I couldn’t stop reading these two novels. Here’s why


Do you sometimes read a book and want it to never end? Sometimes I fear that I’ll never find a novel as keep-me-up-all-night good as the one I’m currently reading. It feels like nothing I pick off the shelf will be as absorbing, as transporting. In the last few weeks I’ve had that feeling twice, in one novel after another. The first one was The Rip by Mark Brandi. The second was The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton. I tried to work out why.

What these two magnificent novels have in common (besides being Australian and about characters pushed to extremes) is a first person narrator – the voice of the story is ‘I’. This isn’t uncommon in literature, but both of these novels do it so well.

So how did they keep me hooked?

Neither has a complex plot or a huge cast of characters, but both were irresistible. If I wrote a novel, I thought, this is what I would want to do. So how? How could I possibly draw the reader in so intensely, keep them there, right inside the head of a complex and damaged main character?

It’s all about narrative point of view

In The Rip, the protagonist and narrator is a homeless, drug-addicted young woman, name unknown, living in the parks and streets of inner-city Melbourne. Mark Brandi has used the present tense as well as the first person, making the reading experience both immediate and personal. The Shepherd’s Hut is narrated by Jaxie Clackton, the ‘hardarse the kids run clear of all over the shire’. Tim Winton writes the young man’s voice absolutely authentically, bad grammar and all. So we see the world and hear the story totally from their point of view. They are the main character as well as the narrator. Logically, it may seem that a first-person narrator would be the least engaging, and an omniscient or third-person narrator would add more nuance to the story. In the hands of these first-class writers, the first-person point of view puts us inside the world and the mind of the main character but leaves room for us to wonder how reliable they are. We see what they see, experience their world with them, but also bring to the story our doubts about if the world really is as the character experiences it. Our own imaginations fill in some of the shadows, and foresee where the character is going to end up. Until we don’t.

In the hands of lesser writers first-person narration can be limited and self-indulgent. Both these recent Australian novels are well worth examining for lessons in first-person point of view. But read them first as wonderful stories, masterfully told.

Read more about Mark Brandi in 8 things an award-winning author can teach you about being a writer.

Day 2: A World Without ‘Whom’

by Emmy J. Favilla



I bought this one because I’m a little obsessed with style guides. A World Without ‘Whom’ was created for BuzzFeed to reflect our ever-changing use of language, and that it’s changing possibly more rapidly than ever before. (I also promised to report on how I went with it after the first two chapters back here.)

I was pleased that Chapter 3 deals with Getting Things Right, important stuff like not using the wrong word or abandoning clarity. Chapter 4, How to Not Be a Jerk, deals with sensitive topics, with a handy A to Z list. It’s there to guide you to using inclusive language.

The chapter How Social Media has Changed the Game is the core of the book. It’s here that you really get why we needed another style guide There’s a handy world list and some fun quiz questions at the end to check if you know your gardyloos form your bumfuzzle.

A World Without ‘Whom’ is a great reference for editors and writers who work in social media, particularly those for who(m) millennials are the target audience. For the rest, it’s an entertaining read that offers practical insight into how language is always changing. Favilla so clearly loves language, and her love is contagious.

Book-a-day February

Every day in February I will write about one book. I will write about why I  bought it, and why I’m not going to get rid of it any time soon.

Day 1: The Art of Reading
by Damon Young

I first came across this book while editing a client’s work, and revisited it recently when I proofread the final manuscript. Christopher Smith has written an amazing book about the power of reading, called The Reading Ripple Effect. It’s in the process of being submitted to publishers, so watch this space!

Christopher runs Shared Reading NSW, which runs reading groups that are ‘a relaxed space for people to read a short story, poem or part of a book aloud, reflect and then discuss it’.

In The Art of Reading, Philosopher Damon Young argues that excellent reading is not valued as much as fine writing and, with a lot of reference to his own reading, makes the case for the reader’s power ‘to turn shapes on a page into a lifelong adventure.’

It’s published by Melbourne University Press, recently in the news because its chief executive, Louise Adler, and five board members, including former NSW Premier Bob Carr and former human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs, resigned because the university announced it was no longer going to publish books for a general readership.

The Day We Built the Bridge

 

Children’s picture book   Written by Samantha Tidy    Illustrated by Fiona Burrows

My son was about 10 and we were crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge by train. ‘We’re so lucky to be on a world-famous landmark’, he said. We were, and we were privileged to be able to see its distinctive arch most days from the corner of the street behind our road. Now that he’s an adult, he realises that growing up so close to this iconic structure  was a huge privilege.

Samantha Tidy and Fiona Burrows have captured the outlines of the story of building the Sydney Harbour Bridge through the eyes of a child, from the need in 1890 , the idea, to the construction and finally to the cutting of the ribbon in 1932. The text is sparing, and just as the bridge’s two sides curved across the harbour to create connection, the words come together with the illustrations to tell a story of need, idea, effort, dreams, longing, striving and achievement.

The hardcover book is beautiful to hold and the illustrations are filled with detail that slowly reveals itself, from the endpapers illustrated with native flowers to the period posters for Arnott’s biscuits and Koala tea. It’s a lovely book for sharing with children in your life and will appeal to a wide age range, including children older than the traditional picture book reader. The book is a good spur for family discussions about a range of topics, from history, the First World War and construction methods used in the 1920s, to the place of dreams, needs, effort, achievement and celebration in our lives.

Publication date is 1 February 2019, and you will find teachers’ notes and be able to order signed copies at samanthatidy.com.

 

A world without ‘whom’?

 

Confession: using ‘whom’ correctly has always foxed me and sent me rummaging for the grammar primer.  So as soon as I saw this title on the bottom shelf in my local bookshop, I had to buy it. My  language Utopia was clearly on the horizon.

Emmy Favilla, BuzzFeed copy chief,  was responsible for its style guide, which caused an uproar in editorial circles (okay, four or five people were a little perplexed) when it was published in 2014. In the Introduction, Favilla writes, ‘Communication is an art, not a science or a machine, and artistic licence is especially constructive when the internet is the medium.’ I agree wholeheartedly.

Two chapters in, I’m like, yaaass! I’ll let you know how the rest goes.

Style guides for you

P.S. You can find the BuzzFeed Style Guide here.

My own short style guide for small businesses is here.

What I’m reading

I recently finished reading Bright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney, which The New Yorker describes as  a ‘portrait of middle-aged malaise’.  Now I’m on to Matt Haigh’s How to Stop Time. I was lucky enough to be given a signed copy! Next up is Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave,  set in the Second World War and based on the experience of his grandparents. I have wanted to read it since I heard an interview by Kate Evans with the author on ABC radio. You can listen to it here.