Just keep reading

There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.
Will Rogers

Literature and liquor

boozerAt Knocklofty we have long been aware of the intimate connection between books and booze. Few good books, and no amusing books at all, have been written by ascetics or teetotalers.

That is why our writers’ suites at Knocklofty Towers all have a small adjoining room with seldom-used equipment for making tea and coffee and a rather large refrigerator which is kept stocked by the management with the writer’s preferred beer.

In some cases the room may be a small bar with a favourite keg beer on tap and there are eccentrics who use the space to make their own often highly potent and occasionally explosive brews.

Others have wine cellars stocked gratis from the firm’s vineyards; Knocklofty Fourpenny Dark, renowned for its minimal delay between cause and effect, is popular with the more robust novelists and the staff philosophers, while effete poetic types favour the Knocklofty White Infuriator, a deceptively delicate wine credited with mild hallucinatory properties.

The relationship between literature and liquor is so ancient that our scholars believe that the two probably came into existence virtually simultaneously. The arts of writing — writing, that is, for the purposes of story-telling rather than for cuneiform accountancy — and brewing are both a little more than five thousand years old but we have been unable to determine which led to which.

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Draw on your inner resources when the words won’t come

ancient typewriterSince we stopped using quills, fountain pens and manual typewriters, the act of writing has become more abstract—symbols on a screen whose existence is mainly virtual.

It’s a blessing. Henry James handwrote himself into carpal tunnel syndrome and had to resort to an amanuensis. George Orwell complained of the exhausting physical work of writing: drafting, editing, re-typing, rearranging, the frustration of having to abandon large lumps of painfully constructed text when a work takes a wrong direction and, finally, the huge task of producing a clean final copy of a manuscript.

Some lucky individuals loved the process of writing: Arnold Bennett took pride in the beauty of his finished handwritten manuscripts: obviously he was robust enough to resist writer’s cramp and he achieved a prodigious output.

But separation from the physical act of writing can have its disadvantages. However much the computer has eased the writer’s task, it’s not much help when the flow of creativity comes to a stop, as it inevitably will for all but the most compulsively prolific. Often, too, wandering about the web in search of inspiration can be little more than a mildly guilty displacement activity.

One way out of this is to learn or to regain the pleasures of the act of writing. Ballpoint pens and cheap scratchpads won’t do: buy yourself a fountain pen (yes, they’re still being made) and make it the best you can afford. Then look for an old-fashioned notebook, one with smooth creamy paper and faint grey lines, preferably leather-bound with a ribbon to keep your place. They come in various sizes and you might want a small one for pocket or purse and a bigger one for your desk.

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Quotable 5

If I had to give young writers advice I would say don’t listen to writers talking about writing or themselves.
— Lillian Hellman

‘I do want you to meet Mrs Leighton-Buzzard,’ said Mrs Bovey-Tracey, asking me to dinner the other day. ‘She’s such an interesting woman, and most unusual. She doesn’t write, you know.’
— William Plomer, Electric Delights

All human activity to me is a way of avoiding writing. Thus, I sleep as much as possible or spend a hard day lying on the sofa.
— Fran Lebowitz

Greed and fear

reading machineThe endless eBook debate grinds on and on and we do not propose to rehearse it yet again here: a host of sites are already doing that and the best illustration of the confusion and despair it provokes we have yet seen is this from Maria Langer.

Knocklofty sees two obstacles to the progress of the eBook which need to be overcome if it is to begin to fulfil its promise. The first is the need for a reader device which will do for books what the iPod did for music.

A number of devices, all with more than a degree of clunkiness, are beginning to contend for a share of an embryonic market bedevilled by incompatible formats and anachronistic business ideas. The device we would most like to see is this suggestion to Apple and we hope Steve Jobs’ wisecrack about nobody reading any more is, as is widely speculated, a ruse to conceal what may be going on in the back room.

The problem of the reader will eventually be solved. But the second obstacle is in the minds of publishers. One large Australian bookshop chain is offering a proprietary reader and a range of eBooks to go with it, but the eBooks themselves are priced at only a little less—about $5 less—than their printed equivalent. On top of that, the eBooks are subject to a digital rights management system which is as absurd as that promoted by the dinosaurs of the music industry.

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The trouble with writing

Writing cannot be done in a loud café or in a house chaotic with children and the plaints of a neglected spouse. Too frequently it is done in stolen moments under the pressure of avoided duty or furtively at an office desk while a supervisor is distracted.

The legends of Grub Street, a lane in Augustan London now vanished beneath the Barbican and the last resort for writers down on their luck or insufficiently talented or well-connected to do any better, are replete with tales of starving hacks, hung over from too much cheap port, scribbling frantically in a squalid garret for a grudging publisher’s guinea, surrounded by hungry brats, a wife at the end of her tether and creditors pounding on the door.

Writers need time, space and—ideally—some degree of freedom from the necessity of a disagreeable job to support themselves, as well as the willpower (or the obstinacy) to induce others to take writing seriously. The trouble with writing is that it doesn’t look like work and family and friends have no compunction in interrupting it.

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Author discovers eBooks

sharyn munroAustralian writer Sharyn Munro has become a convert to eBooks.

She lives in her wildlife sanctuary on a remote mountain top in the wilds of New South Wales, many miles away from the nearest bookshop along roads that are more like training ranges for tanks.

And like many writers, she can’t always afford to buy as many books as she’d like.

All writers are book addicts and they crave the physical presence and influence of books.

She didn’t think eBooks were for her—until she came across a collection of short stories by another Australian writer, Rachael Treasure.

The conversion was rather prompt, as she says in her review of Treasure’s Tales:

As a lover of the physical fact of books—their weight and feel, their look and smell, and their cumulative presence as they cover my walls—I have not been in favour of eBooks.

But I have just downloaded my first eBook, a collection of short stories by Rachael Treasure, and appropriately called Treasure’s Tales. It seems I had forgotten that what’s inside the book is after all the greatest pleasure.

As a keen short story writer and reader, I think this is a lovely collection of a writer’s progression, with finely observed details so that characters and settings are vividly real.

The stories themselves are surprising, quirky, perceptive, funny or moving, and whether set in rural or urban Australia, their human truths are universal. I thought the personal intro to each one was a great idea too.

The good plain prose makes them very accessible, as does this instant and inexpensive e-method of delivery from writer to reader. Terrific for isolated bushies like me. I can now see there’s a place for both types of publishing.

The A4 format means I’ll store Treasure’s Tales vertically, as I do magazines, and I won’t be re-reading them in bed—but I’ll certainly be re-reading them!

Sharyn Munro is the author of The Woman on the Mountain, reviewed by Knocklofty here and which can be ordered from your bookshop or from the publishers, Exisle.

Visit her beautifully written website.

And if you’d like to try your first eBook, you can buy Treasure’s Tales here.

A treasury of tales

tales coverBest-selling Tasmanian author Rachael Treasure has released her first eBook, Treasure’s Tales — a collection of new short stories in her own humorous, earthy style, published by local firm Summerhill Publishing.

The collection shows how her writing has developed from the beginning as a 17-year-old university student until now as a still-young farmer and mother of two.

One of the stories introduces Rebecca, the central character in her first novel, Jillaroo, and another is an opportunity to meet Emily from her new book, The Cattlemen, a work now in progress.

Visit Rachael Treasure’s entertaining website to buy the eBook — it’s a bargain at only AUD$9.90 — or buy directly from our site.

Quotable 4

Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.
—Dr Samuel Johnson

Authors are easy to get on with — if you’re fond of children
—British publisher Michael Joseph

There can hardly be a stranger commodity in the world than books. Printed by people who don’t understand them; sold by people who don’t understand them; criticised and read by people who don’t understand them; and now even written by people who don’t understand them.
—German physicist and writer Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742—1799)

Why typography matters

Returning from a shopping expedition on the bus, two old ladies were enjoying a chat.”I always buy the Bushell’s tea because of the lovely Garamond typeface on the packet,” one of them observed.”Yairss,” agreed her companion. “I’d have bought that bloody soap if they hadn’t set the body copy in 9/10 Bembo.”