Category Archives: drama

Welcome to the Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

The Fairvale Ladies … by Sophie Green

Don’t be put off by this extraordinarily long title  – there is much to recommend it for its glimpse of the authentic lives of women in the outback of Australia.

This novel, set in the late 1970s, weaves together the lives of five outback women through the unlikely excuse of meeting to discuss various books. As they discuss well-known novels their lives unfold and friendships develop between these dissimilar women.

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

It’s an interesting tale of life in the Australian outback, where the wet and dry seasons weave circumstances that impact on each of the women through the four years over the duration of the novel. If I was to pinpoint my lasting impression from this book it would be the skilful portrayal of the environment of the Northern Territory.

Characters are a bit too nice

I felt few of the characters developed into three-dimensional beings and that their beliefs and outlook was ‘’’told’ rather than demonstrated by their actions. The character of Della, in particular for me, did not develop any roundness or believability as a young, diffident Texan who falls in love with an Aboriginal stockman. They were all such ‘nice’ people, even the emotionally abusive husband reforms near the end of the tale.

The book’s saving grace is the brilliant portrayal of the harsh realities of outback life. So if you’re looking for a novel with an unusual setting, then join the Fairvale ladies as they handle what life throws them in their outback corral.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Review: Mother’s Milk

A few pages into Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn, and I was well aware that this is a challenging novel. St Aubyn juxtaposes child characters on the edge of believability with adults who struggle with the realities of relationship changes. It demands that you “suspend your critical eye” until you reveal the gems within.

MothersMilkj

Edmund White from the Guardian is quoted as saying in a review: “Mother’s Milk is a dazzling exploration of the troubled allegiances between parents and children, husbands and wives …” and that sums up the novel for me. Despite the child characters who seemed far too perceptive for their ages, the novel exposes the rocky landscape of relationships in moments of brilliant truism.

It begins with laugh out loud caustic wit such this example of the father commenting on situations and dialogue related to parenthood.

The nanny instructs the new parents: “Give him plenty of water, dear. It’s the  only way to cool them down. They can’t sweat at that age.”

“Another amazing oversight,” said his father. “Can’t sweat, can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t read, can’t drive, can’t sign a cheque. Foals are standing a few hours after they’re born. If horses went in for banking, they’d have a credit line by the end of the week.”

As the book progresses through the realities of the characters’ experiences this humour disappointingly ebbs. It’s as if the strains of fatherhood wear the father, Patrick, down and smother his light-heartedness.

Told through the eyes of first-born Robert, and later his father Patrick, we’re introduced to Robert’s feelings about his mother’s absorption in second son, Thomas, his eccentric grandmothers, and the relationship between his parents. At times his perception feels too old for his years.

Yet there are gems of dialogue throughout, including this in the last pages of the novel:

“Am I being childish?” asked Thomas, approaching his father.

“No,” said Patrick. “You’re being a child. Only grown-ups can be childish, and my God, we take advantage of the fact.”

I can see why Mother’s Milk was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2006. What I didn’t realise was that it was Book 4 in a series about the Melrose family. That aside, I suggest you read it and be prepared to feel a sense of personal déjà vu from St Aubyn’s clever pen/computer/writing.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Gossip-end of the Grapevine

Heather Sylvawood, www.writegear.co

I have lived in small towns or villages in New Zealand for most of my life, and I have been amazed to find that I’m the last to hear the latest in gossip. At one time I commented to my partner: “We need to put up a sign – The End of the Grapevine.”

A grapevine is a wonderful illustration of how news travels in small communities. The tendrils snake into the smallest crevices and cling tight, and then the flowers that the tendrils support blossom and develop into fruit.

grapevineBlog

Looking for evidence

Like grapevines, gossip sneaks into minds and our minds look for evidence to validate what we’ve been told (true or false). We rarely look for evidence to refute the gossip, just to substantiate it.

When we’re intent on seeing what we’re looking for, more evidence that supports the gossip appears. At this stage our minds are headed in one direction: “the news is true”. When it’s based on a misinterpretation of something, these creeping Chinese whispers can cause irreparable harm.

A modern twist on gossip

We tend to think of gossip as titbits of news passed on from person to person as opposed to being broadcast through accepted media – television, newspapers, news websites etc.  Prior to the invention of printing presses by German Johannes Gutenberg around 1440, however, word-of-mouth or letters were the only way to disseminate information, person-to-person. Nowadays our gossip comes through more sophisticated sources, yet it’s really no more than an expanded version of person-to-person chat.

Our ability to observe and translate what we see, is the basis of all news. Reporters see violence and in a split second translate this, based on the evidence around them, into a report that purports to be the truth of the  matter. The next step in their process is to corroborate their observations before jumping into print or broadcast. Yet even these trained observers can sometimes get things wrong. 

But is gossip all bad?

Individuals are not held back by the constraint of hard evidence. They see something, translate it, and tell others. The ‘others’ add this information to knowledge they already have and hey presto the news flows. If something really is happening that needs to be in the public eye, gossip will do it. The fear of causing gossip is a natural constraint to keep most of us honest.

“Reputation systems promote cooperation and deter antisocial behavior in groups,” according to The Virtues of Gossip: Reputational Information Sharing as Prosocial Behavior by Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer, Jennifer Stellar, and Dacher Keltner. 2012.

The researchers claim that when an individual observes or experiences antisocial behaviour, they are generally compelled to share it with other potentially vulnerable people. As the information spreads, the perpetrators of the antisocial behaviour are likely to be ostracized and brought into line with accepted community behaviours.

That works well unless the individual who first passes on the information is not telling the truth, or embroidering the information to enhance their own reputation.  But on the whole, gossip gives us new ideas, alerts us to wrong-doing, and makes us feel we’re a trusted member of the group. Not “at the end of the grapevine”.

Heather Sylvawood, www.writegear.co

Does popular mean less ‘literary’?

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

I’ve just completed my first novel and I’m looking at publishing it on Amazon, however, I’m finding it difficult to find a category that fits its subject matter.  Here’s a brief synopsis:

“Laura Holland is coping (just) with her life bringing up two teenagers and her almost seven-year-old autistic daughter, Estella. Living on a small farm raising chooks and sheep, and the family’s vegetables, Laura’s role is definitely that of an isolated homemaker. Her husband Richard, however, is a busy principal whose involvement in the farm is spasmodic, at best. Then the Hollands meet the Langleys, a family with a very different way of coping with their disabled daughter. At first Laura and Anna find support and new possibilities in their growing friendship. But all is not well in the Langley household, and as Laura gets drawn in, further and further, the stage is set for a dramatic showdown.

Set in the early 1970s in Canterbury, New Zealand, the novel deals with how beliefs about caring for children with an intellectual disability can trap women in the caring role.”

So where does family drama fit?

It hasn’t any real mystery, no murders, little violence, no fantasy, only a little sex (but not the 50 Shades of Grey  type), it’s set about 40 years ago – but is hardly a ‘period drama’, and it doesn’t fall into the category of romance.

If I could find a category called Family Drama then that’s where it would fit. But the last time I looked on Amazon, there was no such category.

Popular novel themes

That dilemma started me thinking about popularity. Books, television, and lagging only a little behind – films, reflect what is a popular read (or genre in the world of novels). Take a look at what’s showing on the celluloid (oh, what an ancient word!) and you’ll gain a clear understanding of the genre(s) that sell most readily.

‘Write novels in popular genres’

Writers who want to make a life writing popular novels are advised to look at what sells.

On the face of it, the advice is sound. If I was to follow that advice I would write crimes novels with likeable detectives and a bit of romance; or vampire horror; or sci-fi with lots of killing at the hands of superior aliens until good old human cunning overcomes the long odds. And, of course, the other popular genre is the classic romance between heterosexual couples leading unreal,  usually privileged lives.

The genres are far removed from real lives of most people, I wondered why that appealed.

So why do people enjoy reading escapist novels?

I thought I would do a bit of research.

The first thing I realised is that ALL fiction is escapism. We look to read fiction that allows us to live (safely) some of the emotions that would otherwise be inappropriate for us to express. It is escapism for the reader, but it is also escapism for the writer.

Escapist novels have had a bad rap

As author Neil Gaiman says: “I hear the term (escapism) bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if ‘escapist’ fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.”

He goes on to say that escapist fiction “opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with” and that it  “…can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison.”

Popular fiction may be what the doctor ordered

Author Steven Handel, creator of the blog: The Emotion Machine, writes: “Instead of venting your negative emotions, sometimes it is better to just shift your awareness toward something completely different that makes you forget about your troubles.

“In many ways, this is the powerful role that entertainment plays in our lives. It is a way to escape from the stress, anxiety, and negativity of our everyday lives – and sometimes that is what we need to stay sane and healthy.”

New York Best Selling Author Elizabeth Lowell has this to say about the so-called divide between popular (escapist) writing and ‘literary’ writing:

“My life’s work has been popular fiction. Writing alone and with Evan, I have published more than sixty books. They range from general fiction to historical and contemporary romances, from science fiction to mystery, from nonfiction to highly fictional thrillers.

“Through the years, I’ve discovered that most publishers talk highly of literary fiction and make money on popular fiction; yet asking them to describe the difference between literary and popular fiction is like asking when white becomes gray becomes black.”

Isn’t WRITING a novel ‘escapism?

Wikipedia defines ‘Escapism’ as mental diversion by means of entertainment or recreation, as an “escape” from the perceived unpleasant or banal aspects of daily life.  If you use that definition, then I am using ‘escapism’ whenever I think about or start writing my novel. I am creating an unreal situation in a way that gives me pleasure. I might not be escaping from a banal life, but my escapism certainly enhances my life.

Goodreads includes The DaVinci Code, Bridget Jones Diaries, Harry Potter and Kate Hooper’s Redemption series in its list of Escapist Fiction. Put like that I’d be glad to be listed in the realms of ‘escapism’ and popular novels. Here I come!

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author