The City, April 2016
This story won 2011 National Year of Reading Competition
The peaky walls of Kazia’s room were the colour of cardboard, similar to the type of boxes that she’d seen Mr Nowak use in his store. The only wall that faced the street was adorned with a small window which held a picture of the square below; amass with ratty pigeons surrounding a mossy water fountain that had been inactive since the war began. It seemed futile to care about whether the water endlessly cycled for no other purpose than to catch the eye, since there were lives being harvested. That’s the odd thing about war; everyone assumes that it would be much worse if another country was to take the reins for a while but how can it be worse than the middle ground of painful constant battle and a country that had split at the seams?
Another cardboard-like wall connected Kazia’s room to the parlour room, where Agnieszka and her spinster twin, Felka, lived. Agnieszka had sent her husband off to war and was heavy with their first child. Kazia pretended not to notice that she wailed herself to sleep most nights.
Beside the window in Kazia’s one room, lay a single bed; its iron skeleton showed strips of bloody rust materialising from beneath the black paint. Across its body lay a heavy, brittle blanket that matched the colour of the walls. Partnered with the bed was a thin empty potato crate, probably stolen from the back of Mr Nowak’s store before it crumbled in a bomb attack. The crate lay on its thinnest side, keeping the bed company and providing a resting place for the apartment’s solitary tatty novel.
The novel was encased in a hard jade cover which was delicately frayed at the base of the spine and round silver letters rolled onto the front, declaring Great Expectations were to be had. It was well worked through many times before Kazia had ever first peeled it open, upon which her mind had never worked the same since. After the twelfth reading, it became a concrete ritual; where she would absorb a chapter or two each night, laying it to sleep for a week (if she could wait that long) and then began the literary candy once again.
Each time she ploughed through the story, she would alternate which character saw the world through; sometimes it would be Pip with all his agonising heartbreak and desperate attempts to win Estella over and over again. Sometimes Kazia sank into the knowledge that Miss Haversham was her destiny and pretended to get comfortable with the way she thought and felt but mainly, she got accustomed to being Estella, for that was not a huge stretch of the imagination. The war had frozen her heart rigid, just like Estella’s, and had spared her no one to begin to melt it.
Kazia took better care of that book than her only dress and the one life saving pea green coat that hung, like a corpse, on the back of her door. For although the clothing kept her alive by providing much-needed warmth against the bite of winter, the book provided her mind with the warmth that it craved.
One day she returned from her daily activity of walking past the local gypsy woman to check that she was still alive. It distressed Kazia at nights to think of the aging gypsy woman that crouched in the bank’s decrepit alleyway, would just pass into the night and no one would be there to move her body into the shadows. Or, at least, cover her cracked face with her shawl.
And there it was. Gracing her stoop, like a gift, from an unknown sender. She fantasised that it came from somewhere greater than she could imagine. The thought that it coincidentally flew to her doorstep from the force of a bomb blast was inconceivable to her. Four hundred and fifty seven pages of magic were meant to be laid on her shadowy step, where she fatalistically twisted her ankle as she shuffled over it. The pain had punished her shin even stronger when she kicked the book with frustration for hampering her walk up the front steps. However, she picked it up anyway, hoping she could take it to the Jasinski brothers who might give her two potatoes for it.
But she never took the book to the Jasinski boys. It stared at her for days from her bedside crate table, pregnant with an irksome odour. It was futile to even lift the cover and focus sharply on the small typed font; Kazia didn’t know what to do with the words. She didn’t know how to siphon the words from the page to make them into the glorious world that she now claimed as her own. So she let the words sit, inside the book, a motionless tomb, awaiting her.
Eventually, the rationing became so bad that Kazia went a whole week without anything to eat except for a tiny knob of lard that she’d stowed in a jar. Still she felt propelled to hold onto the book, even as she hallucinated eating the pages, she couldn’t bring herself to trade it for food. It was during one of these taunting hallucinations that she picked it up and began to contemplate the words. Chapter one stared back at her, stripes of sentences, waiting for her nonchalantly.
One unusually shiny day, Kazia weakly roamed the streets in search of food. As she stumbled past the gypsy, she was rewarded with some rat-chewed raw potato and a febrile secret. The gypsy clutched at Kazia’s lithe hand and demanded she listen, pulling her closer towards her crouching form. Kazia collapsed near her lap. She throatily whispered that Kazia had learnt to read many, many lifetimes ago and the knowledge had travelled with her as a gift; she needn’t be taught, she just had to let her eyes drink up the spell of the words.
Believing the gypsy’s coarse utterances, Kazia stared at a new word each day and let the world show her its meaning. Her eyes melted into the word ‘father’ and she would recognise fathers everywhere. Her own father visited her in her dreams, followed by a telegram in her waking moments that he had been killed in battle. Once she’d established the word in her mind, it was easy to highlight every other ‘father’ she saw nestled in the text.
One the ninth day she let the word ‘infant’ seep into her being and babies began to spring up in her line of sight. Felka helped Agnieszka deliver her unborn infant on Kazia’s ninth day of reading and baby birds began to nest on Kazia’s window ledge, motherless and hungry, noisily chirping at the glass, begging Kazia to provide nourishment. Agnieszka no longer wailed herself to sleep.
And then the words flew about her, creating a Gestalt collection that heralded her into a world untouched by war and offered her a journey away from the agony of her father’s death. Sometimes the novel felt as heavy as a three year old child and other times it only weighed as much as a small potato. Some days it sparkled with magic, covered in tiny twinkles that softened the page corners and made the words wiggle about, like restless children. Other days it fell into a quiet coma, its pages lifeless.
Some words took her more than a day to learn. ‘Love’ took her three weeks. Once it had settled into her bones and bounced around inside her chest, she knew she was reading. But it was more than reading. The book was a small receptacle that held a million other worlds that she could run to and shun away from the horror that was staccato-ing around the land that was meant to shelter her. The book was her one link to a world that wasn’t always going to be filled with grey, ascending puffs of smoke on the horizon, so she rested it near her sleeping ear, on the upturned crate, every night.
A significant shift in ‘chick lit’ fiction reflects wider cultural changes in the way men and women relate to each other, according to University of Southern
Queensland (USQ) researcher Dr Susan Hopkins. Chick lit, literature known to appeal particularly to a female reader, became a bestselling genre in the 1990s, more recently however it has become darker. For example, bestselling titles such as Gone Girl and Girl on the Train are anti-romance thrillers with tough non-traditional female anti-heroes.
“The new chick lit is far more daring, dark and subversive,” Dr Hopkins said. “It reflects back the harsh realities of an increasingly competitive and individualistic post- global financial crisis (GFC) economy and society. “While chick lit still addresses the dilemmas of being a modern women, it increasingly includes noir elements, merging with crime fiction and psychological thrillers.”
Dr Hopkins said the cultural impact of these narratives told us about postmodern femininity and deserved further investigation.
“What makes these thrillers, by and for women, such compulsive reading is that they deal with the often ugly realities of postmodern relationships from a woman’s perspective,” she said. “Casting off the confines of traditional romance and chick lit, they expose how women are vulnerable to fear, anxiety, envy and anger in ways that men are not.”
Dr Hopkins said the one of the most challenging and exciting commonalities of the genre was the way these mostly female writers were weaving both feminist and postfeminist ideas into their female-centred storylines. Dr Hopkins’s exploration of the topic was recently featured in literary and cultural journal Overland.
Now this excites me – you know why? Because my novel, Glass Music, is of the same thread and has been dubbed of the ‘domestic noir’ subgenre. Glass Music is currently under consideration with Penguin and Hachette and I am sickeningly keen to hear back from them but great things – especially in the writing and publishing industries – take time and patience.
Paul Hawkins, author of Girl on the Train, will be at the Sydney Writers’ Festival this weekend where she will discuss the ingredients of a best-selling book and the role of difficult women in fiction. The film adaption of Girl on the Train stars Emily Blunt and is expected to be released in October. View trailer here.
A creative writing piece by Vanessa Jones
It’s all there, splayed out before you, cliché after cliché to sort through and pick from, like the mélange at a bric a brac store. You gingerly pick up one cliché, finger it, rolling it over to inspect the bottom, unsure of what it is you’re looking for but mimicking the perceived experts. Once you have claimed your first cliché, it is impossible not to accumulate a collection. It is a glamourous hobby. It would seem.
Atop the mantle is your favourite ceramic figurine. The daintily painted mouth and the lemon butter skirt, adorned with blue cornflowers. She – Bella, circa 1890, Paris – is the queen of the fireplace, monarch of your lounge room. Bella is the matriarch of the clichés. She is the reason you avoid the weekend parties and you wear red lingerie. In her glazed skin, your heady shame and guilt at ruining others’ lives is held. She reminds you that you are grasping at something that does not entirely belong to you. Although a kiss hints differently, the evidence is undeniable. You may as well be his secretary, although you are not. Your side of the coin is wanton; all curves and fishnets. Your rival side is petite and homely with the hair the colour of milk. Read More →
One of my favourite things to write about is Adelaide. Here’s some recent copywriting work that I did for Adelaide City Council to highlight the jewels of the city’s precincts.
A gangrenous heart,
chilled dead by infallible devotion,
a lifelong devotion of purity.
He stretched, he crawled
towards his construal, his unattainable Holiness
As prayer fell around him
and solitude bred resentment
and repression of the multifaceted psyche
created a monster that demonised his nights.
Such is the human creature’s way.
So much good –
a cancer of the soul –
turned him irrevocably evil.
His only medication became
the torture of others,
his legacy – the impurity he branded onto those he wrecked.
Whether you work in the spiritual, health, wellbeing or creative industries or just want to add an extra boost of marketing magic to your business, Promote Your Spiritual Business is the ideal book for you. This book includes practical information such as how to start a blog, up to date information on most social media platforms and how you can use them, fun ways to create a marketing plan and mission statement, tips on creating a powerful website, insights on how to get more followers, likes, readers and engagement and so much more, all resulting in more customers and sales! Did you know that you can do all this using numerology, intuition, ancient philosophies and magic?
Recently, I was featured in a great Huffington Post article about writing a book to support your business.
“Self publishing my book has a lot of intrinsic value. Now I can refer to myself as an author, instead of just a writer. It’s also been a wonderful learning experience and has given me an insight into the publishing and bookselling industry that I might not have seen if I went with a traditional publisher,” Jones said.
Thank you to author, Libby-Jane Charleston for writing the article and who is an avid supporter of other writers.
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The thing that most kept me from writing a book was the incredible fear I had about writing a book. I would sit down and affirm, “right, now’s the time,” and I wouldn’t write down a single word. I had to write a whole BOOK, dammit, and what was I even thinking?
The true breakthrough for me came when I learned to imagine it differently: “I just have to write something, anything. That is all I need from today.” That’s when it really started to flow. The books I have written came from that liberation – turns out all you have to do is write. The shape, structure and purpose follow, and the words rise to meet them. Let yourself write, and don’t ever be intimidated by the thought of the end product.
And be grateful for who you are and what you are capable of. Most people can never have the opportunity to create or to send their creative work out into the world. But you do. Remember that immense privilege, and remember it every day. It keeps you humble, and it introduces a note of responsibility. You owe it to your teachers, your friends, your mentors, all of the people who ever encouraged you in your life. And most of all you owe it to yourself. Acknowledge you have some talent, and recognise the necessity for that talent to be shared with the world.
The more you are conscious of your gifts, and grateful for them, the greater your talents will be, and the more you will expand. You will attract more friends who encourage and support your work, and you will find you have greater and more fascinating things to say.
You don’t just have one idea. Most writers have hundreds, thousands, of really good ideas that would become something remarkable if they sat down and wrote them.
I had to get honest with myself in order to truly start, and to stop letting fear, a socially-enforced shyness and a really destructive sense of self-doubt rule my life. You have a right to express yourself, and your creative output is important, and interesting to others.
How did I finish two books? I tried to entertain myself – if a story is making me giggle I have found it is probably going to make a lot of other people giggle too, and so I allow my own voice free-reign. I didn’t have to be “literary” – I just had to tell great stories in a way I knew I was good at.
And while home is fantastic and our own cocoon is precious, sometimes there are just too many distractions there. Mirrors to clean, cats to pat, Lindor Balls to eat. Sometimes it pays to get out. I write a lot in coffee shops and I also can produce a remarkable amount in a short time by sitting in the library – any library. This is also a technique that creativity guru Austin Kleon endorses in his remarkably liberating book “Steal Like an Artist.” Get that book right now, and then get thee to a library.
I take it one step further and go away, normally overseas. I wrote my first book in Hong Kong, a place I love dearly. I love it so much that I could use it as a threat and reward. My partner wouldn’t let me leave the room till I had produced a chapter, and since I wanted three meals a day (I love my meals) this meant three chapters. This proved a remarkably effective system, and introduced an element of urgency and even game-playing. Some of the best and most praised chapters came out of this process.
There is a joy that cannot be described in reaching the end of a book, or of any really important and difficult piece of creative work. It is a rare and truly fundamental thrill. Allow yourself that exquisite pleasure this year. You can do it.