Archive for the 'Reading' Category

Writing your family history

To many people history is boring.

I can understand that. Some history turns me off, while other aspects of history fascinate me. I guess it sometimes depends on the mood I’m in, or the particular aspect of history being discussed, read or shown on television. To many people family history is deadly boring – with and emphasis on the “dead” part.

I disagree.

Some writers complain that they have trouble coming up with ideas for stories and novels. My suggestion is to get hold of a family history book. If your family hasn’t had a family history book published, borrow someone else’s history. I have two family books; one based on my father’s side, the other on my mother’s family. Both are filled with family genealogical diagrams illustrating relationships in the broader family. They also include many interesting but rather stiff upper lip type photos which can be a little amusing today.

But I digress.

Both books contain hundreds of short accounts of the lives of people in my family. Many of these people are now dead. The accounts range from the familiar, mundane and ordinary, through to the unbelievable, adventurous and plain tragic. Take for example the account of my ancestors on my father’s side as they escaped religious persecution in their home land and migrated half way around the world to settle here in South Australia. Several members died on the boat journey out here. The story of the survivors shows great courage and drama. It’s ready made for retelling, possibly best written as fiction.

Any family history book, if it contains accounts of the lives of ordinary people, will be a fertile field ready for harvesting by a creative and imaginative writer. Troll through the book looking for that one story that captures your imagination. Then let that imagination have full rein. Let the story run its course. Don’t necessarily worry about sticking to the facts; you are writing fiction. Writers of historical fiction do this all the time; their stories are fiction based on a true story or actual event.

I hope you find a little gem of a story.

Good writing.

Demise of our local bookshop

I love bookshops.

They are my favourite type of shop. I probably spend more time in bookshops than any other type though I should add that I rarely do our grocery shopping. So it was with great sadness yesterday that I visited our local bookshop knowing that it was closing down ths week. As part of a large chain which has been in trouble across the country recently, it was another victim of poor management at the top. The local shop was excellently run but the staff have suffered at the hands of those who should know better.

I guess that this is not an uncommon occurance in the bookshop world these days. Poor management aided by the growth of online shops has seen many shops close. Yes – I’m guilty of buying online too, but usually only books with which I am familiar. Nothing online can replace actually handling the physical object before deciding to buy. Sadly I guess I will have to gradually forego this simple pleasure as more and more bookshops close in the coming years.

What did I buy, I hear you ask? At 50% off I couldn’t resist Geraldine Brooks’ novel People of the book. Strangely, sadly ironic that that was the book I most wanted to buy (read a review here). Are our bookshops in danger of disappearing?

Book review: A Promise of Peaches by Valerie Volk

A Promise of Peachers

My review of ‘A Promise of Peaches’

A review of A Promise of Peaches by Valerie Volk

Published in 2011 by Ginninderra Press.

A Promise of Peaches is Valerie Volk’s second book of poetry. I wrote a review of  her first book, In Due Season a few days ago. Actually, to call this new work a book of poetry is to do this volume a disservice. It is a verse novel.

The inspiration for this novel came from Valerie’s own experience as a child, but I hasten to add that it is in no way autobiographical. It first existed as a short story. I remember when Valerie read this story which was an assignment when we were part way through our Master of Arts degree. The suggestion was to expand it into a novel. A little later I recall that our lecturer suggesting that she rewrite it as a verse novel. I think at the time Valerie claimed not to have ever read anything in this specialised genre before, but typically, Valerie threw herself into research mode and the idea grew into the book.

A Promise of Peaches traces the life of Claire, from her early memories as a young girl growing up in post-war Melbourne through to her frustrations in an aged-care facility. Her parents take in as boarders a Czech refugee couple, Viktor and Irena. The story, told in a variety of poetic forms, reveals the feelings and thoughts of each character. Each poem is short, often no more than a page or two at most, and every one sketches a poignant vignette of the inner feelings of the character. Valerie has used different, distinctive voices for each person, a difficult task for any writer and one she succeeds in achieving.

The initial excitement of the struggling post-war Australian suburban family in welcoming a couple from a totally different culture and social background is soon swamped by misunderstandings, rising tension and frustrated passions. Claire’s own innocent sexual stirrings, aided by Viktor, add to the tension and conflict. The author has skilfully woven all of these emotions into the beautiful fabric of her narrative. Her poems are often sparse, tight and understated, sharpened down to bare essentials. I particularly like the three special blues poems inserted into the text late in the writing process.

Somewhere in the night a child is crying.
Somewhere in the blackness of the night a child is crying bitter tears.
Scorching searing tears that never seem to end.

From: Claire, Blues Interlude 3 p.163

In the very next poem we read how Claire sees Viktor only once many years later. She recognises him instantly, but he doesn’t know her, nor the profound effect his actions have had on her throughout her life.

I highly recommend this verse novel, not because Valerie is a valued colleague and friend, but because it is a captivating read. Many readers have told her that they couldn’t put it down, that they read all the way through in one sitting. Even though I’d read the manuscript in several of its draft forms, I too found myself reading right through (though I admit to stopping for lunch at one stage, only because it was my turn to cook).

By the way – it’s not every day one gets to read one’s name in the acknowledgements page of a novel. Thanks for sharing the journey with me Valerie; it was fascinating.

You can buy this, and her other books online on her website: Valerie Volk

Further reading:

Bookshop chains in trouble

I love bookshops.

I could easily work in one but then I wouldn’t have as much time to read and write. Never mind.

Sadly, news came earlier this week that two big bookshop chains here in Australia are in financial trouble and have gone into voluntary administration. I have enjoyed many visits to both Borders and Angus and Robertson (A&R) shops over the years. A&R actually bought out the struggling Borders sometime in the last year or so. The Australian Borders chain has no financial connections with the American chain which is also in trouble. A&R is one the oldest and most respected chain bookshops in Australia with a history stretching back over 150 years. I’m not sure how this will effect the local shop in my own hometown.

Rapidly growing internet sales of books, especially to overseas giants like Amazon, have been blamed. You can read more details on the ABC website here. I must admit to buying some books online, but only shops here in Australia, and generally only those I can’t physically visit due to distance. These are usually genre specific shops. Most of my books are still bought in traditional bookshops, but I see my buying habits are changing too. I now do a large proportion of my business and bill paying online.

If these two chains o under, the effect on readers will certainly be significant. How this will impact on writers is yet to be seen.

Good reading and good writing.

What I am reading: 84 Charing Cross Road

I recently read this classic book first published in 1970. Most people know the story: New York author Helene Hanff writes letters to a London bookshop situated at 84 Charing Cross Road. This charming book reprints the many letters that she sends to the bookshop over many years as she requests copies of various books she wishes to read, and the replies from the people working in the shop.

While this book is a thin volume it still fascinates the reader, despite its quaint and somewhat outdated attitudes and expressions. It is a reminder of a by-gone era, when people had time to correspond, when books were treasured items to be sought after and possessed – not kept on e-readers – and when times in post-war England were quite different as well as difficult.

84 Charing Cross Road was written by Helene Hanff and published by Penguin.