Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Life histories...

A carpet salesman came to my house last week to measure upstairs where we are going to have new carpets put down. (The present ones are thirteen years old, and have absorbed everything from puppy piddle to teenage spew to coke and spilled pizza, and, yes, probably even sex - not me, you understand.)

On the phone beforehand, the salesman told me his name was Marco. Italian, right? And yet puzzlingly he spoke with a broad Scottish accent. This is going to be interesting, I thought.

It was. Marco looks Italian. He's on the short side. He's dark-haired, has a prominent nose, and is carrying a bit of weight. Like most Italian men he dresses nicely.  He has a charming manner, but not in that too-smooth way typical of some salesmen. And yet there's this Scottish brogue. 

As he was leaving I said to him (but only because he mentioned that he thought I was South African), "Clearly you're Italian, what's with the Scottish accent?" 

"Ooh," he said, in that way that Scottish people do, "that's a wee story." 

"Tell it to me," I said.  

It turns out his Italian father met his Italian mother in London, not long after the war. They married and stayed in England, but when Marco and his brother came along money, which had never been plentiful, got very scarce. In order to give the two boys a "fair crack at life", in Marco's words, they were together sent to Italy, one to stay with his maternal grandmother, the other with his paternal grandmother. Apparently the two grandmothers didn't live too far away from each other and, according to Marco, the boys had an idyllic childhood - running barefoot through the wheat fields, stealing fruit from orchards, etc. 

Image courtesy Google Images :  Coleman: Women in the Wheat fields

When the younger boy turned six (I never did find out which one was younger) and school loomed, they were sent back to England. Why, I didn't ask. Perhaps the grandmothers decided they'd had enough; perhaps the parents had a bit more money by then. Only Marco's parents were no longer in London, they'd moved to Scotland;  hence the Scottish accent. 

I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the grannies - to have this child that you'd nurtured and loved taken away from you, and not seen again for who knows how long. It must have been very painful. And then I think of it from the mother's point of view - two of her babies sent away from her shortly after birth, and not seen again until they were six. How do you ever get over that?    

I suggested to Marco that he should get this all down one day, that it would make for captivating memoirs, but he said he didn't think it was all that interesting.

Not all that interesting? I disagree. Don't you?    

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Oh joy, oh happiness

It's official. 

I'm one of eight to be selected for the QWC/Hatchette Manuscript Development Program. Go here to see the results.
I'm wondering how to photograph the effect this news has had on me...How to capture that feeling?  

This is the best I can come up with - for now. 

But maybe this is more appropriate...

Image courtesy Google Images

Monday, 7 October 2013

I take my hat off

This morning while I was trawling through the newspaper online, I found an article on the new Bondi Surf Life Saving Club. You can read it here.  Be sure to click on all the links to get the full beauty. Awesome, isn’t it? Who would’ve thought that someone could put so much love and care into a building? 

I have to tell you I had a hard time picking my favourite view; I decided it was impossible.

The article got me thinking about architecture in general, then houses by the sea and then houses in fiction, and, in particular, how setting can play such a powerful part in narrative. I thought of all the books and stories I’ve read, and it’s odd but in the ones I’ve loved to bits setting has been of paramount importance. 

Setting is a character in its own right. This might sound a little odd at first, but if you think about it setting has moods just like a person:  it can be dark and angry or sunny and light; it can be appealing or appear sullen. Good writers manage to find a million ways to describe setting without ever repeating themselves. They manage to wriggle in bits and pieces about setting every couple of paragraphs, to remind you where you are, so that when you reach the end you cannot think back on the story without remembering the setting. Tim Winton’s Breath is a fine example of this. If I think about Breath just offhand, I see the main character, Pikelet, on a wave in the sea; I see him underwater in a river, practising holding his breath, or I see him on Sando’s deck grappling with his feelings about Sando’s missus. 

Some famous stories with haunting settings:

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

And some not-so-well-known stories with haunting settings:

Bereft by Chris Womersley
The Broken Shore by Peter Temple
A Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Room by Emma Donnaghue

It also occurred to me that the new Bondi Surf Life Saving Club is like a book where the setting is vital. This might sound a tad obvious, but if you glance back at the photos of the building, you’ll see that the sea, the beach is in nearly every room – it may well be in every room but I can’t vouch for this because I haven’t been there. Yet. (I can’t wait to go.) The architects have been like good writers, they’ve inserted the setting every couple of metres, to remind you of where you are.

Durbach Block Jaggers, these are the architects. I don’t know these guys – they sound like characters from a Dickensian novel -- and I'd love to read more about them.  In the meantime, I take my hat off to them.