Imbecile B: I have never heard of anythink by The Beatles. Are they a new band?
I know a living language like English changes but sometimes those changes are ‘wrong’.
The word ‘thing’ is a noun; the word ‘think’ is a verb. Saying ‘somethink’ but meaning ‘something’ is lazy enunciation.
But there’s a reason it’s so common …
The “ing” end of “something” is made in the same place of articulation as a “k”
The back of the tongue lifts at the soft palate for both the sounds. In “ing” the soft palate is lowered so sound can resonate through the nose and your vocal cords happily continue buzzing along. If you stop the vocal cords vibrating and you raise the palate you get a “k” sound. Maybe that happens just as you finish talking and then maybe it becomes more pronounced over time. Maybe it’s an influence of German for speakers who do it since final consonant devoicing is pretty common there.
John McCarthy, Speech Language Pathologist; Ph.D. Communication Sciences & Disorders & Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Pennsylvania State University.
… which strengthens my point: it’s lazy.
It’s use used to indicate a low IQ or poor education; but I’ve heard BBC journalists use it, academics, and teachers.
When the Scots say ‘summat’ it’s called an accent.
Those who use it, probably don’t know they use it, their brain is just mimicking what they hear.
Those who say they haven’t heard it aren’t listening very well.
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Somethink Completely Different by Mwah is a book (new $4.18; used $3.89) about playing (around) with words differently, about being poetic differently, about making you smile differently, about inspiration and wit—but differently. You can buy it here. “We recommend this book to all who think with words and like to inspire theirselves with type and funny one-liners.”
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I first encountered the work of David Nicholls with Us (2014) late last year. You can read my blog about it here. Starter for Ten (2003) is his first novel and there are many similarities with Us: the first person narrator, here Brian Jackson, like Douglas Peterson in Us, talks to the reader like you’re old friends, but – and here is where Nicholls shines – the hero is really a dork; yes, people call him names, especially his best friends, but you agree with them, Nicholls shows you, more than tells you, what he is really like: loveable but … for an intelligent university undergraduate he is clueless, particularly when it comes to women and himself, and that’s where most of the humour lies.
Brian Jackson has finally got to university and he heads off to engage with knowledge.
I want to know about Plato and Newton, Tolstoy and Bob Dylan; what the words ‘dialectic’ and ‘peripatetic’ mean; I want to know why people actually like jazz …
He is so enthralled with knowledge having been brought up on a diet of TV quiz shows whose list of questions has usually been introduced with the phrase ‘And your starter for ten is…’ i.e, your first question for ten points is … and his father has instilled in him at a very young age that getting it right is the ultimate point to everything.
He wants to join every student club there is but decides on the University Challenge team, well, he doesn’t quite get on the team, he’s given the standby spot. University Challenge is a nation-wide TV quiz show and he’s desperate to find an outlet, a successful outlet, for all that knowledge.
He also wants to be loved and fixes his sights on Alice Harbinson, the prettiest girl he has ever seen. Of course everything gets in his way, study, alcohol, friends, Alice’s parents, Alice, his Mum, and most importantly, his own view of himself – as well as his arms: what do you do with them when you’re sharing a single bed with someone?
It’s a laugh-out loud coming-of-age story, it’s become a Nicholls’ specialty, and framed by his ambition to be in the team for the coming-up new TV series of University Challenge. Yes, he gets places with Alice and yes, he gets on the team but that’s only a taste of the story. No spoilers here.
It’s highly predictable – but some unexpected twists – but entertaining and very funny.
On YouTube you can find an excellentHBO/BBC movie version (in English, you’ll soon get used to the Spanish sub-titles) made in 2006, penned by Nicholls, co-produced by Tom Hanks, with Sam Mendes as an executive producer, directed by Tom Vaughan, and staring James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall, James Condon, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
You can buy the book, and other David Nicholls titles, in various formats here.
I love this book. It’s rare to find a laugh-out-loud read these days, but this is one of them. It’s a first person narrative of Douglas Petersen, a bio-chemist, and a man who always just seems to miss out on being, cool, mainly because he just doesn’t know what cool is; he doesn’t get most things. That’s certainly what his son, Albie, would say although he probably wouldn’t be so kind. The third component of Us (2014) is Douglas’s wife Connie. She’s an artist and an ex-hippie and is definitely cool. She wakes him up one morning and tells him that she might want to leave him. They embark on a (possible) remedy: a Grand Tour of Europe, and drag a reluctant Albie along with them. This is the Us. This trio. However there is another narrative interspersed with the Grand Tour: how Douglas and Connie got together in the first place; and many more incidents of their life together. You get to know these three very well. It’s really a portrait of a marriage.
It’s divided into many small chapters, 180 in all, which in itself, propels the reading along; ‘I’ll just read the next chapter before I walk the dog’; ‘I’ll read this short one before I start dinner’; ‘Just one more, it’s short, before my afternoon jog.’ And why do you want to do this? Because you love Douglas. He’s a gem and he talks to you as if you’ve known him since kindergarten. Us became my very early morning read when a trip to the loo erased all efforts to go back to sleep. But, so I didn’t wake the sleeping one, I tried to curtail my laugh-out-loud to something like, laugh-in-loud, but stifling a laugh-out-loud made my body behave like a trampoline-in-use and the mattress was forced, of course, to follow suit, so allowing the sleeping one to sleep didn’t work. I was banned from reading Us in bed. But that’s OK; you can get through a short chapter while waiting for the jug to boil, during a TV channel promo, even while stirring the custard.
The key to the humour is Douglas himself. He doesn’t quite know what to say when staring at a painting (I like that blue bit.); he feels inadequate to say what he likes about a piece of music (It’s loud, isn’t it?); and contemporary dance (Do they have to throw themselves against a wall?); and books (Erotic realism? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?); and food (flaccid courgettes in a green-grey water sauce made from water.).
David Nicholls also has several screenwriting credits including Tess of the D’Urbervilles‘ for the BBC in 2008, Far from the Madding Crowd in 2015, and he wrote Patrick Melrose (2018), the television series based on the novels by Edward St Aubyn. He has penned several movies including the adaptations of his novels, Starter for Ten, and One Day. He also trained as an actor at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama but never quite made it in that field because, as he admitted, he wasn’t very good at the basic stuff, like standing still and moving from A to B. However he must have picked up some performance skills since his appearance at the recent North Cornwall Writer’s Festival had the audience in stitches as he read from his latest book, Sweet Sorrow, a passage devoted to the pitfalls of first-time kissing.
Us is currently being filmed in various location in Europe for the BBC. It stars Tom Hollander and Saskia Reeves with a script by Nicholls. However, a release date has yet to bee announced.
He’s a busy man and novel writing has to be squeezed in between big budget movies and television drams; he’s written five novels, so, for me, four to go.
You can watch an interview with David Nicholls about this book, Us, here.
You can buy the ebook, or other formats, here where you can also ‘look inside’ before you buy.
Translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd Jones, co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union
Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead (2009) was finally published in English in 2019.
It is about an old woman, Janina Duszejko – she doesn’t like her first name and prefers to be addressed as Mrs. Duszejko – who lives alone on a high wind-swept plateau in the south-west of Poland, close to the border with the Czech Republic.
In her youth she was an engineer, built bridges in Syria, had an affaire with a Protestant, but shared her bed with a Catholic, and now teachers English one day a week to 12 year olds. She believes in astrology; that Animals have reasoning and seek Vengeance ; and writes essays to magazines about the fascinating connection between Astrology and TV programming. But she has Ailments, a vivid imagination and raw emotions just below the surface where the pain of her Ailments live – simple nouns like Ailments and Folly are capitalised, like in the works of William Blake, from where the title comes. She has Theories, including why people find other people attractive, but some not, about almost everything; why magpies need lots of bathes, why foxes run in straight lines, and why Evolution is not about adaptation but about Beauty. And buys clothes too big for her, she likes the freedom. A vivid Dreamer of her dead family – her Mother and Grandmother appear to her in her boiler room dressed and ready for church – and a believer in a planet crossing an invisible point that causes two red fruits to fall from a wild rose bush. She cries easily.
She tends to the houses abandoned by their owners in the winter and wants to write her autobiography. She calls people, not by their given names but by what they suggest: Oddball, Dizzy, Dig Foot, Good News, and Black Coat. She finds words like ‘priority’, ‘cadaver’, and ‘cohabitee’ ugly and hideous.
The story opens with a death, a strange death, and is followed by three others; all victims are hunters and Mrs. Duszejko is certain the deaths are deliberately caused by Animals, deer, foxes, and boars, in retribution for the regular slaughter of their relatives by these criminals. And she sets out to prove it.
Her neighbours call her that crazy old woman.
The story is told in the first person, from the mouth of this crazy old woman. This allows for Tokarczuk’s theme, society’s disdain for the marginalised, their fear of the other but never is this message didactic; it is told with humour, irony, and a lightness of touch. The writing is adventurous, unexpected, insightful, (“Are you religious?” “Yes.” “What?” “An atheist.”), and a joy to read, and, in the end, it is about how there is really nothing called evil, it doesn’t exist; there is just need, sometimes misguided, overwrought, and out of all proportion, but need nonetheless.
The Stars and the Planets are Right about everything, except us humans sometimes get in the way and always for selfish reasons. As Mrs. Duszejko says, “The fact that we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future is a terrible mistake in the programming of the world. It should be fixed at the first opportunity.”
Here is a telephone interview with Olga Tokarczuk about her Nobel Prize win. She took the call while driving in a car in Germany.
You can listen to Tocarczuk talk about writing and Poland (with English Sub-titles) here.
You can buy the Kindle, and other editions here. Also on this Australian Amazon site you can ‘look inside’ and sample some of the text before you buy.
Get up, groan, write a bit, moan, eat breakfast, write some more, cycle my bike through the Sligo hills, make up country songs as I pedal along, sing them, have lunch, have a nap, groan, moan, write a small bit more, cook dinner, feed wifey, open a bottle, or several, slump, sleep.
I don’t quite operate within the realist mode. I kind of push the stories out towards the cusp of believability – that’s the area of interest for me.
The style of Kevin Barry’s Night Train to Tangier (2019) feels like a play because it was originally conceived as one; but that was not what gave me pause when I read about him and this, his new book; it was the (many times) mention of Samuel Beckett and his play Waiting for Godot, and I thought, “Uh oh!” Vladimir and Estragon sit and wait under a dead tree for Godot who never comes. Maurice Hearn and Charles Redmond sit and wait in a ferry terminal for Dilly, Maurice’s missing daughter who never comes, maybe, maybe not.
These two guys are Irish drug dealers who made a shit load of money when they were younger, loved the same woman – since deceased, and now quite can’t get their old mojo back, although they try by intimidating and threatening strangers. You wouldn’t want to meet them in a back alley. It maybe that Dilly doesn’t want to be found. No spoilers here.
The conversation is sometimes repetitive, but the language is glorious, lyrical, and adventurous:
Charlie Redmond? The face somehow has an antique look, like a court player’s, medieval, a man who’d strum his lute for you. In some meadowsweet lair. Hot, adulterous eyes and again a shabby suit, but dapper shoes in a rusted-orange tone, a pair of suede-finish creepers that whisper of brothels, also a handsome green corduroy neck-tie. Also stomach trouble, bags like graves beneath the eyes, and soul trouble.
The pages are formatted with large gaps of white between sentences. One reviewer wrote, “The blank spaces that Barry inserts between paragraphs, the empty gaps in the text, seem to signify accumulated pain.” That’s kind. I’m of a more cynical bent; they seem to me to be the editor’s doing: if you’ve decided to print it between hard covers, you need more pages.
Almost all of the reviews for this book have been glowing, and it’s been long listed for the this year’s Booker Prize. However, I was disappointed. There are three elements of novel writing: description, dialogue, and narrative. Barry’s descriptions are poetic, imaginative, and surprising. He’s at his best with description (like the quote above). Dialogue? Well, firstly, his dialogue isn’t punctuated. That’s OK: dialogue usually sounds like dialogue, but sometimes it doesn’t and I don’t appreciate having to go back and check. Narrative? I found it shallow and, again, I had to go back a page or two and take another run at it to find out exactly where we were. Contemporary readers have to do more work, I know, but I don’t appreciate feeling left behind; it stops the reader being enthralled, and enthralled is where all readers want to be; and by enthralled I mean forgetting that your reading.
For this reader, Night Boat to Tangier is about parents and parenting, and how we usually get it wrong, or this from Dilly’s mother,
The fear of turning into our parents, she said, is what turns us into our fucking parents.
I have to admit that it did grow on me a little but not enough to send me racing for his previous works, City of Bohane (2011) and Beatlebone (2015), both lauded and prize-studded.
You can buy the ebook, and other formats, here, and you can ‘look inside’ before you buy, or hear what sounds like Kevin Barry reading from the text.
Step one: Choose a common phrase like, There and Back to See How Far it is, Head you Off at the Pass, It’s a Long Way to ……, you get the idea, and make it your title.
Step two: Collect anecdotes of your coming of age (COA).
Step thee: rack your brain for your pubescent sexual fantasies (PSF).
Step four: make a list of your own foibles (SD = self-deprecation).
Step five: have handy anecdotes from other trips to the same places (SP).
Step six: if you’re an American living in Britain, collect phrase and stories that put down the Yanks or the Brits. (OPD = own put downs).
Step seven: collect puts downs of a nerd that gets put down a lot by your targeted audience, like the Irish, the Mormons, the Kiwis, etc. (NPD = nerd put downs)
Step eight: you’ll also need some RPD’s – racial put downs.
So, let’s begin.
Chapter One. Of course, you start with a journey. However, if the journey is a little boring you can always rely on a PSF:
I fanaticised about “…finding myself seated next to a panting young beauty being sent by her father against her wishes to the Lausanne Institute for Nymphomaniacal Disorders, who would turn to me somewhere over the mid-Atlantic and say, ‘Forgive me, but would it be alright if I sat on your face for a while?”
and you can then tack on an NPD which has OPD overtones:
“In the event my seatmate turned out to be an acned string-bean with Buddy Holly glasses and a line-up of ball-point pens clipped into a protective plastic case in his shirt pocket.”
But if you find yourself on an inspirational roll you can continue this novel scenario:
“I spied a coin under the seat in front of me, and with protracted difficulty leaned forward and snagged it. When I sat up, I saw my seatmate was at last looking at me with that ominous glow.
‘Have you found Jesus?’ he said suddenly.
‘Uh, no, it’s a quarter,’ I answered and quickly settled down and pretended for the next six hours to be asleep, ignoring his whispered entreaties to let Christ build a bunkhouse in my heart.”
It’s important to understand that such ‘stories’ don’t necessarily need to come from the trip you are now writing about, nor do they necessarily need to have happened at all. Let’s call it comedic license.
And of course, when in Germany, it’s likely that funny incidents are few and far between but there’s always a good PSF to come to your aid:
“I had only signed up for German [as a boy] because it was taught by a walking wet dream named Miss Webster, who had the most magnificent breasts and buttocks that adhered to her skirt like melons in shrink-wrap.”
Or, as in his few pages on Cologne, he begins with an RPD about the woman running the statin café who ignored him because he ignored her:
“This is the worst characteristic of the Germans. Well, actually a predilection for starting land wars in Europe is their worst characteristic, but this is up there with it.”
He then segues into an SP about a previous visit to Cologne when he stayed in a cheap hotel and read soft-porn magazines that other guests had left behind. He then contemplates the massive cathedral and comments on its size with a little OPD:
“You can understand why it took 700 years to build – and that was with German workers. In Britain they would still be digging the foundations.”
Without any nicer things to say about Cologne Bryson indulges in a reminiscence about flying on a 747, and regaling the reader with the lack of American know-how of audio electronics – a bit of ODP – and praising the Japanese “for filling my life with convenient items like a wristwatch that can store telephone numbers, calculate my overdraft and time my morning egg” – a sort of reverse RDP. He then cuts short his Cologne stay when he spies a non-stop porno cinema in the train station, which one would’ve thought would’ve given Mr Bryson an extra beat of his heart but it instead caused him to high-tail it out of Cologne and head for, ironically, Amsterdam.
His stay in Hamburg is similar: he complains about the ugliness of the prostitutes, the smallness and expense of his carpet-less hotel room, the sex-shops – “nothing compared to those in Amsterdam” – although he does praise their ingenuity when it comes to manufacturing and promoting sex dolls. He indulges in a little RDP, ODP, SP and then tops it off with a lengthy analysis of why beautiful and stylish German women don’t shave their armpits; like “a Brillo pad hanging there. I know some people think it’s earthy, but so are turnips …”
Oh, and he also hates dogs.
It seems that Mr Bryson understands well his potential readership: the kind of travellers that other travellers try to avoid.
However, after reading the dense prose of our human stains in the stories by Tsiolkas, a house-brick sized Moorhouse about mores, political and sexual, in Canberra in the 1950’s, and the ethereal beginnings of literary modernism in Joyce, I thought I needed something light.
Neither Here nor There (1992) is entertaining-ish, undemanding, diverting, and completely forgettable, but don’t let it inform you about Europe.
Access to all 46 formats and editions you can find here.
Having read a few of the 19 volumes written by Gale, A Sweet Obscurity, A Place Called Winter, The Aerodynamics of Pork, Ease, Notes from an Exhibition, A Perfectly Good Man, one thing stands out: he’s very good at self-discovery; by that I mean, his protagonists cope with discovering who they are. In this latest, Take Nothing With You he does it again. This is a coming-of-age story.
Actually it is two stories about the same person: Eustace as a pre-teen discovering his love of the cello and boys, and coping with his parents; and Eustace as a fifty-something coping with thyroid cancer, mortality, and an on-line, but serious, love affair with a British soldier in the Middle East who he’s about to meet face-to-face i.e., kiss, for the first time.
Although told in the third person but from the point of view of Eustace, the narrator is so close to our hero, think of him as an imp sitting on Eustace’s shoulder, knowing, seeing, but not understanding everything – just like a 10 year old. James Wood, literary critic for The New Yorker since 2007, calls this ‘close writing’, or if you prefer a more literary moniker, ‘free indirect discourse’. I prefer Wood’s term as it creates the idea that the third-person narrator could very easily slip into the first-person narrator, so close are they. Fellow British novelist Edward St-Aubyn in his quintet, which has become known as The Patrick Melrose Novels (1992-2012), uses such a technique for all of his major characters; it’s like the narrator-imp jumps from shoulder to shoulder using the language and tropes of each individual, depending on which shoulder he sits. In Take Nothing With You (2018, Gale’s 16th novel) this close writing enables Gale to create a narrative of the boy’s parents and their disintegrating marriage, including his mother’s secret, that Eustace is unaware of. This dramatic irony is what makes Eustace’s small-town family life, in Weston-super-Mare, a seaside holiday town in North Somerset, so interesting. We readers know more than he does.
By the way, his mother’s secret (no spoilers here) is never mentioned, but you know it because Gale lets you know it.
As an adult Eustace is more at ease with himself and the world, and although his thyroid cancer and its treatment are troubling, his new, as yet, unconsummated romance gives him hope and joy. The world is no longer a mystery to him, as it was when he was young, and he is sanguine about his future; but he hasn’t told Theo, the soldier, about his cancer as he doesn’t want to sour his only communication with him: their daily Skype calls. In this older Eustace narrative the action takes place mostly in the lead-lined hospital room where he goes for radio-therapy treatment and is advised, because of the radiation, that anything he takes with him has to be disposed of, hence he is told to ‘take nothing with you.’
The narrative never follows Theo which makes him less of a character and more of a metaphor for hope. But its Eustace’s hope and Eustace is who we care about.
For a lonely, quiet, and sensitive boy discovering a passion for the cello is heart-warming. Gale plays and performs on the cello himself and if you are interested in music, or a player of any instrument yourself, these passages are a delight. His passion is palpable and these scenes often blurred my vision.
Gale is allergic to clichés; in fact, I get the impression that he tries to invent clichés and then vows never to use them again. He is also a word-smith and sometimes his word choice takes you by surprise: ‘…heedlessly in love’ is almost a story in itself with a beginning, middle, and end.
Gale’s characters have meat on their bones and ideas in their heads. They are people you love, loath, want to see triumph, or fall on their arse.
This is a rollicking good read. Entertaining, insightful, rich in characters, with a heavy dose of autobiography, and only marred a little by the ending; more about that later.
Eli Bell is 12 years old and the younger son of dysfunctional but estranged parents, Frances and Robert, and they all bump along day to day on the outer hazardous rings of petty criminality in Brisbane in the 1980s. Rugby, television, drugs, poverty, junk food, cigarettes, XXXX beer, and a surprising amount of love for each other get them through every day. Well, almost. Eli’s ‘family’ is extended to include his mum’s boyfriend, Lyle, the first man he ever loved – it takes him time to feel that for his dad; Slim Halliday, his babysitter, mentor, and possible murderer, but certainly notorious escapee from Boggo Road Goal; and his older brother, August, who has decided not to talk since he and Eli were possible victims of attempted filicide. He communicates only with Eli who has learnt to decipher his brother’s air writing. They are inseparable.
The story is told in the first person and Eli’s colourful language, obvious intelligence, unwavering loyalty, and passion for words make him an unforgettable character. There’s a love story, or love fantasy, woven into the second half that is centred on a Courier-Mail crime reporter, Caitlyn Spies, eight years his senior. Eli hankers after, not only her lips and other parts of her body, but also a job like hers: he aches to be a crime-busting journalist. But does he make it? No spoilers here.
There is a lot of back-story to get through before the narrative really starts, so the opening is a bit slow but once Dalton gets in his stride you are grateful for the time taken; he also weaves in a flavour of surrealism that doesn’t quite work, for this reader, but it’s easy to go along with it and to allow yourself to be ‘taken for the ride.’
And what a ride!
It has all the flavour and action of a television crime story right down to the satisfying climax and the just-desserts handed out to the bad-guys. But there is a climactic tag, a chase sequence that is contrived, too long, and unnecessary. It’s like this sequence has been lifted from another genre and medium; it sits uncomfortably, and ‘tacked-on’, at the end of such a well-written story. But this is a minor criticism.
Yes, it would be perfect for a television, and an adaptation is in the pipeline, produced by Joel Edgerton, but, surprisingly, it is the theatre that has snaffled the goods first. The stage version is scheduled for the 2020 season of the Queensland Theatre Company for the Brisbane Festival in September of that year. Sam Strong, QTC’s artistic director will direct the adaptation written by Tim McGarry.
You can watch a promotional video here, where Dalton gives away a few secrets of inspiration for this, his debut novel with the books that helped him write it.
Outside the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria in the centre of old Florence is the statue of David by Michelangelo. Actually it’s a statue of David by someone else. It’s a copy. The original is in the Galleria dell’Accademia not far away. Michelangelo’s David is truely remarkable but what is more revealing are the accompanying statues of slaves; unfinished statues. The figures seem to be emerging out of the stone; or to put it another way, they were always in the stone; Michelangelo just had to remove the marble from around them to reveal them in all their glory. Music is like that. The Clarinet Concerto always existed; Mozart just wrote it down so now it’s called Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. Stories are like that too.
I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves … Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.
or, in other words; stories have always existed, writers just have to write them down as accurately as they can.
If you hear a writer say “…Oh, it just wrote itself, really,” this is what they are talking about without really understanding anything about it.
Plotting is way down on King’s list of what’s important. For him it’s narration – to move the story along; description – to create a sensory reality; and dialogue – to bring characters to life.
I’ve never plotted any more than I ‘d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible …. plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible … It’s clumsy, mechanical, anticreative. Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored.
I’ve heard, and read, many times that Stephan King is a writer’s writer. It’s a good line, although I’m not sure what it means. I took it to mean that I should read him. I’ve been planning to but as his work is not my preferred type (hate the word ‘genre’) other books kept preempting my plan. And then this one came along: a Christmas gift from my sister.
King calls it a memoir, and it certainly is. His chapter on his early struggles – menial jobs – many rejections, a family to support – is particularly honest and heart-warming. Yet, his chapter on being an alcoholic is electric. Talk about ‘being honest.’ It’s an insider’s view, the view of an alcoholic looking out with all the denials, justifications, and excuses that are virtually the ‘brand’ of all alcoholics but while he’s being one, seem particularly applicable to him and him alone.
But the life story doesn’t take long and soon he’s into the advice: the reason for reading it. I was heartened to read that his first piece of wisdom is, if you want to write, you must read. Phew! Good. I do that. His next piece of advice was to wage war on adverbs, especially attributive adverbs in dialogue: he said dismissively, she blithely said. His argument against adverbs like these was particularly convincing. I got up and opened my computer to the writing I had done that day and erased all my attributive adverbs, well, most of them. I had to make a few other adjustments to follow his advice: it should be perfectly clear how a line of dialogue should be said from the words themselves and, of course, the accumulated tension, tone, and information. Don’t be scared of oft repeating, he said, she said.
All I ask is that you do as well as you can, and remember that, while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.
And vocabulary? “As the whore said to the bashful sailor, ‘It ain’t how much you’ve got it’s how you use it.” And if you have to run to the thesaurus to find the right word, it’s probably not the right word. He quotes Earnest Hemingway to seal the point.
“He came to the river. The river was there.”
He’s equally honest and up-front about narrative, description, dialogue and a myriad of other implements from his literary toolbox. I am very happy to now know that I share his belief in dialogue as one of the best ways to built character. There are some writers who avoid dialogue. What a missed opportunity!
However, I was, at times, at a disadvantage reading this book because he often makes his point by referring, in detail, to his own work and decisions he had to make, and why. I have never read anything by King so I found these passages redundant. Not his fault, but mine.
For a new writer like me (I can’t use the adjective ‘young’ any more), who’s grappling with the second draft of a major work that at the moment is a broad, messy, and a wooly thing, reading King’s On Writing now is the most serendipitous and useful coincidence.
All writers, especially new ones, and most readers would get a lot out of his insights into the writing process, the hazards and joys of writing for a living, and the more profound elements of imagination, fiction making, and self-fulfilment. Highly recommended.
I have a gripe with Mr King. He’s down on adverbs, but he’s also down on pronouns. And so he should be; he uses them so clumsily (Yes, I now its an adverb but its necessary here.)
Move too fast and you risk leaving the reader behind. either by confusing or wearing him/her out.
The phrase ‘him or her’ is bad enough, but ‘him/her’? Unforgivable! He uses ‘he and she’ and even ‘he/she’ – but thank god, not ‘s/he’!
This is one of the English language’s greatest failings: there is no gender-neutral singular pronoun. For centuries it has been common practice to use the masculine ‘he, him, and his’ to refer to both genders. Today, this is not acceptable. But, there is a solution. What’s wrong with using the gender-neutral plural pronoun? Nothing. This has been around for a few hundred years, from the 16th century in fact* (It’s also been a solution for Jane Austin, Bernard Shaw, and Barak Obama). Yes, it’s breaking a fundamental rule of subject-pronoun agreement which maybe a small problem for some but it fixes a much bigger problem. Hence King could’ve and should’ve written,
Move too fast and you risk leaving the reader behind. either by confusing or wearing them out.
Much simpler, easier, cleaner, and no confusion, despite the broken rule.
* He neuer forsaketh any creature vnlesse they before haue forsaken them selues.
– J Fisher Wayes to Perfect Religion (before 1535)
You can find the Kindle edition, as well as other formats, here.
Nuril Basri has worked in many itinerant jobs including as a waiter on cruise ships. However, writing is his passion. He has several published works in Indonesia and Malaysia. This translation from the Lontar Foundation is his first in English.
This book is surprising. It deals with masculinity, and sexuality – not subjects I expected to read in a book written by a Muslim – set in the sub-culture of modern male youth on the fringe, literally and figuratively, of Jakarta, the sprawling capital of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country. Machete-wielding vigilantes, Islamic religious teachers, transgender hairdressers, rapists, drug dealers, indifferent parents, gay clubs, and drag queens populate this story of religion, youth culture, gender identity, and sexuality.
The tone is light-hearted, sometimes comic, sometimes dramatic and written in the first person as Ricky, a displaced teenager tries to find an identity and family to call his own. He stumbles into the dark playful culture of the cross-dressing beauty salon community who speak their own language: gayspeak, Queen’s Speech, or Salonese as a way to isolate themselves from the mainstream which only harbours for them ridicule, ostracisation, and violence.
It feels as if Basri, a young man himself, is aiming his tale squarely at young cisgender people just like Ricky, while at the same time normalising the transgender characters who, like everybody else, are searching for love, a room over their heads, acceptance, work, and freedom.
I’d never thought our relationship would reach this stage, though I shouldn’t have been surprised. Paris was keeping me, after all, wasn’t he? He bought me clothes, treated me to meals, and gave me pocket money regularly. And he had just bought me a very expensive pair of shoes. He had the right to touch me. Though I silently objected, I did realise, deep in my heart at least, that this day would come. I just didn’t know that today would be that day.
The climax of this scene is comic but the intent is clear: the normalisation of sexual difference. In fact, it’s the comic nature of this scene that normalises such behaviour.
To give you a taste of Basri’s style you can read this scene (Chapter 21 of Not A Virgin) as published online in Queer Southeast Asia: a literary journal of transgressive art Vol. 1. no. 1, October 2016 here.
The Lontar Foundation promotes Indonesian literature and culture through the translation of Indonesian literary works. It was established in 1987 and is still the only organisation that promotes Indonesian culture through literary translations.