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Book Review: ‘Room Service’ by Frank Moorhouse May 27, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, Reviews.
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I’m a big fan of comic writings and I have been reading a fair bit recently because I am trying to write a comedic novel myself.  One of the recommendations from my supervisor was Frank Moorhouse, a gifted Australian writer I can certainly learn from.

I picked up one of the thinnest Moorhouse books I could find from the library, Room Service, a collection of short stories and essays first published in 1985 and predominantly featuring Moorehouse’s alter ego, Francois Blase.

Room Service is seriously funny stuff, particularly the first few pieces.  Blase is a quirky, neurotic, somewhat disturbed individual who gets himself into bizarre and compromising situations.  In many ways he reminds me of a less abrasive, classier George Constanza or Larry David, both of whom I adore.

The first piece, for example, is all about how Blase, not wanting to pay for ice that is always half melted by the time it gets to his hotel room, leaves his beers outside the window and then suspects the hotel staff of purposely altering the beers’ position so that he will accidentally knock them off the ledge.

There are many other hilarious pieces, such as one about Australian vs Chinese culture and stereotypes and another satirical piece on the love affair between Australian men and sheep throughout the ages.

Each piece is self-contained (and I discovered at the end that most of them had already been published elsewhere separately) and crafted with a keen eye for detail and punchlines that you don’t always expect.  Moorhouse has this uncanny ability to be self-deprecating while retaining a dead seriousness about his justifications and world views.

What impressed me the most was his ability to create so many varied pieces, many with completely different styles, but somehow making them all fit together in this tight little book (around 174 pages).

That said, I wasn’t captivated by every piece.  As often is the case with collections and anthologies, there were a few a simply didn’t get or enjoy, and there were some others that didn’t sustain my interest the whole way through.

3.5 out of 5

It’s coming along nicely (my book) May 9, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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So I met up with my supervisor again recently, and the feedback was good.  Much better than I had anticipated.

To be honest, it was a bit of a lazy effort on my part — not in all the sleepless nights I had trying to think of different ways to approach the writing and the countless hours I spent piecing it all together — but rather, in terms of the actual amount of time I spent writing and editing.

After our first meeting, I dumped what was supposed to be the first chapter and started again.  Looking back at it now, it was the right decision because it wasn’t what I wanted to write.  It didn’t matter if it was any good.  What mattered was that it wasn’t the type of book I intended.  So out it went and I started over.

This time, I just typed down whatever came to me.  It was easy and I sped through it.  I think it was as close to ‘free writing’ as I’ve come in a long time.  It’s been a really long time, considering free writing was one of the first things I wrote about on this blog like two years ago, and I haven’t done much of it since.  I just belted out the story without worrying about form or structure, deciding that I was not going to worry about it now and will fix everything up later.  The only bit I put a bit more effort into was chapter one, but even that was a pretty casual effort.

As it turned out, it was the best thing I could have done.  The result was a little raw, somewhat rough around the edges, but it was the type of book I wanted to write.  Finally, I was getting close to discovering the right voice.  And my supervisor was happy with how it was progressing.  Joy.

It’s going to be a busy few weeks coming up.  I still have to finish a couple of books I borrowed from the library, plus another book I bought from the Book Depository — all three will supposedly help me with finding my stylistic mojo.  I have a book launch to attend at an upcoming writers’ festival (And yes, it’s MY book!  Well, mine and a bunch of other people’s, but it’s still MINE!), and most of all, I need to do a lot more writing with the project deadline coming up in a little over a month.

The next step is to write a bit more (I have a few chapters lined up, actually), but because the project does not requre me to finish the entire book, I will have to do some serious rewriting shortly.  The key is to develop the humour so that’s punchier, more even and with less cheap shots (I have a tendency to go for the low blow) and craft each chapter so that it can stand on its own, almost like a short story.

A weird analogy here but I’m looking for inspiration in some of the shows that Larry David wrote, such as Seinfeld and Curb.  I’m in awe of David’s ability to create various strands in an episode and allowing them to intertwine before bringing them all together at the end and making the story go full circle.  That’s the type of legendary stuff I need to come up with.

PS: On another note, on one sleepless night I came up with a new idea for a book. It’s not a novel, but is a potentially lucrative idea.  Or so I reckon.

Book Review: ‘Hell Has Harbour Views’ by Richard Beasley April 26, 2011

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I’m still trying to power through my lists of books, especially the list that will supposedly assist me in writing my novel.  Naturally, given my novel will revolve around an office, one of the books on that list is Richard Beasley’s Hell Has Harbour Views.  It’s a book that a lot of people in Australia (especially in legal circles) have heard of, but not nearly as many have read.  It was also made into a TV movie starring Matt Day and Lisa McCune.

In a nutshell, Hell Has Harbour Views tells the story of Hugh Walker, a 30-something associate at Rottman Maughan and Nash, described as the ‘greatest law firm in the universe’.  Of course, it’s a horrible firm that acts for large corporations and tramples underdogs, with grotesque partners, billing fraud, sex scandals and dick vibes all around.  Hugh despises the place and the people, but he realizes he is slowly becoming one of them.  Later, he finds himself caught in the middle of a partner feud, and must decide if he should continue selling his soul or put an end to the suffering once and for all.

If that sounds like a story you might have heard of before, that’s because it is.  Hell Has Harbour Views is actually a very formulaic coming-of-age story where the protagonist rises to great heights only to undergo a character transformation and realise that the things he thought he wanted weren’t the things he wanted all along.

To be honest, I was disappointed.  Hell Has Harbour Views was described on the front cover by John Birmingham (author of the awesome He Died with a Felafel in His Hand, which I only just read recently) as ‘The funniest most utterably savage lawyer joke ever!’, and was described on the back cover as a ‘biting, witty, very funny tale’.

Given those lofty expectations, I was surprised when I didn’t find the book very funny at all.  Sure, there were a few clever references and lines here and there that brought out a smile, but never a laugh or even a chuckle.  It felt more like a straight-up observation of big-firm culture with a mild comedic slant, as opposed to the other way around.  It was a satire that didn’t really feel like one.

I think the biggest problems I had with the book were that it took itself too seriously and the overly moralistic tone.  It couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a farcical comedy or a serious story about morality and the pitfalls of working in a large law firm.  I think it did a much better job of being the latter.

Hugh was this guy that thought being a lawyer would be a cross between To Kill a Mocking Bird and The Practice.  His mother was a legal aid lawyer that earned peanuts but at least she was helping people.  He once worked at a small firm that helped underdogs rather than screw them over, but went over to the dark side for the money and the glamorous lifestyle from working at ‘Rotten Mean and Nasty’ (which is how he describes the firm).  While Hugh’s torn emotions undoubtedly reflect what thousands of lawyers around the globe must feel, when you put it in a book that’s supposed to be a comedy it just comes across as a little contrived.

2 out of 5

PS: Could this less than favourable review stem from the fact that, being a former lawyer, I don’t find the characters or what they get up to particularly shocking (and hence funny)?  Perhaps.  Probably.  The book’s success suggests that most people don’t share my views.  In any case, Richard Beasley ought to be commended for at least completing a project as difficult as this one, which is more than I can say for myself.

1600 Words March 29, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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Source: sustain450.com.au

Just a quickie.

Yesterday, at long last, I commenced working on my new novel.  I know, I know, I haven’t even finished my old novel (stuck at around 110,000 words), but this one needs to take priority as it is a course project I must complete in the next few months.

So after a lengthy, difficult struggle and excessive planning (I always love to plan), I sat down and began to write (type).  Several hours, multiple breaks and countless procrastination sessions later, I had 1600 words.

A far cry from the 6000-8000 words Iused to pump out locked away in a room during the bitter winter of Cambridge, but I’ll take it considering how long it’s been since I last wrote fiction.

The best thing of all is that I thoroughly enjoyed the writing process.  It’s only a rough first draft at the moment, but I loved the feeling of getting the words in my mind on the page, even if I can never get it exactly right.

This begs the question — if I enjoy it so much, why don’t I write more?  Come on, start writing!

Forcing yourself to finish movies and novels September 20, 2010

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That's James Franco, by the way

Here’s a random one.  Do you force yourself to finish a film or a novel simply because you started it?

I do.  As far as I can recall, I have never started a novel without sticking with it through to the end (case in point: I was stuck on a single page of The Fellowship of the Ring for a whole month — every time I started reading it before bed I would fall asleep before I hit the end of the page — and yes, it was Tom Bombadil.  I still ended up finishing it and the other two eventually).

Similarly, I have never walked out of a movie or turned off the TV either (I have fallen asleep before but I consider than an involuntary act).  No matter how boring or crap it is.

Is this rational?  Probably not. My logic is that since I have already spent so much time on something, I might as well finish it off.  There’s also a hope (almost always a stupid one) that the book or the film will get better — especially if it has been well-received or recommended.

Others remind me that the time already spent on a crap movie or book is a sunk cost.  You’re not going to recover that time, so why waste more time?  I actually know quite a few people that have walked out of a movie within the first 10-15 minutes and requested a refund (which apparently you can get).  I’ve seen people walk out even halfway through the movie, never to return.  Books go without saying — I know plenty of people who finish about 1 in 10 books, if they’re lucky.

What do you think?  Which camp do you belong to?

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