Archive for the 'Novels' Category

Book review: The Valley Between

THIELE The Valley Between HC

Book Review: The Valley Between by Colin Thiele, published by Rigby Publishing in 1981.

Biography

Last week I reviewed the official biography of Colin Thiele. You can read that review here. I found this biography to be very interesting and quite inspirational. Thiele was a prolific writer despite also being a full-time teacher and a much-in-demand public speaker. In his day, he was a much-loved author, particularly regarding his works for children of all ages. His new books were always eagerly awaited and sold out quickly. I believe that his writing is still held in high regard, though many younger readers have probably not heard of him. Even younger teachers may not be aware of the huge contribution Thiele made to Australian literature.

Inspired

After reading his biography, I was inspired to reread some of his works. I have a few in my own library, but for some titles, I had to go to my local public library. Not all of his books are available here locally, so I am grateful for the provision of interlibrary loans. (We have access to all the books held in public and some school libraries throughout our state of South Australia.)

The Valley Between

One of the books I choose to read was The Valley Between a novel for children set in the mid-north of South Australia in the 1930s. The valley in the title refers to the Barossa Valley about an hour’s drive north of Adelaide. This is a world famous wine region. Thiele grew up a short distance north of this valley. He was born in 1920 and so this book very much reflects his boyhood experiences and exploits. It would be interesting to know how much is from personal experience, and how much is from his very fertile imagination. This story roughly continues from his earlier and better-known novel, The Sun on the StubbleBoth were later adapted into a television series. Probably his best-known work is Storm Boy which later became a very popular film of the same name. A remake of the film is under way this year (2017).

Vignettes

The narrative of The Valley Between is mostly in short vignettes of the happenings in the life of the protagonist, Benno Schulz. Each chapter is an episode in itself, but the over-arching storyline follows Benno’s first experiences after leaving primary school. In those days, many children did not go on to secondary or tertiary education.

While each chapter can be read in isolation just like a short story, several characters appear in each episode, intersecting with the life of Benno as he grows up on a farm near the imaginary town of Gonunda. The town is quite clearly reflective of the town of Eudunda where Thiele grew up. There is a statue of Thiele in a park of the town.

German influences

Many of the characters in the story are descendants of the German settlers who came to South Australia in the 1800s. Thiele uses their distinct dialect, a mixture of English, German and mash-ups of both languages to great effect. He has even included a glossary of German words at the back. I, too, have the same heritage, so the language is easy for me to read. Contemporary readers may struggle a little until they get used to it. This is a small price to pay for reading this delightful story. Many incidents are laugh out loud moments as Benno gets into all kinds of adventures, both deliberate and inadvertent.

Descriptions

Colin Thiele is known for his rich descriptions of the environment in which his stories are based. His words sing with metaphors and similes which bring his settings to life. His wonderful characters come to life through his words and their sometimes bizarre actions and attitudes. While I have said that this book is somewhat episodic in structure, the narrative carries the reader on to the satisfying conclusion.

When I first came across this title in a list of his works, I thought that I had missed reading this title. On getting about half way through, I realised that I had read it, albeit several decades ago, possibly when it was first published. It is well worth tracking down a copy to read.

Further reading:

Colin Thiele

The importance of revising your writing

A love of writing

One of the reasons I am a writer is that I really enjoy the process of writing. I love the creative process that occurs when an idea pops into my head. It does not matter if it is a poem, a short story, a novel, a blog post, a non-fiction article or even an email to a family member, the same joy of creating is there. This joyful feeling is what keeps me going. It has enabled me to write almost three and a half million words in the last twenty-four years. It has kept me pressing on while spending over twenty thousand hours at my computer keyboard.

The unexpected creative process

One of the exciting things I find about writing, especially when writing fiction, is that I discover unexpected outcomes via the creative process. I might have a general idea of where the story is heading, I may even have a clear plan of the plot, when suddenly a character does or says something unexpected, out of character or just plain startling. The plot can take some bizarre and unplanned twists when this happens. I even find that my thoughts can be railroaded into a side-track when writing blog posts or other forms of non-fiction. It’s all very exciting.

A Problem

As fascinating as this is, such a sudden turn of events, or change of direction, or unplanned content to one’s writing can have a serious repercussion. The writer can get seriously off-track. A short story about a woman’s struggle with depression (yes, I have had one such story published) could take off in the direction of telling all the woes of her childhood. This is back-story; it is probably not necessary in a 2000 word story. In a 100,000 word novel – perhaps.

The importance of revision

I have discovered over many years of writing that revision is crucial to the whole process of the art, as is rewriting, editing and proofreading. I should write articles on all of these aspects of writing – and I probably have over the years. (You can find them by using those terms in the “search” box at the top of the page.)

In this article, want to focus just on “revision”.

What is Revision?

The process of revision can include the following:

  • Reading back over the piece of writing, checking for errors of fact, especially in non-fiction. It can also be crucial in fiction, too; you can’t have a character using a mobile phone if the story is set in the 1960s – unless it is a time travel story, but then, the phone wouldn’t work.
  • Correcting the wrong use of words, or constant repetition of words and phrases.
  • Recasting sentences which demonstrate poor grammar.
  • Checking for spelling mistakes and typos (though this is usually regarded as editing or proofreading, two other important processes of writing).
  • Deleting a sentence, a paragraph or even as much as a whole chapter which is unnecessary to the whole work. In one novel I wrote, I had to delete large chunks because it read like a travelogue and didn’t advance the plot.
  • Rearranging the order of sentences, paragraphs or chapters to create a more logical flow.

How other writers revise their work

I have included only a few ways in which one can revise your writing. There are many different ways of doing this important process. Each writer is different, and individual writers can vary their own approach, depending on what they are writing.

I recently came across an article 12 Contemporary writers on how they revise. Each writer has a different approach to the same process. At the end of each writer’s segment, there is a link to further articles on that writer, including blog posts, podcasts, interviews and more. I hope that you find it useful.

Further reading:

 

 

Book review

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

I must say from the beginning that this is more of a personal response than an actual review. I have done many book reviews on this site over the years, and I plan to continue writing reviews from time to time. So much has already been said about this novel that what I could possibly add would be lost in a very crowded space.

Why did I read this book now?

I had always intended reading this classic. I just never got to read it. Throughout my other life as a primary classroom teacher here in South Australia for 35 years, I mostly read children’s books. After one disastrous event, I always made it a personal policy to read a book myself before reading it to my class. It had to be suitable and appropriate for those in my class. Now in retirement, I am enjoying being able to read anything that interests me. Because of all the hype about Harper Lee’s recently released second novel, Go Set a Watchman, and her more recent demise, I thought that it was about time I focussed my attention on her classic.

I am pleased that I did.

Classic status

I am not a good judge of what constitutes a classic piece of literature. I will leave that to the experts in the field. As with art, I am more of the “like it” brigade; I know what I like, and if I don’t like it but others do, then that merely shows a difference of taste and opinion. Let’s not get too upset with one another.

By any of the standards that I judge a book by, this has to be a classic work. It certainly has stood the test of time and is possibly more popular and more widely read than ever before. It is certainly well written and engages the reader like any great book should. It has memorable characters that stay with you forever – or certainly for a long time after reading. It has a simple premise and an intriguing plot. The story line carries the reader on, always turning the pages to see what happens next. I could go on, but I promised a personal response.

My response to this book:

In the previous paragraph, I indicated some of the elements that make this book a memorable classic work of literature. While I certainly concur with all of these statements, for me this book was far more than that. It has left a lasting impression. It is a glimpse into the times and culture of a small American town in the 1930s. It has made me realise the importance of the little events of life which have such an impact on ordinary people. I couldn’t help thinking of my own period of growing up in a small Australian farming community in the 1950s, and comparing the two.

Racial tensions

The most outstanding theme of this book – and arguably what makes it so outstanding – it the author’s portrayal of the racial tensions of the times in which it is set. The contrasts are stark. The legacy seems to be ongoing. (That’s if I read the current American culture correctly.) The inequalities and differences between all levels of society are certainly drawn starkly, and the reader is left in no doubt about those divisions.

Australian literature

Australia has been largely free of racial tensions until the last few decades. And so far, we do not have an outstanding classic work of literature which has addressed the obvious tensions in our society. Layered upon that is the multicultural aspect of modern Australia and we have a simmering melting pot. Our country is ready for such a work as this. Or am I being too critical of Australian literature? The only works which seem to come close to Mockingbird would be Kate Grenville’s The Secret River and David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon. Remember, though, I have not yet read widely in classic Australian literature, so listing only two titles seems rather inadequate.

Conclusion

In summary, I can now understand why To Kill a Mockingbird has received so many accolades. I can appreciate its place in the annals of American literature; indeed, it stands tall in the literature of the world. It is one of those books which should appear on every “Top 100 Books You Must Read” list.

One question remains: Did I enjoy the book?

To that I give an unqualified “YES”.

Readers

Questions for my readers:

  • What are your responses to this book?
  • What about the book did you enjoy – or hate?
  • Leave a few comments, please.

Good reading – and good writing.

Trevor

 

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Back in April I wrote about the fact that I had finally relented and procured an eReader. It was interesting adapting to a new form of technology. It was also quite a different reading experience. I found it very easy to use and quickly downloaded several books to read.

I also included my wife in this wonderful new addition to our reading regime. I was quite surprised how easily she also took to it. In fact, during the first few weeks we had to share the reader. She usually heads off to bed before me and reads for 20 – 30 minutes, and then when I arrive in bed it is lying there waiting for me. So far, we have not argued over its use at all. Not yet.

But I digress.

Well, not so much of a digression but more of an introduction to the review I want to do. The first book I bought and read on my eReader was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When I mentioned this on Facebook many of my friends said how enjoyable this book was, as well as being totally gripping in its exciting subject matter.

I have to disagree.

Yes – I was totally absorbed by the storyline. At times I had trouble putting the reader down. I even took it out in the back yard to read – when the grandchildren allowed me this luxury. We were staying with my son and family in Sydney at the time. The utter fascination with the characters and the events in this novel had me spellbound, and about half way through the book, this began to bother me, and towards the end it concerned me greatly.

While I concede that this is a brilliantly written book – it has the reader in its grip right from the beginning – it was the subject matter which rang alarm bells in my conscience. I found the sadistic subject matter towards the end of the novel to be quite repulsive; I guess that was what the author was trying to achieve. I also found that many of the characters had no moral compasses at all. Instead, they displayed very strong ‘immoral compasses.’

Conclusion:

Certainly it is a very well written novel – no disputing that. I just found that this type of novel is not for me – especially when I have so many other books waiting to be read.

And I have resolved not to read the sequels in this series. Good thing I didn’t buy them.

Good reading.

Good writing.

Trevor

Films featuring writers and writing

I always find it interesting and somewhat enlightening when I see a film which features a writer or someone writing. I have seen quite a few over the years and even have a few in my own collection of DVDs.

I get a weekly newsletter from the Australian Writers’ Centre. It is usually both informative and entertaining. Their blog recently featured a list of movies which feature writers or something about writing. You can access the article here.

This is quite a long list and some of my favourite movies are featured on the list, including:

  • Miss Potter
  • Finding Neverland
  • Iris

I must admit that there are many on the list which I have never seen. Perhaps I need to reactivate my membership of the local video hire shop – if it is still operating. I haven’t darkened its doorstep in many years. Too many books to read – and write!

There is also a lingering feeling that this list is far from complete. I have just quickly skimmed over my own collection of DVDs and can add the following:

  • Moulin Rouge
  • As Time Goes By (okay – this is a television series)
  • MASH (okay – another television series and only occasionally features a writer or writing)
  • Jewel of the Nile

Books into movies

Now – if we extend the list to include books which have been made into movies, the list would be enormous. The latest one I have experienced is The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 2 which I just happened to see yesterday. Good movie, and a satisfactory ending to the series. I don’t think I will get around to reading the books; I have too many other piles of books and magazines waiting to be read.

Good writing. Good reading. Good viewing.

Trevor