Tag Archives: Writing

MY MOTHER, MY WRITING AND ME by Iola Mathews: Book Review

It’s worth reading this review at ANZ LitLovers so you can read Lisa Hill’s comments as well.

As I turned the last page of Iola Mathews’ 2009 Memoir, I was struck by how apt the word order in the title is.  Despite the author’s honest protestations and the occasional fight against it, her Mother came first.  Then, because of Mathews’ obvious love of the written word and a strong desire to simply put pen to paper, writing took a firm second place.  In third place (or fourth, had the author chosen to insert ‘family’ into the title) is simply ‘Me’.

Iola Mathews

There is a tendency with Memoir to tell too much, to feel a need to explain something in depth which might otherwise be glossed over in fiction and Mathews does face this dilemma in the first third of the book, even letting us in on the struggle with: Who the hell are you to tell people about yourself? This is pure self-indulgence. (24) The author, a former Age journalist, told Richard Fidler in a 2009 ABC interview that it is confronting for a journalist to talk about themselves and she admits she felt great embarrassment during the process.   (audio or podcast available here if you are interested). In the interview, Mathews talks quite extensively about her “mid-life crisis”, something she believes we all have to face (personally I don’t agree with her on the inevitability of it).

I found the latter two-thirds of this memoir to be written more freely, the author looking outward, less intent on her inner thoughts, although an occasional phrase jolted (‘angry time bomb’ (26), ‘my heart jumped up and down in my chest’ (46)) and the inner dialogue between the author and her ‘Demon’ (we all have one) is a little clunky.

Elsewhere, a writer’s life is deftly illuminated.  A friend of Mathews has this phrase: ‘It’s easy to write, you just stare at the screen until your head bleeds.’ (167) which I think is an adulteration of a Hemingway quote.  When reading about the writers’ studio Mathews visited in the hills north of Melbourne, I pencilled in the margin next to the author’s fond description of a wisteria-covered courtyard, Australian bush paintings and Persian rugs, “a room of one’s own?” Lo and behold, the next chapter starts off with a reference to that famous Virginia Woolf essay.

In the chapter titled ‘Religion’, Mathews seems to have warmed up, as she relates to the beauty in the everyday: a warm, light garden, ‘the sun filtering through the large oak trees that spread over the front lawn’ (96), the moon reflecting on Regent’s Canal in London seizing her ‘with a moment of pure beauty and pure happiness’ (103).  And throughout the book the author nails the procrastination and avoidance that can sometimes be the writer’s life: filing one’s nails, making cups of tea and watering plants – the minutiae of daily life gnawing into what should be writing time.

There’s some comic relief too.  Admiring her mother’s new walking frame, Mathews lifts the padded seat to check what’s in the basket: ‘a romance novel, a clean handkerchief and a bottle of gin’ (112).  Later, in a moment of solidarity, a friend of Matthews relates this little tale about her own mother who has Alzheimer’s:

‘After dinner my mother always says, “I think I’ll have a little Scotch before I go to bed.” I say “good idea,” and she has the Scotch and washes the glass and puts it away.  Then a few minutes later she sits up and says, “I think I’ll have a little Scotch before I go to bed.”  I say “good idea,” and she gets out the glass and has a Scotch, and washes the glass and puts it away.  Then a few minutes later she says, “I think I’ll have a little Scotch before I go to bed.”’ (161)

The author turns her journalistic eye toward the birthing process when present for the birth of her grandchild, giving us a fascinating insight into the labour, episiotomy and exhaustion that brought forth little Caleb.  I did have a chuckle though when I read that, as her daughter strained in the final stages, pushing with all her might, the author chose to place a hand on her shoulder and talk: ‘When I gave birth to Keir…’ (129). That might have been grounds for a slap in many a birthing room.

BOOK DETAIL
Mathews, Iola. My Mother, My Writing and Me: a memoir, Michelle Anderson Publishing, South Yarra, Vic. 2009.
ISBN: 978085572

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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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Get Thee to a Writers Group

I have been writing, in one way or another, for more years than I care to count.  During that time, I’ve dabbled on the outskirts of writing communities: a workshop here and there; an editing group, online courses; once, a writing circle via mail.  But I had never found the opportunity to be involved with a writers group, partly due to my penchant for living away from metropolitan areas for much of my adult life.

I would read with envy about writers spending weeks at retreats, days working on communal projects, evening soirees with like-minded souls but, as a full-time worker living away from the cosmopolitan enclaves of the city writers, such opportunities were harder to come by.

As friends and regular readers would know, I always refer to myself as a late bloomer so it probably comes as no surprise that I am finally turning up [very late] to the table of a writers group. In fact I formed the group myself and waited nervously on that first night, trying to anticipate and imagine the people who’d indicated they’d come along, wondering how we would all fit together.

What a delightful bunch they turned out to be!

Our Stanthorpe Writers Group is a band of a dozen at the moment (with room to grow a little) and we are a mixed bunch with poets, journos, short-story writers, a historical novelist and memoirist amongst our numbers. 

We have had some wonderful presentations by group members on subjects as diverse as research, characterisation and flash fiction.  I learn something new at every monthly meeting and I get great enjoyment in critiquing work by other writers and having my own pieces picked over.  It improves our writing enormously to have input and suggestions from others.

So, to come back to my headline, if I had one piece of advise for young writers it would be to Get Thee to a Writers Group immediately and soak up the information, advice and friendship.

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Congratulations ANZ LitLovers

Wonderful news.  My favourite Literary blog is also – as it turns out – the favourite of plenty of other people.

ANZ Litlovers has been nominated as one of the Top 5 Australian blogs  in the ‘Words’ Category.

That is exciting news in itself for me.  Lisa Hill works tirelessly in championing good Aussie writing.  She introduces us to writers with her ‘Meet an Aussie Author’ series (I had the privilege of being featured myself), participated in the Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize and The Shadow Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and posts fantastic reviews week after week (I confess that I am in awe of her reading and reviewing speed).

The finalists in all categories were published by The Australian.

I am also extremely chuffed … ahem … to see she gave me a lovely thank you on her post for my guest reviews which I have been extremely honoured to contribute. 

Congratulations to Lisa.  She deserves a big thanks from writers, publishers and readers for her hard work.

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Stanthorpe Writers Group

This coming week marks the inaugural meeting of what will hopefully become The Stanthorpe Writers Group*.

Thanks to an article in the Stanthorpe Border Post, I received interest from a dozen local writers who, as yet, I know very little about. 

I have gone no further than preparing a flyer on the best way to critique an author’s work (from a workshop I attended) as well as a rough agenda so that we can power through those necessary housekeeping items such as formats and themes for the meetings.

I am excited by the prospect of spending at least a few hours every month (with perhaps online and email contact in between) with like-minded people in my area so we can share tips, practice our craft and provide much needed encouragement to each other.

If anyone has advice on writing groups that I could pass on to the group, it would be very much appreciated.

*You will notice the absence of an apostrophe where writers should be writers’.   I have always felt it looks somewhat cumbersome in a heading so I decided to opt for the Queensland Writers Centre example of leaving it out all together.

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Which Writer Wrote

Most of us will be feeling refreshed and sharp from the holidays so there are no clues for this week’s WWW.

I weighed up these women in my life and decided that none of them would fill the role of a mother.  But then, what did I know about mothers anyway?

Have a guess and check in on Sunday for the answer.

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Goodbye 2011

I apologise for my slackness over the Christmas period.  I have had limited internet access (not to mention lazy brain cells) and, whilst I have enjoyed the break, I am keen to get back into my writing world.
Days of my own company, walking along the beach, tumbling about in the waves, relaxing in the spa and generally spending time thinking have led me to reinforce my commitment to this crazy idea that I must put words to paper (or at least to a computer screen) so 2012 will see me writing with renewed vigour: continuing with my latest novel, writing more articles and short stories, reading more, reviewing and blogging.  What can I say? It’s what I do. 2011 has been a pretty good year but I have a feeling that 2012 will be even better.  As Kath and Kim would say… “I can feel it in my waters”. I hope all my followers, friends, families and loved ones stay safe and well and that 2012 brings fun, excitement and happiness.

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