The Thrifty Fictionista Takes to Her Bed…

TF Adventure

I would MUCH rather be on an adventure than have the flu.

So, it finally happened.  I thought, when I got laryngitis a couple of weeks ago (much to the eternal — or perhaps infernal — amusement of my children), that I had done my time with lurgies great and small this Winter.  Or Spring.  Or whatever the damn season is, given that the temperature rocketed up to 34°C two days ago before plunging back to a wild and windswept 12°C.

Unfortunately, my own temperature has been vacillating just as unpredictably: influenza has me in its evil grip, and the Thrifty Fictionista has taken to her bed.  Still, rather than railing against the indignity of barely having the energy to get out of said bed, or boring you with my symptoms, I have managed to haul myself upright for a minute or two so I can tell you what has been keeping me sane for the past three days.

Books.

Books, books and more books.  And even though recently I have been reading things like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (which I freely admit I could not read in bed as I found that a bit too disturbing), and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (which I highly recommend — both as a read and a concept), and Jane Harper’s The Dry (which is as fine a debut novel as you’ll ever read as well as providing an unflinchingly accurate depiction of life in small outback Australian towns), I have — as usual — a confession.

TF Kell

I do wish I had a coat like Kell’s…

The Thrifty Fictionista can’t read such things when she is sick.

No, when I am sick, I need magic.

And so, the past few days have I reached for my Kindle (which, with its amazing capacity to deliver whole books into my waiting hands without leaving my bed, seems like magic itself) and buried myself in V E Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic trilogy.

On Wednesday, I re-read A Darker Shade of Magic, because it had been quite some time since I had dipped into the world of Red London.  Or Grey London or White London, for that matter.  And given the flu made me feel like I was already well on my way to Black London, I found myself wishing for a coat like Kell’s — you know, the one that you can turn inside out and every time it’s a different coat — and for the ability to wield Antari blood magic.

As Hasari…I wanted to whisper.

Heal…

TF Spells

Oh, for a working spell, not days stuck malingering in bed.

But the flu had other ideas, so I kept on reading and followed the thief, Lila Bard (you just have to love a girl who would like to be a pirate, don’t you?), and the magician Kell on their adventures through the various Londons, saving cities and rescuing (or was it resurrecting?) princes.

On Thursday, I started reading A Gathering of Shadows, and was gratified to discover that it was considerably longer than the first book, as the damn flu showed no signs of abating even when hit with hard core antibiotics and a decent-sized helping of The Bloke’s best Spaghetti Bolognese. I love that Lila did wind up becoming a pirate — ahem, I mean a Privateer — and thoroughly enjoyed meeting her Captain, Alucard Emery, and I relished the magic and mayhem of the Essen Tasch tournament.

And now it is Friday, and I have just downloaded the third book, A Conjuring of Light, hoping that it will bring me just that: light relief from being stuck in this bed.  Still.

So, without further ado, I am going to get on with it, not least because I need to lie down again…but also because I am grateful for the escape.  For the distraction.  For the adventure.

And — mostly definitely — for the magic.

 

 

 

Dirt Music

 

Dirt Music 3

Dancing spotlit in a bodystocking? Not me…I’ll leave that to the likes of Misty Copeland.

So the other night, after a few “light beers” (which may or may not have been entire bottles of wine), a mate of mine asked me whether I had a Favourite Book.

As in, a Favourite Book OF ALL TIME.

And I said…Yes.

Or perhaps I just whispered it.

I definitely held my breath for a split second before I answered, not sure of how my response would be received, or whether it would be treated with the reverence I reserve for Favourite Books.

Because let’s face it — owning up to having a Favourite Book (of All Time, no less) is to to reveal your self, to expose your self as completely and unapologetically as a dancer in a flesh-coloured bodysuit on a spotlit stage.  Which is fine, completely fine, if you’ve spent the requisite years honing your body and your skills to the point that a body-stocking, or a distinct lack of on-stage hiding places, or (God forbid) an audience no longer fazes you, but…clearly, that’s not me.

I write. I read.

I cook. I most definitely eat. And while my kitchen is well-known as a place where dancing is heartily encouraged, I would sooner eat a body-stocking rather than wear one.

Even so, despite my many misgivings (or maybe because I, too, had consumed several glasses of wine), the other night I actually confessed to loving one book above all others.

Now, any literature lover will tell you that the idea of narrowing down the books you couldn’t bear to part with to a Top Ten is an utterly absurd exercise. If you truly love books, whittling down your list to a Top Fifty is a difficult proposition.

But if you have a Favourite Book, you know what it is. If, unlike me, you’re the sort of person who likes to proclaim your Favourite Book far and wide and to encourage every last being in the known universe to read it, you know what it is. If, like me, you’re a little more circumspect about revealing the identity of your Favourite Book, you know what it is. Even if you have trouble admitting to yourself that one particular volume is your Favourite Book, you still know what it is.

And mine is Tim Winton’s Dirt Music.

Dirt Music

So here it is — my Favourite Book. OF ALL TIME.

(Oh dear Lord! Did I just type that for the world to see?!)

Yep, Dirt Music is my Favourite Book of All Time.

And I have decided that I will own up to it, and expose myself to whatever judgements you may make about me as a result of that admission, because it is my Favourite Book.

I could have dodged the issue entirely, perhaps, and said it was impossible to decide between Dirt Music and any number of other books, such as Pride and Prejudice or Anna Karenina or The Lord of the Rings or The Great Gatsby or Hamlet, to name just a handful of others.  No authors’ names necessary, of course — they’re all tomes that are regularly cited as being Favourite Books. I could even have wrong-footed my friend by pointing him in the direction of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, or Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, or Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy or  Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

But I didn’t.

Because, deep down, I know that Dirt Music is my Favourite Book.

I’m not saying that it’s best book in the universe — that’s a whole other discussion. And I’m definitely not going to weigh into the whole debate about the Great Australian Novel, either, and whether that accolade goes to Winton’s Cloudstreet or not.  I’m not even saying that you should rush out, buy Dirt Music, and devour it cover to cover — it may not be your thing at all. (I mean, if you want to, of course — go ahead; it might end up being your Favourite Book too).

Nup. I’m not doing any of that.

But what I am saying is pretty simple, really.

For me, Dirt Music, Winton’s tale of Georgie Jutland losing and finding herself in the wilds and waters of Western Australia is special. In the true blue, Bruce McAvaney sense of the word.

I love — no, I utterly adore — Tim Winton’s prose.  I love the tangible physicality of his descriptions of people and place. I love the accuracy with which he captures his characters’ vernacular. I love the overarching presence of the Australian landscape, particularly of the ocean and the coast. I love the way he describes Georgie’s father as Himself, QC — and I love the sheer volume of information and resonance and impact those two words impart.

Dirt Music 2

My super-power: escaping into books…

Reading is such a great privilige, and literacy such an inordinately important gift. And, as Alain de Botton points out, “Of all the addictions, bibliophilia is the noblest and most dangerous.” Where else, but between the pages of books, can we embark on great quests, fight revolutions, ride dragons, or sail further west than west?

I will, I know, continue to read, and always — always — to write. Like Rudyard Kipling, “I am by nature a dealer in words, and words are the most powerful drug known to humanity.”

And it is beyond comforting to know that I can return time and again to the happy places that lie between the dog-eared volumes that line my shelves, to wend my way along hidden paths towards Rivendell, to walk with Elizabeth from Netherfield back to Longbourn, even to hold my breath as Anna waits for the oncoming train…

But I will always come back, time and again, to Dirt Music, if only to discover, like Luther Fox, just one last time:

She’s real…she’s real…

Muggling Along

HP Harry Potter

Harry Potter: the Boy Who Lived

Nearly twenty years ago, something magical happened that changed the world — and I do mean, quite literally, magical. Back in 1997, we encountered an eleven year old boy with green eyes, untidy black hair, and a lightning bolt shaped scar on his forehead for the very first time.

We met Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived.

I’ve always loved reading the Harry Potter books, despite the fact that I had just graduated from university when the first volume was published. And whenever the movies are on TV I find it ridiculously difficult to change the channel and watch something else, let alone turn them off.

The scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when Harry, Ron and Hermione and their friends (and occasional foes, if you count Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle and the rest of Slytherin house in that number) arrive at Hogwarts remains one of my all-time favourite sequences in any film — ever.

Perhaps it’s the recollection of the awe and excitement I felt when I first saw the lamplit boats, bobbing on the black waters of the lake with the castle looming above. Or maybe it was the welcoming golden light shining from the windows of the school, promising goodness and safety, knowledge and wisdom within those ancient walls and towers.

HP Hogwarts

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Regardless of what so captured my imagination, the world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter has been one that I have been happy — no, make that overjoyed — to return to with my children. Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop have fallen in love with the characters and the wizarding realm just as quickly as I did, and while Marvel Girl knows that the books are works of fiction, Miss Malaprop (being two years younger) is having a hard time understanding that it isn’t real. Not surprisingly, Miss Malaprop is a firm fan of Harry himself — “because he’s brave” — while Marvel Girl favours Hermione Granger — “because she’s clever and she likes to read a lot”. But they both absolutely adore Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts, and his fabulous phoenix, Fawkes.

So much could be written about the wonders of these books and the wisdom they impart to their readers, particularly via Albus Dumbledore himself, who conveys many simple — yet powerful — truths.  “It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be,” he reminds us, along with other pearls like these:

HP Dumbledore quotes

The quotable Dumbledore — you can get these on Etsy here.

Surviving life in the Muggle world (the non-wizarding realm, for the small handful of uninitiated still among you) is ever so much easier when you have the guidance of the greatest sorcerer of the age to fall back on — Order of Merlin, First Class no less. And the fact that J K Rowling created such an incredibly detailed world, complete with its own rich history, myths and legends, customs and values remains a great and daily inspiration to me whenever I don my fiction-writing hat (not to be confused with the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, of course), and sometimes even when I don’t. (That, in itself, could be the subject of a whole series of blog posts in which it would become even clearer that J K Rowling is one of my literary heroes, not to mention that I believe her to be the undisputed Queen of the Twittersphere.)

HP Muggles“I do believe,” as J K Rowling herself said, “that something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” I’m ever so grateful that there are seven volumes of Harry Potter for me to share with Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop. And when we’ve read each one, and watched the movie afterwards (our latest ritual), I’ll be thanking the Old Gods and the New that there are so many more fantastic lands we have yet to explore. I am looking forward to climbing with my girls through the wardrobe into Narnia, to wandering through The Shire towards Rivendell in Middle Earth, to sailing among the farflung reaches of the Earthsea Archipelago, and — perhaps when they’re a bit (a lot?!) older — to visiting Winterfell, and Kings Landing, and the rest of Westeros.

Even more importantly, I am grateful that I can give my children the gift of knowing that there is always another adventure to be had between the pages of a book.

Wherever I am, if I’ve got a book with me, I have a place I can go and be happy.

J K Rowling

The Literary Apothecary

Heart bookNot so long ago, I bared my evidently somewhat miserly soul and wrote the Confession of the Thrifty Fictionista. Those of you who have read it will know that allowing myself to wander into a bookstore is a dangerous business, particularly if I am in possession of a credit card (not necessarily mine), cash (even the most trifling amount), or anything that could be used (appropriately or otherwise) to barter for new books.

Even to say that I “wander” in bookstores is not entirely accurate. In truth, it’s a lot more like stalking. I don’t prowl around suburban bookstores disguised in a ghillie suit fashioned from torn out pages of old paperbacks and the occasionally well-placed bookmark, but I do take the mission of tracking down exactly the right book very seriously. It requires rigorous discipline, a keen eye and excellent aim to capture such a book, and this pursuit gives me nearly as much pleasure as devouring the whole volume when I return to my lair…er…my home.

But every now and then, a book creeps up on me, instead — in the best possible way.

Such books do not stalk me the way I stalk them. No. they’re far more flirtatious. Enticing. Alluring. They call me with their covers and beckon with their blurbs until I am sufficiently charmed to forget my usual thrift and self-restraint, and submit to purchasing them, no matter the price. Paris Bookshop

The most recent tome whose wiles proved utterly irresistible to me was Nina George’s beautiful novel The Little Paris Bookshop, the tale of a man named Jean Perdu who runs a bookshop from a barge on the River Seine. Instead of being just a bookseller, however, the main character is a “literary apothecary” whose gift is matching his customers with books that ease their minds and soothe their souls. Rather than allowing them to purchase the books they want, he sells them the books they need. As it says in the novel:

Whenever Monsieur Perdu looked at a book, he did not see it purely in terms of a story, retail price and an essential balm for the soul; he saw freedom on wings of paper.

But Jean Perdu — his name, of course, translates as John Lost — is unable to heal his own wounds, inflicted more than two decades before, until he has the courage to cast off the book barge, Lulu, from the Champs-Élysées harbour and journey south towards Avignon and beyond in search of his long lost Provençal love.

George’s novel is, quite simply, a lovely read: amusing, heartfelt, and poignant.  Rather than being nosebleeingly highbrow literature, it is what I think of as the best sort of book — the kind that you can’t wait to keep reading, but that you don’t want to finish either. It’s well written but eminently accessible, and Simon Pare’s translation from George’s original German is so elegant and lyrical that I was completely unaware that I was not reading the book in its original form.

I was, and remain, grateful that The Little Paris Bookshop crept up on me, and I’m looking forward to the next book that tempts me and works its wondrous magic.  Because reading, as Jean Perdu says, is “an endless journey; a long, indeed never-ending journey that [makes] one more temperate as well as more loving and kind.”

Ahhh….books.  Long may they seduce us.

Confession of a Thrifty Fictionista

SolaceI allowed myself a guilty pleasure yesterday afternoon.

That said, ‘guilty pleasure’ is a complete misnomer because I don’t feel a shred of remorse about it.  Rather, I felt an overwhelming sense of adulation: roaming around a bookshop, on my own, having given myself permission to leave the shop with one — just one — newly purchased tome.

I have said before that music is as necessary as oxygen to me.  Similarly, on my list of life’s necessities, books are akin to food: they are my nourishment and my sustenance. Even The Bloke often refers to me as the hungriest bookworm he has ever met.  And, as with what I eat, there are times when I am not at all fussy about what I am reading, times when I am very strict with myself about what I may or may not read, and times when only a certain book will do.

So, as you may well imagine, my trip to the bookshop yesterday was like visiting a literary smoragasbord: picking up a book here and a book there, flicking through the first couple of pages, sampling this author’s words and that publisher’s blurb, feasting on the myriad covers, on the handwritten staff recommendations, on the glory of the printed word.  And it was there, standing among all those shelves of shining volumes, my nostrils full of the unmistakable scent of new books, that I realised something.  Yes — here it is, the confession of a Thrifty Fictionista: I want as much book for my buck as possible.

Banal as it is, it’s true.  Even when I’m in the process of being swept up and away by the sight and smell of so many glorious books, I’ve got one eye firmly fixed on the price tag.  If I’m going to buy a book — one that will hold its own on my already overloaded shelves — it needs to be worth it.  In a world where my library space is also being inexorably usurped by my children’s expanding collection of Lego bricks and other toys, I need to feel confident that I will be willing to defend my literary purchase against the onslaught of small plastic figures, minuscule puzzle pieces and apparently self-multiplying coloured pencils and pens.  It doesn’t need to be a book that has won a major award, topped the best-seller lists or even received critical acclaim, but it does need to be a work of quality.  Perhaps it’s a snippet of dialogue that attracts me, or an impression of a particular place or historical time, or a particularly well-crafted description or turn of phrase.  But it does need to get me in.

And my book of choice not only has to be a quality tome, it has to last.  It needs to keep me occupied for days, not hours — and being a notoriously fast reader, this sometimes poses a problem for me.  That said, yesterday it proved to be instructive: I seriously considered purchasing a riot of a read by an Australian author whose work I love, but whose trademark fast-paced narratives and twisting plots take me only a few hours to devour.  They’re fantastic escapes, but ones that I am far more likely to borrow from the library.  Let’s face it, you can only be surprised by an ending once, and quite apart from that, this Thrifty Fictionista had a reasonably good inkling that she could pick up a brand new copy far cheaper online than she could in store…

Dec 2014 Jan 2015 021So just what did I emerge from the bookstore with?  Which volume managed to reel me in, and satisfy both the frugal and decadent sides of my nature — the one that doesn’t want to pay too much as well as the one that wants to wallow in a good book for hours?  Well, I ended up with three books in one: Haruki Murakam’s 1Q84 trilogy.  I’m 250 pages into it already and it has me hooked, and I went to bed feeling almost smug last night, knowing that I still have over 1,000 pages and many happy hours reading ahead of me.  And, if you must know, the Murakami omnibus was five dollars cheaper than the other book I was tempted by, so this Thrifty Fictionista is counting that as a win!

Swallows and Amazons Forever!

SwallowdaleThere were shrieks of excitement at our place last week when we arrived home to discover a flat brown cardboard box on the front doorstep.  Now, my kids have both wised up to the fact that there are really only two things that get delivered to our house with any regularity, and since this carton was not big enough to contain a dozen bottles of wine, they immediately deduced — correctly — that this box contained an equally precious cargo: books.

“SWALLOWDALE!” yelled Marvel Girl, elated.  When given the choice between a sparkly ice-blue Elsa dress and the second installment of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, my darling girl — bless her — picked the book.  For me, her choice speaks volumes (if you will please, please pardon that dreadful pun).

Swallows and Amazons and the series of books that follow it were first published in the 1930s.  They recount the adventures of the Walker and Blackett children during their summer holidays, first in the Lakes District of England and subsequently in other parts of the world.  Much of the action involves sailing — in dinghys named Swallow and Amazon, hence the title — camping, and a great deal of outdoor exploring and imaginative playing.

My parents read these books (yep, all twelve of ’em) to me and my younger brother when we were children.  At that time the stories were already more than half a century old and evoked an obviously bygone era, but they still motivated us to embark on a variety of nautical escapades.  The most memorable of these took place on a particularly windy day at Narrabeen Lakes, when my mother and I were careening so quickly — or maybe even recklessly — through the water in the family’s trusty Mirror dinghy (both of us high on adrenalin and the rush of freedom every sailor knows and loves) that my father, waving his arms in consternation on the sandy lake’s edge, turned as crimson as our tiny boat’s sails, while my brother fell about laughing watching the combined on-shore/off-shore spectacle. Our other adventures took place on a slightly grander scale on my Grandpa’s yachts, first Aphrodite and later Saracen II (who was built for speed had competed in seven Sydney to Hobart races), before increasing age finally forced my sea-faring grandfather to stow away the sailcloth, and we all putted about Pittwater with him on a Halvorsen cruiser called Chloe.

Strangely enough, The Bloke spent half his childhood on the water too.  His father remains a keen sailor and still races his yacht twice a week, despite being well into his seventies.  More significantly, however, The Bloke’s dad also built a Pirate Boat (from scratch, in his garage) for Marvel Girl, Miss Malaprop and their cousins, and even took the time to outfit this marvelous vessel with a mermaid Barbie figurehead and a bespoke Maltese Cross-bearing sail.  Watching his grandkids sailing about, every last one of them bedecked in a life jacket and pirate hat, brings a huge smile to his face — and to that of anyone else watching that little dinghy tack about the shallows with the Jolly Roger flying atop its mast.

I suspect that Marvel Girl’s own piratical capers have contributed enormously to her taking to the Swallows and Amazons series like a certain proverbial duck…that, and the fact that even though this is only her first year of school, she is loving reading.  She is, apparently, the second best reader in her class (a fact that she is nearly as proud of as her mother is).  When she emerged from her latest school assembly clutching a merit award praising her fluent and expressive reading, the spontaneous fist pump and grin of utter triumph she gave when she saw me in the playground more than made up for the fact that I wasn’t there to see her get the certificate.

But an equally big thrill for us both, and for Miss Malaprop, too, is that there are eleven — yes, eleven! — more books in the Swallows and Amazons series for us to read together.  I will enjoy reading my girls the stories of John, Susan, Titty and Roger (the crew of Swallow) and Nancy and Peggy (the Amazon pirates) and their summer holiday

Swallows & Amazonsadventures — even though there is no way I would ever let my own children camp, completely unattended, on a small island in the middle of a lake for over a week.  (More to the point, I suspect any parent remiss enough to do so these days would be reported to the relevant authorities faster than you can say “Child Protection Officer” or “Lord of the Flies“.)

But I am looking forward to re-visting that age of innocence which, although lost, lives on in print.  And I can think of no better way to spend our own summer holidays than revelling in the tales of theirs.

Swallows and Amazons forever!