24 December 2008

Reading: nonfiction

As much as I like to tell the nonfic teachers that I work with that all I love to read is fiction, it's not exactly true. We have a lot of good-humoured banter about which is better: fiction or nonfic. The nonfic teachers see theirs as the professional side, and therefore more important; we see ours as the artistic side, and therefore more fulfilling. (My first instinct would've been to write "creative" there, but I know that nonfiction can be just as creative as fiction.)

I read nonfiction in a different way to how I read fiction. Usually, I will start a novel on page one and read it sequentially until I get to the end. If it's a gripping read, that might be a day or so. If it's one I'm enjoying but that hasn't gripped, then it might be a matter of months, because I'll put it aside and pick up something else. I will get back to it, and that will frustrate me because then I'll have to browse or skim it to reaquaint myself with the story.

Nonfiction is more like reading a book of poetry. (Maybe that's just the type of nonfiction I read -- on the rare occasions I'll read a biog, then it will be from page one to the end.) My weekly reading includes some newspapers, which, like most people I'll dip in and out of, and Time magazine. The newspapers I don't read every day -- we only get The Age once a week, and I'll usually read several local papers, and sometimes the MX if my husband brings it home, and I'm in the mood for something light.

Next year my daughter will be studying twentieth-century history, so I've been busy collecting some extra books that she might like to look into to get a bigger picture of what it was all about. These have included a set of two books on World Wars I and II (with pictures, lots of stats and stories), a pictorial history of the century (with lots of photos and brief stories), a book of history's worst decisions (amusing) and history's greatest scandals (amusing), and history's greatest hits (events we should know more about is how it's marketed). The latter three embrace a much larger timeframe than the last century, but they're all great for dipping in to. I can sit when I have a few moments and read a story, just as I might read a poem.

The war books are of particular interest. I feel I have a connection to both wars, even though I lived through neither of them. My great grandfather had something to do with the first war -- I think he went overseas but am not sure he was actually in any battles. He died when I was twelve, but I remember I felt connected to this war through him, and so it always held a great fascination for me. And my father was a child and teenager in Holland through the occupation of Holland in WWII and tells lots of stories of his time there and his interactions with the Nazis. His family very briefly helped shelter a couple of Jews and helped them escape the country. (My Australian grandfather escaped the war because he was a firefighter, which was deemed an essential service. He died when my mother was a child, so I never got to meet him.)

These latter books are inordinately interesting and great fodder for the imagination -- I can't help but get fired up with ideas for short stories as I'm reading. At the moment, though, I'm in novel mode, and that's where my priorities lie. But perhaps when I've finished my novel, I might pause and bang off a couple of short stories, and I know just the place to turn for inspiration. On the other hand, I might just leap straight into reworking the second book. I know that's where my heart will lie.

17 December 2008

Movies: Australia

Australia is an epic, and I'm very fond of epics, and been a great Nicole Kidman fan ever since seeing her in "Bangkok Hilton" many years ago, but I'd heard mixed reviews of this movie, so I went along with some trepidation.

In the first few minutes of the film, I was struck by the over-the-top, slightly overacted, almost cartoonish feel, but then I remembered this is a Baz film, and settled right into it. After all, look at Moulin Rouge, a great favourite of mine. Australia is over the top in much the same way, but just as much fun too. (At several points in the film, my kids and I were almost rolling around in our seats with laughter -- all of it genuine.)

Usually, when watching a movie, I will be "in the film" -- I become one of the characters, just as I do when reading a book. I am immersed, swept up, part of it. Baz's films, because I'm noticing the cinematography or direction or acting or whatever, distance me a little from this experience but give me another kind of experience. It's not a greater or lesser experience, just a different one. It's set up from the beginning so isn't an issue. And it's great to see a director with balls enough to have his own vision, to do something different, something away from what everyone else is attempting.

The parallel when I'm reading is the second-person addresses (as authorial interruption). I don't mind these if they're part of the experience. What I can't abide is when I'm in the middle of a story and suddenly the writer addresses me and rips me out of my immersion. If I'm aware from the beginning I won't be immersed in the same way, so it doesn't happen. I'm not reminded that I'm reading because I'm already aware, in a way that I'm not in a "straight" novel. Maybe it's to do with the way I read (conceptually rather than visually) -- I'm not sure.

I do have to say that past the first few minutes, I stopped noticing the style of the movie and just got swept right up in the story.

Australia is part iconic old droving movies like The overlanders, part love story a la Titanic and a ripping good yarn. I can see why Oprah told Nicole and Hugh that it was the movie we need to see. I didn't notice the length at all. And in the dark moments when I think of my book and despair at how the structure isn't a classic beginning, middle and end but rather seems to embody several stories, I can take heart that it does so in much the same way that Australia does. In my novel it's a military coup -- and that could be a novel in itself -- and the parallel to that in this movie is the droving story. But that's not where the film ends -- it then takes up life on the station and the bombing of Darwin; in my novel it's the quest story. It's amazing what movies can teach us -- even if only to sit back and chill out!

So would I recommend Australia: you bet. Especially if you like cows and horses, the gorgeous Hugh and Nicole and landscape, action, adventure and romance.

06 December 2008

Writing retreat

2008 seems to have been the year of writing retreats for me. I've been on several with SuperNOVA, and this last weekend I've been on one with Elizabeth, one of my SuperNOVArian colleagues. (2008 is also the year where I've needed more writing retreats as sanity-savers!)

There's something very relaxing and very stimulating about going away with other writers, though my mother treats such trips with deep suspicion and tells me I shouldn't be jaunting off on holidays with my friends while my husband is stuck home with the kids.

"We do work," I say, while she's eyeing me cynically. "It's not a holiday."

And that's true. We do. Often I'll pour out thousands of words in a weekend. Last year, over Cup Weekend, I set-up my NaNoWriMo run in great style, with the fantastic Ellen, who always keeps me on track.

I must say that I really needed to get away this time, to catch my breath after finishing off the last (almost) of the late assignments, and of the heavy year, and to reaquaint myself with my novel. That's the hardest thing about having a break -- you do lose touch, especially with a multistranded novel, that you've done numerous drafts of. And though Elizabeth and I weren't perhaps as productive as we would've liked while I was there (Elizabeth had a few more days after I left, and wrote about 12,000 words, I think, in this time), I reimmerse myself in the world of my novel and get back into dealing-with-reader comments mode.