and Peaches talking to one another, but in saying that the advice that his mother gave Mr Wigg before he married resonated with me. ‘Don’t forget she’s her own person, son. She had a whole life before she met you.’ Then with the benefit of age and wisdom “He sometimes wondered, now, what his mother had given up, and who she had been before she became a wife and a mother.(p.272) ” A thought for us all.

most lasting image

You know when you finish reading a book, sometimes there is an image that continues to sit with you for a long time? It doesn’t always happen but when it does it really hangs on. From Mr Wigg I have so many images that still are inhabiting my mind space but one that seems to be the brightest is Mr Wigg dancing around in the kitchen “in his socks, while his dinner cooked” reminiscing about the times he would go dancing with his wife.   

why it is important to read cover to cover…………………………

One of things that appealed to me was the simplicity of the cover of Mr Wigg.  Its bright orange background was stunning but the font used for the title, a little inconsistent in density intrigued me.  Luckily, it was explained within the last pages of the book. The font was taken from scanned images of embossed gardening labels giving them the disintegrated look that you would expect in the garden environment.  To me this shows great care and thought was put into this book not just in the content but the whole design and gives it an authenticity.

For more information about Inga Simpson or Mr Wigg’s facebook page –

http://www.ingasimpson.com.au/

https://www.facebook.com/MrWigg2013

Weekly Word Wrangle: Hagiography

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I recently came across a tip schedule for writers, its’ very first tip was never to use alliteration.  Well pooh to that, I like alliteration and so does the internet obviously with www. being three letters that are ingrained in our consciousness. So starts my weekly word wrangle (I could have added ‘Wednesday’s’ but I used restraint!).

From time to time I come across words that I have never seen before, have been used in a context not expected or just plain make me scratch my head, laugh or wonder enough to look the up the meaning or to think about using it in some writing. These words could pop up in something I am reading; by flicking through a dictionary; watching a TV show; listening to lyrics of a song or by wrangling a new word that I have heard in conversation. It is a great game for me to find a word that I do not know and explore it a little further to increase my word knowledge.

So the inaugural wonder word is Hagiography.

I heard this mentioned on TV last week but couldn’t quite grasp what it was all about in the context of the show I was watching.  So off I went to find this word that reminded me of the word Haggis.  Nothing to do with Haggis, it’s actually rooted in the Greek language.  I guessed that it would have to do with writing or drawing with the ‘graphy’ part but wasn’t sure about the ‘hagio’ bit.

So like a good student I headed toward a dictionary, in this instance the Macquarie Online version which tells me that the word is about the writing and study of the saints (that’s the ‘hagio’ part of the word = ‘holy’), but it still wasn’t in the context of the show I was watching which was definitely not about saints. Sooooo I went to the second meaning which is basically a flattering biography which puts its subject on a pedestal….. ah hah found it fitted perfectly in the show’s circumstance.

Apparently you can also have an autohagiography – it sounds like some of the self-congratulatory politician’s biographies that are circulating!

Source of definition

http://www.macquariedictionary.com.au

book review: No Place Like Home by Caroline Overington

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no Place like home - Random House

the author and the book

Caroline Overington is an award-winning investigative journalist that has turned her hand to successfully writing contemporary Australian novels. No Place Like Home was published under the banner of ‘A Bantam Book by Random House Australia’ in 2013. It follows other novels, Sisters of Mercy, Matilda is Missing, Ghost Child and I Came to Say Goodbye.

the blurb

“Shortly after 9.30am, a young man walks into Surf City, Bondi’s newest shopping complex. He’s wearing a dark grey hoodie – and a bomb around his neck…………….” (short version)

the review

Written with journalistic sensibility this tense drama is set in a shopping centre and involves ‘ordinary people’ that we all could interact with on a daily basis – it could just be the topic of a report we watch unfold in the nightly news.  Told from the view of Police Chaplain, Paul Doherty we hear the often untold story of those involved in a siege, this one involving a bomb attached to a refugee in the unlikely setting of a lingerie shop.  However, this story goes beyond the issues of refugees in Australia, it explores what it is to be human in a society trying to understand itself.

Although not the overt purpose of the book, morality is explored in a number of situations, particularly, in the treatment of the refugee Ali Khan by a number of the characters, and in general as someone who has been invited to live in our country.  It also looks at other moral issues such as fidelity, honesty, valour, materialism and our beliefs.

Some characters that we meet in the novel we can empathise with and others just make us shake our heads, but they are all integral to this novel.  Paul Doherty tries to explain the twist and turns of the circumstances and gives us someone who we can relate to in this day and age – questioning his faith and place in the world.  Among the characters that Paul introduces us to are the five people in the lingerie shop (why are they all in a lingerie shop?…. you will have to read to find out) and throughout the book we learn more about each, there is Mouse the ‘bunny eared’ shop assistant, Kimmie a nail technician, Roger a real estate salesman, Mitchell a schoolboy on a mission to buy a video game and of course, Ali Khan who has the bomb attached to him.

I found themes of loss and regret entwined with the more complex issues of the plot.  The loss of innocence, commitment, trust and ultimately the life we should value. We also see how hindsight plays its role in how we remember and perceive our life.

favourite quote

Although not directly related to the central motif of the siege, I thought this quote lets us know that it is definitely Australian and also gives us the sense of the loss that is brought to bear in this novel.

He could tell by looking that the armchair had been Amy’s father’s, and only his: there was something about the way the material at the end of the seat was worn away, where the old man’s hands had gripped for years, watching Channel Nine News and World Series Cricket.”(p.247)

Australia is suffering from perplexity around the issue of refugees, what is it we should be doing? It would seem there are more opinions than solutions, but Overington’s treatment of the issue within the non-threatening environment of fiction is able to make us consider what we think about the issue. It may not provide the solution but at least it gets it into the front of our minds so we keep thinking about what it is we should be doing and maybe rethink some of the things we have been doing.

most intriguing character – Ali Khan

What do we think of refugees?  What do they think of us?  From Paul Doherty’s perspective we are able to see how many of the characters interacted with Ali Khan. We hear about the treatment he receives not only in Australia as a refugee but as an outcast of his own country.  What makes this character so intriguing is that we never actually hear his side of the story.

Written in a quite distinctive yet simple prose the book offers what could be called an ‘easy’ read.  Not a 600 page epic but a ‘slice of life’ in 352 pages.  It is a book that engages you in a short space of time then carries you at a measured pace to be able to complete within a few hours – if you really want to – I lingered longer because I wanted to enjoy it a little bit more.

What I find with Overington’s novels, is that they stir emotions and this book is no exception. Consider how you would feel if it was your son, daughter, husband, niece, friend, employee under threat and what would you think of the person you believe is threatening them?

I always think that a good book is a book that makes you ‘feel’, whether it is joy, sadness, anger or just generally questioning what life is about and No Place Like Home does exactly that.

For more information about Caroline Overingtonhttp://carolineoverington.com

Ten reasons

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If you are wondering why this blog is called zero dinero, here are the top ten reasons (or impossibly implausible ideas);

  1. The amount of money that is earned by this blogger from reading and writing.  Note: at this point in time….. you never know what will happen if you keep trying, just ask Thomas the Tank Engine.
  2. It’s what happens when caught up reading a book – ‘no, there is no dinner!’ (not quite the right translation but hey who’s being technical now).
  3. The cost to you of reading my ‘ruminations’ and being gentle.
  4. I don’t know why, but it reminds me of so many vintage comedians like the Marx Bros. or Abbott and Costello and makes me smile.
  5. That’s about how much it costs to use a Public Library – how important are they!
  6. It’s a nod to some possible Spanish heritage (that’s another story).
  7. How much money is left in the pocket after the book hoarding tendency has been satisfied …………………..not really satisfied but almost, you can never have enough books.
  8. I really like Robert De Niro (close but no cigar!).
  9. Zero is such a lovely round figure – just like me.
  10. It takes exactly that amount of money to be loved and to love the people in your life. Don’t waste your time searching for mucho dinero when what you need is already within your grasp.