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Residency, Day 12

I went with Salamah this morning to visit the Weir. It was a lovely place, set amongst actual green trees (Australian trees are entirely the wrong shade of green in WA -- a bit like trees with quite a lot of dust on them). There were lots of ducks playing at the water's edge, and swifts living under the railing of the dam. It was still drought season, so Salamah pointed out back in 1996, the water actually overflowed over the dam, rather than sat at the bottom of it amongst dismal waves of washing detergent foam. The adjoining No1 Pump Station museum was closed. For $5 per entry, we both believed it wasn't worth it anyway.

We did walk in the park around the dam, which was a treat. There was this massive pine by the dam that looked a lot like the ones in Japanese calligraphic paintings. It was an elegant giant of a tree. I rather enjoyed standing under it. I heard aspens for the first time in my life. It was such a lively rustling sound. The leaves are so soft. I also saw an English oak and a silver birch for the first time today. It was fascinating.

We had lunch at an Irish cafe. Mundaring is such an unusually different place from the homogenous suburbs around Curtin. The first and most noticeable thing are these huge amounts of organic grocerers and cafes. And the slightly less organic places had lots of vegetarian foods and gourmet foodstuffs. So she had a tuna and asparagus tart with potato salad, and I had a chicken and mushroom tart with the same. And a whole pot of mint tea. (Salamah doesn't drink tea.) The potato salad was delightful. Really marvellous rockets, meat slices, potato and good sour cream dressing. The Irish cafe appeared to have lots of things non-Irish, including pad thai, which they cleverly explained as satay chicken noodles. (Can you not hear my suffering?)

Much conversation was also had. Salamah wished she'd been there at the workshop, and I rather wished she been there too. Would've been nice for a lark. Salamah was rather surprised no one in my workshop had ever read Dune or Stranger in a Strange Land. I'd always thought these two novels were a bit out of the way, myself, in spite of their apparent popularity -- you would have to be the very slightest bit interested in the subject matter of the works to want to read it, and neither of them are very leisurely reads.

Got home and Chris was in to do some scanning, so I stayed outside to talk to him for a bit. I might end up running a writing group out here -- something definitely about speculative fiction for emerging writers, with a shark tank atmosphere and access to market information. Why a shark tank? Because I identified that the entire problem with all the writing groups I'd been to at KSP was that they mollycoddled people. Attendees read out their work, and people could only ever give vague ideas about what they heard. If it was run like a proper critiquing group, with reading copies that people could stab to death with pencils, people might actually get more out of it than morning tea and elderly socialization. And, well, they didn't have nearly enough younger writers. And, incidentally, all the young writers I did meet along the way wrote specfic.

Including the person talking.

Sat outside for a bit, since the weather was a lovely gray and close to raining. It's such a dear place. I've really come to love it, and the sheer calm that comes from being able to think. I finished Coonardoo, by the original occupant. I figured, since I'm staying here, I should familiarize myself with the occupant. It was one of those books where, I'd sincerely liked to have believed that the quality of the writing alone would lead me to the end and make me realize I'd found something I wouldn't normally have read but liked -- but it just wasn't one of those books. The descriptions are incredible, but deliberately repetitive. It got to me after a while, this land of vast desert and prowling dust. The characters were cattle ranchers and aborigines, and set as far back in time as it was, quite a lot of the book addressed the issue of racism and breaking the racist ideology. I dare say at the least the latter appeared to be the entire point of the book. It was an interesting social study, and good to read for that. But as a piece of fiction capable of really holding my attention otherwise, it failed.

I will probably be miserably upset when I have to leave. It's been lovely, and the people have been lovely. I don't know how long it's been since I've last been talked to like a normal human being, or had the time to think like one. It is the entire comfort of being able to sit down with my writing and a cup of tea.



Nov. 28th, 2006 02:05 pm (UTC)

It's challenging to cultivate a group of people whom you trust to critique though. A lot of people don't know how to critique. They know how to insult. They know how to heap smarmy praise. But they are not articulate when it comes to understanding what makes a story work or not work. And even then, one absolutely must take Neil Gaiman's advice on that: when someone tells you something is wrong, they're probably right. But when the tell you how to fix it, they are most certainly wrong.

I suspect that's why, when Rilke was approached by Kappus with his poems, Rilke's response was, "With nothing can one approach a work of art so little as with critical words: they always come down more or less to happy misunderstandings."

He does go on to give a little critique, and some praise, but ultimately beseaches him to search for the reason why he writes to begin with and gives him some ideas where to search for his personal truth (that which can only inform the writer).

That said, do you think the writers you've encountered would give any better critique, then, if they had paper? Or do they need time to heed unto Rilke first before they have anything useful to say?

Nov. 28th, 2006 02:42 pm (UTC)
It is an interesting thought to meditate on -- thank you. :)
I do think paper will help, in this case. I believe writing cannot be taught, but decent editing skills can, and it came to my attention that the writers who hang out here are mixed groups of hobbyists coming to socialize and writers who actually hope they can be published. One of the ways I saw to really separate those groups was to have a writing group where work is ripped apart, and where some amount of market info is shared or on offer. The hobbyists do not usually attend to have their work critiqued. They are there to have someone to read their stories to.

The paper helps critiquing in the sense that I found read writing really hard to critique -- unless one was constantly taking notes, one is not inclined to remember details too well after the read, and then one would have to remember it on top of all the discussions that might take place. Taking notes during a read, on the other hand, usually breaks one's concentration. Will this amount to a better quality critique? I don't really know. But I have often found the best critiques are written down and thought out because writing allows the time to think -- might be a bias on my part, coming from online writing groups.