past, present and future with graeme simsion

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the rosie effect

Past, Present and Future is a (mostly) fortnightly series of posts in which a very special guest comes time travelling with me.

The idea is surprisingly simple – every second Monday, I ask someone bookish to spill the beans on the book they’ve just read, what they’re reading right now and what they’re planning to read next.

This fortnight’s guest is none other than Graeme Simsion, author of the wildly successful (not to mention incredibly enjoyable) smash hit The Rosie Project, and its much-anticipated sequel, The Rosie Effect – which I just so happen to be reading right now!

Curious? Of course you are! I know I am! Here’s what Graeme’s been reading…

greenclocksmaller

When I took a comedy class with Doug Anthony All Stars legend Tim Ferguson a few years ago, he warned us, ‘You may never laugh again.’ There is a general truth here: once you know how the trick is done, it loses its power. And artists look at others’ work with a professional eye.

Reading has not been the same for me since I became a novelist and, and, particularly, an editor of my own and others’ work. I’m constantly examining the craft. What techniques is Ms Tartt using to hold my attention? Why the sudden change of point of view, Mr Larssen? Are all those colons and semicolons a deliberate stylistic choice, Ms Mantel?

For relaxation, as distinct from education, I’m more inclined to pick up non-fiction, or fiction that’s a long way from what I’m trying to write myself. My kids gave me a copy of The Annotated Alice (Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass with notes by mathematician Martin Gardner) for my birthday, and it filled both criteria.

But, as it happens, my last book was a novel. So…

 

Past

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

The cover of my edition has a bet each way: “One of the best twists in years – Stylist magazine” and “Shortlisted for The Man Bookcompletely beside ourselveser Prize 2014”. Maybe that confused positioning is why it has apparently disappointed many readers, who have given it a rating of 3.5 stars on the Australian Amazon site. Perhaps they were expecting a thriller (which it isn’t) or a more literary style of writing.

But it’s a five star book as far as I’m concerned. Effortless, clean writing, a distinct and sassy voice (it’s in first person) and a highly original premise that provides a base for an emotional journey, reflections on the human condition and liberal doses of comedy. A family makes a big, and in hindsight, disastrous, decision and does its best to manage the consequences. It was a situation I was familiar with from non-fiction. Beside Ourselves brings a different –and arguably more pertinent—perspective.

I can’t write much more about the plot without revealing the twist (many of the reviews contain the relevant spoiler, so read them later). That said, I had been made aware of it before I started reading, and, beyond missing out on one ‘whoa’ moment in many hours of reading, I didn’t feel my reading experience was compromised. Of all the books I’ve read this year, it’s the one I’d most like to have written.

Twists… They’re a vital part of plots in certain genres, but a big twist does not a story make, at least not for me, and the author needs to be careful not to break faith with the reader by being seen to withhold information that should have come out in the normal course of narration. Beside Ourselves’ twist breaks this rule – in spades – but it happens early and we are given a good reason for the deception. I bought it, but not everyone will.

The outstanding “twist-based” success of recent years has been Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and, again, the twist has pulled attention from what a good thriller – and intelligent study of narcissism – this book actually is. In fact, I’d argue that the mid-way twist denies us the possibility of empathising with the Amy character, and that the book is weaker for it. I’d have killed that darling – but it’s hard to argue with that grip it’s got on the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list.

 

Present

the-assassination-of-margaret-thatcherI can’t write as much – or as reflectively – about what I’m reading now. It takes time to absorb a book, and sometimes years to understand its impact. I read Albert Camus’ The Plague when I was fifteen, and still reflect on it. But when I was briefly addicted to Robert Ludlum thrillers, I’d have been hard pressed to recall the plots a week later.

I’m a parallel processor. The stack of books beside my bed is embarrassing (in height, not content). I’m dipping into Hilary Mantel’s The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher but tonight I’ll resume reading How Plays Work by David Edgar. It’s one of several ‘craft’ books beside the bed, including two on comedy writing and one on screenplay.

I’ve always been interested in the theory, the foundations of what I’m doing. That’s not to dismiss the value of intuition or the unexplained moment of inspiration but I want to save my limited creative resources for when they’re needed. The more I can do consciously, purposefully and in a way I can understand myself, the better. And it gives me a language to discuss what I’m doing, and to coach others.

 

Future

once-upon-a-time-the-lives-of-bob-dylanNext on my list is a manuscript I’ve been asked to read. In the last year I’ve done this for my partner (Anne Buist) and a member of my writers’ group (Tania Chandler). Their novels, respectively Medea’s Curse (Text) and Grunge (Scribe) will be published next year. Reviewing manuscripts constructively is a big job, and I only do it for people I know well (or owe a favour!). I suspect this sort of work is what’s made me such a picky reader, but, truth to tell, it’s good for my own writing.

After that, I’ll probably pick up Ian Bell’s two-volume Lives of Bob Dylan. I’m a Dylan aficionado (falling short of Dylan tragic, I hope), and recently selected his album “Live 1966: The ‘Albert Hall’ Concert” as a favourite work of art to discuss on Radio National’s Masterpiece programme.

As a baby boomer, it’s hardly original to have Dylan as my creative hero, but he provides a model for reinvention and for continuing to do fine work as he ages (I’m talking about the song-writing and recordings – I won’t argue about the concerts!). And every time I prepare to do another bookshop talk, I remind myself that he’s getting up on stage every night at 72.


 

Thanks for stopping by to take part in Past, Present and Future, Graeme!

What do you think of Graeme’s choices? Are you a fan of novels (or short stories, for that matter) with plot twists? And how out of control is the stack of unread books beside your bed? Seriously, if mine collapsed on me during the night, I might not survive… (but what a way to go!)

book to the future bookmarks #6

bookmarksiiiMy name is Michelle, and it’s been…nearly one and a half months since I last posted a book review. Oh, the shame.

Things are hectic here lately. I was beginning to wonder if it was just me. It seems everyone else I know is run off their feet too.

If you’ve got a moment to spare, why not settle down with a few of my lovely literary links? I’ve got some good ones for you this time around! But because we’re all busy, busy people, I’ll try to keep it short.

My first two links have something to do with the number six…after all, this is my sixth Book to the Future Bookmarks post…

Available from NIFTShirts  on Etsy
Available from NIFTShirts on Etsy

Six Degrees of Roald Dahl

Everyone knows the names Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Veruca Salt, Mike Teavee and Charlie Bucket…but chances are, you’ve never heard of Miranda Mary Piker.

Here’s a bit of literary trivia for you: Roald Dahl’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory nearly starred six child characters! In fact, Dahl originally envisaged as many as ten children entering Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Part of me knows that even a professional like Dahl would have struggled to keep the book’s momentum going as he disposed of ten horrible little children, one by one. But another part of me really wants to know how Dahl would have engineered their demise…

Who would have guessed there'd be so much cool Charlie and the Chocolate Factory stuff on Etsy? This is from goodnessclothing.
Who would have guessed there’d be so much cool Charlie and the Chocolate Factory stuff on Etsy!? This is from goodnessclothing.

There’s a new literary meme on the block, and it’s brilliant. Six Degrees of Separation is the brainchild of authors Annabel Smith and Emma Chapman. It encourages avid readers to form a link between six books – not to Kevin Bacon, but to any element that they might share in common.

I love this idea – I’m trying to find the time to sit down and write my own post!

Sgt. Peppers Clonely Hearts Club Band

This next link came to my attention on Twitter thanks to Walter Mason. I actually did a double-take to ensure this story wasn’t published on April Fool’s Day…

A Canadian dentist who bought a wisdom tooth reportedly belonging to John Lennon two years ago is planning to clone Lennon and raise the clone as his own son.

Here’s a quote from the article:

Explaining how he would raise the potential clone, Dr Zuk said: “He would still be his exact duplicate but you know, hopefully keep him away from drugs and cigarettes, that kind of thing.”

That kind of thing.

Fortunately, the technology to clone people doesn’t exist yet, but I guess tomorrow never knows…

“The Rosie Project” Project

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Great news for everyone who loved Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project. Sequel, The Rosie Effect will be out later this year. You can find out more at Text Publishing’s website.

I have a fascination with the way books are presented and marketed around the world, and found this piece on Waterstones’ blog about the many different faces (and titles!) of The Rosie Project around the world really interesting.

A taste for good books

I’ve read and reread this article by Allison Gibson about the stories she craved during her pregnancy a few times now. It’s clever and moving – and funny.

I had always imagined that, as a pregnant woman, I would adopt a sort of Earth Mother persona: confident, innately nurturing, glowing from the inside out. It turned out that, in reality, I handled pregnancy with all the grace of George Costanza at a cocktail party.

When I consider the events of my own life, I find my memories have become irrevocably tangled with whatever book I happened to be reading at the time. And it works the other way around, too. Rereading a book will often bring back vivid memories of the last time I read that book.

And yes, book cravings: you don’t need to be pregnant to feel their pangs. I often find myself longing to read particular books – especially in times – times such as right now, for instance – when I have far too much to do to just abandon it all and spend all day with a book of my choosing.

“Daenerys rings like a bell through the night…”

So it turns out Stevie Nicks is a huge fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones. She’s written poetry about her favourite characters and wants to write music for the show. Go Stevie!

Stevie’s not the only one writing Game of Thrones poetry. Make sure you take a look Leah Umansky’s Game of Thrones poem, Khaleesi Says.

One more Game of Thrones link – in America, more parents are naming their newborns “Khaleesi” than they are “Nadine” or “Betsy“.

I approve.

Awards season!

There are shortlists and longlists all over the place right now. I can’t keep up. The Stella PrizeThe Kibbles and Dobbies. The Miles Franklin. The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. I’m sure there are a few I’m forgetting. It’s a literary lollapalooza. Lisa from ANZLitLovers has fantastic coverage of all these awards (and more), as well as reviews of nearly every nominated book.

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That’s it for this instalment of Book to the Future Bookmarks. If anyone needs me, I’ll be writing like a maniac. Fingers crossed, I’ll have new reviews online very soon.