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.
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.
I’ve always admired those authors who schedule their writing every day, tapping away between one commitment and the next. I wish I could – but I can’t. I seem to need to get away from my everyday life and binge on everything to do with writing in solitude. Then I do nothing else for a few days but read, review, edit and write … usually half-way through day two the story and the characters have arrived to colonise the brain, nudging and suggesting and arguing … and it all starts to happen. From time to time I remember to eat, stretch, go for a walk … all grist to the mill.
How very inconvenient! But how very enjoyable, too!
It’s a generous act, to give feedback to a writer. Right from the start you’re teetering along a tightrope, trying to find the balancing point between being helpful to the text and being destructive to the fragile ego of the writer. If you want to preserve a friendship with him or her, you’re clutching that balancing bar even more tightly! It’s a skill all of its own.
I’m just getting feedback from three readers of my latest novel in draft. To make it easier for them (and for me) I gave them some questions to answer. So now I’m examining their verdicts, looking for commonalities, pondering over differences. Reading a text is just as individual an experience as writing one!
They do agree it should be published, somehow or other. I’ll brood on their comments for a few weeks before I tackle the next draft. I know It will be all the better for their collective sharp eyes and brains. I’ve never written anything that hasn’t been improved by me gritting my teeth and handing the mss over to be dissected! Now I have to decide how much of their sage advice I will take. In the end, the novel is mine and mine alone.
I’m editing the first draft of a novel at the moment. As every writer knows, that involves re-reading the text with an eagle eye and questioning the value of every chapter, every paragraph and every sentence: what is the point here? Do these words advance the plot? enhance the atmosphere? give more depth to a character? As they say, every word has to earn its place. Otherwise, what are they doing there? Hit delete? This can be a very painful process!
I’m increasingly aware that exactly the same questions apply to my hobby of photography: what is the point here? What is that photograph about? what point is it trying to make – or what story is it telling? How can that point be emphasised? With the wonderful photo-editing software so readily available these days, photographers can spend many happy hours asking themselves these questions and trying to tweak the image to answer them. Now that process is more addictive than painful.
Just a few thoughts from the keyboard …