Category Archives: Loveday Gert

Best of 2015

December again, and it’s time to compile my best of 2015 reading list.

Best Classic Russian:

Notes From a Dead House: Dostoevsky

Want to know what life was like in a Siberian prison camp? … read this. Human nature at its best and its worst. Sentencing to a Siberian prison camp must have come as a terrible blow to Dostoevsky, but this book–a gift to the world–is the result.

Best Non Fiction:

This House of Grief: Helen Garner. This emotionally wrenching non-fiction book gives the reader an insider look at the Farquharson case in which a divorced man was accused of murdering his three sons. While this is the story of the trial, Helen Garner gives us so much more than this–an eyewitness account but also the torturous cost of the trial on those involved. Again–the best and worst of human nature. I want to read Joe Cinque’s Consolation, but after reading This House of Grief, I think it’s best to put some distance between the two books.

Best New American Crime Fiction:

Canary: Duane Swierczynski

I enjoyed Swierczynski’s fantastic Charlie Hardie trilogy, so I was eager to see what he’d achieved with Canary the story of how a college student gets in over her head when she’s roped in by the police as a ‘confidential informer.’ This is a topical subject and with his usual wizardry Swierczynski creates a formidable, unforgettable heroine in a tale which has many surprises.

Best Classic American Crime Fiction:

The Big Heat: by William McGivern

This moody, hard-hitting tale of corruption involves a lone cop who goes rogue while following a violent path for revenge. Read the book. See the film. Gloria Grahame…. enough said.

The big heat

Best New American Fiction:

Eileen : Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen was one of the most interesting fiction books I read this year. Not sure what I expected with this one, but someone did a great job with the cover design which drew me to the book in the first place. This is the story of a strange, disconnected young woman who works at a local prison as an office worker. With a horrible home life and no social life whatsoever, something has to give for Eileen, and just what sets her free is the substance of this marvelous, dark tale.

eileen

Best Australian Fiction:

Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop: Amy Witting. A sequel to I for Isobel, Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop is set in a TB sanitorium, and Isobel, ill, stuck in bed, is forced to interact with people she likes as well as those she dislikes. This is a heroine we cheer for as she finds a place for herself in an institution, and receives more kindness from strangers than she ever received from her family. People who’ve never been given love, aren’t sure how to receive it, and Witting knows just how to create this on paper. Read both novels.

Best New British Fiction:

A Pleasure and a Calling: Phil Hogan. Regular readers of this blog know that I have a fondness for unreliable narrators. Phil Hogan’s novel is told by a middle-aged, successful estate agent– trustworthy, respectable, reliable…  but is he?… cross this man and your life will suddenly take a turn for the worse. Wickedly funny and dark, this book is nothing less than creepily delightful.

a pleasure and a callling

Best Reprinted British Fiction:

A View of the Harbour: Elizabeth Taylor

I read two Elizabeth Taylor novels this year, both from NYRBs–A Game of Hide and Seek and A View of the Harbour. A View of the Harbour, IMO, was the better novel. Perhaps the seaside setting helped, but overall, I found the characters in A View of the Harbour much more interesting.

Best new Crime Series: Glasgow Underworld Trilogy by Malcolm Mackay

The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter

How a Gunman Says Goodbye

The Sudden Arrival of Violence

A punchy trilogy… but wait… Now there’s Every Night I dream of Hell which includes some of the same characters. Will we see this series extended?

Best Irish Crime Fiction:

Gun Street Girl: Adrian McKinty. Sean Duffy struggles with an open-and-shut case which reeks of a staged crime.

Best Scottish Fiction:

For the Love of Willie: Agnes Owens

I’m a long-term fan of the criminally under-appreciated Scottish author Agnes Owens; she hasn’t written a great deal but if you pick a book by Owen, you can’t go wrong.   For the Love of Willie is narrated by a woman who lives in a mental hospital, and regular readers of this blog know that I have a fondness for this type of setting. Draw your own conclusions.

for the love of willie

Bext French Crime Fiction:

Vertigo: Pierre Boileau & Thomas Narejac. This two writers, working as a collaborative team, wrote crime with the idea that the ‘nightmare would never end’ for the protagonist. Most of us have seen the Hitchcok film made from the book, but there are many differences, so crime fans shouldn’t miss this. This is one of the titles in the very impressive, new Pushkin Press Vertigo line.

Funniest Book:

Crane Mansions: Gert Loveday

I don’t normally go for books featuring children, but I’ll read anything Gert Loveday writes. This mischievous tale involves a child who ends up at Crane Mansions, Regulatory School for the Indigent. If you think this sounds like a horrible place, you’d be right, but this very funny tale subverts all reader expectations.

crane mansions

Best reread:

Birds of the Air: Alice Thomas Ellis. I never tire of this book. A wonderful story of grief, secrets and family relationships.

A novel I meant to read for a long time:

Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand: Franz Werfel. The story of a successful bureaucrat who is forced to revisit the sins of his past.

Pale Blue Ink

Best Short Story Collection:

Marseille Noir . Crime stories which give the flavor of this city. I moved from watching the French-Belgian film The Connection to reading about crime in Marseille. Review to follow.

marseille noir

 

 

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Filed under Dostoevsky, Fiction, Garner Helen, Hogan Phil, Loveday Gert, Mackay Malcolm, McGivern William P, McKinty Adrian, Moshfegh Eileen, Owens Agnes, Swierczynski Duane, Taylor, Elizabeth, Werfel Franz, Witting Amy

Crane Mansions: A Novel About the Redeeming Power of Cake by Gert Loveday

After reading about the hilarious doings at a writer’s workshop in Gert Loveday’s Writing is Easy, I decided to read Crane Mansions even though Crane Mansions didn’t sound at all like the usual thing I’d read. I tried this tale on the strength of the author’s (actually–authors–‘Gert Loveday’ is really sister writing team, Joan Kerr and Gabrielle Daly) other book, and I was not disappointed. Complete with dastardly villains, a mystery orphan, and a lost inheritance, this is the sort of tale you might find starring that adorable curly-headed tot, Shirley Temple–I’m thinking of the 1939 film, The Little Princess in which Sara Crewe (Shirley Temple) is left at a girls’ school while her soldier father toddles off to Africa & the Siege of Mafeking. While The Little Princess shamelessly pulls out all the stops when it comes to manipulating the heartstrings, Crane Mansions isn’t a tearjerker. Instead it’s a marvelous, mischievous tale, heavy on laughs and the foibles of human beings.

crane mansionsCrane Mansions is essentially the story of  the orphan Millie Lord, one of the unfortunate children who lives at Crane Mansions, Regulatory School for the Indigent, a place as dreadful as it sounds.  The school, run with the “relentless exactitude” established by the school’s founder, Dr. Crane, is a horrible place where the children are ill-fed and taught the most useless garbage, pigeon-related axioms, which are somehow supposed to train them for the harsh realities of life outside of Crane Mansions. “The simple rules that were the underpinning of the Crane Mansions education: Stay Awake, Sit up Straight, Never Cry, and Know your place in the World.” Breakfast consists of a heavy starchy porridge so vile and tasteless, it could probably be patented as wallpaper paste.  Now the school is run by the founder’s son, the “second Dr. Crane.” While influenced by his father’s “harsh regime,” the younger Dr. Crane brings “the spirit of Poetic Inspiration” to the school from “his adored, long-lost Little Mummy’s tales of fairies, ducklings changing into swans, children changing into bluebirds, through his youthful passion for the works of William Blake.”

While Dr Crane doesn’t question how his father ran the school, neither can he be bothered with “the details,” and so he accedes power to two of The Leaders–schoolmasters Marcel Hogue and Odell Vincent while Dr. Crane, “a scholar, a seer, a visionary” uses his telescope to observe the nesting pigeons and scribble notes about their behaviour. “Pigeonnic Augury” is Dr. Crane’s “entire life,” and he’s obsessed with pigeons, convinced that he is “advancing closer and closer to the Great Truth at the heart of things.”

Dr. Crane isn’t a bad man by any means but “he’s a “rolled-gold nutcase. He couldn’t even peel a banana without help.” Crane just accepts the status quo of the school’s harsh regime and its torturous  exercise programme established by his father while his interests lead his meandering thoughts away from the conditions in which the children live. As the novel continues, it becomes apparent that Dr. Crane’s lack of attention, which may be simple avoidance, has led to bitter rivalry between the two school masters–cruise obsessed Marcel Hogue and inventor Odell Vincent, and it’s this rivalry which opens an anarchic crack into the established order of Crane Mansions.

With a wonderful, engaging cast of characters, Crane Mansions follows the fortunes of Millie Lord who’s plagued with dreams of a former life and gifted with shards of memories. While Millie Lord is a good girl with a strong sense of right and wrong, she defends other, weaker children, and yet her behaviour is seen as aberrant by the schoolmasters (and the lowly schoolmistress) who are really much more comfortable with the sneaky, sly, corruptible or stupid children such as Gertrude Shelton, Ned Parcher & Giles Snedhawk.

I’m not going to say too much about the plot, but I have to discuss one of my favourite characters–a vengeful woman with an appetite for the High Life and her dream of her “own chat show on American TV” who reinvents herself with every spin of the wheel of fortune: Trish Monroe aka Trish Vere de Vere’/Trish Rosskillies who uses men like toilet paper and flushes them away (what’s left of ’em) when they’re all used up. Here she is, posing as a good Samaritan, giving a couple of men a lift in her pink car:

Len took out a cigarette.

‘Ah, ah!’ said Trish roguishly, tapping a long pink fingernail on the hand-painted plaque attached to the dashboard. In flowing feminine handwriting, surrounded by flowers, it said, No smoking–unless it’s salmon!

‘Sorry darling,’ said Len, putting the ciggies away. ‘Filthy habit, I know.’

‘Then why not give it up?’

‘I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried!’

‘It’s just a question of putting your mind to it,’ said Trish. ‘I did.’

‘What a woman!’ said Len, turning to Eustace in the back seat with a wink.

Trish was clearly taken with Len, because not only did she drive them to the garage, she even drove them back to the car with the tin of petrol nursed on Len’s lap. Len stood by the car looking after it as the sequined number plate TRISH1 disappeared up the road.

Crane Mansions is its own closed, sluggish bizarre world, and like any other institution, its rules and regulations are not questioned until outsiders breach the walls. While Dr Crane lives in his own impenetrable ivory tower, there’s a very real world out there full of crooks and con men, and when the kitchen girl, Tibbie Clemons reunites with her estranged father, gambling man, Len, he uses this relationship (with a promise of a new life in Australia) as a segue into Crane Mansions in order to steal the secret project under development by Odell Vincent. Since this is very much an archetypal tale, good will eventually triumph over bad, and everyone will get what they deserve–not what they think they deserve.

In terms of literary comparisons, I saw the name Roald Dahl, but I’d also throw in the Lemony Snicket books–although I think Crane Mansions is superior. This is really a very, very funny story–a beguiling blend of Victorianism with the temptations of the modern world–at one point for example, perennial maneater Trish gets a schoolboy drunk. It’s not easy to create believable villains who are both a credible threat and a source of humour, but Gert Loveday manages to create several wicked characters here in this well-paced tale which tackles the idea that children must be raised with love and imagination–not deprivation and useless axioms, and a couple of the school’s graduates are prime examples of the twisted message received from a Crane Mansions’ education.  But this is essentially a tale with multiple moral messages which include the issue of the abdication of responsibility–parental and otherwise, for an abdication of one’s responsibilities leaves a gap for the opportunistic to slip in….

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Gert Loveday Interview

Recently, Emma left a comment regarding writing team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French who together produce the phenomenally successful Nicci French novels. Emma wondered “how writers write books together. Do they bounce on each other’s idea? Take turns to write chapters? How do they compromise to have the same vision of their characters?” All good questions which unfortunately I couldn’t answer. After finishing Writing is Easy, an extremely funny book which pokes fun at that holy bastion of the writing community–the writing workshop, Emma’s questions were still fresh, and so I asked writing team, Australian sisters Joan Kerr and Gabrielle Daly, who together write under the name Gert Loveday, for an interview. And here it is:

writing is easy1. Who is Gert Loveday?

Gert Loveday is actually two people, the Daly sisters, Joan (Kerr) and Gabrielle.

2.       What motivated you to start writing together?

Joan had been writing for a long time. As children, she and our brother, the immortal “Denis Kodaly” (who will be appearing shortly on our blog) composed a long oral history of a place called Arrapamatta with characters such as Mary Biffy and Rort K. Bugbear. Both of us at different times took honours degrees in English at Melbourne University. Quite some years later, Joan began publishing poetry and then short stories. Gabrielle moved to Singapore and studied memoir, haibun and haiku online with the wonderful Allegra Wong from WOTN. Joan attended one of the Canadian writing-teacher Barbara Turner-Vesselago’s Australian workshops and encouraged Gabrielle to do so. We got highly useful encouragement and feedback from Barbara, who is quite miraculous in the way she frees up the imagination. We learned about NaNoWriMo, and had no difficulty achieving the required 50,000 words in a month. Gabrielle then got the idea that by writing 1500 words a day each we could write a 100,000-word novel in a month, sharing the work.

3.       Although you’ve written 5 novels, Writing is Easy is the first to appear on the kindle. Please tell us about your other novels.

The first is Crane Mansions: a story about the redeeming power of cake, set in Crane Mansions Regulatory School for the Children of the Indigent, run by the headmaster Dr Crane in line with pigeonnic augury and the poetry of Blake. Gabrielle was on a Wilkie Collins bender at the time, so it has something of that tone. The orphaned heiress Millie Lord goes through many vicissitudes, as do a large cast of adult characters who are involved, as is usual with Gert, in a range of bizarre schemes and plots of their own. Writing is Easy is our second book. Then we have The Art of the Possible, about political skullduggery and bureaucratic doublespeak, a wonder youth drug, reality TV and the Norse saga. The Lies and Life of Bella Hatherley is told by a little girl who isn’t sure if she’s a liar or just has a very good imagination. Although she is something of a fantasist she is basically level-headed and has a difficult prima donna of a fashion-conscious mother to manage. The last book we wrote and have just rewritten is a nameless book about the effects of a charismatic guru on a cast of characters in a country town. We still don’t like it much. We’ve also had a go at a sort of YA fantasy novel which is a bit of a mess.

 All quite different, as you can see.

4.       Why did you decide to self-publish?

 We had interest in Crane early on from a prominent literary agent but she felt there was a problem in having a child as a central character in a book for adults (difficult marketing, they said) and wanted us to recast it for children. We did have a go, but our hearts weren’t in it. Writing is Easy was shortlisted for a Varuna Publisher Fellowship and was read by another publisher, but wasn’t taken up. We have a lot of confidence in our writing. We know it doesn’t have a mass market but we do think it has one. The novelist Dorothy Johnston told us about the ASA Authors Unlimited program, where they convert the book to e-formats for a reasonable price and put it up for sale on their website. Then you can get a distributor to put it out to Amazon, Kobo and so on. We decided to go for it, wanting to have a book out there that might create a taste for Gert’s writing

 5.       What is the hardest about self-publishing?

 Getting your book noticed in the mountain of other self-published books! There’s a huge learning curve involved in trying to do that. But the positive side is that we could put out the book exactly as we wanted it.

 6.        I’m fascinated by the idea that two people co-write a book. What is your process?

We write by email taking turns. For our first book we drew up a few names from our junk mail – Eustace Pugh, Hubert Crane, Tibbie Clemons. Somehow we thought of Millie Lord, our protagonist. Gabrielle had a dream about pigeons and we were away. Gabrielle wrote the first 1500 words, Joan followed on as best she could, and the game began. No matter what perplexity was served up one had to take it and run with it. The story had no preordained plot, it truly grew itself. We rushed to our computers every day wanting to know what had befallen the characters since our last writing.

We had so much fun and were so amazed at what had come out of our imaginations that we went on. For the subsequent books, again we had a vague idea but the path grew with the writing. For Writing is Easy we initially had the idea of a vain actor, but he turned out to be Marcus. Joan started that one off. For Art of the Possible we put some of our Old Norse to work in the main character, the dreamy Dr Frank Owlbrother, who loves the Viking comics of a certain Snorri Sturlusson from Schenectady. We have always followed this approach. Some preliminary chat and laughter and off we go. We write a minimum of 1500 words each every day until the first draft is done. Then, and only then, it’s time to read the whole thing and revise.

7.       Do you ever have differences of opinion about the plot or the characters? If so, how is this resolved?

Sometimes a character is heading in a direction one of us doesn’t like. We’ll talk about that over the phone (even though Gabrielle is back in Australia we live in different cities), and then as we go on with the first draft we tweak the character. With plot, if one of us doesn’t want the plot to go there, she’ll do something to turn it back. We might talk about that if the other really doesn’t want to go there. We never reach an impasse. Part of it is being prepared to kill your own darlings.

8.       Writing is Easy is set at an eight-day writer’s workshop. Towards the end of Writing is Easy, one of your characters has the thought: “The way I see it is, you can either write to you can’t.” Would you comment on that?

Writing is not easy! Many people want to ‘be writers’ but don’t really want or know how to lay the groundwork. (We love people who say, as Mandy does in Writing is Easy, ‘If I had time, I could write a book.’). It is possible with the help of people like Allegra Wong and Barbara Turner-Vesselago to lift your work to another level, but there is a spark some people have and others don’t. And you can improve by working at your writing but only if technical exercises bring out or free up something that’s already there. So, yes, we probably do think there’s an essential quality that separates okay writers from really interesting ones. And of course, reading, reading, reading is essential. We have a lifelong habit of reading – excessively, some might say.

9.       Which authors are your influences? I’d compare your humour to Elizabeth Jolley. Any thoughts?

Elizabeth Jolley not so much. It could be having two central characters who are “misses” that gives that impression. One of our all-time favourites is James Hamilton-Paterson’s great book Cooking with Fernet Branca. Then there’s Lucky Jim (though not so many of Kingsley’s later books), Muriel Spark, especially Memento Mori, and PamelaBranch. Flann O’Brien. And we grew up reading the classic comic writers in our father’s library: Wodehouse, Stephen Leacock, S.J. Perelman, J. B. Morton, Punch, Thurber, Patrick Campbell. We’re always looking for new comic writers and don’t find many.

10. On your blog http://gertloveday.wordpress.com/ you mention ‘GERT’ as though she is a separate entity. In Siri Hustvedt’s novel, The Blazing World, a female artist uses 3 successive men as “masks” for her work, and she acknowledges in each case she “insisted that the pseudonym she adopted changed the character of the art she made. In other words, the man she used as a mask played a role in the kind of art she produced: each artist mask became for Burden a ‘poetized personality,’ a visual elaboration of a hermaphroditic self which cannot be said to belong to either her or to the mask, but to a mingled reality created between the two of them.” How does that quote relate, if at all, to your creation of Gert Loveday? Is Gert a “mingled reality created between” Joan Kerr and Gabrielle Daly?

Gert is Gert. We both have other writing identities in different forms, but we have a sense of Gert, or a Gertish way of looking at things. She looks like Elinor Bron, with wild white curly hair. We think she smokes (we would never do that) and she has an Irish wolfhound. She is at once much freer and more ruthless than we are. So she feels separate.

11.   What are your writing plans for the future?

We go on. Over the next few years we’d like to publish the three books we’re happy with. We’ll go on working on the guru book, and there is another book floating round in the ether about frauds (or freuds, as Gert prefers to call them). We’re really enjoying our blog and we’d like to build on that. Then there’s poetry, and short stories that we write individually. We’ve never wanted to do nothing but write. It’s just one of the many things we like to do. But it is playing a bigger and bigger part in our lives these days.

Thanks Joan and Gabrielle. I’m waiting for your next novel.

 

 

 

 

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Writing is Easy by Gert Loveday

“He would get her to write the kind of novels women loved, about families and children and losing weight and finding themselves. Joanna Trollope for the younger woman.”

One of the strangest questions I remember from my days of ‘higher education’ came from a very confused man who asked: “where do poets go to live?” How does one answer such a question? Should the reply have been the knee-jerk response? : If you have to ask you’ll never be a poet, moron. Or is the true question to be found in why he thought poets had to go anywhere? After all, it’s not as though poetry  (and talent) rubs off through proximity or collective subconscious. But hold that thought…. What about writing workshops?

writing is easyGert Loveday’s hilarious novel, Writing is Easy, is set at a writer’s workshop–a workshop conducted by two published authors who occupy opposite ends of the publishing spectrum. On one end, there’s sturdy, bossy Lilian Bracegirdle, a showy, pretentious performance poet with a “couple of impenetrable experimental novels” to her credit, and on the other end is Marcus Goddard, a man who broke into the literary scene with a brilliant first book, and ever since then he’s churned out a series of salacious “unspeakable potboilers.” According to one hostile critic, Marcus’  latest novel Never Turn Backreads like a hack version of Tess of the D’Urbervilles with a spot of Lawrentian stallion-business thrown in.” Both Lilian and Marcus are haunted by their fabricated pasts. Lilian, whose real name in Lois Hoggett, would really like to be some sort of ethereal creature, but in reality, she’s from “a sturdy farming family in New Zealand,”and she can’t ever seem to shake off the influence of T.S. Eliot. Lilian’s hidden past, however, seems only trivial next to Marcus’ secrets.

Arch-enemies Lilian and Marcus, both frauds in their own way approach the workshop with a separate agenda. Marcus has some nasty secrets from Lilian’s past he intends to amuse himself with, but mostly he just wants to lounge around and booze for 8 days and leave the work to Lilian. So with Lilian and Marcus setting the pace for the 8-day writer’s workshop, a handful of would-be writers pay the big bucks hoping to get advice, have their mostly horrible work critiqued, and with any luck at all, land a hook-up in the publishing world. Lilian and Marcus are both accompanied by their assistants: the long-suffering, stalwart Marjorie (with her “fetching little moustache,“), general dogsbody and companion for Lilian, and the sly, opportunistic Lester who works for Marcus.

But what of the hopeful, would-be writers, those poor sods who scraped up the money for an eight day workshop thinking that they might actually learn something useful? There’s Desma Brooks, a perennial attendee who’s trying to write a family history and  “hadn’t worked out by now that no one would ever, no one could ever, want to read her family saga based in meticulous research into every last packet of biscuits of the shelves of her great grandfather’s grocery store.” Then there’s Rex Random, an accountant who compensates for his hum-drum life by writing a cheesy crime novel, Broads and Booze, and imagining that he’s the next Raymond Chandler.  Also attending is housewife Marilyn Boots, writer of sentimental crap, who has managed to escape her abusive husband for 8 days. Attractive Helen West, protégée of mousy Trader Cheeseman (author of Sicko Psycho and Hangmeat) is also attending the workshop thanks to the grant she’s received, and the final attendee is John Brow, a fitness fanatic who only eats raw vegetables, who’s given himself a week to write his book, and who refuses to sit down as he believes that this is against primal man’s natural state and “blocks the intestines.”

The workshop is held at Gagebrook, an exclusive Australian country resort run by husband and wife team, Andrew and Mandy. Andrew rules the kitchen dreaming up gourmet meals for guests who don’t appreciate his talents, and while Andrew throws a few fits about his kitchen and his cooking, Mandy, Andrew, and worker Janie are the ‘normal’ people who are appalled by the behaviour of the writers and the workshop attendees.

One of the first things Lilian does after gathering the workshop attendees is to establish the hierarchy through her authority and reputation as a published author. Here’s Lilian Bracegirdle giving one of her performances about the “pathos of beginnings” and “the confusion of identities” which seems to be more a precursor to a séance:

The students shifted in their seats and exchanged glances as Lilian, her back to the audience began to make peculiar huffing and hissing noises. Janie stood near the door so she could hear Mandy if she called her. Lilian hurled her body down on the floor. Lying on her back, she closed her eyes and raised her arms at right angles above her head. She let out a long howl, “Aaaaaaahhhhh, oooooohhhhh, aaaaahhhh.” Her voice rose and fell, deafeningly loud, then  a tiny whisper. She kicked her legs. Janie thought she might be pretending to be a baby, but her voice was more like a siren. She went on and on. Janie’s ears were ringing. Lilian’s dress was riding up over her knees showing long pink knickers over the top of her tights. Just when Janie thought she couldn’t bear it any longer Lilian turned over onto her hands and knees, crawled to an armchair and dragged herself to her feet. She stood swaying, her arms held out in front of her like a sleepwalker. What did it mean? It was like a kind of charade. Lilian began to speak very quickly.

“Are you there, are you there, are you there, number please who are you number please are you there no don’t know don’t no don’t.”

She was really getting going now. It was like a steam engine getting started then going faster and faster and all the time Lilian was babbling.

“No oh no are you there no number please who whom who.”

Some words were very loud, Now she was marching up and down. Janie worried she would knock over a table. Helen and Rex had their hands over their mouths. John was looking at his watch, Marilyn had her mouth open in amazement, and Desma was nodding. Janie couldn’t take her eyes off Lilian. She kept on chattering more and more rapidly until it all sounded like one word, “Areyounumberwhononowho?” and her voice sank to a whisper. Then she opened her eyes put her arms by her side and let out an earsplitting shriek.

Apart from a short section post-workshop which follows the lives of the characters, most of the book covers the chaos which ensues at the workshop with Lilian trying to get Marcus to work, Marcus trying to avoid work, John Brow deciding that fat, out-of-shape authors make great guinea pigs for his fitness regime, and the workshop attendees who try their best to actually get their work critiqued. Throw into this mix blackmail, rivalry, really bad writing, and a few attempts at murder, and the result is a hilariously funny book.

As the days continue, tension mounts, behaviour disintegrates, and every evening the group gets together over dinner, there seems to be some sort of rampage; the fondue for example, brings out the very worst in everyone. While the book is consistently very funny (and it’s no easy feat to maintain humour over the course of a book), there are two specific elements to the book that go beyond humour and are psychologically intriguing: Marcus and Lilian are held in a position of respect by the workshop attendees and by their hosts at Gagebrooke. This currency goes a long way, and Lilian and Marcus’ impressive history of publication offer them a layer of protection. So the set-up alone, without a word written, is a segue into the expectations we place on writers, who just because they write well don’t necessarily behave well.  As one of the attendees says: “I know writers like to think of themselves as bohemians,…, but that doesn’t mean they can’t behave decently.” Author vanity, a main target of the book’s humour, is just one of many poor character traits our published authors possess:

Several people opened notebooks and took out pens. Marcus began.

“Lilian tells me you have asked for a session on register today. This is an excellent starting-point. You may well have asked yourself, reading a novel, perhaps, indeed, even one of my own, what it is that gives this work such an authentic voice, such a sense that truth itself is speaking? One becomes oblivious to the fact that there is a writer’s mind behind it. Have you had that experience?”

“Oh yes,” said Desma. “That one of yours, you know the one about the crippled girl who falls in love with the neurosurgeon even though he’s responsible for her being crippled, honestly. I lived every second of that book.” She looked around at the others.

“I love that one, too,” said Marilyn, “and that book by Clough Gryffyd about the nun in Saudi Arabia.”

“I don’t believe I’ve read that,” said Marcus.

Author Gert Loveday isn’t afraid of playing with these characters, and there’s a no-holds-barred approach which approaches farce but yet manages to avoid it as the action at the workshop spirals out of control. Soon there’s “the prospect of an insurrection,” as the characters behave badly with marvelously funny results, but the genius here is while there are some very cruel truths revealed about workshops and their attendees, the author still manages to show generosity to her characters. We don’t completely dislike selfish Lilian or vain, pompous cheating Marcus even though they’re happy to take the money for the workshop while they secretly poke fun at the writing of the attendees. The reason we don’t dislike these two characters is that the author exacts revenge on them both through her plot. These two suffer, and we have a good laugh and a very satisfying read at their expense. I laughed out loud many many times, and while the fondue scene is a serious contender for the funniest part, Lilian reading as ‘inspiration’ I Drag My Way, the true story of how a woman dragged a sled with provisions across the desert for an insane explorer takes a close second place.

But underlying all the fun is the question whether or not writing can be taught, and certainly by the end of the novel all of the characters have come to various conclusions regarding whether or not the workshop was a waste of money.

The way I see it is, you can either write or you can’t.

Author Gert Loveday, in reality is writing team, Australian poet Joan Kerr and her sister, Gabrielle Daly, and Writing is Easy is the first novel they’ve published. Please let there be more….

 

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