Monthly Archives: October 2012

Craft of Writing Workshop

The Stanthorpe Writers Group hosted its ‘Craft of Writing’ workshop on Saturday 27th October 2012 and I am proud to say that it was a success. 

The grant was made possible through a Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF) grant, which is an initiative of the Queensland State Government and the Southern Downs Regional Council.

               

Here’s Councillor Jo McNally from the Southern Downs Regional Council launching the event:-

Jo had an enormous day ahead in Warwick for the rodeo so we consider ourselves very lucky that she made a supreme effort to fit us into her busy schedule. 

Our tutor Lee McGowan brought his gorgeous Scottish accent, together with his writing and teaching expertise, to the table.  His workshop was inspirational and entertaining.

 

We had 26 attendees (the aim was to cap it at 24…ah, the plans of mice and [wo]men) ranging in age from 13 up to…well, lets just say over seventy.  It was a good mix and I’m sure we all gained much from the experience.   

The workshop started with ‘Conquering the Blank Page’ before moving on to ‘Being Mean and Keeping them Keen’ (plot and structure).  After lunch (superbly catered by the Stanthorpe CWA), we delved into those murky and sometimes dangerous waters of dialogue, an area that many had flagged as being a difficult one.

The Arcadia Theatre is a terrific venue for movie-themed parties and for corporate events.  What a treat for us to hold our workshop there, with its lovely plush leather seats and big screen.  Unfortunately, my camera played up (or was it the operator?) and I can’t show the Theatre off in its full glory.  Hopefully, other workshop participants will have some good shots to send through.

 

On behalf of the Stanthorpe Writers Group, I’d like to thank Vince Catanzaro (owner of the Arcadia Theatre) who continues to provide a fabulous room for the monthly Stanthorpe Writers Group meetings.  We also thank Vincenzo’s at the Big Apple  and Pyramids Road Wines  for their generous donations which helped us in presenting a welcoming antipasto platter and wine to our tutor and his wife upon arrival, and also a ‘Thank You’ basket with predominantly local produce.  

As I have mentioned in the press in the lead up to this event, we country writers and aspiring writers don’t have the opportunities that are on the doorstep of our metropolitan counterparts (I might also add that there are many benefits to living in the country, not least of which is the tranquillity to write).  Workshops of this calibre can be an expensive exercise in themselves and when you add travel expenses and sometimes accommodation, they can be out of reach for many.  Let’s hope the RADF continue to offer this type of funding and that we’ll always find a tireless band of committee members to pull it all together.

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Lola Bensky by Lily Brett: Book Review

A glance at the cover blurb would at first suggest an easy categorisation for Lola Bensky. A high-school dropout rock journalist obsessed with diets might slot in as young adult fiction but, continue to read the blurb and you will see we are heading back to those wild rock days of the late sixties; of Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix and Mama Cass. 

Ah, right, you think.  It should appeal to those popular-culture junkies of a certain age who would have loved to share a drink with Jagger or talk to Janis Joplin about sex.

But categorisation – in this instance – just isn’t that easy.

 I’m going to start with some things I liked about Lola Bensky.

                Lola is self-deprecating, confused and more than a little awkward (a la Bridget Jones) and that makes her endearing.  It is easy to sympathise with a fat girl in fishnet tights whose self-worth has been battered by a thoughtless mother and an unforgiving society, even as we envy her sitting opposite Jimi Hendrix:

He had a slow gaze and a languid half-smile.  His lips made lazy, playful movements when he spoke.  (3)

                As a young journalist surrounded by hedonists, Lola can be thoughtful and insightful.  ‘Smashing’ was a much-used word at the time but Lola found it confronting.  ‘It had an inbuilt violence that bothered her’. (44)

                The voyeurist in me enjoyed reading about Mick Jagger’s ‘slow and leisurely’ movement about his apartment (yes, it is fiction but I think I might be forgiven for assuming some authenticity, given the author’s experience) and accompanying Barry Gibb on a four-suit shopping spree.

But, there were a number of things that left me cold, so here’s the flip side:-

 Let’s start with the voice:
                It’s a juvenile voice that speaks to us in staccato sentences which might have worked wonderfully well if Lola was interviewing the likes of ‘One Direction’ and lending false eyelashes to Katy Perry instead of Cher.  But those of us interested in Jagger, Hendrix and Jim Morrison, are probably looking for a little more meat in our literary sandwiches.  The repetition of names in full becomes tired after the first couple of pages and, by the final pages, I thought if I had to read ‘Lola Bensky’ one more time, I might just scream.

 Then there’s the duelling subject matters:-
                Lola goes from the light fluffiness of musing on Jagger’s ‘scruffy, rebellious, lawless, licentious, bad boy’ demeanour and asking him about his reportedly depraved behaviour to – in the next paragraph – her mother’s [too vivid] recollections of rape and violation at the hands of the Gestapo.  I would have preferred reading about one or the other, the two together didn’t work for me. Maybe I’m wrong; perhaps other readers might find the shock value is increased by this strange juxtaposition.   

 The Style
                ‘Show, don’t tell,’ is a popular maxim in writing workshops and courses.  It doesn’t always need to be the case (sometimes brilliant writers are so good at the ‘telling’, that’s what we want from them) but, I think it is a safe bet to say readers should not be subjected to both.

He whined about the quality of pop music. ‘There’s no quality in pop music.’ (29)

 Editing
                You might think a journalist of Brett’s apparent experience would be aware of words like ‘that’ creeping into places where they just shouldn’t be.  And even if Brett missed them, a good Editor should have struck them out.
                ‘How he got the sounds that he did…’ would have worked fine without ‘that’ (How he got the sounds he did) especially when another one follows almost immediately. ‘Lola had asked him the question because she knew that there were readers of…’  Take out ‘that’ and it’s a smoother sentence.

 And what about the genre?
                Lily Brett was a journalist in the era she has chosen to plonk Lola Bensky.  Presumably some of Lola’s experiences are drawn on Brett’s own so I can’t help but wonder how much more I might have enjoyed a memoir from this author.  I can only imagine that libel or defamation laws made it necessary to couch her words in fiction.  Perhaps too, living through the sixties surrounded by rock stars, could leave one’s memories a little hazy so better to tell a few tall stories than command truth.

At times, Brett shows she is capable of writing with insight and style.  Snatches of it shine through in Lola Bensky, like the description of downtown New York, with it’s ‘thin coating of something less than wholesome’ (65) and a moody Jim Morrison unbuttoning his shirt:

He looked as though he not only wanted to shed his clothes, but would have liked to remove his skin. (100)

Lola Bensky is an odd-ball of a book, difficult to categorise and repetitious.  I never warmed to its central character and, given that I found the blurb so enticing, I was personally disappointed.

BOOK DETAIL:
Brett, Lily. Lola Bensky, Penguin Group (Australia), Melbourne, 2012.
ISBN 9-781926-428475

 

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