Category Archives: genre

Items pertaining to different genres of writing and novels

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.

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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

Review: Scarlet and Magenta

Scarlet and Magenta is a recently released historical novel by New Zealander Lindsey Dawson writing about Victorian times in the country’s (then) remote township of Tauranga.

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Reading an historical novel as a woman entrenched in feminist beliefs is a challenge. You want the hero(ine)s to succeed against the entrenched patriarchal beliefs even though you know that likelihood is zilch. I imagine writing such a novel is equally frustrating because of the limitations of historical accuracy.

Colonial wives and lives curbed

Dawson, however, empathetically strides alongside her two colonial wives as they grapple with the understanding that their gender renders them silent in the decisions about  life. Even in the sphere of domestic and cultural pursuits, their production is monitored and curbed by husbands and society’s beliefs.

Violet’s past haunts her while her ambitious husband bullies her almost into submission. Anna has a more magnanimous husband and her rebellion is less dramatic than Violet’s.

My reservations

The character of Rupert is developed through the eyes of the two women and Anna’s husband. I felt this hampered a full rounding out of a charming man bent on self-destruction. 

I loved the book, but I felt that Dawson hurried the conclusion. Although the plot  ends are tied up nicely, by using a jump forward in time, I believe that a little more unfolding of the story could well  keep the reader enthralled.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Review: The Ninth Hour

by Alice McDermott

If you’ve watched the TV series “Call the Midwife”, then you’ll feel right at home reading “The Ninth Hour” by Alice McDermott. In fact I had to remind myself that this story of selfless nuns was taking place in Brooklyn, New York, not the south end of London after the war. McDermott’s novel portrays many universal themes of women’s oppression around that era, and the consequences of being poor and sick.

A rather bleak story, the novel offers insights into the lives of these religious women and illustrates the self-motivation required to give your life to God. With their focus on finding workable solutions for the unfortunate people they work for, occasionally they have to bend the rules. For Annie, an Irish immigrant who came to America and was widowed early, life was extremely bleak until the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor stepped in to give pregnant Annie a job in the convent’s laundry.

Annie and her daughter Sally live a cloistered life, eventually leading teenage Sally to believe that her calling is to join their religious order. The outcome of this decision demonstrates the internal struggles of boundless love for one’s fellow humans, and how challenging this can be for women in religious orders.

McDermott shows rather than tells her story, challenging the reader to read between the lines and understand the true meaning of sacrifice for these women as they struggle to improve the lives of those they serve in their community.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Finding the Write Road

Musings by Heather Sylvawood

This morning started with a bit of a hiccup – I had a flat battery. The car I am currently driving doesn’t have mod-cons like warning beeps if you turn off the car while the lights are still on. It does, in fact, assume you will be vigilant and remember … duh!

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Once the battery issue was solved by the nice young man from AA, I set off.

Now I don’t usually drive a manual. Anyone driving behind me could probably tell. I often manage to confuse the slot for third gear with the slot for fifth gear. Consequently I’m either over-revving or stuttering under the strain of a gear jump.

All of these faux pas instantly connect with the blood supply to my face.

Battering my self-confidence

Taking the back route (less chance of shaming myself in front of others), I rattled along, berating myself for every mistake and generally giving my self-confidence I right battering.

Then, in one of those break-through moments, I realised that this is what I do when I’m writing! I leap forward and write heaps, and then I re-read and start to doubt myself, comparing my first draft writing with the polished published writing of others. I compare my least polished with their pristine.

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Recently I have been reading a selection of writers – the series writer, romance writers, mystery writers, New Zealand writers, and Christian writers. I find myself picking up proofing errors (ahhh … the permanency of print against eBooks) and even clumsy language which their editors surely should have noticed. What’s been happening to me is I have been developing my critical eye. Only this time it isn’t for my own work but for that of others.

The Critical Eye is valuable

I am beginning to realise that my over-revving and stuttering gait probably mirrors that of other writers. They too must feel  lacking when comparing themselves to the honoured writers of our culture. That critical eye, however, is what keeps writers improving.

As well as noting the less-than-perfect, the joy of my research is that I am also identifying clever writing.

I recently read Tiger Lillie by Lisa Samson, a Christian writer living in Maryland, USA. I love her style. She manages to convey so much more in simple descriptions and with such humour, I want to come back for more. Take the following example:

“I’ve always loved evening. Even back then, as a chubby, bug-eyed little girl who also loved a good joke, that time of day sobered me and filled me with peace. I know now it’s due to the fact that the clock never stops ticking down and the time for making the day’s mistakes draws to a sweet close. Even the circumstances in which to make these blunders fly away, for in the twilight we simply sit and breathe quietly, cross our fingers and hope the phone won’t ring or the Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t come to the door.”

What craft! How much does she reveal about her character in a passage ostensibly about ‘evening’?

Research good writer and author examples

By reading the work of others I am observing the unusual word construction, the insightful capture of character, and the clever development of plot.

Research is important, be that by reading the work of others, or finding out what is capturing the readers of the day. Writing, however, is the key to becoming a writer. So it’s back to the computer for me.

Oh! Yes. I am writing. A blog!

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author