Thursday, August 27, 2009


For those of you who scoff at fiction, or who are interested in blurring the lines between fiction and fact.

Vignette 2: Swashbuckler

A woman walks into a bar to meet a man. She is, predictably, late. He is, predictably, peeved. She slots in beside him as he leans against the counter, squeezes in tightly next to him amidst the boozy Friday crowd.

'Hi,' she says, looking at him from under her eyelashes. He cuts a fine figure against the wall of glistening glassware, the dark wool of his suit so dense she wants to feel it.He looks at her.

‘Where the fuck have you been?’ he says. As usual the deep baritones of his voice thud against her ribcage and she is rendered momentarily shy.

‘You know where I’ve been,’ she says. ‘Don’t be angry with me.’

‘You've been eating garlic,' he says.

She blushes and turns away. The bar inflicts close talking as a necessity.

‘I have not.’

‘Yeah. Yeah, you have been. Was that especially for me?’

She laughs.

‘Yeah, it was, wasn’t it? Was it to stop yourself from kissing me? I know, I’m irresistible. That’s why you won’t brief me, right, you’re scared we’ll get it on in a meeting room outside court?’

‘Oh, is that what those meeting rooms are for?’ she says, and leans across the bar to order a drink.

He takes the opportunity to resume his appreciation of the young buxom blonde sitting at a nearby table, and when he looks back again at his companion she has a glass of wine in her hand and is batting away the advances of a drunk.

‘Hey mate, why don’t you leave the lady alone? I’ve been watching you and your friend over there chat up every girl in the place – it’s not working so well, tonight, is it?’

The drunk glowers at him and she worries he might start a fight, but he is unsteady on his feet and clearly outclassed. He grunts and turns away.

‘Oh Alfonso!’ she exclaims, setting her wine down and turning towards him, hands clasped and eyes shining gratefully.

He ruffles his thick dark hair disinterestedly.

‘It was nothing. What are friends for?’

She pauses and re-evaluates. She glances in his direction, but he is turned away from her, eyes once again on the blonde.

In her mind, they were perfect for each other, but she had it all wrong. His kiss on her cheek at the end of the night is perfunctory like the powdery stale kiss of a distant great-aunt.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Oh, Vanity

A woman walks into a bar to meet a man. She is, predictably, late. He is, predictably, peeved. She slots in beside him as he leans against the counter, squeezes in tightly next to him amidst the breezy Friday crowd.

'Hi,' she says.

He looks at her. He wants to say why did you keep me waiting? or you look so beautiful tonight, but she makes him nervous. She wants to kiss him, but she can never tell what he's thinking.

So instead -

'You've been eating garlic,' he says.

The bar inflicts close talking as a necessity. And so, it is safe to say that, no matter what happens next for these two, the evening has effectively ended, the wave of possibility which was open wide only seconds ago crashes in on itself like a giant hand closing.

Such a small thing.

But she is the sort who shuts down at the first sign of criticism like a night blooming cereus at dawn. She must be coaxed open, gently. And he is the sort who, met with resistance, will amp up the provocation to elicit a response, any response at all.

They might be perfect for each other but it has started all wrong and the downward spiral is inevitable and quick, the kiss on the cheek at the end of the night perfunctory like the powdery stale kiss of a distant great-aunt.

What might have been will never be.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Foot in Every Port

The trouble with leading an international life - and I am aware that this will sound like the high-pitched whinging of a spoilt child to any number of people - is that, no matter where you are, you are also missing elsewhere.

So it is, that I can lie on a beach in Sydney under a sun-drenched sky, gazing out to sea, and simultaneously long for the taste of a European snowflake on the end of my outstretched tongue.

My feet are often itchy.

I worry that this inability to stay satisfied with one continent for very long spills over into other areas of my life. What if I am, through some quirk of upbringing, unable now to ever be satisfied with one relationship, one house, one job, unless there is the possibility of another in the future somewhere?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Idea for Book: the Serial Killer Methodology

The other day I had this thought:

You know how sometimes, in movies, serial killers leave clues for the cops that are composed of individual letters cut out from various publications and pasted on white paper so that the sentences become small, evil collages?

Imagine writing a book in which every sentence was taken from another book. Not literally cut from a book and pasted into a new book, but stolen in miniature deeds of plagiarism from other authors. One would have to plan the story very carefully ahead of time and then read and read and read in an attempt to find the right lines to carry the story forwards.

A bibliography could be appended, almost as long as the book itself, listing all of the sources from which the composition was drawn.

I think I might start with a short story, though, rather than expending the remainder of my life's hours on that project.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Constructing One's Life in Accordance with various Stereotypes and Cliches

As I have mentioned, I am going through a bit of an Atwood phase.

A friend of mine and I were speaking recently about the fact that one behaves differently at different stages of one's life, sometimes almost self-consciously so.

Having recently moved in with her man, she told me how she had over the weekend experienced her first flouncy female moment in the home, huffing under her breath as she did laundry and tidied while he remained napping in bed.

"The thing is," she said, "I wasn't really angry. I realised that I was probably behaving this way because it was how I thought one ought to behave in the circumstances."

Yes," I said. "It's very wifely."

In The Edible Woman, Atwood discusses the same phenomenon. Describing a man who has recently become engaged, she says that his set of friends has shifted and his image changed appropriately:

"...[he had] exchanged the free-bachelor image for the mature-fiance one and adjusted his responses and acquaintances accordingly..."

Why do we do this? It is, I think, part of the organising principle we employ against the world when faced with uncertainty.

Atwood poetically moves on to illustrate the unease behind the sterotypical actions/reactions of this newly formed couple:

"Before, in the summer, she used to think he didn't often look at her, didn't often really see her; in bed afterwards, he would stretch out beside her and press his face against her shoulder, and sometimes he would go to sleep. These days however he would focus his eyes on her face, concentrating on her as though if he looked hard enough he would be able to see through her flesh and her skull and into the workings of her brain. She couldn't tell what he was searching for when he looked at her like that. It made her uneasy. Frequently when they were lying side by side exhausted on the bed she would open her eyes and realise that he had been watching her like that, hoping perhaps to surprise a secret expression on that face. Then he would run his hand gently over her skin, without passion, almost clinically, as if he could learn by touch whatever it was that had escaped the probing of his eyes. Or as if he was trying to memorise her. It was when she would begin feeling that she was on a doctor's examination table that she would take hold of his hand to make him stop."

One of the most remarkable things about this passage is the clarity with which it conveys the aloneness of two people, even as they lie physically entwined, even as they embark on a legal entwining. One is always alone in one's own mind.

I think my friend is very astute to acknowledge the place from which her huffy tantrum emerged. If we are aware of the stereotypes we are mimicking, perhaps we can consciously decide to stand against them and behave the way we want to rather than the way we think we should.

Not that I have ever been terribly conventional, but today I am taking a stand against type.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Nightlife

I went out clubbing last night and I hated it.

I used to enjoy the messy crowds, the anonymity, the carnival atmosphere. But it's no longer anonymous, I keep running into people I know. And I no longer go by myself, so I don't get the sense of freedom from it that I once did.

And although I am glad I once did it properly, although I learned a lot from watching people dressed in rainbow capes and angel's wings, platform heels and leather boots, I do not find it interesting now. It never changes. Bars close and new ones open but the soul of Kings Cross remains constant.

I want to go, these days, to places where I can hear people talk. That is what makes people interesting, not the colour of the streaks in their hair, not a spray tan, not vertiginous high heels.

Maybe I'm just getting old.

Book Purchase

I spent yesterday at the NSW Writers' Centre, one of my favourite places in the world.

Inspired, I drove afterwards to Berkelouw Books on Oxford Street and bought these three books:

Bill Bryson's Dictionary for Editors and Writers

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella - Alan Bennett

Talking it Over - Julian Barnes

Bill Bryson's Dictionary is a reference tool, and I am allowing myself to buy writing books at the moment. It seems sensible, if I am going to try to write for a living.

The Uncommon Reader was an impulse buy. I like the concept. The Queen, never having been a big reader, happens upon the Windsor travelling library while she is walking the dogs on the grounds of the palace. Having entered the library, it would surely be rude to leave without borrowing something. And so she does. And gradually she becomes obsessed with books. To the point where it is bad for the monarchy - she shows up other heads of state with her knowledge of their national authors and her staff descend into crisis trying to curb her fiendish reading.

I liked the concept so much, in fact, that I bought the hardcover version. It's such a little book. The difference in price was only $5. I was able to justify it to myself. And I'm pleased I did. I've already started reading it.

My writing teacher has used Julian Barnes as an example of good writing a number of times and yesterday we read an excerpt of Flaubert's Parrot. I loved it. So I was determined to buy some Barnes. Only there was none in the fiction section downstairs at Berkelouws, so I headed up the stairs to trawl happily through second hand fiction. Even there only one Barnes stood on the shelf. That's the one I bought.

If it is good I will buy more on Amazon. Or the Nile.

I already have other books on order from both of those sites, I'm such a glutton.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Abject Cruelty of Hold Music

A large number of barristers' chambers in Sydney use, as their hold music, the kind of Muzak typically played on airplanes when one has landed and is waiting to disembark.

I do not know whether this choice of music is deliberate, and intended to cause misery in the listener, but it does, certainly in this listener. While on hold I am confronted by the knowledge that I am not in a plane, not in a foreign destination, not travelling, not on holiday, but - sadly - at work, in my office, waiting to speak with a barrister about a conference that afternoon for which I have yet to prepare.

Cruelty indeed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Greece each Saturday

Every Saturday I lie in my boyfriend's Elizabeth Bay bed and stare out towards dense blue skies and a stark white apartment block with roof gardens, almost painfully bright in the sunlight.

"Look, N," he says. "We're in the Greek Islands again."

A Holiday on the 389

This morning on my way to work I took a journey, inadvertently, around the world. I closed the front door behind me and inhaled the metallic smell of rain starting and those first dark spots on the tarmac made me think of Munich, the comfort of grey drizzle. I passed a neighbour's flower box and was transported to Austria, to skiing villages populated with flower studded chalets and small doily curtains in wood-edged windows. I got on the 389 bus and, travelling through Paddington, I put my head down into my Margaret Atwood book so that I was aware only of a small sliver of the world passing by outside.

I could be anywhere, I thought to myself.

And perhaps because I was reading vintage Atwood, I felt I was in Toronto, with the Eaton Centre around the corner and Tim Hortons coffee waiting for me somewhere in a larger-than-life cup.

Then I got off the bus and I was in Sydney again, and late for work.