First you learn to read, and then you read to learn

I am not the only “writer in residence” in the complex where I live. My neighbour already has two books published: Blow the Wind Southerly, and Black the Night and Wild the Sea. I read the latter recently, a rollicking Australian adventure set in the days of sail, where brutal sea captains abduct natives from the wilds of Melanesia to work as virtual slave labour, and missionaries fight to protect them. And there is a love interest also, between an Irish rogue and a beautiful Eurasian missionary.

It is one of the few novels I have read in the last year. Others which come to mind are Nor the Years Condemn by Justin Sheedy, which is based on the young Australian men who volunteered for the Empire Air training scheme and ended up flying Hurricanes and Spitfires in WW11 (and there is a love interest). Also Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran which is a quirky little tale about three sisters who escape Iran (around the fall of the Shah) and end up establishing a restaurant in an Irish village (and there is a love interest). Each chapter is preceded with an Iranian recipe, and I do so love their cuisine. But I can’t say I have ever eaten pomegranate soup.

Following advice that a writer should read in ‘their’ genre, memoir or biography has dominated my last few years’ reading. Even within one genre, my reading has been eclectic, including gems from well-known writers, stalwarts of Australasian literature, such as Ruth Park’s “A Fence Around the Cuckoo”  and Janet Frame’s “An Angel at my Table”. I even dared to hope I might one day be an established writer just like them.

Memoirs from lesser known authors – and more recent ones at that – have included: Judas Kisses, by Donna Carson, recounting how she came to be doused in petrol by her defacto, and how she went on to survive and recover from the resulting horrific burns but almost lost custody of her children in the process; and Nefertiti Street by Pamela Bradley, the story of a middle aged school teacher who goes to Egypt in search of spirituality and ends up marrying a much younger man.

I read two memoirs which are closer to my subject matter: Boy, Lost by Kristina Olsson which re-imagines how her mother lost her infant son, in the course of escaping a brutal marriage, and what happened when they met forty years later; and Ten Hail Marys by Kate Howarth, in which she writes of the struggle she put up to bring her son home from an unmarried mothers’ home, and then how she subsequently lost custody to his paternal grandparents, who denied her access.

This is just a smattering of the various books which have occupied me over the last few years, and all have been interesting in their own right, and all have approached the writing in a different way, with some styles being more engaging than others.

However, now my first manuscript is off my hands, I thought I could lighten up on subject matter. Apparently, readers of today are looking for a light read with a happy ending, or so I am led to believe. But I can’t help myself. Anne Summers wrote “Damned Whores and God’s Police” in the mid-seventies, a seminal Australian work on women’s rights. I never read it then, because at the time I was too busy surviving life to theorise about it. So I decided I should look into it now. I had to get the local library to order in a copy.

As the librarian was entering my request into the computer, her colleague looked over her shoulder.

“Oh – Damned Whores and God’s Police! I remember studying that in High School” (clearly a woman younger than me 🙂 )

My librarian squirmed, and looked a little uncomfortable, but it took me a while to work out the problem.

As she handed me my order receipt, she whispered to me, “That man standing behind you is the local parish priest. I’m not sure we should have been talking about these things in front of him.”

Clearly, she hadn’t been required to study the book.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “It’s not Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s an academic book.”

Then another thought struck me,

“Anyway,” I said, “Aren’t we supposed to be able to talk to a priest about anything?”

She just grimaced – so I guess I’ll never know the answer to that rhetorical question.

I’ve had a few weeks now to get started on my next book. Or at least, I could have started on the research. However, it seems procrastination must be my middle name. I have such a bad attack of it that I even made an apple pie yesterday. Let’s see . . . the last time I did that must have been around . . . 1995. I even made the pastry from scratch! Here’s the result.

Home Made Apple Pie

Home Made Apple Pie

 

7 thoughts on “First you learn to read, and then you read to learn

  1. Well, I don’t know GG, I guess that was professional advice about the ‘readers of today are looking for a light read . . .’, but that is not everybody by a long way. Neither my sister nor my daughter will commit their precious time to reading lightweight work and I am currently dividing my time between Mary Shelley’s ‘The Last Man’ and Hilary Mantel’s ‘Bring up the Bodies’. I will say that the Shelley has been harder to get into than the Mantel, but I think that is because you have to get your head into a 19th-century mindset first. Also, no happy endings with ‘Bring up the Bodies’ as Anne Boleyn gets her head chopped off! Lots of priests and cardinals too, but at least the King recognised his illegitimate offspring and gave them land and titles.

    ‘The Priest and the Librarian’ sounds like a book – who gets to indoctrinate the next generation. 😉
    Happy reading, Agnes.

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    • Yes, it was some professional advice, but only one opinion. The problem is the Australian market is so small. 5000 sales is good. However, I push on. You have already given me encouraging feedback on the few lines I have shared with you – so there is hope!

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