Monday, 25 April 2011

Writing death

Just a note to say that I won't be posting for a little bit. 
My grandfather passed away unexpectedly yesterday morning, on his 92nd birthday. (Something symbolic in the way he left the world the same date he entered it) I'm still pretty shocked. 

Were at the hospital for hours yesterday and my mind wandered to writing. I thought about cliches associated with writing on death. Because they were all true yesterday. The hospital room smelt sterile. His body became cold (a different kind of cold to anything else). He looked pale and peaceful. And his family stood around, holding his hand and crying. Reminiscing about his life and his fulfillments. 
Although every death is unique, there are still cliches that cannot be avoided.  It takes a good writer to write about it originally. 

Here is the beginning of a story I wrote about my grandfather in 2008. It is about how he got to Australia after World War 2. 


It was 1945 and he was in Austria. The war had just ended and my grandfather, Bernard, who was twenty-eight at the time, had lost almost everything. He was alone, weighing thirty-eight kilos and suffering from Tuberculosis (TB), a contagious disease of the lungs he inevitably caught during the war. The Nazi’s had separated his entire family, putting them all into different concentration camps around Europe; Bernard was the first to be taken on the 1st of March 1942.
The first camp he was in was a forced labour camp where he was made to work vigorously for most of the day, building the road ‘Outbound’ from Berlin to Krakow. He recalls now, his voice cracked and aged, one of the men he worked with, whose body was so weak from starvation (they were only rationed a ladle of food in the evening and 33 grams of bread); he dropped a brick and was consequently strangled to his death in front of them all. For years he witnessed these callous murders, feeling himself getting closer to his own demise.
The other three camps he went to were concentration camps “just to kill people”, where he remembers his friends and family-friends from the Jewish community being taken into gas chambers and only coming out from the chimneys. “The minute you came to the camps, the world stopped,” he explains, in both the physical and mental meaning.
His comfortable life and happy family were now just a memory he clung to with clenched fists; the attainment of this past a dream that kept his heart strong and his body moving.
After the liberation of the camps in May 1945, Bernard, who had been in them for three years, found the names of two of his brothers and two of his sisters on a short list detailing the where-abouts of survivors. His parents were not on the list, nor the rest of his family. They had been murdered in the gas chambers – their body’s mass cremated - in Auschwitz, a place where the most unconceivable and unfathomable inhumanity occurred.
His younger siblings in Germany came to meet him in Austria, where they all began the gruelling process of mourning and recovery. Bernard was in hospital for eighteen months suffering from TB and a deathly low body weight; crammed into wards with other holocaust survivors, their bodies like gaunt ghosts and their minds scarred by brutality. His family, the only thing left to him and fortunately without disease, came to visit him daily.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Flash Fiction

I was looking at A.S. Patric's blog this morning (He is a Melbourne based writer) and I read his latest piece of flash fiction

I realised just how much I love reading and writing flash fiction. I love the way that in such a small space, with so few words, you can tell a story. A.S. Patric proves just how powerful pieces of flash fiction can be. And it's challenging. You don't have time and plot leaads to reel your reader in. If they aren't in from the start, they aren't in at all. 

I have another writer friend, Rafael S.W who is on the editorial committee for Express Media, who writers wonderful flash fiction, some of which I have been fortunate enough to read. 

So what is Flash Fiction?

  • Fiction between 300-1000 words. 
  • As with most modern writing, there are no rules in flash fiction. 
  • It's usually a small idea that shows complexity, or something larger. 
  • There are usually no plot or character set ups. The reader is just thrown in. 
  • Flash fiction could be a conversation, an image or a thought. 

Here is a piece of flash fiction I wrote last year while on a weekend writers retreat (Rafael was also there writing flash fiction). I knew the sentence I wanted to start with, and a metaphor I wanted to describe and I went from there. I didn't know how long the piece was going to be. I just wrote and let it take on a life of its own. It turned out to be 402 words. 

She was here

This is how she is dying.  It’s cold and then the bullet penetrates her chest. It settles in the part of her that pulsates, warming in her body like sex, and she starts to leak. They carry her through turbulence on a jagged stretcher, her red confetti dripping on trampled sand, and they take her away.  

It started as love. No, it started as two soldiers who only ‘saw’ each other once they’d lost their uniforms. She cried the first time their skins had touched. He’d shrugged his shoulders as if to say ‘this is me’, and she’d fallen into him. His body was soft and curled around her like a baby gripping a finger. He was everything, now, that as a soldier, he wasn’t.

The war receded in their fusion. Champagne bottles replaced pops of grenades and colour coated their memories of military green. Soon they were caught in a different kind of insanity; an obsession that was beyond the choice of love. She was distracted. When he wasn’t there she wrote him letters, and even when together, she’d think about being with him. They’d go for walks down the same streets over and over.  They’d name things that didn’t have names and then laugh at themselves. They created their own world around them.

They made love moving quickly in each other, their hands grabbing firm at faces, hair and torsos, not knowing where to touch and wanting to touch everywhere. They found each other’s scars, traced them and moved harder. After, she wished it were slower, the way romantic sex is meant to be. But he holds her tighter after each time, leans his head against hers and breathes hard, his lips lingering near hers. Then he gives her the necklace he always wore, a bullet on a dirty chain and it sits between her breasts.

She forgets about the war and it finds her when she’s lost without him on a paved street near the desert. She was remembering the way they first kissed, and the feel of him pressing himself against her. Then the war comes, bullets fire and shells fall through the smoke. Soldiers take her away, her body leaking the dregs of her love on a military green stretcher. Winter starts to arrive and the warmth of her fades.

She was here, he thinks after. She was here, and then she was gone.

The story is based off truth, in a metaphoric sense. 
So has anyone written flash fiction?
What are your thoughts on flash fiction?
I challenge everyone to write a story between 300 and 1000 words.  

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Book Surgeon and Other Types of Literary Surgery

I stumbled across this website today (strange, since I was looking up corporate clothes at the time) and I fell in love with the pictures.

The artist, Brian Dettmer, reconstructs old encyclopedias, medical journals and dictionaries, using knives and surgical tools and creates intricate pieces of art.

Dettmer says:

"The richness and depth of the book is universally respected yet often undiscovered as the monopoly of the form and relevance of the information fades over time. The book’s intended function has decreased and the form remains linear in a non-linear world. By altering physical forms of information and shifting preconceived functions, new and unexpected roles emerge."

The book surgeon got me thinking about other types of literary surgery.

Editors (structural and copy) are book surgeons themselves and publishers are almost like the GP’s, guiding books to make them as healthy (or good) as they can possibly be.

Here’s how it goes down.

The author presents his/her baby to the publisher for a diagnosis. The publisher, upon inspection, finds some abnormalities and says reassuringly, “We can fix them. It will take time and work, but I predict a very positive outcome. I have a strong, experienced team and all the surgeons have keen eyes for detail. Just sign this contract to consent to the operation and we will sign in agreement of the procedure.” The author, with its baby’s best intentions at heart, signs.

Surgery begins. 

The structural editors look at the baby as a whole. They examine the way the child is held together and they make executive decisions whether or not the form is substantial and stable enough to hold the kid together. Then the copy editors sweep in and look at the finer details: whether the arteries and veins are connected to the right places, whether the baby needs more or less blood cells.

In real surgery, limbs are lost, kidneys are taken in and out and specific parts are made bigger or smaller. In writing and editing, it’s called ‘kill your darlings’ which author William Faulkner advised. This refers to the author having to cut out favorite and most-loved-parts of the story (whether it be individual words, or whole sentences and paragraphs) for the greater good of the work.

In this context, it seems that my pursuit of a career in publishing and editing is genetic. My father is a surgeon (boobs, not books), my big brother is also a doctor, and my littler-big bother is a surgeon of computers. So while I’ve been thinking that I’m the creative dud of the family, turns out I really am following in their footsteps.

I’m going to go and edit the story I’ve been working on this week.
Method: Print out, scribble in red until it’s bleeding, and then sew it back to together, one word at a time. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Book ATM

Exciting news for Australia! 
Lightening Source (which prints on demand) is opening in Melbourne in June 2011. TIME magazine has called it the “ATM for books”. As a writer and future-publisher, I’m very excited about this prospect and look forward to seeing the way it changes the bookselling market in Australia.

How it works (in a nutshell):
Lightening Source keeps an electronic catalogue of books – with currently over 4.4 million titles - that can be printed on demand and shipped in 12-24 hours to booksellers, publishers or distributors. The best part is that Print on Demand (POD) can print as little as one copy per title upon request. Previously, booksellers were having to wait weeks, sometimes months, for backlist book orders to be processed, as there was no cost efficient way to print small numbers of particular titles. POD allows the consumer to choose their own binding and trimming of the book, and it assures that each copy has been checked for quality control. Lightening Source operates globally, with offices in the UK, USA and Europe, and it promotes accessibility within the international publishing industry.

Benefits of POD:
  •  Books will essentially never go out of print, and can be purchased quickly and easily. (There is a book I’ve been searching for for years, but it is out of print and virtually untraceable. POD will eliminate this problem for book consumers).  
  • Australia should see a drive in sales, as more books will be available for purchase. This in turn should see a rise in author royalties (not a dramatic rise, but money is still money) and bookseller and publisher incomes.
  • POD will reduce storage space and funds for large publishing distribution factories. This saves money, paper and space.
  • Books are in print and available without the fear of publishers over-printing (and having to deal with returns and financial losses), and booksellers over purchasing titles (without ever selling them all).
  • POD will be beneficial for self-published authors who can now start with smaller print runs (perhaps only 100 copies) and then print more according to sale requirement.
  • POD will be beneficial for online journals that would like to have the option for their readers to POD.
  • Lightening Source is able to sell books on the publisher’s behalf and the publisher still gets paid the wholesale price of the book, minus the print cost.

Here is an interesting youtube video on the Espresso Book Machine

For more information, check out the Lightening Source website.

Is anyone else excited for POD?

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Relationship woes

So I was snuggling with my boyfriend last night - who's more into politics than the english language - and decided it would be a great moment to start teaching him some grammar rules (count and mass nouns, and when to use 'less' and 'fewer' ... common, it's interesting!)

Well, it wasn't well received. He loosened his grip around me, moved across the bed, and I definitely saw a flicker of fear in his eyes.  Killed the moment, really.

Just thought I'd give you all a heads up.