In My Library: The House of Memories by Monica McInerney

The House of Memories

Last night I finished reading Monica McInerney’s latest book, The House of Memories.

I was a tad nervous about reading this book–sad subjects are really not my preferred storyline. But I know what a wonderful storyteller Monica is and therefore I entered the world of Ella and her family feeling safe in Monica’s hands.

There are sad moments, yes. But they are handled with such skill and sensitivity that in no way will you be left feeling bludgeoned or overwhelmed. It’s a beautiful book, executed perfectly. A very clever, touching and deep book, one that will resonate with you for long after the last page.

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It’s all in the name of research

My lovely sister and me. The chocolate doctors are in!

I love research. And when it’s about food, even better.

Living the writer’s dream for me is about delving into subjects I’m interested in and absorbing a mass of information and, preferably, sensory experience. And it really doesn’t get any better than researching one of the greatest things on earth: chocolate.

Chilli ganache chocolate sandwiches

Chocolate features heavily in my next book and this weekend just gone my lovely (and exceptionally talented) sister and I headed into Brisbane for an afternoon of making chocolates and ganaches by hand. I have to say, though, that they worked us extremely hard. Amanda and I thought we might have a fun afternoon indulging in chocolate. Not so much. More like five hours on our feet, with no breaks, no chairs and (gasp!!!) no coffee!!! I felt like a galley slave.

But I am really glad I went. I learnt many a savvy chocolate making skill for my main

Belgium chocolate ganaches

character to use in her story. And during the two-and-a-half hour drive home I came up with my top line novel plot.

Not a bad day’s work. Not bad at all.

Nappies and Vomit Do Not Romance Writing Make

Let’s face it, there isn’t much that’s either romantic or sexy about motherhood. If it’s not the pervasive stains (and odour) of regurgitated formula, or the endless repetition of This Old Man playing knick-knack-paddywhack (what on earth is that anyway?), or the continual sense of chaos in the house, or that you ran out of facial scrub a month ago and keep forgetting to get more, it’s the fact that through sheer exhaustion and the fact that you have five minutes before your baby needs you again that you can’t even manage to wash your hair.

How then does a girl live the writer’s dream and conjure up images of romance and sexiness when the only fantasy she harbours is for four hours (let’s not be greedy) of uninterrupted, deep sleep?

I plan to take my bedraggled self to the Queensland Writers Centre this Sunday for a Masterclass in romance writing with prolific romance author, Anna Campbell. I’m hoping Anna’s expertise can help me contact my inner romantic woman, who is currently helping my characters, Leila and Lucas, strengthen their compelling storyline.

The littlest man romance

Anna, your timing couldn’t be more perfect. But please know that if I yawn the whole way through your masterclass it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the littlest man in my life with whom I’m having a romance of an entirely different kind.

The Art of Procrastinating

I’m having one of those days. It’s now past four o’clock in the afternoon, and while I have been busy at home all day, I have not been busy doing what I (thought I) wanted to do. While my latest YA novel is resting, waiting for me to return to edit it for draft two, I have picked up an older manuscript to start again. It is a chick lit/women’s fiction manuscript, and one for which I have created the most charming world in which my characters roam. (In my mind, anyway.) So why am I procrastinating?

I just haven’t been able to pick myself up today. I feel dopey and depressed and desperate to catch up on some sleep, but it’s too hot to do that. So I’m stuck in the lounge room with the air conditioner, trying to convince myself to start work on my chick lit/women’s fic manuscript.

It’s nothing new. All writers suffer from bouts of procrastination. And I’ve never quite been able to work out why. I feel better when I write, and writing inevitably begs me to write some more. (It’s a lot like exercise or, ahem, other sweaty activities.) So, I’ve washed the dishes, folded clothes, found my passport for an upcoming trip to New Zealand, found tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner, written a long list of everything that needs to be done before said trip to NZ, designed and ordered marketing materials for Charlie’s Angels Horse Rescue, fluffed around on Facebook and YouTube, and wrangled cats, dogs and horses.

And now I’m blogging…

I know that I am not constructively procrastinating. And that’s the real key. I believe that procrastination can be good–indeed, necessary–but only if we do it constructively. Over the years, I’ve worked out some good and bad procrastination activities.

Good procrastination activities (i.e. that actually move and develop me as a writer) include: reading books, reading writing magazines, editing my writing (because it seems easier to deconstruct things than it does to construct them, but it inevitably leads to me wanting to construct once more), going on an ‘artist’s date’ (to the theatre, dance class, festival, delicatessen… anywhere that feeds the senses), riding my horse (the combination of exercise and joy gives me a real boost), critiquing other writers’ work, and meeting other writers for fun/work purposes.

Bad procrastination activities include: housework, going to the post office, emailing, updating websites (such as blogging…), going grocery shopping, paying bills, bookkeeping, researching new appliances/computers/cars/food dehydraters, ebaying, ordering stuff online, organising, filing, and feeling guilty.

All of those ‘bad’ procrastination activities are all useful and worthwhile and need to be done. But not at the expense of writing.

So, here I am, signing off from my current ‘bad’ procrastination exercise to go onto some ‘good’ procrastinating.

Then again, it’s nearly time for Bold and the Beautiful….

Miley, Taylor, Glee and Me in the closet

I’ve been in the closet. But the time is here and I’m coming out and saying it: I’m a fan of Miley Cyrus.

One of the reasons I love writing YA novels is that it gives me the perfect cover to indulge in activities that otherwise might be thought of as not really the norm for someone of my age.

Take, for example, Hannah Montana: The Movie (Miley Cyrus). We saw it on the plane on the way to Tonga recently, and we happened to really enjoy it. I defy anyone not to dance in their seat during the Hoedown Throwdown. And as for her moving version of The Climb, well any struggling artist could relate to this one and come out the other side feeling more inspired than ever. (The video is not so good, but I love the song.)

This interest in ‘tween/teen’ pop culture began with Taylor Swift, specifically, her song Love Story. Apart from loving the song (and since, her album, Fearless) I realised that this was someone very successfully selling to the teenage market, the same market that I want to sell books to. It wasn’t too much of a leap to see that I could learn something from the likes of Taylor and Miley.

So now that I have that ‘research’ defence sorted out for when my friends query as to why I own the soundtrack to Hannah Montana: The Movie, I feel free to indulge in Glee too. Glee is a television series on Channel 10, Thursday nights, and is set in a high school, with teenagers looking for all the things teenagers look for, and doing it in a smart, funny and sensitive way. I’m hooked.

So now that I’ve outed myself, I think I’ll go and buy tickets to see Taylor Swift in concert on February 4 next year, the day after my birthday. It’s all good research…

Queensland Writers Centre Blog Tour, coming to a blog near you

The wonderful people at the Queensland Writers Centre have invited me to be a part of their blog tour, running from October until December 2009. I was a little surprised but also delighted to be considered part of the tour. The idea is that they ask me six questions and I answer them …

Where do your words come from?

Passion. Anything that I am passionate about eventually bubbles its way to the surface and wakes me in the middle of the night until I do something about it.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I grew up on the north side of Brisbane. Last year we moved to Blackbutt, which is only two and a half hours north-west of Brisbane, yet because it is inland (rather than straight up the coast), somehow receives very few services. (We won’t, for example, be included in the mass government upgrade to internet services that’s on its way.) But we have six acres of land that we are steadily filling with four-legged furry children and that makes us happy.

What’s the first sentence/line of your latest work?

There’s a moment when you know you’re going to fall off a horse.

This is from my current work in progress, a YA novel set in the late 1950s in rural Australia.

What piece of writing do you wish you had written?

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. No one could read this book and not be touched by plight of horses and the overall themes of the need for compassion for every living being. And the character of Ginger’s story in particular… oh, it still makes me cry just thinking about it.

More recently, the Ingo series by Helen Dunmore. These are engrossing children’s fantasy books about our oceans and people’s responsibility towards them and their inhabitants.

(There’s a bit of an animal/environmental theme going on here…)

What are you currently working towards?

In writing, I am working towards a series of YA novels set across three time periods in rural Australia. In life in general, I am working towards feeling compassion and kindness to every living being (which is more difficult with the humans). Right now, I am setting up a new charity for the rescue and rehabilitation of abused, neglected and homeless horses.

Complete this sentence… the future of the book is…

enduring.

This post is part of the Queensland Writers Centre blog tour, happening October to December 2009. To follow the tour, visit Queensland Writers Centre’s blog The Empty Page.