Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category


Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Emma Neale’s new novel Fosterling, is about a yeti living in Dunedin. No, it’s not a children’s book or a fantasy but a realistic, compassionate treatment of what it’s like to be an outsider. The writing is elegant. Original similes abound: one confused young man looks like ‘a 16 year old whose name has been called in class when he’d been happily thinking about the pie he’d ordered for lunch; and subtle feelings are described with precision. I  wanted a more upbeat ending, but that’s my bent (and one reason I like writing for children). The yeti, Bu, is a sensitive soul – a reminder of that other misunderstood Boo in To Kill a Mockingbird. And I thought of my favourite yeti tale, Tintin in Tibet , in which the creature also shows his ‘humanity’, but is treated as a beast. Fosterling reminded me that there are Bu’s in every city, often hidden in ‘half-way’ houses.  I can see this multi-character story being made into an Altman-style movie.

Writing in the Shallows

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

I was writing a story on an iPad near Christchurch last week. Writing tools such as computers have become flexible, but perhaps less intimate, and I wonder if it affects my writing.  When Ted Hughes began writing on a typewriter he noticed he became less concise. Writing by hand had made him invest more in each word:

every year of your life is right there, wired into the communication between your brain and your writing hand… things become automatically more compressed, and, perhaps, psychologically denser.

The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr, brilliantly examines how our brains react to computer use ( read a great essay about the book here). He says that working on computers can be distracting (rather than reflective) for the brain — so it stays in the shallows, barely engaging with the myriad connections at deeper levels. In that case the iPad might be okay for writing because you can fade out all but the sentence you’re on. But my iPad trial was interrupted by the earthquake — which came from the shallows with terrifying force.

Photo: Allen Carbon

Their Faces Were Shining

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Tim Wilson takes risks with his first novel, Their Faces Were Shining, and that’s the way it should be. The story: a sizable chunk of the human race floats up to Heaven on page 60 but a believer named Hope is left behind. The wider implications of the Rapture are barely explored; it’s really a device to expose the main character; this is a Rupture novel. It’s gripping, but be warned that it’s also grim in places (though not as apocalyptic as The Road). I appreciated Wilson’s precise observation of human relationships even if he avoids the afterlife.

Few writers go to Heaven (in their novels). M. Scott Peck’s In Heaven As On Earth has a rather clinical psychotherapist’s afterlife, and The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis has a nice take on the physicality of Heaven. My favourite Heavenly stories are the wonderful  A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes which describes the consequences of being perfected; and Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin, a thoughtful teenage novel about a Heaven where people age in reverse. The best movie about Heaven is A Matter of Life and Death, a gorgeous 1946 romance that ends with words by Walter Scott,

for love is heaven and heaven is love.’