Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Purple Prose

The jacarandas are in bloom!

I do love them. The sad thing is that the blossoms don’t last long. We’re lucky if we get two weeks’ worth of their beauty. They get hammered by torrential rain or the heat gets them or both. When we lived in Wellington, NZ, I was amazed by the lifetimes of the agapanthus and hydrangea flowers. The blooms would flower for two, sometimes three, months. Months, not days.

It seems to me that there’s a fine line between flowery prose, overwriting and, well, just writing. Recently in class we were doing a group critique, and I was picked out by one of my peers as having a sentence that was “flowery”.  The sentence in question was, “…he looked at me and he laughed. He laughed in astonishment, with delight and with rapture; it seemed to be all these things at once.” There may be a touch of overwriting in there, but I can’t see any flowers. And, as this is the Gothic genre, I’m allowed to get away with a certain amount of overstating the obvious. It’s one of the conventions of the genre. 

Of course I didn’t say anything to my fellow student, but I’ve been thinking about this. How many readers/critics think the wonderful Gerard Manley Hopkins guilty of flowery writing? Don’t misunderstand me; I love his poetry. But it was this line that got me wondering, “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things”.  Isn’t it beautiful? But isn’t it also a little bit icky?

As I’m currently writing an essay on the ex-textual career of Tim Winton, I’ve had a good look at his prose, too. One reviewer described it as “bony”, which to my mind it isn’t. It’s evocative and lyrical. Vivacious – now there’s a flowery word for you. Why is it flowery? Is it because it sounds like the name of a flower? Have you seen the viviacious? They’re in bloom.* I digress – and it’s vivid. If the writing is spare it’s because most of Winton’s protagonists are blokes, and they don’t waste words. So, yes, it’s blokey. I love that about his work.  The book I’ve been looking at is The Riders. I keep finding phrases in it that remind me of what it is to be an Australian. “He picked it up carefully and pressed the cashmere to his face. It smelt of frangipani, of sunlight …”

I had a lot of trouble trying to take the perfect shot of the perfect jacaranda. What I really wanted to achieve was a dark, gloomy look with the purple jumping out at you. I’m new at being a serious photographer, so I haven’t achieved that. And I had to walk back from the park last night with the dog in the near dark, having misjudged the light. But you can see I was inspired along the way… 

*I imagine them to be fleshy, with petals in colours of deep reds and, yes, purples.  (Sorry.)

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Imaginary Friends

This is a picture of my new friend, Miss Puddleduck.  I haven’t made eye contact to introduce myself, because every time I go out there she’s bottoms up.  I’ve called her Miss Puddleduck after Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-Duck, whom I seem to remember was a bit naïve and let a fox get the better of her.  I don’t think my Jemima is naïve.  Although it’s possible I am.

When I haven’t been concentrating on my assignments, I’ve been doing some thinking about the imagination and the blurring of the lines between reality and fiction.  This is because the new book – yes, I’ve started a new book – is about a little girl who has an imaginary friend. I need to do research and a lot of percolating, before I write any more. Apparently, children can have three categories of imaginary friends: imaginary friends who are only seen in the mind, imaginary friends who aren’t seen but their presence is felt, and imaginary friends who are all too real to the child. 

As part of my research I’ve bought the Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Jane Eyre by the Bronté sisters. I’m ashamed to say I haven't read either book, and I hope they’ll go a long way towards immersing myself in gothic writing. I’ve just read Bereft by Chris Womersley, which is described on the backcover blurb as a “searing gothic novel of love, longing and justice” and I believe that the little girl in that novel, Sadie, is very likely a figment of the main character’s imagination.  It’s not common, however, for adults to have imaginary friends.

I know some adults who converse with inanimate objects –  soft toys, sculptures – as if they were alive, but I don’t know anyone who’s ever had an imaginary friend as a child. I don’t think it’s something many grown-ups would admit to and, if they did, I think they would be sheepish. I’d like to know if the adults who talk to inanimate objects imagine they get a response, and how the response is formed. Do they know it emanates from their imaginations? Are they sometimes surprised by the response? Is the inanimate object’s response predictable? 

I know that my imagination can be headstrong. That if I want something to happen very badly I almost believe that it has, and I am quite devastated when someone points out that it hasn’t. I can develop expectations around this one hope, so much so that it becomes a part of my history when, in actual fact, it hasn’t even happened. Yet.