Originally posted on Elizabeth Bryer:
I have a very short piece of fiction over at Seizure this week called ‘So here we,’:
she said, and the words stopped. And sometimes, he said, and you were; I know, she nodded, there’s no doubt I was. He sighed, she looked the other way.
You can read the rest over at Seizure Online. Big thanks to Lily Mei for the edit and Yiscah Symonds for the gorgeous artwork x
At a wedding on a lake near Nakenstorf in north-east Germany, I was talking with a guest from Berlin. I had to see B-movie, about Berlin in the 1980s, he said. I enthused about his compatriot, author Jenny Erpenbeck; he typed her name into his phone. We talked politics, economics – it was one of those conversations that are a joy wherever they venture.
Later, he found me and handed over a pen and paper: what were the five novels I thought everyone should read? Swoon! I hadn’t realised that request right there was a secret fantasy until I was living it.
We ended up narrowing it down not to what I thought others should read (blergh) but to my five favourite Australian works of fiction. Of course, even wording it this way, I had to balance which works might be representative for an international audience with availability of work outside Australia and what constitutes ‘fiction’ (for one of the titles, in particular). This is what I came up with, presented here in alphabetical order:
- Benang, Kim Scott
- Dog Boy, Eva Hornug
- House of Exile, Evelyn Juers
- Look Who’s Morphing, Tom Cho
- The Plains, Gerald Murnane
Looking over the list now, I’m not sure that I’d change it, though I’m still wrestling with a few close contenders. It’s idiosyncratic, and by living authors only, but I like it this way.
See what you come up with when limiting the list to five for a hypothetical international reader – not so easy, is it?
On another note in case you’re interested, I’ve put some pics from a recent writing residency in Saint Petersburg up on my new site x
She looked out at the country mushrooming on the other side of the glass. She knew what it contained, its colors, the penury and the opulence, hazy memories of a less cynical time, villages emptied of men. But on contemplating the tense stillness of the night, the darkness dotted here and there with sparks, on sensing that insidious silence, she wondered, vaguely, what the hell might be festering out there: what grows and what rots when you’re looking the other way. p. 33
There is one short passage on same-sex marriage that seemed out of place but, other than that, this is a perfect book; it says so much in such a short space and in such a feisty, immediate way. I’m in love with the gutsy adolescent protagonist, whose journey across the border to rescue her brother is so now and so mythic at once.
You can get a copy (and support an amazing small publisher) here.
You might remember I wrote a blog post on Robert McFarlane’s The Old Ways where I got ridiculously excited about that book’s glossary. Well, now McFarlane has written an article for The Guardian about exactly what in that glossary thrilled me: a lexicon of landscape. Highly recommended for word/nature nerds. It begins like so:
Eight years ago, in the coastal township of Shawbost on the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis, I was given an extraordinary document. It was entitled “Some Lewis Moorland Terms: A Peat Glossary”, and it listed Gaelic words and phrases for aspects of the tawny moorland that fills Lewis’s interior. Reading the glossary, I was amazed by the compressive elegance of its lexis, and its capacity for fine discrimination: a caochan, for instance, is “a slender moor-stream obscured by vegetation such that it is virtually hidden from sight”, while a feadan is “a small stream running from a moorland loch”, and a fèith is “a fine vein-like watercourse running through peat, often dry in the summer”. Other terms were striking for their visual poetry: rionnach maoim means “the shadows cast on the moorland by clouds moving across the sky on a bright and windy day”; èit refers to “the practice of placing quartz stones in streams so that they sparkle in moonlight and thereby attract salmon to them in the late summer and autumn”, and teine biorach is “the flame or will-o’-the-wisp that runs on top of heather when the moor burns during the summer”.
One note: meuse is an English dialect noun for “the gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal”. Something like this is what I needed last week, hiking in Tasmania’s The Walls of Jerusalem with J, when we found, time and again, we were at a loss to describe phenomena in the landscape. (There, the word I needed was for the gaps through low-lying prickle bushes forged by Bennett’s wallabies, a sub-species of the red-necked wallaby.) Here is the one photo I could take with my about-to-die phone:
We know from our living experience that our present moments—this moment—has all the possibilities of the future still in it. None of us prescribes the reality we live in. None of us controls the consequences of our actions. None of us can predict with absolute certainty anybody else’s reaction to the simplest gesture, the clearest sign, the most definite word. But we have to cope with these ambivalences, interpreting these never-ending possibilities. Hindsight, on the other hand, reduces all possibilities in the past to one. Hindsight leaches out not all our uncertainties, but all the past’s uncertainties. Hindsight closes down our imagination. In hindsight we do not see the past as it actually was, only as it would have been if all its uncertainties were taken away. Hindsight freezes the frame of every picture of the past. Hindsight removes all the processes of living. Makes the past our puppet.
Our imagination, to see the past as it actually was, has to return to the past its own present, with all the possibilities of its future still in it, with all its uncertainties, will all its inconsequentialities. Imagination restores independence to the past by showing how partially it can be know. Imagination humbles the author in any of us to accept what we cannot know or cannot say.
— pp. 210–211, ‘Empowering Imaginations’ in Readings/Writings, Greg Dening.
This post isn’t easy to write, but being honest is the least I can do for those who have dropped by this blog for time to time or have read it regularly (if you fall into one of those categories of people, thank you).
Here’s the thing: I don’t want this space to turn into somewhere I post pieces of news dressed up as blog content. Last year, those kinds of posts were becoming more frequent — not necessarily because there was more news, I hasten to add, but because my loyalty to the blog was waning, and my enthusiasm for the weekly posting routine was ebbing away. But I’ve noticed the pattern and this is me saying, A-ha, I see you and now that I do, no more.
So, here it is: this blog is not far away from its fifth birthday, but before that happens I’m going to let it quietly settle into the happy swamp of internet oblivion. There will still be occasional posts when the urge strikes, but I will no longer be holding to the once-a-week regularity.
I have created a website for future pieces of news, as well as extracts from published work — www.elizabethkbryer.com — and, because of this, won’t post news here. What I will continue to post here, intermittently, are thoughts on books, films and theatre. I know not as many people will see them — how quickly the page views drop away when we don’t post regularly (and fair enough, too) — but I like the idea of still being able to voice something urgent into the ether, even if that voice is a whisper picked up on a coded frequency by only the most dedicated of ham-radio operators in south Siberia.
Some statistics for those of you who like your info in numbers: this is the 190th post, and there have been 335 comments. (If you’re like me, you’ll think, A number! Interesting! Not sure what that means…)
Thank you for reading. Thanks for your patience with my oftentimes long-winded posts. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts in the comments. You’ve made me feel very welcome in the blogosphere and I wouldn’t change the hours spent blogging for anything (numbers people: that’s 756 hours, I estimate, which equates to about 1 month of those almost 5 years).
What will I be doing with the approximately 4 hours per week? Working to save for an adventure set to start mid-year. Writing. More writing. Translating. More details on all of that over at the other site soon.