What I have been reading
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
I took a chance on this popular book and I am so pleased that I did.
Once you get through the first few pages, it is obvious that Eleanor is not completely fine. From a very protected and regimented routine, she learns to accept changes to her life, many of them imposed upon her. This adversely affects her with extreme challenges to every aspect of her rather sheltered life.
Eleanor’s social life is largely non-existent. Her only social contacts are at work in the accounts department of a large graphic design company. She keeps very much to herself and rarely has contact with anyone on weekends, except while shopping. Her solitary weekends are spent alone with two large bottles of vodka to numb the pain of her self imposed social isolation, as well as the memories of a painful childhood.
When she has problems with her work computer she meets the company IT specialist Raymond. He is her complete opposite. She finds his eating habits repulsive, his dress sense totally lacking and his general lifestyle choices unfathomable. In a random act of care, they join forces to help elderly Sammy during a medical episode. From that point on their relationship blossoms into a close friendship.
Eleanor becomes infatuated with a musician who becomes the catalyst for her to undertake a complete makeover in her appearance. When a carefully planned encounter with the “man of her dreams” goes terribly wrong, Eleanor’s world crumbles to ruins around her. She tries to erase the pain through excessive drinking of vodka until Raymond comes to her rescue. At his insistence, she seeks medical help.
Through many sessions with a compassionate and understanding psychologist Maria Temple, Eleanor slowly confronts her horrific childhood memories. The focus of these sessions eventually helps Eleanor to distance herself from her cruel and obsessive “Mummy”.
Her extremely quirky nature reminded me so many times of Don Tillman (The Rosie Project). I very much enjoyed this novel and the twist at the end caught me by surprise.
Highly recommended. I give it five stars.
Writing prompt: the Old House
On my trip to Sydney earlier this year, I took a somewhat circuitous route to get there. I wanted to spend some time in the Lake Cargelligo area to do some birding. You can read about that trip on my other site Trevor’s Birding. I have fond memories of a visit to this area some years ago. The route I took went through the large towns of Mildura and Hay. Just before reaching Lake Cargelligo I went through the small village of Rankins Springs. This is a lovely area and is a mecca for birders like me.
An old house
Just north of Rankins Springs, I stopped in a roadside rest area near the edge of Jimberoo National Park. I didn’t have time to fully explore the area, so instead, I walked a short distance along a dirt track. After a few minutes, the open forest took me to a spot overlooking some farming land. In the middle of the nearest paddock was the ruin of a house, shown in the photos above and below.
A peaceful scene
This peaceful scene set my writer’s mind whirring. Here are some thoughts I had which you might like to use as writing prompts.
- Write a fictional account of the discovery of this area and how one farmer had the vision to build this house.
- Write a short story about the building of this house and the difficulties of constructing it.
- Write a story from the point of view of the old house. What did it see and hear during its early days? How does it feel about being left to decay? Who was its favourite occupant? Why was it abandoned?
- Choose a fictional character who once lived in the old house. Tell their story as it relates to the house.
- Relate the story of a tragic event that once occurred in or near the house. Was it a sudden death? A murder? perhaps death by drowning in a nearby creek? A violent robbery?
- Imagine that the house was built for a newly married young couple and their wedding was held in the house or in the hills nearby. Write a story about their joys or heartaches that followed.
- Imagine that you grew up in this house in the 1800s. Write a story about the delights or hardships of living in this isolated house.
Conditions of use:
- Feel free to use any of the story starters listed above.
- Change anything to suit your needs.
- Give it your best shot.
- Edit your work carefully before sending it off to a publisher or posting it on your blog.
- Let me know in the comments section how it went.
- If you publish your story on your web site or on your blog let me know so I can make a link to it for others to read.
A Great Book for Young Soccer Fans
A few days ago my grandson had his ninth birthday. He had previously made a long list of things he would like for his birthday. This sure helps old grandfathers like me in the selection process. I am usually quite hopeless in choosing appropriate gifts for family members.
One of the items on his list included books in the Tiny Timmy series written by Australian soccer star, Tim Cahill and co-written by Julain Gray. My grandson only had Book 1 in a six-book series. I read this book and I was very impressed. It has been many years since I read mostly children’s books. That was when I was a teacher/librarian and a classroom teacher in primary schools.
Tiny Timmy books
The book I read this last week was Tiny Timmy: Soccer Superstar. Being the first in the series, the protagonist Tim is mad keen on becoming a soccer star. He desperately wants to play on the school soccer team. There are just three main problems: he is smaller than his teammates, he is constantly teased by the other players, and the coach doesn’t pick him in the team. Tim is not discouraged, though even his attempts at being the team’s orange boy are disastrous.
Although the authors don’t use the word perseverance, this book shows young, enthusiastic soccer players that hard work, dedication and trying hard to improve will pay off. Little Timmy keeps practising and helping out until he discovers that he has a unique skill the other players do not possess.
I loved this book. It is easy to read. It encourages young people to keep trying. It teaches children to stay focused on what they want to achieve. It is easy to read with appropriate illustrations on every page. The chapters are short and filled with action. I cannot find any information regarding how biographical these books are, and they are listed by the publisher as fiction. It doesn’t matter; they are great little books for anyone aspiring to improve in any endeavour, sporting or otherwise.
I highly recommend this book for readers ages 8 to 10, especially if they are keen to improve in any sport, not just soccer. I was so impressed with the first book in the series that I went and bought books 2 and 3 for my grandson. I think he was impressed.
Cahill, Tim and Gray, Julian: Tiny Timmy: Soccer Superstar. Scholastic Australia, Sydney, 2015.
Reflections on an old story
I have been having a trip down memory lane in recent days. I have been typing up an old story I wrote many years ago. In fact, the only copy I appear to have is a typed copy with 1989 on the title page. I was shocked to realise that this story was written nearly 28 years ago. It has languished ever since as one or two copies stored in boxes in our garage. The copy I am using was printed on an old dot-matrix printer. Remember those old clunkers?
This story, called Magpie Farm (hence the photo of an Australian Magpies above and below), was typed on either a borrowed Commodore 64 computer or on the Amigo 500 I bought around that time. I can’t remember. I think that it was written during a school holiday break; I was a classroom teacher at the time. Those old computers were wonderful, and I learned so many things about the digital world from them. I still have the old Amiga – in working condition too, though I only fire it up every five years or so. Sadly, the old Amiga discs are not compatible with today’s PCs, hence the need to retype this story.
I am sure that this was my first attempt at writing a novel for children. At just under 10,000 words it is probably better described as a chapter book. I have since written several more novels for children, of varying lengths and subject matter. I am planning to prepare these for publication sometime this year. They will initially be in eBook format with print on demand paper copies also available.
Background to Magpie Farm
As I type up this story, I recognise many incidents from real life. The main character is a young boy who is afraid of magpies. Some Australian Magpies are notorious for their tendency to swoop people during the breeding season. The boy’s family move to a small farm and he is horrified that there are magpies on the farm. Some of the incidents I have included in the story are drawn directly from my own family’s experiences. A few years before writing this story, we also bought some acreage, though five acres (two hectares) can hardly be called a “farm”. We did have some sheep for a while; I’m not sure if that qualifies it as being a farm.
I have a serious problem with the story. Several problems, actually.
It is terrible.
Honestly – it needs some serious editing, rewriting and restructuring. The problem is that I have decided to be very strong as I type it up. I tend to edit as I type. This applies to most of my writing these days. The first draft is often very close to the final draft. I rewrite, edit, proofread and so on as I go. Not always, but usually that is my preferred writing style. This time I decided to be very strong and resist all urges to stop and rewrite, edit or change anything. Those steps will come later.
Why is it terrible?
As I type, I find myself wincing often. How could I have written such terrible prose? The dialogue between characters is not all that bad, but the rest of it is quite naive – almost childish. This shows up three basic things:
- I have certainly progressed a long, long way as a writer in the intervening years.
- There is much good material in the story which can be vastly improved.
- I now know what is wrong with the story and the writing, and how to fix it; that comes with experience and heaps of writing practice (over 3 million words later, and counting).
Where to now?
I still have a few chapters to type up. Then I will spend a week or two rewriting whole slabs of the text to bring it up to publishable standards. Later will come the proofreading and copy editing stages before I send my baby out into the world. After that, I have two other longer novels written several years later and they will both need the same treatment.
Is it all worth it?
If the story as it stands now is so terrible in my own eyes, is it worth pursuing and putting in all that work? I believe so. I take this attitude, not because it was my first serious attempt at a novel, but because of feedback from readers.
- At the time I printed out a number of copies and handed them out to friends. They all commented how good it was, and how much they enjoyed it.
- I also read it to several classes I was teaching at the time of writing. I still have contact with many former students who remember the story well.
- I was asked recently by one former student if I had published this story. He added that it had a profound, positive effect on him. It inspired him to become a writer. He has published some of his writing, he has participated successfully in performance poetry events, and he wrote and performed in a musical which was showcased last week at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. This festival is regarded worldwide as second only to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
- Wow! I love feedback like that.
I plan to publish this chapter book (novel?) in the near future, so stay tuned. The launch will be announced on this site, and it will be available through this site.
Good reading. Good writing.
- Trevor’s Birding – check out another blog of mine where I also write regularly about Australian birds. I showcase many of my bird photos on that site.