What is kitsch? My photography group didn’t know the answer to that one, when we were dreaming up our next topic of the month. Well, back in 1980 Barry Humphries wrote a book on it. He ought to know – his early manifestation of Dame Edna Everidge was one hundred percent kitsch, before he started taking her (and himself) so seriously.
The most common, if somewhat laboured, definition is something like: ‘art, objects and design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way’. That doesn’t mention that it can be just a bit of fun.
Humphries did include a few learned quotes on the topic, including a lengthy one in French(!). D.H. Lawrence had the last word: ‘All creative art must rise out of a specific soil, and flicker with a sense of place.’ That brings me straight to the photograph above of the Big Pelican on the Noosa River foreshore, perfectly placed to mirror its surroundings with tongue in cheek and eye on the flocks of pelicans following the fishing boats and hanging around the jetty.
I believe the same goes for writing: an authentic sense of place defines the characters, their actions and reactions, their options and choices. It is part of who they, and we, are.
It’s all too easy for authors to focus on getting that story in their head on to the screen, or getting that new book out and about. You don’t actually give much thought to what’s happening with your books that are already out in the wider world of readers.
This was brought home to me by a tentative request which turned up recently from a private library, which operates solely on donations. Apparently a few years ago someone donated the full set of my five ‘Annie Bryce mysteries’. A couple of those books, they told me, had been read to death and were now so bedraggled they were having to withdraw them from circulation. Would I consider donating replacement copies?
Read to death? Does that mean loved to death? Let’s hope so! – what more could an author want? Of course I will replace the books. It’s a salutary reminder that readers are making their choices out there, and talking to each other, and sometimes my books are part of those conversations. As I have said before, it’s the readers who are the lifeblood of writing.
The print copies of my new novel ‘On the Edge’ have finally arrived – it’s been a long journey to get this particular manuscript between the covers. The novel is set in the tropical coastal city of Townsville in North Queensland, which to me is dominated by the ever-changing spectacle of Magnetic Island out in Cleveland Bay. Somehow that island creates illusions … it seems to change its colour, shape and density by the hour; sometimes it looks close enough to the mainland to swim there (a very bad idea in waters infested by sharks and stingers!), sometimes it looms in the far distance like a foreign continent. And sometimes it disappears entirely in misty clouds.
Magnetic Island fascinated my protagonist Ruth as much as it does me, so naturally I had to visit the island to get the feel of it. For her, of course. When she ended up living there for six months she saw it through a different prism entirely. Here we see the old jetty at Picnic Point with the mainland in the background, looking a lot further away than it actually is. The tropical colours are as vibrant as always. Or is that another illusion?
Well perhaps you should read ‘On the Edge’ and find out for yourself!
Why do I always forget how Australia virtually grinds to a halt from mid-December to mid-January? Production of my new book is still a work in progress, and the hot hot summer is drifting idly by with beach time, family and friends. Maybe we all need time out to reflect, to recharge our batteries and do different things before routine kicks in again. A day spent travelling upstream and downstream on Brisbane’s City Cat with a visitor opened my eyes to the never-ending transformation of my city, particularly riverside.
Happy new year to one and all.
It must be a generational thing. For years I’ve embraced my Kindle, my iPad and e-books with such enthusiasm – what an absolutely perfect set-up for an avid reader. I’m delighted to upload the books I write to various platforms, for others to download if they wish. But somehow the books don’t feel real to the author inside me until I can hold (and fondle) a print copy with a shiny cover.
That’s what I’m waiting for now: the first small print run of ‘On the Edge’, which will mostly be destined for library shelves – but only after I’ve prized open that first box and fished out that first print copy. Only then will the new book seem like the real deal.
It’s done! Finished! ‘On the Edge’ has been uploaded on to Amazon and Smashwords and production of a print version is underway. Details about the book can be found on the ‘Other Books’ page of this website.
Now I’m feeling relieved – and bereaved – and gratified – and a bit nervous that the ball’s now in the court of the readers.
This week, along with many many other authors, I received a payment from Amazon for the sale of my e-books for the last six months – not enough to paint the town a very bright shade of red, but certainly enough to make a good start! That got me thinking about the different rewards that come the way of writers. Quite apart from the fun of researching and writing (which is why we all do it, of course) there are royalties for sales from your publisher, the proceeds of any direct sales of your books, and one-off licences for your work to be included in other publications. In Australia we can add Public Library Lending Rights, which flow from readers borrowing your books. Then there are occasional professional fees, if you’re lucky: for speaking, for writing articles and reviews, for giving workshops and judging competitions. None of it adds up to a fortune – or even to a living wage, for most of us – but at least it’s some recognition that your work is valued by somebody, somewhere. And last but not least are the intangibles – like a stranger peering at your nametag at some function and dragging you off to the bar to shout you a glass of champagne to thank you for the many happy hours of reading you’ve given them. That’s probably the best of the lot!
The new book is nudging its way along towards becoming a reality … the final edit is completed (well I think so, though I did make a minor change an hour ago!) … ideas are percolating for the cover, which will probably be based on this lonely figure on the edge of the ocean … now it’s on to all that housekeeping every author would prefer not to do! It’s much more fun to dream up settings, characters and plots than it is to deal with the necessities of writing life, like ISBN numbers, barcodes, etc etc. Nevertheless that is our lot in life, and I am telling myself that now is the time to let this manuscript go. Go where? Into production, and then out into the world.
Watch this space.
When I decided to travel around Western Australia, I took M.L. Stedman’s wonderful first novel ‘The Light Between Oceans’ with me. Set on – and off – the W.A. coast just after the first World War, it’s a mesmerising story, beautifully written, and illuminated my take on the vast multi-coloured Indian Ocean which eerily seemed to lie in wait for us whichever way we turned.
I made the book last until the day before I stepped off the Indian Pacific, reaching ‘The End’ with deep regret. What an achievement! It richly deserves all the prizes that have been showered on it.
I am in awe.