A New Cover

I’m excited! My novel Choose: Snakes or Ladders has a new dress. I’ve designed a new cover. I hope this says more about the atmosphere and  theme of the story.

A young, naive girl caught between a backgound in a punitive fundamental religion and the modern world of the 50’s: male power, social class, and inequality. Miss Mitty Bedford has to have resilience and determination to succeed. But will it come down to a tough choice between her dreams and her desires?

Typewriter and rose lemonado 10%

Head to Choose: Snakes or Ladders  to read more. Give me some feedback; I’d really appreciate that.

Taking on sin

Here in Australia during the past week we have been shocked or perhaps gladdened that Cardinal Pell, prominent in the Vatican, has been remanded for trial over historical sexual accusations. As I watched the news screen, I saw him being hassled out of the court with crowds pushing around him. I was reminded of the many paintings of Christ being similarly hassled by crowds as He walked carrying His cross. He was said to be taking on the sins of the world.

In a recent book, “Sinning Across Spain”, Ailsa Piper writes of her strange mission that she took on as she walked the Camino de Santiago trail. She advertised for people weighed down with a sin, to pay her (for a charity) to carry their sins on this trail. The St James Shell is a symbol of the route. Historically, it has been designated as a pilgrimage walk to atone for sins:

In the registers of the Inquisition at Carcassone…we find the four following places noted as being the centres of the greater pilgrimages to be imposed as penances for the graver crimes: the tomb of the Apostles at Rome, the shrine of St. James at Compostella [sic], St. Thomas’ body at Canterbury, and the relics of the Three Kings at Cologne. (Wikipedia)

The length of the trail depends on the starting point – possibly over 600 kms.

I wondered how many kilometres Cardinal Pell would need to walk to take on the sins of the many clergy who abused children around the globe. He would need to circumnavigate the whole world many, many times. How many times would be enough to help save the souls of the perpetrators? And how many for the souls of those that did nothing to stop them?

But then, what good would this do? Nothing for the children. There can be no adequate compensation for the breach of trust, for the fear, for the pain, for the shame, for the ruin of relationships and lives. Money is not a compensation. But it can be a symbol – of guilt and of acknowledgement. It can be a tangible end to many lifetimes of questions and no adequate answers. At the very least it can provide a moment or two of physical comfort. Do not deny these wronged people this minimal response.

Paul Auster 4,3,2,1

This is another wonderful book that goes beyond the typical story arc, and helps the reader to think beyond the detail of the plot and character.

The work starts in the mind of a young boy, Ferguson, and his observations on the world and how people behave. To me, this was almost tedious, but then gradually, (slowly, in several of the novel’s versions of Ferguson’s life), growing up. There is a variety of vivid characters and lively action, quickly becoming a good read, and repeating this as another version unfolds.

Note: the dates at the beginning of each chapter are important to remember, although pale in script. It helped me to keep track of who’s who, and what’s where.

Somewhere in the novel something is written about how Ferguson sees himself as having several selves, and the novel itself takes this further into many stories, more than merely versions of the story of this boy growing into a man.

Auster could have written it as several novels with several young men having different life events and reactions. I asked myself: how would this dilute the power of Auster’s work?

A clue may lie in a hint about the “Ferguson wanted to test himself against the unknown and see if he could survive the struggle.”

An answer might be that through seeing a life with several possible outcomes raises questions about the fragility of our existence. One second – a crash, a love affair, a political event – and we become someone else, and there forms an expanding range of people and events that colour that self, its reactions, beliefs, dreams and fulfilment.

Auster adds to that by writing about writing. This is one of many perspectives or levels in the work.

Ferguson has a “Scarlet Notebook”, which is a breakdown of the writing mental process, into minute details:

“In the scarlet notebook are all the words that have yet to be spoken and all the years of my life before I bought the scarlet notebook.”

It made sense to me. In writing a story so often the author explores many avenues of plot, character and philosophical meaning. The author (or the editor) finally skims off one or two coherent themes and discards the rest. Auster hasn’t done that here, he’s included them all. Or perhaps there were even more and he still needed to discard.

Another answer may be that the book is a metaphor for the drive, the need, to write. Ferguson writes that writing is “…an instrument for entering imagined spaces, images so vivid and tangible that they take on the appearance of reality.”

There is a warning that most writers need to give to readers: Ferguson notes that “Not everything … is what it seems to be. The New York that dwells inside it, for example, is not the New York of my waking life.”

There are thoughtful workings of significant themes – race e,g the meaning of a punch and resolution, or Ferguson’s erotic admiration of Albert’s body. Also, politics and political deviousness. This narrative forms the plot action to life at university for Ferguson at one point and is significant in the process of losing the possible love of his life.

However the most striking for me was the focus on love in many forms, relationships and there slow or rapid development, with the suddenness and devastation of betrayal and loss. The complex pattern of loving or uncaring behaviour between husband and wife, child and mother, child and father, and the family together. Step-families, step-parents, step-siblings as well.

Auster is a brilliant, perceptive writer of character. They are distinctively individual, with detailed physical aspects, personality and action. There is open expression of emotions between Ferguson and the other, with discretion and sensitivity to undercurrents. This is an extraordinary feat with so many plot versions.

For example, the deviousness of Ferguson at various points (and the exact opposite at other times), and that of other characters. This is hard to adjust to. The mark of a good writer is that the reader comes to live with and love the characters. This comfort is challenged. For some also there may be challenge in the homoeroticism in some of Ferguson’s versions.

Another dimension of the work is the range of intellectual references and understanding of historical figures in every discipline of intellect.

The deep engagement of the reader is supported by all the details of setting in different periods: from furniture, equipment, and furnishings to lists of films, authors, actors, sport and political figures. And an apparent working knowledge of the daily mechanics of various businesses and trades supports the utter involvement of the reader in Ferguson and his lives.

A true literary and contemporary fiction work.

Beauty in age, and resilience

via The Oldest Cherry Blossom Tree in Japan – Jindai-zakura

The beauty of cherry trees in bloom is breath-taking. This is a photo of one from my visit  to Japan. I love visiting at cherry-festival time in Japan because the people gather with almost religious fervor. Spaces in the parks are booked ahead, and everyone turns up early laden, with special food and drink. It’s a great social and cultural event. Best of all, you can never predict exactly which week will be the peak – one event where nature isn’t yet tamed by modern life.

The Treeographer tells the story about the history of the tree and its struggle to survive over close to 2,000 years. I just realized that the cherry tree can be also a symbol of personal resilience, marvelous blooming from stricken-looking  branches. It reminds me of my favorite motto: Make an opportunity out of a problem. (Just don’t turn it around to the opposite!😀)

#MeToo, Pervasive

I found myself smiling. They’ve caught him! About time. A man has been arrested at the end of the train line after spending the morning leaping on and off trains, exposing himself to schoolgirls.

Of course, it’s decades since I’d been that schoolgirl. Pretty innocent then, but realizing after a minute that something wasn’t right. My friend sitting next to me knew it was odd. Her family were more open about nudity. Perhaps it was the funny expression on her face that tipped me off. I had thought he was playing with ‘a pink peg’ in his lap behind the newspaper.

Suddenly we both jumped up and collapsed into a nearby seat, laughing hysterically with … fear? Shock?

He was at the door and gone at the next stop. I’ve no idea what makes a man think that his penis should be shown to kids, but as I think about it, I realize that flashers have been pervasive – in my life, and I guess most other females.

Let me count the other times:

The fat man in the raincoat. That’s a handy prop. It can be opened and closed in a ‘flash’. That one didn’t wear clothes below the waist. In the right circumstance he could walk past quite a few schoolgirls with his coat swinging open. At a brisk walk he could cover a lot of ground in the right circumstances. He didn’t look proud. Perhaps actually rather frightened.

The tall skinny grinning man in the railway tunnel frequented by schoolgirls: Sacred Heart kids going one way, Ladies College girls going the other. A good post I expect – busy at set times of the day. I can’t remember what he wore or carried to hide his special exhibit from passing adults.

No harm done? I guess if you’re in a small group of girls you can have a bit of giggle, feeling safe – “weirdo”. What about the little one, alone, late for class? Everything is bigger. Especially looming right over you. Your little legs too paralyzed to run.

The nifty bloke in the car. He must have been pretty clever, or lucky, to catch the five-year old daughter on her one-block trip to the shop. Somehow he was waiting, primed, ready to spray his ‘white stuff’ into the air as he called the daughter over to look. Lucky we’d talked enough. I hadn’t gone into the white stuff detail, but she knew enough to get home quick.

And a few years later, down at the park with some neighborhood kids, she knew enough to round them up and march them away, telling a passing woman about the man on the seat next to the swings. Go, girl! He’d up and was round the corner by then. His sort of bully behavior only works on innocence.

I wonder what other times I’ve forgotten? But I also wonder if I’m being tough on these pathetic men. Are they inadequate and weak, only being able to act on the young? Or perhaps mentally ill, some twist of their minds I don’t understand?

But whatever the reason, the situation is the same as for any man who touches, pinches, grabs, pokes, kisses, mauls, thrusts, rams or sprays, without regard for the impact on the other: power exploiting a situation, an innocent, a weaker being. Greed and entitlement hand in hand with animal drive and ego. All of them believing they have something special to offer.

But all of them lesser, the bottom of the ladder, the depths of the swamp, thugs.