The Starfish sought out some popular WA writers to find out what they’ve been reading and doing between visits to the Kelvinator, sprawling on the chaise longue, pottering in the petunias and awaiting the exit of the virus.
My favourite book over the last year is Bering Strait by FX Holden. It’s a top-class action-thriller in the Clancy mode, head and shoulders above anything else in that genre I read. You can get it on Amazon in hard copy and on Kindle.
As for myself it has been a busy but frustrating time in some ways. My new novel Over My Dead Body was supposed to be out in July but is now coming out in October.
Musically I’ve been revisiting some old songs, working on some songs for my wife Nicole. Her album Forever and a Day came out March 27 but after great lead-up promotion from a number of radio stations, we had to cancel the sell-out launch as part of the health edicts that went out. Pretty heartbreaking.
With Martin Cilia I wrote all the songs over a twenty year period. Nicole had waited patiently for her turn while I recorded and toured. If anybody would like to hear the country-pop album you can check it out on spotify. We’d be grateful. https://spoti.fi/2JkmloZ
I’ve been working on a final essay – On Isolation – for my new book: A Year of Loving Kindness to Myself and Other Essays, due out March 2021 with Fremantle Press.
I’ve been walking a lot, seeing people at a distance, learning how to Zoom with my six year old granddaughter, listening to Buddhist talks. I have cooked myself some delicious meals and some rather strange soups. I’m working my way towards sewing, drawing, polishing my juggling skills and really getting down and dirty with yoga.
I’d waited ages for a library copy of Helen Garner’s Yellow Notebook: Diaries Volume 1: 1978-1987.
It was nearly my turn but my luck ran out, so I bought it at New Edition. Thanks for being there, guys. Oh, it is such a good book. It’s observant, dryly funny, and intelligent, plus once at a Writer’s Festival she admired my frock, so what’s not to like? I am also reading Carol Millner’s Poems About the House, published by Mulla Mulla Press. Poignant, punchy and personal, and absolutely marvellous.
This last week has been taken up with nursing a fledgling dove, found kicked out of the nest on the footpath.
I am surprised by how invested I am in this little soft mass of grey that couldn’t fly, who trusted us to feed it with an eyedropper.
I am also surprised by how much I needed that little bird to need us. Happy to report that it is now flying around with its mates but nesting nearby and visiting us every morning for a millet treat.
Meanwhile, I have also been pining to visit my six-week-old granddaughter in Ballarat. Most of my self-isolating days have been spent sewing for baby as a way of directing my affection to her. I have always loved sewing but for years I never seemed to have the time for it, as if it were an indulgence.
But now having rediscovered the joy in the processes, both technical and creative, I understand just how much I missed it – and also how I have missed out for so long on the satisfying sense of accomplishment by not making it a priority.
When I was at primary school in the 1960s, while the grade four boys went to woodwork with Mr Scott, the girls did needlework with Mrs Worsnop. That’s just how it was then. I learned through her meticulous teaching the skills of hand-sewing and embroidery, and I love her for that: if it wasn’t perfect, unpicking was mandatory.
I was delighted to find that the magic of satin stitch, lazy daisy, blanket stitch, and the versatile stem stitch has all came back to me, as easy as riding a bike. A penchant for embroidered monograms was tripped when I bought a book online called Linens for Every Room and Occasion by Jane Scott Hodges. I have designed one for baby. A simple padded quilt is detailed with her initials in a corner; a love message from her grandmother.
Slow skills satisfy in these tricky days – much like slow cooking, I guess – and I have immersed myself one stitch at a time. I have not developed a new tech skill or learned yoga or worked on my next book (although I should have).
Nor have I exercised like the person who now has no excuse not to, rather, I have just done tiny little things that have produced enormous comfort and satisfaction. I have promised myself to continue these small pleasures when life returns to normal.
I have spent a lot of time on my balcony looking out over Fremantle, listening to birdsong thanks to the lack of traffic. During the Artania’s tragic stay in our port, the helicopters hovering overhead became my close-to-home symbol of the fight for life many faced. The six o’clock news carried the footage the choppers collected. I feel very lucky safely tucked away.
I am re-reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth for the fourth time. Why, when there are so many books to discover?A Suitable Boyis the book I return to when I am looking for comfort, familiarity and just plain beautiful writing. I turn to Seth when I don’t want to be tested, when I need to be enveloped in storytelling and language that delivers me a world of characters and the minutiae of their day.
The empathy and patience he has for his characters is felt in every detail, as if every breath they take is integral to the story. It is a monolithic tome of 1474 pages, a magnificent family saga set against the backdrop of the partitioning of India and Pakistan. It addresses the politics of Nehru, of post-Ghandian troubles, of the fledgling nation of Pakistan, and of newly independent India under the Congress Party facing its first General Election.
While these are lofty subjects for the setting and provide a dynamic history lesson, it is essentially a love story. For the exacting Mrs Rupa Mehra, finding a suitable boy for her daughter, Lata, is at the heart of the matter. This sweeping, intense novel has been compared to Tolstoy’s War and Peace and invites the reader into a richly painted world of literature, music, conflicted and intertwined cultures, desire and duty.
I am nearly at the end once more and will kiss them all goodbye. After having been soothed through COVID-19, no doubt I will reach for them all again when a new calamity occurs. I have two new books to tackle – Western Australian writer Catherine Noske’s recently released debut novel The Salt Madonna,and Deirdre Bair’s memoir Parisian Lives – Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and Me, which tells of her experiences while writing the biographies of these two legendary thinkers.