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 5: The (Mellifluous) Book of Hard Words

by David Bramwell



Mel-IF-floo-us: (of sounds) sweetly smooth. Literally means ‘flows like honey’. From the Latin.

I bought this one on a discount table in a shopping mall, to read on the train. Surely I could learn all four words I didn’t already know before my journey’s end? Truthfully, at least half of the words were new to me. And even for those I knew, reading about their etymology and examining the diagrams explaining where each word originated was interesting enough to ensured I missed my stop.

The book has one word per page, plenty of visuals, and is graded into hard, harder and hardest words. It’s certainly no substitute for a good dictionary. In truth, I can only imagine using most of these words satirically. In my everyday writing I’m more likely to say ‘Bruce Springsteen has a perfectly formed rear’ than ‘The Boss is callipygian’ (from the Greek kallos (beautiful) plus pyge (buttocks)). If a client describes their novel’s main character as orthostatic, I might gently suggest ‘upright’ or ‘standing tall’ would resonate better with their readers.

The Book of Hard Words is perfect for dipping into; for those moments when you should be working but you’re ‘doing research’,  and for when your internet is down. Or for when you are on a transpontine hibernacle.

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.

February will be my book-a-day month

 

I buy a lot of books – definitely more than I read.  I know that  Marie Kondo  has said we  should only keep 30 books (or did she?),  but for me that is clearly impossible.  I looked at the piles on top of piles, the stacks on top of bookshelves, and had the idea that every day in February I will post 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.

I’m not going to include novels or other forms of reading that are’ just for fun’. I’ll only be  including books that I have bought with a professional writing or editing  goal in mind.  I might also add in a couple from the library because I love borrowing from libraries too.