Monday, June 11, 2007

It's all been a terrible mistake

A ground-breaking, nay, earth-shattering new discovery has revealed that the Brontë Sisters were not shy, retiring, tiny, slender, mouse-coloured Irish/Cornish hybrids from Britain's remote and mysterious Deep and Wuthering North at all. No! With the slip of a keystroke, Melbourne's Sunday Age has re-identified them as the Bronti Sisters.

This bombshell has been brought to my attention by the distinguished scholar and blogger Professor Stephanie Trigg of Humanities Researcher, in the course of whose work the discovery was accidentally made.

And in a heartbeat the mind's eye transforms the Sistahs into proud and fiery Italian heroines, statuesque of stance and flashing of glance, raven of lock, pneumatic of bosom, and altogether quite unrecognisable in every way. Reader, I give you the Bronti Sisters: Carlotta, Emilia and Anna.

Literary history will have to be rewritten.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Next time you're thinking a book reviewer's lot must be a happy one, if ever you are so foolish as to think such a thing in the first place, bear in mind that as a reviewer one has two choices: one can either (a) say everything that crosses one's desk is just brilliant, or (b) do the job one is being paid for, call things as one sees them, and lay oneself wide open to retaliation from the wounded, angry author.

Particularly if you have a blog with an email address in the profile. Just ask me.

Memo to the negatively reviewed everywhere: in all but a tiny minority of cases, and certainly always in my case, it's not personal. It's about the work. Reject the judgement of reviewers by all means, but pause to reflect that if it were a positive judgement, you'd drink in every word and call it 'feedback'.

Also, as Helen Garner has said more than once about her own work, if you're going to stick your head up above the parapet then you have to expect to get it shot at. Or, as my mum used to say, if you can't stand the heat you should maybe stay out of the kitchen.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Your questions answered

THIRDCAT ASKS: How can it be that you have all the ingredients there: the idea; the motivation; the inspiration; the knowledge that life is short; the external encouragement...and yet, in the small amount of quiet, uninterrupted time you have available you find yourself vacuuming the cutlery drawer because there's just no other way to get that pesky dust out of the corners??

Charlotte says [in the at this point thinly disguised persona of Jane Eyre]:

Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings or knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags.

This does not, I know, directly address your question, but as it is the most specific thing I am known ever to have said about housework, I thought I should put it in. Emily used to prop up her German grammar before her in the kitchen so that she could study while she made the bread, but in the case of cutlery drawer dust I should think you would need to attend to what you were doing.

Your dilemma as I perceive it is that in taking up the 'vacuum cleaner' (exactly what this may be I find it difficult to say, but the general principle is apparent from its name -- top idea) you are waging war against yourself, an activity with which I am all too familiar.

Once I was happily married, of course, it became, as became me, my first priority to ensure the domestic comfort and happiness of my dear Arthur, as was expected of me and as I expected of myself. But this is no help to you either, is it.

It is my understanding that women in the 21st century are less oppressed than I. But then, everyone is less oppressed than I.

I do not really know how I can help you. Perhaps it is the same kind of problem that people have with computers: labour-saving devices produce in their wake an expectation that you will get more done. Temptation by vacuum cleaner was never a problem at the Parsonage for reasons that one hopes are obvious.

Besides, in the era before electric light, dust in the corners of the cutlery drawers was something one had to go out of one's way to see.

PC adds: Does it surprise you to hear that this is a very common problem? Not down to the specificities of dust and cutlery and so on, but generally. I know a man, and a gay man at that, who says the only time his house is ever clean is when he has an urgent deadline. Displacement activity is an extremely powerful thing, especially where writing is concerned.

I do it a lot and my reasons are legion. They include:

(a) Fear that whatever I have in my head will look like pathetic nonsense once I have actually put it down on the page.

(b) Not being in the Zone (do not underestimate the importance of this and try to ignore how flaky it sounds -- it's a very real problem) and/or not being able to get into the outer Zone from which you can access the inner Zone. The thing about the Brontës, Emily and Charlotte in particular, was that they were in the inner Zone most of the time. I think this had something to do with being half Irish.

What I've learned painfully over many years is that (1) it's bloody hard to get into the Zone when you know you have to snap out of it at five past three, but (2) this is not a reasonable excuse to pick up the vacuum cleaner instead. My experience is that there are two writing modes, dream and slog, and slog is the one most writers spend at least 70% of their time in.

(c) I find writing (not blogging or emailing -- 'writing' as in either 'I might have to still be looking at this in print twenty years from now' or 'I have to figure out a way to develop this idea in exactly the right words and the logical order' or 'I am being paid for this so it has to be as good as I can make it') an intensely painful activity. I am slow, reluctant and fiddly and my words are written in the proverbial bodily fluids, mainly blood. It is much, much easier and less painful to get out the vacuum cleaner and attack the corners of the cutlery drawers with it.

Perhaps you could stick a Post-It on the vacuum cleaner: PUT ME AWAY AT ONCE.

Or you could recall the words of Australian writer Carmel Bird in her book Dear Writer: 'You have the choice of a clean house or a finished story. The choice is yours.'